I sometimes hear many well meaning Christians say, "All sins are equal."
But is it actually true?
I think it depends on what one means by "equal." If by equal, a person means, all sinful acts are equal in that they all fall into the category of wrongful deeds and they are all equal to make you guilty before a holy God, or equally condemn you to judgment, I completely agree. However, if someone means all sins are equally offensive or heinous, then I don't think that's right. And you don't have to be a biblical scholar or ethical theorist to realize this.
Here are three reasons why all sins are not equally heinous:
1. Just think about it from a moral perspective. Surely not all sins are equally severe. A child who steals a cookie despite his parents charge not to is not committing as egregious an offense as a person who tortures and slaughters hundreds of children. A spouse who commits adultery is worse than a spouse who lies about how much money they spent at the store. Our moral intuitions tell us this is the case. This is why we believe the consequences need to correspond to the degree of the wrong-doing. Good parents wouldn't discipline a child for snagging an extra cookie in the same way if she punched another person. And after all isn't God the perfect Parent? Isn't God the Judge of the world who always does what is right? This is why murders are sent to prison and are not merely scolded. Hence the appropriate phrase, "The punishment should fit the crime."
2. In the Old Testament, God talks about how He prefers mercy and obedience over sacrifice, implying a hierarchy of moral actions (1 Sam. 15:22, Hosea 6:6).
3. Jesus himself believed that there is a hierarchy within the moral law. For example, Jesus refers to the "weightier matters of the law" (Matt 23:23). He says that the "greatest and first commandment" is to love God (Matt 22:36-40). Near his crucifixion, he tells Pilate that the Jewish religious leaders committed the "greater sin" (John 19:11).
To be clear, this doesn't mean we can excuse our sin or condemn/hate other people. As James 2:10 points out, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it," because God gave the law, and ultimately the sin is committed against him. Nevertheless, we should be careful not to collapse all evils as equally weighty.