We were shocked--a rapist had been attending our small in-home Bible study!
We were living in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas (where the military prison is located), and “Bob” was out of prison appealing a rape charge. He had successfully convinced several local Christian leaders of his innocence. However, during his appeal, Bob was rearrested for raping a local woman, clearly guilty.
When our Bible study met after his arrest, we expressed shock and confusion regarding the behavior of this man who had sat in our midst one week earlier. One woman in our group made a statement commonly heard among Christians who are trying to be fair and forgiving: “Well, I know he sinned, but when I gossip I am no different. God sees all sins the same.”
Is this true? Are all sins equal in God's eyes?
There are two ways God sees all sins the same:
1. Any sin, no matter how small, keeps us from heaven if we don’t trust Jesus.
2. Any sin, no matter how great, is forgiven by God when we repent and believe.
But that is where the equality of sins ends.
There are four ways God sees sins differently:
The Old Testament (Numbers 15:22-31) and New Testament (Luke 12:47-48) treat unintentional sins more leniently than deliberate acts of rebellion.
2. Knowledge and opportunity
Sins are also judged according to our knowledge and opportunity (Luke 12:48). God expects more from an adult than a child and more from a person raised in the nurture of the Lord than a person newly introduced to Christ. In John 19:11 Jesus said Judas (who had the advantage of living with Jesus) and the religious leaders (who had the advantage of Scripture) were “guilty of a greater sin” than Pilate who had neither advantage.
3. Position and influence
People in positions of spiritual influence and leadership are "judged more strictly" (James 3:1; Mark 12:40) and their eternal punishment can be more severe (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13).
4. Type of sin
God also considers the type of sin. In the Old Testament, some sins required restitution (Exodus 22:1) and others the death penalty (Exodus 21:12). God punished sins like human sacrifice and sexual sins more severely because they had more serious consequences on the individual and community (Leviticus 18:24-30). Sexual sins, sins against children, and blasphemy against the Spirit are emphasized as more serious in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:18; Matthew 18:6-7; Matthew 12:31), and Jesus tells us that obedience is more important in some areas than in others (Matthew 23:23).
Any sin--great or small--condemns us if we don't trust Christ. Any sin--great or small--is forgiven when we trust in Christ. But God judges sins differently--according to their severity, influence, and intentions--and so should we.