I originally posted this on our church’s leadership blog but since I’m teaching on this tomorrow I decided to repost here. If you’re taking the “Hole in our Holiness” class, reading this will help prepare you for tomorrow.
One issue that Kevin DeYoung addresses in The Hole in our Holiness is “the notion that every sin is the same in God’s eyes.” DeYoung points out that in many cases, this sentiment is expressed as a form of genuine humility – “I deserve God’s wrath too. So how can I judge your mistakes?” Since ours is a church quick to love and slow to judge (excellent qualities!) you hear this sentiment expressed a lot.
According to DeYoung, though, it’s only partially true. It’s true in this sense:
“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 2:20). 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 this truism is half-true.”
In other words, all sins are equal in the sense that all sins separate us from a holy God.
However, the Bible does not teach that all sins are the same and, in numerous places, as DeYoung points out, some sins as worse than others. The Mosaic Law prescribes different punishment for different crimes with different sacrificial payments. There is a difference between unintentional sins and those done in defiance (Numbers 15:22-31). Some sins in Israel were more notorious than others – like sacrificing your children to Molech! Even though Cornelius was not saved by his good works he is described as a devout man. Even among non-Christians “there is a difference between being a decent human being and being a dirty rotten scoundrel.”
Our own legal system takes this for granted and, if it didn’t, if murder received the same punishment as jay-walking, we would all certainly see the error.
The problem, says DeYoung, is that if we view all sin as the same, we become less likely to fight any sin in pursuit of holiness. “Why should I stop sleeping with my girlfriend when there will still be lust in my heart? Why pursue holiness when even one sin in my life means I’m Osama bin Hitler in God’s eyes?” In other words, the view that all sins are the same, can actually hinder our quest for holiness, or keep us from recognizing progress in our or other peoples’ lives.
In defense of this truism, or at least the sentiment behind it, I believe it can be used constructively in several ways. First, it allows us to recognize that no one can be saved by good works and that we all stand in need of God’s grace. Second, and relatedly, this serves as a great equalizer, which helps us remember where we stand as humans. Knowing that we all need God’s mercy ought to prevent us from being judgmental. Third, it can help us remember that none of us have reached perfection, or will reach perfection in this life. Therefore, we are always in a place where we can empathize with others in their struggle against sin.
I think, if I understand Kevin DeYoung correctly, we need to hold on to what is true (all sin separates us from a holy God), but reject what is false (all sins are the same). When it comes to looking at other people we should probably focus on the former (to keep us from being judgmental). When it comes to looking at our own sin, we should probably focus on the latter as we strive for holiness.