In a sermon delivered in 1933, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones asserted quite vigorously that all sins are equal in God’s sight: ‘All sin is sin to God and miserliness is no worse than drunkenness. Both are equally repugnant to Him, and equally to be punished. It is we who classify sin, not God – to Him all sin is sin’. In a similar vein, David Prior wrote in his commentary on Habakkuk: ‘There are no degrees of righteousness or unrighteousness.’ The Old Testament scholar, R. K. Harrison, however, tried to modify this by arguing that there are no degrees of sin, but there are degrees of culpability.

I must confess to finding all this rather bewildering as it seems to me obviously untrue. It is a Stoic belief that all sins are equal but it is hardly a Christian belief. Jeremiah pronounced that his generation had ‘done worse’ than the previous generation in forsaking the true God and His law (Jer.16:12). The Old Testament does not attach the same punishment to all sins. For example, murder attracts the death penalty but stealing attracts restitution plus compensation. It also distinguishes between sins that are done unintentionally and those that are done ‘with a high hand’ (see Numbers 15:28-31). At His trial, Jesus told Pilate, with reference probably to Caiaphas but possibly to Judas, that ‘he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:11). Similarly, in His denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus declared: ‘For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others’ (Matt.23:23). Clearly, some commandments are more vital than others, and some sins are worse than others.

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