Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Are All Transgressions of the Law Equal?

Q. 83: Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
Answer: Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (WSC)

There is a popular misconception out there that all sins are equal and that no sin is worse than another sin. Many Christians have picked this up from a misunderstanding of James 2:10, which says that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” But this verse, as the preceding and following verses explain, means that to break one commandment makes a person a transgressor of the law and liable to judgment (James 2:9, 11). Apart from the mercy offered in Christ, the law demands perfect obedience.

But while all sins are the same in how they violate God's law, are contrary to his character, and deserve eternal judgment, yet in other respects they are not the same. The Bible regularly speaks of sins that are greater than others (e.g. Ezek. 8:6, John 19:11) and which deserve greater judgment than others (e.g. Matt. 11:22, Luke 12:47-48). The Westminster Larger Catechism summarizes the biblical material on this point in helpful detail in questions 150-152, which you can read at this link. It describes how sins receive their aggravations from the persons offending, from the parties offended, from the nature and quality of the offense, and from the circumstances.

To believe that no sin is worse than another sin is an unbiblical concept. I believe many people hold to this idea with good intentions, but it often leads to bad consequences in practice and a superficial understanding of sin. A wise person knows how to evaluate sin and perceive various aggravations which can make a sin worse. In this way, not only is he able to address the sins of others more appropriately and justly, but he also gains a better sense of the depravity of his own sins and a better sense of the mercy of God in Christ.

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