One Sin is the Same as Any Other...and Other Lies
by Pastor Cary Gordon
It has become popular in some circles to cite the popular cliche' "one sin is the same as any other." This is a lie. The Bible teaches that some sins are worse than others! Yes, you read that right. Some sins are worse than others!
If we are going to truly understand repentance, then we need to understand how God views sin. The very word “repent,” which Jesus used in Matthew 4:17, requires it. If we are going to take on the viewpoint of God concerning sin, then we need to realize that all sins are not the same to Him.
Take the concept of justice, for example. The very idea of justice states, “The punishment must fit the crime.” Let me give you an illustration. Is it against the law to jaywalk in most large cities? Yes, it is. Would it be fair for me to sentence someone to life in prison for jaywalking? No, it wouldn’t. That would be unjust. To suggest that jaywalking is deserving of life in prison without parole would be absolutely absurd, wouldn’t it? Then why do men teach things about God’s view of sin that contradict the concept of justice? Preachers suggest that one sin is no different to God than any other; “After all, they all send you to hell.”
Many Christians don’t realize it, but Jesus taught that there would be different levels of punishment for people in hell. He also taught that these levels of punishment would be determined by how they lived their lives on earth—more specifically, the level of sins committed against God. Jesus wasn’t the only prophet to espouse this doctrine. All the prophets of the Old Testament taught the same thing. Truth be known, there are two sides to the doctrines of Jesus Christ. We must grasp them both if our obedience to His teachings is to be validated.
Matthew 11:20-24 “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, BECAUSE THEY REPENTED NOT: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, IT SHALL BE MORE TOLERABLE FOR TYRE AND SIDON AT THE DAY OF JUDGMENT, THAN FOR YOU. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That IT SHALL BE MORE TOLERABLE FOR THE LAND OF SODOM IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT THAN FOR THEE.”
Jesus also taught that there will be different levels of rewards in heaven based upon how we live our lives here on earth. For example, in this next passage, Jesus warned that some people will lack rewards in heaven.
Matthew 6:1 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.”
A few verses later, Jesus went on to express that in contrast to those spoken of in verse one, there would be people in heaven who would be given awards openly.
Matthew 6:18 “That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.”
In a later chapter of Matthew, Jesus continued to teach that there would be different levels of rewards granted to men based upon their earthly lives.
Matthew 10:41-42 “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.”
In reference to how men would be placed into the ranking system of God’s delegated kingdom authority, Jesus suggested that there would be some among us who would be recognized as the “least” in the kingdom, as well as those who would be honored as the “greatest.”
Matthew 18:4 “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Moreover, the Apostle John taught the church that it was possible, after having earned heavenly rewards in this life, to lose them by backsliding into sin again.
2 John 1:8 “Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.”
If we are to truly see sin the way God sees it, then we must endeavor to recognize what sins are worse to God than others. Otherwise, we are left incapable of executing the righteous judgment that Jesus called upon all believers to demonstrate in the seventh chapter of Matthew. Paul wrote along these lines to the Hebrew church:
Hebrews 5:11-14 “Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he
is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those WHO BY REASON OF USE HAVE THEIR SENSES EXERCISED TO DISCERN BOTH GOOD AND EVIL.”
Specks or Beams?
It is important that we take time to look at these simple truths, because the teaching that all sin is the same to God is as untrue as it is hindering to the spirit of repentance that Jesus called for throughout His earthly ministry. Jesus said we needed to take on the same attitude held by God with regard to sin. We are to see it the way God sees it. We are to change our attitude about sin and stop committing it. Since all sin is NOT regarded equal with God, then it should not be regarded the same by me. There are certain sins committable by other believers with whom I have fellowship, which will require confrontation. On occasion, I may have to refrain from further relationship until they have not only apologized for, but repented from their sin.
Having said that, I equally must recognize that there are other types of sin committable by those with whom I have fellowship, which require no forgiveness or forbearance on my part at all. Why? Because such sin is small enough, with regard to what Jesus taught, that when compared to those sins which remain in my life, I am simply disqualified from having the right to be offended by them in the first place. This kind of sin is reduced to being “none of my business.” Notice how Jesus suggests that some sins are small enough in the perspective of God to be called a “mote.” The New Living translation uses the word “speck.” Larger sin is referred to as a “beam.”
