The Equality of Sin
Is one sin greater than another? Yes and no.
No, in the sense that any unconfused, willing, and deliberate sinful behavior can destroy the hope of eternal life. In 1 John 3:4 sin is defined as lawlessness: the intentional breaking of God’s Word. That’s why one bite of forbidden fruit was enough to change the nature of human existence. Adam and Eve purposely disobeyed God’s command. Ellen White wrote: “Adam’s sin would be regarded by the churches of today as a simple mistake. . . . But God’s standard is high . . . , and all selfish, covetous practices are an abomination in His sight.”1 Look at the list of sins in Revelation 21:8: murderers and liars are lumped together as unfit for the kingdom of heaven.
But there is another side to sin. While any sin is an abomination to a perfect God, here on earth all sins are not equal. This is partly because each sin carries different consequences for both the perpetrator and the recipient. For example, murder causes more immediate physical pain than lying.
Each of us also brings inherent biases to the table. When I can relate to a struggle, I’m more willing to let mistakes slide. If an act is foreign to me, it’s easier to be judgmental, because I don’t understand what someone is going through. As a heterosexual male, I can relate to the concept of temptation in this area. On the other hand, since I’m not attracted to men, I can’t relate to the temptation to practice homosexual behavior. This bias causes me to view one sin as normal and the other as something abnormal.
We often rank sins based on the associated consequences and our own biased viewpoint. But each of our sins nailed Jesus to the cross (Rom. 3:23). When we understand this, it is much easier for us to love and minister to those struggling in areas we can’t relate to. Here are some thoughts about how to do that.
Go “person to person.” In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus described the process for confronting someone about their sins. The words “If your brother or sister sins . . .” (verse 15) implies that a previous relationship existed. Since the focus must be on restoration instead of condemnation, it helps if the other person knows you care about them before you tell them to change their ways. Jesus went out of His way to associate with public sinners, such as Zacchaeus. It’s a cliché, but people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Be in the business of building relationships.
Come to the defense of those weak and condemned. In the story of the accused woman in John 8, Jesus never attempts to justify her sin. Instead, He shows that she is not the only guilty party by writing the sins of her accusers on the sand. In doing this, Christ leveled the playing field with a reminder that all have sinned and fallen short.
Keep the juicy gossip to yourself. Even if a person is unrepentant after going through the full process of Matthew 18:15-17, we aren’t at liberty to say whatever we want. Ellen White wrote: “But it is to the wrongdoer himself that we are to present the wrong. We are not to make it a matter of comment and criticism among ourselves; nor even after it is told to the church are we at liberty to repeat it to others.”2 Gossip can only cause more damage and misrepresent the spirit of Christ to an unbelieving world.
Share forgiveness and victory. The apostle Peter wrote: “ ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:24). This was Jesus’ exact message to the young woman: You are forgiven, not condemned. But there’s a better way to live; don’t fall back into this sinful lifestyle. Jesus preached forgiveness and followed with the message of victory over sinful behavior. For the gospel to be complete, we must emphasize that both are possible through His power.
- Ellen G. White, The Upward Look (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1982), p. 16.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 441.