When I was a child in the late 70’s, the company that produced the Dr. Pepper soft drink had a popular TV commercial that experienced a lot of air time. I remember it had a catchy theme song that was intended to inspire you to go buy a bottle of pop. Almost thirty years later, I can still hear the song…“I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t ya like to be a Pepper too?” Sound familiar? In case it doesn’t or if it was before your time or you just want to take a walk down memory lane, here it is.
Boy, they sure knew how to have fun in the 70’s huh?
Recently, I came across an interesting argument from a professing Christian concerning sin that reminded me of the song of this commercial. The argument went something like this…
“Everyone is a sinner in the eyes of God…”
“Although my sin may not be the same as your sin, we are both still sinners…”
“Furthermore, since you are a sinner and I am a sinner and everyone is a sinner, no one has the right to criticize or judge my sin just because it doesn’t look the same as your sin…”
Conclusion – “All sin is the same and no sin can or should be singled out for criticism and correction…”
Sounds like a logical line of thought, right? Maybe, but it isn’t biblical nor is it rational.
We live in an age where the culture has successfully made it’s impression upon the church that it is wrong to suggest to a person that their lifestyle needs correction. Therefore, unfortunately, it has become taboo to speak biblically about sin. While some choose to twist the biblical teaching in regards to sin, others avoid the topic altogether out of fear of offending someone. We are seeing this trend further supported by the argument above – that all people are sinners with various types of sin, and since no one is better than anyone else nobody has a right to confront anybody about sin. This culture in our churches has become similar to the Dr. Pepper World fabricated in that commercial from the 70’s. Instead of singing “he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper…” you can almost hear those lyrics being exchanged for “he’s a sinner, she’s a sinner, we’re a sinner, wouldn’t ya like to be a sinner too?”
This exchange of lyrics represents the attitude of those who claim grace for their lives but are unwilling to tap into the power of that grace to turn away from sin. In fact, this attitude fails to take seriously the nature of sin and instead attempts to defend it. This is disturbing and reminds me of what Paul said in Romans:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2 (NASB95)
Instead of weeping and mourning over sin and crucifying our sinful nature, the current trend is to rationalize it, justify it, defend it, and unashamedly glamorize it because, after all, it is something that we all have in common. So why not dance around and sing about it instead of confront it? Of course I am being sarcastic. This approach to sin is toxic and will poison churches.
Since I have already written a few articles concerning the Christian responsibility regarding “judging” sin (Who Are You to Judge – Part 1, Who Are You to Judge – Part 2, Judge Yourself Rightly), in this article I want to approach the concept of whether or not all sin is the same. Is this argument valid? And if so, does this mean we should steer clear of confronting and correcting the transgressions of others because we are all a bunch of Peppers (I mean sinners) stuck in the same boat with none of us really having the ability to speak the truth in love?
Before we go any further in our discussion about sin, it would be wise to state briefly what is meant when the bible talks about sin. Although the dimensions of sin has many facets and is a topic worthy of deep study and discussion, for our purposes a simple working definition will be enough. Traditionally, sin has been interpreted as missing the mark or taking a wrong road. This happens when God’s holy righteous law is violated. The mark for humans, as well as all of creation, is to abide by God’s holy righteous law. When we fail to do that, we are missing the mark or choosing the wrong road in life. God calls this condition sin along with many other synonyms, such as trespass, transgression, wickedness, and violation.
Furthermore, sin is the corruption or distortion of something good and pure, similar to the effect of rust on metal. God made His creation and called it “good.” Through free will, mankind chose to distort the good creation by missing the mark of God’s law resulting in the good thing being cursed. Only through the sacrifice of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is there any possibility of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of God’s creation from the effects of sin.
Is All Sin the Same?
If we were to take two extremely opposite cases concerning sin, compare them, and ask the question whether or not the two sinners are equally guilty of equal transgressions in the sight of God, what would we come up with? For instance, if we were to take the sin of Adolf Hitler and the part he played in the Jewish holocaust during World War II and the sin of a common everyday person who tells a simple lie to get himself out of trouble for being late to work, would we come to the conclusion that their sins are the same? One man was responsible for inspiring the nationwide anti-Semitism that resulted in the displacement, torture, and deaths of millions of Jewish people and the other was responsible for lying to his boss so he wouldn’t get fired. How does God view these two different sets of sin? Does God in His holiness hate one more than the other, or does He despise them both with equal disdain and anger?
The “I’m a Pepper” approach would have to say yes to the latter to be consistent in their logic. But is this always true and more importantly, does this line up with what God says in His word?
In One Sense…
To answer this on a fundamental level, I believe the bible would support the argument that all sin is the same.
For instance, regardless of the specific nature of the sin, whether it is the murder of millions of people or a lie told to an employer, all sin is the same in the sense that it pays the same wages. The bible says that the paycheck that is rewarded to all of humanity for our labor of sin is death.
