With the killing of Osama bin Laden this is probably as good a time as any to write a post I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I mentioned this yesterday, but permit me to go after this theme one more time.

Every sin is not the same in God’s eyes.

This sentiment is popular with many Christians. For some it’s a sign of genuine humility–“I deserve God’s wrath too. So how can I judge someone else?” For others this is a way to dodge the hits that come when you dare to criticize trendy sins–“Yes, I do think mating with bovines is wrong, but it’s not worse than any other sin.” And for still others, it’s simply a soft form of relativism–“Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, you know.”

Like many popular adages, this one about all sins being equal before God is not entirely wrong. Every sin is a breach of God’s holy law. And whoever fails to keep the law in one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). So any sin committed against an infinite God deserves punishment. We’re all born sinners. We all sin. Every sin deserves death. That’s why the truism is half-true.

But it’s also a lot not true. Over and over the Bible teaches, either explicitly or implicitly, that some sins are worse than others.

  • God waited four hundred years before giving the Israelites the promised land because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete (Gen. 15:16). They were sinners all along, but eventually their sins merited drastic punishment.
  • The Mosaic legislation prescribes different penalties for different infractions and requires different sacrifices and payments to make restitution.
  • Numbers 15 recognizes the difference between unintentional sins and those done “with a high hand” (Num. 15:29-30). Dropping a four letter word when you hit your thumb with a hammer is not as bad as giving God the middle finger.
  • Some sins in Israel’s history were more notorious than others. Judging from the Lord’s outrage, sacrificing your child to Molech was probably worse than losing your patience (Jer. 32:35).
  • Jesus intimates that some peoples will be judged more severely on the day of judgment because they had more reason to believe (Matt. 10:15). We will all be judged according to the light we have.
  • Though not saved by his good works, Cornelius was nevertheless “a devout man who feared God” (Acts 10:2). Even among non-Christians there is a difference between being a decent human being and being a dirty, rotten scoundrel.
  • The requirements for overseers presupposes that some men are actually godly. Some Christians have lives marked by general obedience to God’s word. Some Christians are better examples than others.

Some day I want to write more about this subject because I think many Christians have lurched headlong down the slip-n-slide of moral equivalence. So the elder who battles the temptation to take a second look at the racy section of the Lands’ End catalog shouldn’t dare exercise church discipline on the 20-year old fornicating with every co-ed that moves. When we can no longer see the different gradations among sins and sinners and sinful nations, we have not succeeded in respecting our own badness, we’ve cheapened God’s goodness. God knows that some sins are more grievous than others. We would do well to see the world with God’s eyes as best we can.

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54 thoughts on “One More Time on Moral Equivalence”

  1. Israel has never enjoyed “moral equivalence”. The land theft and the terrorism it engaged in prior to 1948 placed Palestinians firmly on the moral high ground. Palestinian deaths – like those dying in Lebanon right now – always exceed Israeli casualties by the hundred. Despite the global war on “anti-Semitism”, the Israeli state itself is built on the tenets of racist Jewish supremacism. And even if twenty Israeli soldiers were captured by Hezbollah – where is the justification for destroying a sovereign nation from the air? To some, the fact that Israel possesses a standing, uniformed army and some powerful contacts suggests that rag-tag “insurgents” could never enjoy “moral equivalence”. History tells a different story, not alone in Ireland.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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