This post last updated on November 13th, 2021
What is Sin?
In a previous article, I briefly touched on the definition of sin. In that post, I wrote that the definition of sin is rebellion against God (1 John 3:4) and that sin is anything that leads to or produces unrighteousness (1 John 5:17).
I’ll add to that, sin is also any of our thoughts and actions that fall short of God’s perfect will. How often does that happen? Well, in my case, more times each day than I typically recognize.
Sin can be blatant, planned, and fully intentional. Yet it’s often secretive, done within our own thoughts, and through actions which we have learned to keep fully hidden.
Sin can also be passive, or even unintentional. I can best explain that by saying sometimes we have a sinful attitude, or a sinful heart. Things we may not consider sinful may actually be so. Jesus called this out. He said if you so much as look upon a person with lustful thoughts or with hate, it’s the same in your heart as adultery and murder. Which one of us haven’t done both of these and more?
In fact, Jesus taught us that all sin begins in our hearts:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.Matthew 15:19
This is where the practice of self-examination becomes crucial. The Puritans had a daily practice of this. Each evening, they would take the time to go before the Lord confessing things they did and things they did not do but should have.
That’s a spiritual discipline that so many Christians are lacking. How do we get to that? Recently I’ve put my smartphone to work on this. Since I’m frequently looking at the thing anyway, I made some notes on it and set a recurring daily reminder. It’s a start.
Categories of Sin
Venial and Mortal Sin
Here’s something I came across while digging into the subject of sin. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sin is divided into 2 very distinct categories.
We’re going to have to talk about that because how we view and deal with sin is vital to our understanding of God. A false view of sin can have devastating eternal consequences.
Venial sin in the Roman Catholic Catechism refers to sin very similar to what I mentioned above as passive, or unintentional sin. The Catechism teaches that “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.” You’ll find that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the cross reference number 1863 on that page.
Mortal sin, as you’ve probably already concluded is intentional and is “sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, cross reference number 1857).
So to recap, mortal sin, according to the Catholic Church, is the sin that results in a loss of salvation (that consequently they teach can be gained again by works of repentance), and venial sin does not result in a loss of salvation, but that it will carry with it temporary punishment.
What does the Bible teach?
The Bible teaches that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and that our rightful wages is death (Romans 6:23). All sin, whether secret or blatant, severe or minor, separates us from God. Jesus Christ is the only way back to God (Romans 8:1).
To be clear, every Christian will continue to struggle with sin in this life (Romans 7:13-20), but for you who have put your faith in Jesus Christ, you will not be separated from Him:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39
Degrees of Sin
This is where it becomes “difficult and dangerous” as Billy Graham put it “to list sins according to their degree.” There’s an enormous level of responsibility on how this is communicated.
Dangerous, because as I stated earlier, an unbiblical view of sin can have dire consequences. Difficult because it’s true that there are varying degrees of sin and consequences.
I’ll provide evidence from Scripture that will show us that not all sins are equal. Yet, keep in mind that all sins equally separate us from God and need to be atoned for.
“At least I’m no murderer.”
It’s a fairly normal response for someone who is called out on some wrong they’ve done. And maybe they have a point. After all, how would you like it if a speeding ticket carried the same punishment as robbing a bank? They’re 2 very different offenses with extremely different consequences.
In fact, Jesus told Pilate that the one who handed Him over was guilty of a greater sin.
Jesus answered him, “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.”John 19:11
There’s more. In Matthew 11:23-24, Jesus told the citizens of Capernaum that because of their unbelief after seeing His miracles, that it will be better for Sodom on the day of judgement.
And in Luke 12:47-48, Jesus said that those who follow God and know what He commands and requires but don’t do it will be held accountable to a different degree than those who did not know.
And don’t forget about the letters to the 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. Different churches, different circumstances, and different consequences.
Are all Sins Equal?
I know there are different views on this. There are people that teach that by sinning, you can lose and re-gain your salvation. Some teach that you can lose it never to regain it. Others may say that you can never lose your salvation over sin.
Biblical interpretation is difficult, but we must always ask the question, “Where’s it written?” That doesn’t mean we’ll always be able to explain in human terms what God is saying, but we have His word and that’s the ultimate authority. Our responsibility is to approach His word with prayer and diligence.
So are all sins equal? The Bible clearly teaches in the verses I shared above that there are in fact varying degrees of sin with different consequences.
But the big truth to take away is that all sin separates us from God. If we didn’t need a Messiah to restore us to Him, then Jesus Christ would not have had to die on the cross.
Seems like a great place to share this…