This is another question from the congregation during Adventure’s “Q & A” series recently. For some, this seems to be a very important sticking point in their faith. Frankly, I’m not sure why. I think it might have to do with our comparative nature of not wanting to be “as bad” as someone else. Maybe it has to do with our own sense of justice as we try to figure out the world we live in. Perhaps we seek the answer to this question to help us understand God’s grace more fully.
In any event, I do believe that there is an answer to this that we can understand, and, when understood, that should motivate us to seek to live more holy lives.
The Actual Question as Written: “Are some sins a ‘bigger deal’ than other sins (i.e., abortion, homosexuality, adultery vs. lying, gossiping)?”
The short response to this question is “No and Yes.” That may sound like a cop-out, but it really is the truth. The answer of whether one particular sin is “worse than” another is dependent on how we are looking at (i.e., “evaluating”) a particular sinful action or inaction. Let me explain.
The “All Sins are Equal” Perspective
All sin causes separation from God. (Romans 3:23) That means that EVERY sin, whether we would see it as “little” or “big” is completely and fully devastating to our relationship with God, who is perfect and holy in every respect. Any pollution to the relationship at all, no matter how small, causes imperfection and separation.
An illustration I like to use to explain this goes like this. Imagine that you are a lamp with a cord that needs to be plugged into the wall in order to have “power that turns on your light.” Imagine that God is the electrical socket in the wall. When we are “plugged in” to God, our relationship is “perfect” and our light is on.
Now, imagine that sin is any distance between the cord’s plug and the wall socket. What we might see as a “small” sin (for example, calling into work and saying I’m sick when I’m really not because I wanted to play golf) might only move the plug away from the socket a short distance – let’s say a foot. What we might see as a “big” sin (for example, cheating on my wife or committing cold-blooded murder of multiple people) would move the plug away from the socket a big distance – let’s say a mile. In BOTH EVENTS, the lamp is not plugged in and there is no “relationship” between the power-source and the lamp. Both “sins” essentially caused “equally devastating” damage to the relationship because the relationship is either “on” or “off”.
So, from the perspective of our relationship with God, there is really no “ranking of sins” because ALL sin separates us from God.
(Note: While not directly related to the question of the ranking of sins, I do want to finish my illustration. — Jesus is the extension cord of infinite length (i.e, infinite grace) who is always sufficient to connect our lamp to the power source. See, Romans 5:26).
The “All Sins are Not Equal” Perspective
On the other hand, and something that we often forget, is that our sins do not just affect our relationship with God, they also affect our relationships with people. And, because of that truth, it is also true that a particular sin that I commit can cause much more damage to my personal relationships with people, as well as their relationships with people and with God, and, therefore, is “worse” than another sin I might commit.
Staying with the sins used in my example above — lying about being sick in order to play golf will definitely cause some damage to a relationship or two. Even if I don’t get “caught”, by lying I have introduced an element of distrust into the relationship I have with my boss and co-workers. If you don’t believe that, just imagine what I might think the next time a co-worker called in sick and left me with a bunch of extra work that day. Don’t you think it would cross my mind that he might be out playing golf? Of course, damage to the relationship, any relationship, is not good. But, the damage caused in this example will be fairly “contained” and hopefully “subside” somewhat over time, particularly if I don’t compound the damage by continuing to lie.
However, if I cheat on my wife or commit a multiple murder, the damage and pain caused by such sins would be devastating to many, many people for a long, long time. There would be extreme grief reaching multiple families. My kids would be devastated and their future marriages would be impacted as they would have to overcome an element of mistrust. And, you can only imagine the devastation and ripple effects of committing multiple murders – to families, to the community, to the legal system, to the church, etc.
So, from the perspective of my relationship with people, some sins are much “worse” than others because of the widespread damage they cause to relationships – between me and others, between others and others, and between others and God.
The Bottom Line Goal
Our goal in seeking an answer to this question should not be so that we can compare our sins to the sins of others. Instead, our goal should be to understand that what we do, and what we fail to do, when we are not living up to what God wants for us and from us, causes damage to both our relationship with God and with others. That’s why sin is harmful and that is why it is wrong. Sin isn’t harmful because God says so. Sin is harmful SO God says so.
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