Bible Q&A: Are There Different Rankings of Sin?

Is one sin more grievous to God than another?  Is adultery, homosexuality, or murder worse than lying, stealing, or gossiping?  Is there an unforgivable sin?

Generally speaking, the Bible does speak of sins being greater than others.  For example, in John 19:11 Jesus told Pilate that Caiaphas’s sin of delivering him over to Pilate was “greater” than Pilate’s sin of condemning Jesus to death without cause.  This is probably because Pilate, a Gentile ignorant and disdainful of the Jewish religion, would not have had any reason to know Who Jesus was.  Caiaphas, however, was High Priest, and so he should have known from his deep study of all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament Who Jesus really was, but as Paul brought out in 2 Corinthians 3:14, he and his fellow Jewish leaders had refused to believe due to their rebellious hearts.

Another example is found in Ezekiel 23:11, when the capital of the southern nation of Judah, Jerusalem, was figuratively called “more corrupt” than her sister capital city of Samaria in the northern kingdom of Israel.  Over in the New Testament, you’ll remember that Paul told Timothy that the one who doesn’t provide for his own household is called “worse” than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8).

Paul also told Timothy that it is possible for evil people to “go on from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13).  That shows there are varying levels of sinfulness.

I’m also reminded of how Jesus denounced certain cities of his day for rejecting him as the Messiah in spite of the miracles he had performed amongst them to show them he was God’s Son.  He told them “it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matt. 11:20-24).  He also used a parable which talked about a servant who “knew his mater’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will.”  This servant would receive a “severe beating,” as opposed to the one who did not know that he was disobeying his master’s will and got a “light beating” (Lk. 12:47-48).  This shows there will be worse punishment for some than for others.

This brings to mind how in this life, some sins have worse consequences than others.  For example, 1 John 3:15 says that from a spiritual standpoint the one who hates his brother is just as much a murderer as the one who actually physically takes someone’s life with malice.  However, the one who actually takes a physical life will have worse consequences in this life than the one who hates his brother in terms of immediate consequences (jail, execution).

With all that being said, we must never forget that any sin whatsoever is serious in itself, because the wages or consequences of each and every sin not repented of is death (Rom. 6:23), specifically eternity in hell which is called the second death (Rev. 21:8).  That means that any and all sin has the potential to keep us from heaven, even those sins which we might consider minor (like lying – Rev. 21:8).

With that in mind, we should seriously re-think the notion that one sin is “greater” than another from an eternal perspective.  All sin, no matter what, will keep one out of heaven for all eternity if they are not repented of.

This leads me to the question about the unforgivable sin.  The unforgivable sin is defined in Scripture as blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:22-30).

When Jesus said that blaspheming the Spirit would be a sin which would not be forgiven, he said that in the context of the Pharisees attributing Jesus’ miraculous power to cast out demons to Satan.  Matthew’s account of this event says that Jesus performed these miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:28).  Therefore, when his enemies saw him perform these miracles by the power of the Spirit and were so  stubbornly hard-hearted to refuse to believe that they attributed what the Spirit was doing to Satan, they were showing that their hearts were so calloused that there was no way they were going to choose to believe in Jesus, repent, and follow him.  Without doing that, they would lose all hope of the forgiveness which only comes through Jesus.

Can one blaspheme the Holy Spirit and not be forgiven today? Not in the same sense that Jesus’ enemies did since miracles were involved back then and miracles do not take place today.  However, consider this.  The Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) because its authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, thus making the Scriptures basically a message from the Spirit.

When we stubbornly and unrepentantly disobey God’s Word, will we be forgiven?  The Hebrew writer says no (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31).  By unrepentantly refusing to abide by the Scriptures which came from the Spirit, we reject and speak against the Spirit.  By unrepentantly disobeying the Bible, we have no hope of forgiveness…not until if and when we repent.

1 John 5:16-18 says, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death.  There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.  We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

The sin which doesn’t lead to eternal death in hell is the sin of which we repent and are forgiven.  The sin which leads to death is the one of which we refuse to repent and thus will not be forgiven.  If we are not going to repent of a sin, it’s a waste of time to pray that we be forgiven.  By stubbornly holding on to it we are blaspheming the Spirit who gave us the command we are disobeying.

God expects us who have been born of him, born again, to not let sin reign in our lives.  We will sin, but we will not keep on sinning deliberately and unrepentantly.  Rather, he wants us to confess our sins and repent of them so that forgiveness keeps on coming.

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