Are All Sins Equal?

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Unless you’ve literally been living under a rock or don’t know what smartphones are, then maybe you’re unaware of this, but just about everyone else in America has been watching the media increasingly make light of sin in general… and much of what is seen in any negative light is relative. Innumerable people are idolaters, not to mention those who are sexually immoral, or who commit adultery (homosexuality is outright celebrated), or those who steal and are greedy and get wasted and revile neighbors and swindle others. It happens all the time. Seriously, every single day. And each of these unrepentant sins are the same in the sense of God’s judgment. They all deserve His wrath. And yet, we’re constantly reminded that “such were some of you” (1st Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:1-5).

During the Reformation there was a common saying, Semper Reformanda. It was an important slogan at the time, but today it is unfortunately overlooked. In Latin, it simply means “always reforming.” The Reformers may have gotten a lot right about the Bible, but they didn’t go far enough in their theology. (And they knew that.) As Protestants today, we must always go back to the Bible to see where we have wandered from the truth. We often believe something is biblical just because it feels spiritual, because it feels right, we’ve heard other Christians say it, or a major denominational leader believes it to be true. However, we must go back to the Text every time. Our hearts are prone to deceive us (Jeremiah 17:9).

Referring back to the Text corrects the idea that “God helps those who help themselves” (Benjamin Franklin said this, not God). It equips us to discern whether cleanliness is, in fact, next to godliness (I have no idea where that goofy saying comes from, but people say it). And I believe it can help with another common statement I repeatedly hear Christians say: “All sins are equal.”

When confronted about their sin, it’s sadly not too uncommon for some adulterous husband/wife to respond, “All sins are equal, so who are you to rebuke me?! Your problem with pride is as bad as my infidelity.”

I’ve heard people say that greed is as bad as abortion, selfishness is as bad as divorce, and slander is just as bad as murder… But are these claims in line with what the Bible actually says?

All Sins Are NOT Equal

The Bible is clear that all sins are not equal:

In John 19:11, Jesus says to Pilate, “… he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Jesus is saying that some sins are considered greater.

In Ezekiel 8:6, Ezekiel is told “… But you will see still greater abominations.” This passage declares that some abominations or sinful actions are greater than others.

In Matthew 5:19, Jesus rebukes anyone who “… relaxes one of the least of these commandments…” This verse reveals that some commands are lesser while others are weightier (Matthew 23:23).

In Numbers 15, the Bible contrasts sin done unintentionally and sin done “with a high hand,” meaning sin done willingly while shaking one’s fist at God. Intentional sin is treated as far more offensive than unintentional sin.

Unrepentant sins are worse than repentant sins. For example, someone who struggles with same-sex attraction but fights it because they love Christ more, is very different than someone who gives themselves over to their sin because they love the sin more than they love Christ (1st John 1:8-10).

Clearly, some sins are more offensive to God than others. Some sins are more “high-handed.” Some sins come from a much darker heart than others. Some sins will carry heavier consequences in this life, hurt in a more far-reaching manner, while some sins will hinder your relationship with God more than others.

… But All Sins ARE Equal

But there is good news. When someone says all sins are equal, they are not entirely off base. All sins are equal in the sense that all sins are offensive to God. All sins are equal in that God demands perfection, and any sin makes you imperfect, thus, making you in need of a perfect Savior. The best news is that all sins are equal in that Jesus’ blood is enough to cover all of them. Whether it is abortion, lying, stealing, rape, cursing, adultery, pride, murder, pornography, or gluttony, Christ’s blood is stronger than both the weakest and strongest of sins.

So, How Should We Live?

This idea offers a warning for those who are tempted to wander into darker and darker sins. Stay in the light. Stay away from things that will hurt you. Don’t allow the phrase “all sins are equal” to blind you from the damaging and damning effects of sin. Don’t fall for the trap that suggests you may as well sleep with the coworker you are flirting with since you have already committed adultery in your heart. That is madness! Don’t buy into the lie that you might as well have premarital sex since you are addicted to porn, anyway. Lesser sins have a way of begetting greater ones.

Conversely, don’t be crushed by the lie that your sin is too great for the grace of God to cover. Don’t buy into the lie that you’re ever too far gone, or that God’s love cannot afford you strength to overcome any snare. All sins may be unequal in the degree to which they offend God and harm others, but all sins are equal in their ability to be forgiven. We are not Christians with an asterisk. We are beloved children of God by adoption, and in Christ, He sees us as perfect.

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“God is love.”

