All Sin Is Not The Same!

sinI previously worked as a Warden in the prison system and learned many life and leadership lessons during my tenure.  I think I will share a few of those lessons this week. One many applicable life and ministry lesson is the fact that All Sin Is Not The Same.

Individuals come into the prison system for a wide range of sins including but not limited to: stealing, lying, cheating, robbery, drug selling, drug using, possession of firearms, violation of parole, murder and the biggest and of course the worse one of them all… “I’ll get to that one in a minute.”

One thing that is clear in the prison/judicial system is that sin has labels; some sins are worse than other sins. A person might receive 5 years for one crime and 20 years for another crime. Two individuals might commit the same crime and receive different sentences depending upon the circumstances, the judge, the attorneys, the jury and so on; in other words the gravity of their sentence is open to interpretation.

We should not judge people, or throw stones… because we are all sinners and that sin nature is what separates us from God. The reality is, sin has labels and in the prison system the biggest and worst sinners of them all are “Sex Offender” whom are treated totally different then any of the other sinners (more likely to be brutalized, raped, killed etc.) “That’s not perception, that’s reality!”

There is a sin classification in the eyes of other inmates and there is also a sin classification in the eyes of the public. I remember sitting down talking to a A Sex Offender and some of his peers when I was a Warden and him saying to me: “By being in prison we are considered by most to be the scum of the earth; by being a Sex Offender we are considered the scum, of the scum of the earth, we ain’t %@#$.”

All sin is not the same: If we cut ourselves small, medium or large we will bleed and those cuts (sins) are what separate us from God. Some of those cuts may bleed longer, may leave a bigger scar and may even lead to death.

  • All sin is not the same in the Prison System
  • All sin is not the same in the Judicial System
  • All sin is not the same in __________________

All sin is not the same, however the amazing thing is that Jesus paid our sin debt on the cross.  All sin is not the same, but Jesus forgives all sin the same and works for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.

Is all sin the same in “our” system? Do we tend to think that other people’s sin is worse than our sin? Does God view all sin the same? Should a Sex Offender be treated differently? Questions, Questions, Questions?

  • I’ve got two examples based on your post.
    Ricky Martin comes out of the “closet” and admits he’s Gay….So people “judge” him and say he’s living a life of sin…
    Tiger Woods…nuff said.
    It’s incredible how we look at the sins of others greater than our own sins, when clearly none are holy, ALL have fallen short and it’s ONLY by grace that we have been saved.

    Only by grace.

  • Amy

    Love this: All sin is not the same, but Jesus forgives all sin the same

    I would say all sin has the same eternal consequences…death. In as much as they all separate us from God, they are the same. However, not all sin is the same in regards to its earthly consequences.

    Proverbs talks about 7 things the Lord detests which would make me believe there are sins he may hate worse than others. But, he could (and probably) detest them all and Proverbs is highlighting only 7 of them.

  • Jimmy Hankins

    The consequence of sin is death. The reaction to sin varies. Those dealing out the consequences of sentence in the prison system are not dealing out justice. They are feeding their own sinful desires. I imagine as long as you are completely without sin, you are fine judging somebody else’s level.

  • Good stuff Scott.

    I like the distinction Amy drew. All sin has the same eternal consequences: eternal separation from God. However, all sins don’t have the same practical consequences. In fact, the scary thing is that the consequences are greater than we often anticipate. We reap what we sow, but we don’t reap in the same proportion that we sowed.

    Nice & thought provoking on a Monday morning.


  • haymancm

    I would agree that society, prisoners and the church does treat sin differently. In 1993 our family went through some tragic events in which an uncle, my dad’s brother beat my grandfather to death. My grandpa was my fishing buddy, friend and hero yet I found myself in a place where I learned about forgiveness. That if Jesus could forgive me on the cross, then I could forgive my uncle for his sins. Yet, even in families, sins are treated differently. Up until his death in prison, I was the only living relative to write or visit him in prison. He was left all alone and died alone, with an unmarked grave on the prison grounds in McCallister. The thing is God’s love is bigger than the sins we commit. We don’t judge them the same but he wipes the slate clean. Doesn’t mean there’s not a price to be paid on earth for those sins. The sad thing about the sex offenders, granted still no excuse for their crimes is many were abused themselves. I will finish with this, I heard Wess Stafford, President of Compassion share this story. For those that don’t know his story he was abused by missionaries as a child. When he was dealing with forgiveness during his teenage years, a Pastor once told him Wess “It won’t cost them whether or not your forgive or not, but it will cost you everything”…I found that to be true in my case too. I know this blog was more about do we see sin differently but I am a big advocate for forgiveness, which is not the same as trust.

  • Wow – I was not going to write but @haymancm – you moved me to respond.

    Your story is truly amazing and tells of the power that is ours through Christ Jesus – the power to extend grace because we’ve fully received and understand it.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’d heard Wes Stafford story last August at the Leadership Summit put on by Willowcreek Association but I am even more moved hearing it again in context to yours.

    Be Blessed.

  • I would have to disagree. All sin is the same, save one (grieving the holy spirit).

    Assigning various degrees (bad/worse) to sins is a human construct.

    Paul says in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Note that Paul does not say “some sins” or “these sins but not those sins”.

    The Greek word ??????? (hamartia), translated to “sin” in the New Testament means “to miss the mark/target”. In Biblical Hebrew, the generic word for sin is het, which, coincidentally, also means to err or miss the mark.

    You told a lie? You missed the mark.

    You gossiped? You missed the mark.

