Are All Sins Equal?

Doing pro-life work is often met with resistance, sometimes from where we least expect it. Whether we make the Biblical case for public pro-life action or for a boycott of companies that support Planned Parenthood, Christians have responded that there are too many societal sins to justify a focus on fighting abortion. And when we point out the urgency of God’s command to do all we can to save “those that are ready to be slain,” others defend their inaction by saying something along these lines: “Remember, all sins are equal!”

It is not my intention to vilify those people. Some have asked genuine questions about prioritizing pro-life work, and perhaps for others, the intent behind proclaiming all sins as equal is to assure fellow sinners that God is willing to forgive, regardless of the heinousness of sin. But for many, “all sins are equal” has become an all too familiar mantra, unfortunately used to excuse unbiblical behaviour.

It is because of such claims that we examine our own position. Is it fair to reject the call to save pre-born children from death because there are other, just as pressing evils to fight? To find the answer, our Reformed heritage suggests none else but the Scriptures as our starting point. What does the Word of God say? Are all sins really equal?

First of all, it is true that every sin deserves God’s wrath, both in this life and in the one to come, as we can find in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” The Bible is clear that our Creator’s perfect holiness demands justice for even the slightest transgression. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). This means we need the righteousness of another, of the Mediator, to escape God’s wrath and be counted righteous in the sight of the Lord.

But since one sin is enough to condemn us to hell, does that mean that all sins are evil to the same degree and that the consequences are all the same? And does that mean we have an obligation to fight every sin equally? The Bible shows the contrary.

The first piece of relevant evidence is a series of events in which God brings judgment on groups of people in Old Testament times. Consider the Flood (Genesis 6–9), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), the Exodus (Exodus 7-12), the Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17), and the Babylonian exile (2 Kings 24-25). God bore with sin, oppression, and rebellion only to a point, until the measure was full. When the line was crossed, whether in degree or frequency, God treated the people, previously blessed with His grace, in a vastly different way. If all sins were equal, why the distinction?

Furthermore, when individuals sinned there were different sacrifices prescribed for each situation and different punishments required for certain sins. For example, a thief paid restitution but those who committed adultery or premeditated murder were put to death (Exodus 22, Leviticus 1-6, 16-17, 20). Thus, God provided a system of jurisprudence that reflected His will in taking all sin seriously but also showed that some were worse than others.

There is at least one more telling example in the Old Testament: Numbers 15. The chapter describes two different kinds of sin: the unwitting or accidental sin, which has an offering prescribed for it (vs. 22-29) and the defiant, premeditated, or haughty sin, which cannot be forgiven and therefore has no prescribed sacrifice.  This sin is persistent and goes beyond the breaking of a specific commandment to the point of a deliberate rejection of Word of the Lord (vs. 30, 31). Evidently, in the Law of Moses, not all sin is the same.

What about the New Testament? We see the same trend under the new dispensation, which becomes especially clear in the words of the Saviour Himself. For instance, in Luke 12, the Lord Jesus explains that those who know the revealed will of God but do not act accordingly “shall be beaten with many stripes” and that “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for [Capernaum]” (Matthew 11:23, 24) because of its unbelief and refusal to repent. He also said to Pilate, “He that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (John 19:11). Hence, there are degrees of punishment, which implies degrees of guiltiness, which means that some sins are more blameworthy than others.

In summary, all sins are equal in that they all deserve God’s wrath, no matter how trivial they seem. No sins are small when committed against a great and generous God but beyond this, the gravity of each transgression depends on varying factors, as observed in both the Old and New Testament. It makes a difference whether those committing the sin know better, are in the public eye or objects of public trust, and whether one commits or omits deliberately (1 Kings 11:9-10, 2 Samuel 12:7-10, Romans 2:17-23, Romans 1:32, Matthew 18:15-17). The severity of sin is further determined by the persons offended or harmed, in particular the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also any fellow Christians or those who ought to be aided or protected by virtue of their vulnerability (Hebrews 10:28-29, Matthew 18:6, Proverbs 24:11-12). A consideration of these and many more texts shows that the Bible’s answer to our question is very clear. In the words of The Shorter Westminster Catechism, “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”

To deny these distinctions trivializes sin and may even serve as an excuse for one’s own behaviour. When the clear teaching of Scripture is rejected in favour of feel-good theology, the playing field is dangerously leveled. Murdering a child can then be belittled as no more sinful than stealing a cookie and as a result, lack of action in response to either of these wrongs hardly makes a difference. After all, all sins are equal, right?

Wrong. Not only do the Scriptures tell us that some sins are worse than others, it also tells us in no uncertain terms that God hates a certain practice: child sacrifice, also known as abortion (Leviticus 18, 20, Jeremiah 19). Considering the factors that aggravate sin, this means that the procedure that intentionally destroys the crown jewel of creation—a small child knitted in the mother’s womb, is the greatest evil of our time. As John Calvin said, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

But before you point fingers at those who perform or undergo abortions, listen to the words of the Lord in Proverbs 24:11-12.If thou forebear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? Doth he not know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?”

The implication? Once again considering the factors that aggravate sin, this means that failing to do anything about abortion is perhaps worse yet, especially when we know better and ought to be the salt and light of this world, but omit to save those who are being slaughtered. It also means that if innocent human beings are in danger, we are to come to their rescue in every possible way. That’s why, when it comes to abortion, we are confident that it should be a matter of priority, and that the Christian church bears the greatest burden of responsibility in fighting this evil.

As Martin Luther once wrote, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proven, and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

As long as the blood of precious pre-born children is being shed in our own backyard, this is the evil we must face with the greatest urgency. Why? Because not all sins are equal.

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