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There is an all too common thought being proclaimed, embraced, and believed throughout our culture today: that all we need is love, that God is love, that God loves everyone unconditionally no matter what, and love is tolerant and accepting of any behavior or belief; because truth is relative and love would never discriminate. This sounds sweet, even almost Biblical sometimes, but is it true? Does God tolerate, accept, and love everyone?

Yes.

And no.

The question of the validity of that statement is actually deceptively difficult. Some like to use the statement as a catch all, end all blanketing statement, but the Bible speaks of God’s love in several different ways. There are at least five (which are outlined in greater detail by D.A. Carson in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and mentioned by Kevin DeYoung in a blog on the Gospel Coalition website):

1. God’s trinitarian love. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. The love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit for the Father. Yes, it can be confusing. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22; John 3:35, 5:20, 10:17, 14:31; 16:26-28; Colossians 1:13; 2nd Peter 1:17)

2. God’s providential love over all that He has made. (Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 6; John 1:3; 1st Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)

3. God’s salvific stance toward His fallen world. (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16, 15:19; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15; 1st John 2:2)

4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward His elect. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7-8, 10:14-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Matthew 25:34; Romans 4:4-8, 8:28-39, 9:8-29; 1st Corinthians 7:17; 2nd Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:4-19, 2:1-10, 5:25; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12, 2:13-14; 2nd Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 3:3-8; Hebrews 12:2; 1st Peter 1:3-5)

5. God’s love toward His own people in a provisional way, conditioned upon obedience. (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17-18; John 15:9-10; Ephesians 1:15-19, 2:8-22; 2nd Peter 1:12-25; Jude 1:21)

There are often ignored complexities and overlooked dangers of emphasizing one aspect of the love of God over the others.

First: If God’s love is defined exclusively by His intra-Trinitarian love, which is perfect and unblemished by sin, we won’t grasp the glory of God in loving rebels like us.

Second: If God’s love is nothing but His providential care over all things, we’ll struggle to see how the gospel is any good news at all because, after all, doesn’t He love everyone equally already?

Third: If God’s love is seen solely as His desire to save the world, we’ll end up with an emotionally charged God who doesn’t display the same sense of sovereignty and justice we see in the pages of Scripture.

Fourth: If God’s love is only understood as His electing love, we’ll too see easily say God hates all sorts of people, when that truth requires a good deal more nuance.

Fifth: If God’s love is bound up entirely in warnings like “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we’ll fall into legalism and lots of unwarranted self-doubt.

Talking about God’s love sounds like a simple theological task, but it’s actually one of the trickiest. I’ve actually heard of people debating about whether their kids should be taught “Jesus loves me” (some of the children might not be saved after all, you never know). I know many more people and churches which so emphasize God’s all-encompassing love for everyone, everywhere and always, that it’s hard to figure out why anyone should bother to become a Christian and follow Christ. The fact is that God loves everyone and He doesn’t. He hates the world and He loves the world. He can’t possibly love His adopted children any more than He does, and He is profoundly grieved by our sin. (Seriously, can some of us stop pretending sin/idolatry [or whatever you want to call it] isn’t that big of a deal… how would we even begin to explain or understand the cross in any way that makes any sense at all if we ignore the seriousness of sin.) The challenge of good theology is to explain how the Bible provides warrant for all those statements and how they all fit together.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.” – Tim Keller

True love is not exactly tolerant and ever-accepting, for rather true love would call the other person out and remind them that it is ok to not be ok, but it is not ok to stay there. Genuine love warns someone when they believe they are in danger. True love wounds more like a physician, not a criminal, because while discipline, rebuke, and honesty can hurt, it may be just what the person needs to save their life; and regardless of whatever cost, we should seek reconciliation and repentance for our greater joy. So, when God wounds, He wounds like a purposeful surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to us. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts.

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

The Scriptures help to make this abundantly clear:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:5-6

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1st John 3:16-18

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who judges people, would condemn people to some kind of hell, and send people to suffer eternally. God is love and no loving God would get angry or be filled with wrath.” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

“Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (page 97)

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. And that’s the hope and change we all really need. We need the hope that we have been justified by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And we need the hope of the promise of Romans 8:28, that God will work all things, even the fallout from our past sins, together for good for us; for His glory and our joy.

