I cannot recall the number of times which I’ve said something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter if you’re telling a white lie or if you’ve murdered someone, all sins are equal in God’s eyes.” In fact, I’m embarrassed that I so dogmatically claimed this supposed truth in the past as it illustrates all too vividly how biblically illiterate I was at that time.
Before you toss me to the executioner, I’ll clarify that the statement in question is the second part of the above quote which reads, “all sins are equal in God’s eyes.” The Bible is crystal clear that there will be degrees of punishment in hell and thus that portion of my statement is wholly inaccurate.
However, we must first begin with what is correct in my previous statement. In Genesis 2:15-18, God makes it clear that to disobey (sin) against him brings death. Further, Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The wages of sin is death. So all sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2) and the consequence of that sin is death. Thus, the reason we need a Savior, and the reason for Jesus Christ coming into this world and spilling his blood for us.
Having that truth ingrained firmly in our minds, we can then move to where the Bible indicates that hell will have varying degrees of punishment. The first text I’d like to call your attention to is Jesus speaking to Pontius Pilate in the Gospel of John (John 19:11) where he says, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” First of all, let me just point out the power of Jesus’ words here. He basically said to the ruler of the land, with whom his fate (seemingly, but we know better) rested, that the only reason he had any power whatsoever was because He allowed Pilate to have it! Amen to the Almighty!
Of course the second part of that verse is what I’d like to call to your attention in the context of this article. Jesus specifically states the idea of one having “greater” sin. While we don’t know if this condemnation was intended for Judas or Caiaphas, the point is clear that while Pilate will still be held accountable for ordering the death of Christ, his sin was not as great as those who had seen overwhelming evidence that Jesus was Messiah and the Son of God and chose to coldly and deliberately betray Him.
Jesus implied this idea of varying degrees of sin all throughout the Gospels. Here are a few examples:
- When speaking to Simon in Luke 7:41-43, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
- Luke 12:47-48, “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.“
- Matthew 10:15, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.“
- Matthew 11:22, “But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.“
In particular, Jesus makes it crystal clear that those who have heard the Gospel and choose to reject it will be dealt with much more harshly than those who have not. The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:29 writes, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” As John MacArthur points out regarding this passage, “People who reject Christ’s gracious, saving gospel will face a fate worse than those pagans killed by divine judgment on the two OT cities (Sodom and Gomorrah).“
At this point, it is unquestionably clear that not only are there varying degrees of punishment in hell, but that the most serious offense is that of denying Christ. The writer goes on in Hebrews 30-31 to say, “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Let us not forget that it is not Satan who rules in hell, it’s God. The eternal punishment is the wrath of God poured out on those separated from Him. To hear the Gospel and reject it does not bode well for one’s eternity.
So, my quote from the beginning of this passage, when understood from a biblically literate perspective, should read, “It doesn’t matter if you’re telling a white lie or if you’ve murdered someone, all sin separates us from God and the wages of sin is death. But, there are degrees of sin, some worse than others, and those who have not been regenerated in Christ will receive punishment in accordance with their sinful actions.“
Never forget that all sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), but do not fall into the trap of thinking that all sins are equal.
Above all else, remember that Christ came to this world and allowed He who knew no sin to be ruthlessly beaten and murdered on a cross to save us from our sins. He died for us on that tree such that we may be made righteous in the eyes of God. Christ imputed his righteousness onto us, low-down dirty sinners such that we may experience eternal life and have the honor and joy of Worshiping him in eternity. As Martin Luther once opined, we are nothing more than a dunghill who has been covered over by a fresh, white snow (Jesus). Our iniquity is cloaked by the righteousness and majesty of Jesus Christ!
If you would like to know more about a relationship with Jesus, please contact me.