“For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23 (NASB95)
Another way that all sin is the same is that it’s pervasively inherent in all of humanity. Everyone who has ever walked on this planet (except Jesus Christ) is guilty of sin no matter what the exact details of that sin look like. Whether a person is a mass murderer or a liar, we are all on level ground and are all equally deserving of God’s wrath against us. We can thank the first humans, Adam and Eve, for this conundrum.
“For as in Adam all die…” 1 Corinthians 15:21 (NASB95)
“For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23 (NASB95)
“…just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…” Romans 5:12 (NASB95)
One more way that I can think of that points to all sin being equal is in the way that it is rendered impotent. Many false religions have offered empty solutions and many humanistic endeavors have been made throughout the ages in an attempt to overcome the effects of sin, but the only solution to mankind’s guilt and shame is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In Him, all sin is forgiven. In Him, all of the power of sin over our lives is broken. In Him, the curse of death is removed, and in it’s place stands the promise of eternal life. Deliverance from sin’s devastation is the same for everyone…and His name is Jesus.
“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17 (NASB95)
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22 (NASB95)
So, going back to our comparison, on a fundamental level we could say that both Adolf Hitler and the man who tells a lie are equally guilty of transgressing God’s law, equally deserving of punishment, and equally candidates for God’s salvation from sin. We can conclude that all sin is the same regardless of what that sin looks like.
In Another Sense…
Let’s take that a step further. While on a fundamental level in several ways we can say that, yes, all sin is the same, but on another level, I can think of at least two situations where all sin is not viewed the same by the Lord.
Situation #1 – When sin is causing others to sin
One lie that we have been sold is that our sin only effects the person committing the act. The alcoholic who tells himself that his consumption is only harming himself or the suicidal person who says no one will be bothered if they commit self-murder are lying to themselves. Actions always have consequences; consequences always have an effect on those around us. The sin that we choose to commit will always effect others. God takes the effect of our sin on others very seriously. Jesus said this:
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” Matthew 18:7 (NASB95)
It would seem to me that Jesus is pronouncing woe to the world because of its sins (stumbling blocks), but an extra woe is pronounced to the person who introduces those sins to others.
We see this same principle applied to those in the church who are teachers of God’s word and shepherds of His sheep.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” James 3:1-2 (NASB95)
“…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6 (NASB95)
If you are a leader in God’s church and therefore by implication are also a teacher, it is of utmost importance that we watch our life and doctrine carefully because eternal souls are at stake. Not that teachers and leaders have the ability to save anyone, but a blatantly sinful life and a false theology can do irreparable, eternal damage to God’s people as well as to those who would potentially become His sheep. Therefore, God holds those in teaching and leadership positions to a higher level of accountability because they have been given a greater level of influence which is a greater responsibility. The sin they commit is not the same as the sin of others because the repercussions have the potential to be more devastating.
In our comparison between Hitler and the liar we would come to the conclusion that Hitler’s sin was much more grievous because through his sinful leadership and teachings an entire nation was impacted, causing it to stumble. This is one way in which all sin is not the same.
Situation #2 – When sin is unconfessed and unrepented
A second way in which all sin is not the same that comes to mind is when sin remains attached to the sinner because they have failed to confess it and to turn from it.
In 1 John, God makes a distinction concerning sin in the life of people. There are those who fight and wrestle against sin because they publicly hate it and there are those who embrace and practice their sin because they privately love it.
As believers in Christ, we all battle temptations, some more severe than others but all contain the potential to drag us into sin and place us at odds with our Lord. As followers of Christ, we long for the day of glorification in Christ when we will be raised immortal, imperishable, incorruptible, and eternal. The bible says that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet we will all be changed. At that point, we will never ever struggle again with sin. That will be a great day!
But that is in the future. So in the mean time, God’s children are in a seriously ugly battle. In fact, scripture uses some graphic imagery to paint the seriousness of this battle.
“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” Hebrews 12:4 (NASB95)
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Matthew 5:29 (NASB95)
On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have chosen not to fight. Instead of wrestling against sin they have chosen to accept it, embrace it, and keep on practicing their sinful lifestyle. The bible describes them well:
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness…” 1 John 3:4 (NASB95)
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:7-8 (NASB95)
So on the one hand you have sinners who sin but have confessed and repented of their sin resulting in God’s compassion, forgiveness, and cleansing. On the other hand you have sinners who sin but have not confessed and repented of their sin resulting in God’s wrath, unforgiveness, and damnation. In our comparison between Hitler and the liar, if we were to assume that Hitler didn’t confess his sins before he died but the man who lied to his boss did, then we have another instance where all sin is not the same because one has been forgiven and forgotten, the other has not.
Repent and Return
How about you? How do you approach sin?
Hiding, justifying, and defending your sin will destroy any opportunity you have to be the person God intended you to be.
Instead we are to weep, mourn, confess, and even shed our blood (figuratively of course) over our sin…never embrace it or become comfortable with it or accept it. Not in ourselves nor in the lives of those we love…and we are called to love everyone.
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.'”
Joel 2:12-13 (NASB95)