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Related Articles/Videos:

“Three Things We Should Know About God” by: Jonathan Parnell

“The Doctrine of the Wrath of God” by D. A. Carson (Desiring God Theology Refresh blog)

“Will All Be Saved?” by Gerald R. McDermott

The Controversial Issue of Homosexuality & Gay Marriage

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It is not really news that there has been much discussion over the topic of gay marriage and homosexuality among people today on social media. The topic of discussion is nothing new, but the ability to discuss it in front of a broader audience this way is still a relatively young form of communication. And like much of technology, this has its strengths and weaknesses; there are great benefits to it, as well as potentially dark downsides. One downside is unfortunately demonstrated when idiotic statements abound, and cause some valid opinions, points of view, and beliefs to come off as nothing more than back-wooded bigotry or ignorant intolerance because we allow a few morons to paint the entire landscape of the discussion.

I’m not even sure the foolish “Westboro Baptist” type point of view could account for an entire 1% of the viewpoints held on this topic, but they certainly get a lot of air-play and media coverage, do they not? It almost makes it feel at times like there really is a large population of Bible-thumping bigots who just want to suppress human freedom and equality by any means available. Whenever there is a discussion panel on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox (whichever poison you prefer), they almost always seem to pick some of the most foolish people to engage in conversation. It’s like they hunt for those who hold extreme polar opinions and then feed off the ridiculous comments that are often spouted out; much of which stems more from emotion than careful consideration.

“If there is equality it is in His love, not in us.” – C.S. Lewis

One thing we all need to do, is stop pretending that the sanctity of marriage has been wonderfully displayed by the church over the past few decades and now all of a sudden it’s under serious attack with the Supreme Court declaring that DOMA and Prop 8 are unconstitutional. It’s nonsense and makes us sound like we’re in ignorant denial of the state of our culture inside and outside the church. As Christians, we should repent of our pathetic marriage cultures within the church. For too long, we’ve refused to discipline a divorce culture that has ravaged our culture as a whole. For too long, we’ve quieted our voices on the biblical witness of the distinctive missions of fathers and mothers in favor of generic messages on “parenting.”

For too long, we have acted as though the leaders of a church were basically just ‘Justices of the Peace,’ marrying people who have no accountability to the church, and in many cases were forbidden by Scripture to marry. Just because we don’t have two brides or two grooms in front of us, that doesn’t mean we’ve been holding to biblical marriage.

So many of us have this vague idea that some fifty years ago Christians comprised the mainstream in America and were fully accepted as a cultural majority. And because of that, everything in America was great, grand, and wonderful. However, history shows us that while there were many solid men and women caring for others, too many preaching “Get right and get in church,” during that time did not stand up for those who were weak and marginalized. The “good old days” so often longed for were also times of racial oppression, gender discrimination, and theological confusion. So, pining for those “moral” days of yore is like chasing a mirage. The past simply wasn’t that great for many when “Christians” had more influence.

After all, we can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time. We are to cling to the cross, stand on the rock, and remain steadfast in the hope found only in Christ. For we alone have that hope. And it is that hope which we are commanded to share with the world, whether Christianity is the cultural norm or not.

The Christian faith believes in the authority of Scripture; so if the Scriptures are not fitting with the time, culture, societal norm, or your desires; it means there is something wrong with the times and your heart, not the Scriptures. (Unfortunately, many try to solve this problem by proof-texting and manipulating the text to appear to approve or support their twisted view.) Marriage in particular, which has always been “unequal” in a sense, the yoking together two very different kinds of bodies (different minds, different histories, different strengths, different struggles, etc.), must now be “equal,” measured only by the sincerity of one’s love and commitment. To insist on the importance of bodies in our culture is to challenge the ‘sovereign self,’ to suggest that our ethical options are limited by something we did not choose. The philosophical rejection of the Bible is often used to justify moral resistance. People don’t want to be told what to do. However, as Christians, we should agree that truth is not to be simply used as a big stick, it is a mirror. Truth is not a club, or a weapon to be wielded to beat others down, rather it is a mirror to show people their lives through a better light. Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.

The cross isn’t a recovery program, the place to simply rid yourself of undesirable behaviors and improve on what good is already there. It is a place to die. It is not a question of giving up certain sins, but of giving up one’s illusion to rights! Living a holy life comes from having an authentic, passionate relationship with God, not out of strict rules and regulations. We cannot legislate morality or see hearts changed through the law. We must strive to be aware of how we communicate the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. However, truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.