Matthew 7:4-5 “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Righteous judgment may appear to be a rocky road, but it isn’t as confounding a road as some might suggest. Sin is not difficult to righteously judge, for the Bible gives us clear instructions on how to judge properly. If it didn’t, then Jesus placed an unfair load of burden upon us in His teaching in Matthew 7, which is the very opposite of what He provided for us in the eleventh chapter of Matthew.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in Heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The idea that “all sins are the same to God as any other” is often errantly founded upon the following verse:
James 2:10 “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”
Since James says, “he is guilty of all,” many have believed this to mean that one sin is the same to God as any other; yet in the light of the evidence we have already viewed, we know this to be inaccurate. Picture a man hanging over a very high, steep cliff, grasping a chain fastened to the base of a tree on the edge of the dangerous cliff. Imagine further that there are 10 links in this chain—some large and some small. James, in the previous verse, merely points out that only one link in the chain needs to break in order to fall into death. The power of the smallest sin can send a man to hell outside of repentance. One might not ever commit murder or adultery (the larger links in the chain), yet if even one small link breaks, the whole chain, in a sense, is broken, even though the other nine links have remained intact. James understood very well that certain sins were worse than others, as should we.
We need to learn the difference between what God deems “trifling” and what He views as “transgression.” We must learn how to judge, if you will, between specks and beams. There is a great difference between these two levels of sin. Understanding the dividing line is key to recognizing when we are supposed to ignore the sin of another and when we are responsible to confront it. Remember, the objective is that “then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
A progression of sin is listed in the following passage, and the last sin listed is understood to be the MOST WICKED of them all in the eyes of God. Therefore, we must learn to treat this seventh sin as the most wicked and foul sin committable by man. It is especially stirring to realize that this particular sin is listed as worse than murder. How could this be? I believe it is because murder is a sin committed in the flesh, and if the victim of such a crime is a Christian, the worst possible result is heaven. But the seventh deadly sin is a spiritual sin. This brings about the spiritual death of others. Physical death is temporary, but spiritual death lasts for eternity. The spiritual is greater than the physical.
Proverbs 6:16-19 “These six things doth the Lord hate yea, seven are an abomination unto him: (1) A proud look, (2) a lying tongue, and (3) hands that shed innocent blood, (4) An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, (5) feet that be swift in running to mischief, (6) A false witness that speaketh lies, and (7) HE THAT SOWETH DISCORD AMONG THE BRETHREN.”
You see, if a man has truly taken on the view of God with regard to sin he will NEVER be found frolicking with those who have sown discord among the brethren. Many Christians have made little to no effort to see sin through the eyes of God. To illustrate my point, let me ask you a few questions. 1) Would you invite a known murderer over to dine with you and your family? Scarcely one person in a million would subject their family to this type of unsettling situation. 2) Would you invite a person who is known for sowing discord in the local fellowship over to dine with you and your family?
Most Christians don’t understand the correlation. WE DON’T SEE SIN THE SAME WAY GOD SEES IT…but why? I believe there is for a two-fold reason: #1) An unwillingness to execute righteous judgment foisted by an inaccurate comprehension of true Christian love; #2) An inability to see sin through the eyes of God foisted by false teaching which purports that “all sin is the same to God.”
With regard to the first reason, Adam Clarke, the eighteenth-century protégé of John Wesley, points out “Reproving a brother who had sinned was a positive command under the law. See Leviticus 19:17. And the Jews have a saying, that one of the causes of the ruin of their nation was, ‘No man reproved another.’”2 If the unwillingness to reprove another could result in the destruction of an entire nation (one that had the greatest blessing of God upon it, more than any other nation before or since, I might add), then what are the chances of a local church surviving such a moral failure? This saying of the Jews was biblically accurate, for the cause of their destruction as a nation is catalogued in the following passage:
Judges 2:18-19 “And when the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the Lord because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.”
It is remarkable to understand how POWERFUL and GOOD righteous judgment is in the midst of a sinful world. Although the Hebrew people did NOT have a complete understanding of God…did NOT have the Bible we have today…did NOT have a powerful union with the precious person of the Holy Ghost…and did NOT even know the name of Jesus Christ, they WERE STILL ABLE TO CARRY OUT RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENTS THAT PLEASED THE LORD! When those who carried out such judgment died, the whole nation was corrupted. When the judges lived, the entire nation was saved.
What more must be said, beloved?
We know the living Jesus Christ! We possess the glorious Book of books! We have a union with the third person of the trinity! We are the blood-bought church of the redeemed! There can be no more excuses offered against the purity and modern-day necessity of righteous judgment between the people of God. Without it, our churches will become as corrupt as the business world! Let us not be reduced to the prophetic “church of whoredomes” predicted to exist in the last days of man on earth—our days.
