Recently, a university student emailed me with a question about sin. What had happened is this: A man came on the university campus where she attended, and began shouting at students that their sins are not equal in God’s sight, and that some of their sins would keep them from heaven. She was angry at this man for condemning a crowd of students who may have genuinely wanted to know more about Christianity. (Note: I couldn’t agree more.). But then she wondered, Was what he said warranted? She had always thought all sins were equal in God’s eyes. She started looking up verses and checking websites, but instead of confirming what she had been taught in Sunday school since she was a kid, she found some contradictions.
Her question was this: Are all sins equal in God’s eyes? If not, can some sins keep you from heaven even if you trusted in Christ as your Savior? This is my response to her.
First, it’s obviously true that some sins are worse than others (murder is worse than breaking the speed limit, etc.). The Old Testament shows this when God requires different sacrifices for different sins — two doves for minor sins, a bull or a ram for worse sins, etc. Common sense alone tells us this — we’d consider it absurd to punish a jaywalker the same way we do a rapist! Different sins call for different penalties — God’s ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ shows this. However, the guy verbally accosting students was wrong if he said that ‘some sins will keep you from heaven.’ The fact is, ANY sin will keep us from heaven! A holy (perfect, separated from all sin) God cannot countenance even one sin!
You have to distinguish between relationship and fellowship. A child is in a relationship with his or her parents, by virtue of birth. Nothing can change that relationship. However, a child can be out of fellowship with his or her parents, by virtue of what that child chooses to do, or how he or she chooses to live. Relationship is unchanging and continues for life; fellowship is not — it is maintained through personal choices and obedience. The same is true in our spiritual lives.
Every person is a sinner (big or small; see Rom 3.23 — “All have sinned…”), and by virtue of this fact does not have a relationship with God (we aren’t ‘in His family’). In regard to our relationship with God, any sin (big or small) keeps us from being saved, and going to heaven. The ‘cure’ for this broken relationship is Jesus’ death on the cross, that paid for every sin of every person who ever lived (1 Jn 2.2). That’s why Jesus said on the cross, as He died, “It is finished!” He had paid the price for every sin, and when we believe in Him, we are declared righteous; verses like Rom 4.4-5 and 2 Cor 5.21 express this awesome truth. We are ‘born again’ into God’s forever family; we are “in Christ” — His righteousness is ‘credited’ to our account. God sees us now as righteous. This is God’s free gift to all who believe in His Son. That is our relationship.
But after we are saved, our fellowship with God — not our relationship (we’re in His family, and have eternal life) — is determined by our obedience and devotion to Him (1 Jn 1.6-7 expresses this clearly). Any sin breaks fellowship, and the way to restore fellowship with God is to confess our sins (1 Jn 1.9). He’s always ready to forgive our sins — no matter how bad. No sin is too big, or too bad, that God cannot or will not forgive it when we confess, and restore our fellowship with Him.
And yet, some sins have greater ramifications than others. They affect our lives, or the lives of others, often for years. God’s ‘temporal judgment’ for sin in our lives varies; as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 11.30, because of their sins, some of the Corinthian Christians were sick, and others ‘sleep’ (had died). As a pastor, I often deal with Christians who are battling the results of past sins — drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual immorality, financial indebtedness, or just years ignoring the Lord through distractions or disinterestedness. No one will completely overcome sin or its effects in this life (1 Jn 1.8, 10), but through confession and living for Christ, we can be “more than conquerors” (Rom 8.37 — but read the whole chapter…one of my favorites!).