Apart from the power of the gospel to transform human hearts, renew minds, and redirect human lives to live for God’s glory, man would never comprehend or realize the purpose for which he was created: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Because in Jesus Christ, God put on flesh, and became man. In Jesus, the world saw a man who was ferociously humble. A man who was love incarnate. A man who suffered and was tempted, yet did not sin. A man who was steadfastly obedient until death, even death on a cross. A man who while being the very essence, being of the very nature and substance God, did not consider Himself equal to the Father, but submitted to the will of God and gave up His life for people undeserving of His love. In Christ’s death, He paid our debt at infinite cost to Himself. God paid our debt with His own flesh. Jesus paid our ransom to uphold the justice and righteousness of our Father; so that He could justifiably look upon us and lovingly call us son and daughter. This good news is the substance and meaning of the gospel in which we celebrate: that God became man, to save us from ourselves, and give us life. He came just like He promised, and His love will not be silent.

All humans are created in the image of God, and should be loved and respected as His image bearers. All Christians are as new creations in Jesus Christ (2nd Corinthians 5:17-21; 1st John 5:1-3), and we should remind each other that our true identity is not based on sexuality or self-expression, but on our union with Christ. The church universal, and of course the local church should strive to be a community that welcomes all those who hate their sin and struggle against it, even when that struggle involves failures and setbacks.

God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you. We are to redistribute it the same way. The church needs to remember that we don’t need more family values in the Gospel, we need more Gospel values in our families. Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.

Real transformative heart change won’t happen through simply ‘trying harder’ and following the rules better, but only through encountering the radical grace of God. We cannot legislate morality or expect the government to force everyone to act strictly in accordance with the Christian worldview. Religion stresses holiness over grace. Irreligion stresses freedom over holiness. Christianity is freedom through grace that leads to holiness. The greatest threat to the church isn’t atheism, materialism, abortion, or gay marriage, but the moralism that celebrates a righteousness which doesn’t come from Christ. We are all far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.

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Some recommended articles:

“How to Survive a Cultural Crisis” by: Mark Dever

“How Should Same-Sex Marriage Change the Church’s Witness?” by: Russell Moore

“The Church and Homosexuality: Ten Commitments” by Kevin DeYoung

“Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency” by Tim Keller

“Debunking Marriage Myths | The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” by: Steve Watters

“Sex Without Bodies” by: Andy Crouch

“Prop 8, DOMA, and the Christian Response” by: Ed Stetzer

“Marriage in God’s Story” by: John Smidt

“Jesus and Homosexuality” by: Geoff Ashley

“The New Purpose of Marriage” by: Collin Hansen

“Homosexuality is Not Me” by: Matt Moore

“Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality” by: Dennis Prager

“Why Gay Marriage is Good (and Bad) for the Church” by: Trevin Wax

“Why is Homosexuality Wrong?” by: John Piper

“How Might Christians Respond To The Question of Homosexual Marriage?” by: Doug Hankins

“DOMA and the Rock” by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

“What the Bible Really Still Says About Homosexuality” by: Kevin DeYoung

“What Does God Expect From Gay People?” by: Matt Moore

“Orienting on Homosexual Orientation” by Nick Roen

“Honesty, Truth and Homosexuality” by Geoff Ashley

“God and the Gay Christian” by Samuel Allberry

“Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis” by: Kevin DeYoung

“The Gay Community and That One Time Jesus Called Me the ‘N-word'” by Sammy Adebiyi

“What You Should Know About ‘LGBTQ'” by: Joe Carter

“From Radical Lesbian to Redeemed Christian” by: Tony Reinke

“Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage” by: John Piper

“How Can Homosexuality Be Wrong if It Doesn’t Harm Anyone?” by: Matt Smethurst

“9 Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases” by: Joe Carter

“A Level Playing Field” by: Paul David Tripp

“Can a Gay Person Be a Christian? It Depends On What You Mean.” by: Matt Moore

“On Winning the Marriage Debate” by: Eric Teetsel

“Christian Responsibility and Mosaic Law” by: Geoff Ashley

“Fornicating on the Battlefield” by: Tony Anderson

“An Open Letter From a Gay Sister in Christ” by: Hunter Baker

“Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” by: Brandon Ambrosino

“Rick Warren on Gay Marriage: ‘Tolerance Does Not Mean Approval'” by: Stoyan Zaimov

“I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-sex Marriage” by: Doug Mainwaring

“Sinister New Case Shows Marriage McCarthyism Is Up and Running” by: Mike Judge

“Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage” by: Jonathan Leeman

“Love Warns, Love Rebukes” by: Paul David Tripp

“Grace-Driven Effort and Sanctification” by Sam Schabel

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Some recommended sermons:

“Homosexuality” by Matt Chandler

“The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality (Part 1)” by: John Piper

“The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality (Part 2)” by: John Piper