The tragedy is that many in the body of Christ are doing the very opposite they are commanded to do when it comes to judging sin. Christians are commonly offended (I mean fire-spitting mad!) at other believers over STUPID, TRIVIAL things. I recently heard a true story of a church that split over an argument about “who was and was not allowed to eat donuts between their two morning services!” People are willing to reject other believers over some of the most ridiculous and petty things imaginable! On the flip-side, when someone commits a horrible, contemptible act against God like adultery, divorce, drunkenness, fornication, or sowing discord, rather than execute proper judgment against such sins, it is common to hear other believers say, “Well, we just need to love them through it. Who am I to judge them? Let’s just get along with everyone and LOOOOOVE one another.” And all of this is said without consideration over whether or not the guilty party has even repented or not. What a weird perversion of righteousness! Serious sin is NEVER “just between them and God.” Sin hurts everyone who is close to you! These types of situations warrant horizontal repentance as much as vertical.
Of all the sins men commit today, there is one in particular that screams for righteous judgment by the people of God ABOVE ALL ELSE; for those who sow discord among the brethren, in the eyes of God, are worse than murderers. Concerning this seventh abomination to God, Adam Clarke further writes: “The seventh is he that soweth discord among brethren—he who troubles the peace of a family, of a village, of the state; all who, by lies and misrepresentations, strive to make men’s minds evil-affected toward their brethren.”3
The Rule of Righteous Judgment
Here is the simple rule of righteous judgment taught in the New Testament: If another Christian’s sin is severe enough that it suggests they have seared their conscience in a particular area and have become hardened toward the Spirit of God (unwilling and/or unable to hear the voice of their own human conscience), then God, in His unconditional love and mercy, has ordained for YOU to become His ambassador to them. In an attempt to bring them to repentance, no longer able to communicate with them through the voice of their own SPIRITUAL ears, God recognizes that they still have PHYSICAL ears capable of at least hearing YOUR VOICE. His only need? A willing candidate to physically speak on His behalf—a candidate who is prepared, if need be, to become the direct recipient of rejection and resentment should truth be rejected altogether.
Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Jesus gives us a very simple and easy-to-follow three-leveled principle to be applied when a serious trespass has occurred. Level #1: Go to the brother who has sinned and confront him privately. If he repents, forgive him and go on. If he does not repent, we take it to the next level. Level #2: We take one or two more witnesses with us and confront the unrepentant brother a second time. If he repents, he is forgiven. If not, we take it to the last level. Level #3: Tell it to the church. If he repents, he is forgiven. If not, he is excommunicated from the church.
Little needs to be said concerning the fact that when someone is offended with another brother in the modern church, the one who has offended them is usually the last one to find out. Why? Because few believers adhere to the commandment of Jesus given in the above passage to “go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” Rather, they prefer to skip to the second step offered by Jesus and find “two or three witnesses.” The fine line between obedience to God and the sin of gossip resides here: We are not to speak of an offense unless we have privately taken it to the person who has sinned and they have rejected our loving confrontation. To do otherwise makes us nothing more than a rumormonger. Conversely, we should also be careful that we not accuse a man of being a “gossip” when he has followed the steps laid out by Jesus, properly taking two or three witnesses with him to confront the one who is in denial.
The motive for confronting your brother is ever important here, for a vindictive spirit will be met with equal hostility. Jesus reveals the proper motive for confrontation between brothers by stating, “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained a brother.” The motive is to restore the wayward brother to relationship. If he repents, we forgive. It should also be pointed out at this juncture that the context is speaking of a serious offense called a “trespass.” This is to be distinguished from the “specks” that often find their way into the eyes of us all. Some might object to this teaching by saying, “Well, bless God, I don’t believe God ignores even the tiniest sins!” And while I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, I would only mention three cautions to such persons: #1) You and I aren’t God. #2) Jesus taught we ARE to ignore what He called “speck” sins. #3) We can rest in this particular command of His because, since it is true that God DOESN’T ignore ANY sin, the Holy Spirit is able to speak to the other Christian about their “specks” without our human assistance. You see, a fellow believer, who has demonstrated by virtue of their lifestyle a certain level of spiritual maturity, is able to hear the voice of their own conscience.
In addition to having the proper motive when we confront our brother, it is equally important that our opening remarks take on the proper tone. A bellowing, “I forgive you for how you hurt me!” is a childish way to open conversation with someone! Another disconcerting way to seek reconciliation with someone is to “confess” some horrible thing to them that they would have been better off not knowing. Confessing your fault to someone should alleviate a burden from them, not place one upon them. For example, telling someone you need to repent because you’ve been having dirty, sexual thoughts about them during church is probably not a wise move! I should also add that we refrain from attempting to police those in the Body of Christ with whom we have no relationship. You need to have earned some credibility with another Christian before you start correcting them! (My apologies to those of you reading this who possess common sense, but as you well know, some folks need to hear these kinds of things!)
As we discussed in Chapter 10, the scriptures show us how to initially approach a brother in sin. The initial approach, in contrast to the final, is gentle, yet assertive. Let’s look at the tone of the early approach as it is described in the following verses:
Galatians 6:1 “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
James 5:16 “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”
2 Timothy 2:25-26 “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
As believers, we are afforded the authority to caringly confront others who are overtaken in a fault. Why do we have this authority? Because the previous three verses give it to us. While I will not take the time to demonstrate this, I do wish to further note that the “tone” in which loving confrontation is carried out should take on a deliberate increase of severity by the time the unrepentant sinner is brought before the authority of the church for excommunication.
The source of all authority comes from God and is clearly granted to us in His Word. If we are to truly be “peacemakers,” then we must learn how to follow the law of love. The law of love is very plainly balanced with regard to the local church in scripture. Any imbalance between punishment and rewards found in the government of the local church (spiritual family) ultimately devastates that church’s ability to function in corporate peace.
When we consider the fact that no man in world history has ever been admitted to heaven without repentance, it behooves us to learn the lessons of righteous judgment, carefully guarding who we should and should not restore to fellowship in this life. We are to emulate these heavenly principles here on the earth, for we are citizens of a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. We are but aliens and strangers—pilgrims passing through. When we offer “unconditional acceptance and restoration to fellowship” to another believer who refuses to admit they have committed a serious sin, God views our actions as partnering with that person against Him. From His perspective, we have become a hindrance to His plan for their repentance.
We are facing an entire generation of people who can’t recite the Ten Commandments; but they can quote Matthew 7:1, out of context, forwards and backwards. There are a few verses in the Bible that, like Matthew 7:1, have become popular by convenience. As I stated earlier, Matthew 7:1, which says, “Judge not lest ye be judged,” is number one hands-down. Yet, there is another verse that has emerged as a close second these days: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This verse, not unlike Matthew 7:1, has risen to popularity among those who believe the word “cover” is synonymous with “ignore” or “sweep under the rug.” This is clearly not the case as we carefully read the following:
James 5:20 “Let him know, that he which CON- VERTETH the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”
If there is to be any “sweeping under the rug” or “hiding” of sin, this verse clearly shows HOW such an act takes place in the plan of God. The sinning man must be “converted” from the error of his ways—ways that are on a path to death (apparently these are “beam” sins). Understandably, it would not be possible to convert any sinner from deadly error if we were unwilling to personally confront him.
You see, when someone acts a little cold to us in passing, forgets our birthday or acts out in anger during a weak moment after a long stressful day—while it might be true that their behavior is sin, it would be silly to say, “Well, I just choose to forgive them anyhow.” How can you “forgive” or more accurately “restore someone to relationship” who was never justifiably cut off from fellowship in the first place? No, we don’t need to strut our spiritual benevolence when, truth be known, we shouldn’t even have been offended over such “specks” in the eyes of our brother.
This is far more serious than something we can chalk up as “semantics.” Forgiveness has NOTHING at all to do with simple sins committed by every living being who continues in the progressive battle against his old carnal nature. It is NOT an issue of needing to either “forgive” or “forbear.” In reality, it is an issue of whether or not we are at all GRACIOUS. In fact, it is within the confines of this situation that the Bible says godly love takes no “account” of a suffered wrong (1 Corinthians 13:5). It might be argued that one is hard-pressed to forgive something he “never took account of” in the first place! Why, after all, should we bother with cataloguing the petty sins of others when Jesus clearly stated that “…every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”? (See Matthew 12:36.)
As mentioned earlier, one excuse for avoiding confrontation is the assertion that the sin “is just between them and God.” This is only credible, however, if the person under discussion reveals a clear,
non-seared conscience. When someone sears his conscience with a hot iron, he becomes incapable of hearing the voice of the Lord any longer.
1 Timothy 4:2 “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.”
God, so longsuffering and so forbearing, even after having been shut out of such a person’s life, offers a final chance to the offender by commissioning us to go to them and speak on His behalf. The pastoral leadership at the Church of Thyatira failed to obey this principle of corporate peace-keeping. With stern words, Jesus commanded John the Apostle to write to that particular church.
Revelation 2:20-21 “I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. AND I GAVE HER SPACE TO REPENT of her fornication; and SHE REPENTED NOT.”