    You’re greedy? You miss the mark.

    You engage in slander? You miss the mark.

    Tell an obscene or hateful joke? You miss the mark.

    We tend to look at some sins as worse than others simply because we find some more “icky” than others. God, however, views sin as sin. It’s a dangerous road we start down when we think certain sins aren’t as bad as others.

  • It takes a lot of growing up and a lot of grace to see sin as all the same on the eternal scale and then to apply that to our earthly lives. Like haymancm and Wess Stafford (I didn’t know that story about him; it makes me respect the work he’s doing even more!) I’ve had to learn how to forgive the hard way, and I have to work it out all the time. My mother’s second husband is in prison as a sex offender after I had the courage to speak up about what he was doing to my sister and I… only to find out 14 years later he hadn’t left my then 15 MONTH old infant sister alone (I thought I’d protected her. I’ve had to learn that I can’t be my sisters’ savior: that’s too big a job for anyone but God’s anointed one!) My mother has been verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive most of my life, and while she’s not really physically abusive anymore (no one around for her to abuse anymore, and she claims to have reformed) she’s still manipulative and hurtful.
    But see, if God isn’t big enough to forgive my sister’s father for what he did, then how can He be big enough for me, for wishing him dead so many times? If God isn’t big enough to forgive my mother, even NOW, even STILL, every single TIME, then how is He big enough for me, when I get frustrated with her, and tired of her, and say I can’t keep loving her (and yet He never lets me give up on her)? God has to be big enough for the big sins, because let’s face it, our unforgiveness towards those who hurt us is huge. But the first step towards forgiving them is recognizing that… hey… They are no less deserving of the grace of God than I am. I am no better than they are. On the eternal scale, I miss the mark, and this is a pass/fail test. There is no curve, no average. You made it, or you didn’t.
    Recognizing how big and how pure and how HOLY God is is the first step. Because it demonstrates the enormity of your own failings, and just how far you fall. It puts you in proper perspective to everyone around you, and then you’re equipped to do what you’ve been called to: receive the grace God longs to pour out on you, to wash you clean of your unrighteousness, and then to love everyone else… even those who wronged you, even my mother, even my sister’s father, to the throne of Christ, so they, too, can be washed clean.

    Yes, sin has differing consequences on earth. We live in a fallen world, corrupt and broken, where man judges man. But when we walk in the Light, as He is the Light, then we live a life of forgiveness. (But as haymancm pointed out, that doesn’t mean we necessarily trust again. I never want to see my sister’s father again, and he should NEVER be allowed small children. EVER. EVER EVER EVER. He raped an infant. Ew.)

  • Scott Williams

    Great comments and discussion! Keep em’ coming!

  • Johnny

    FAQ spawned the same discussion around here. Can’t imagine God seeing me lying to my child as being equal to me sexually abusing my child. I think the discussion can quickly drift into a meaningless debate for the academics. Although it does create lots of idea exchange and stirs thinking which is a positive as long as it stays positive. As for judging… reproof and correction of a brother is a necessary process for growth. Done in love it’s Biblical all the way. We don’t judge those outside the church but I want some iron on iron in my life.

  • Jimmy Hankins

    Reproof and correction are not judgment. Love is not judgment. Neither is vengeance or wrath or pleasure in suffering. Forgiveness is as impossible as salvation. Flesh isn’t soul isn’t spirit. At what point does trust become foolish or caution become fear? “All is vanity”, as the preacher says. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, or something like that. (grin)

  • “The consequence of sin is death. The reaction to sin varies.”

    This is my favorite comment so far.

    It’s obvious that sins are different in:

    How they’re manifested in us
    Our responses to them
    How they affect us and others
    The “right now” consequences

    We of course have sin classification systems in the church, much like in the Prison or Judicial systems.

    However, I’m not entirely convinced that we should.

  • Good discussion. Lots of good points. As has been stated, I think you need to separate the issues and the venues.

    There is a scale that society has placed on sins. According to each society, many are just fine, some are taboo, and some cross the line into what we call crime. This is perfectly acceptable and necessary in a law abiding society. We have to separate the good from the bad. I just read the story of the tower of Babel to the kids in my Sunday School class. Even back then, before law, God was calling us to be separate – different – holy.

    What is very telling (and usually quite shaming) is what scale each society uses. There are some things we accept (pornography for instance) that I would bet grieve God’s heart more than some things we call crimes (such as petty shoplifting). But such is life.

    From God’s perspective, I believe that sins are also different, but share one thing in common. Every one of them separates us from God! Every one! In this respect, we must take them all very seriously! However, their penalty depends upon one important criteria: Jesus Christ. If we have not turned our life over to him, any sin is enough to warrant eternal separation from God. Are people in hell treated differently? Who knows. But it doesn’t really matter. If there is no God, there is no good. No joy, no peace, no love, no acceptance, nothing. So what sliding scale could mean anything after that baseline punishment?!

    However, for those whose names are written in the book of life, who have been saved by grace – what of them? I believe that Christ’s sacrifice freed us from the penalty of sin (separation), but I don’t think that is necessarily the end of the story. The bible says we will answer for our sins. It also says we will be rewarded (treasures laid up in heaven). Is it such a stretch to think that the “many mansions” laid up for us are not identical apartments in a vast complex? Is it possible that there are various levels of rewards, various styles of “mansions”, and these are given to us based upon our lives on earth? I don’t have concrete evidence of this, but I don’t think it is too big a stretch.

  • Scott Williams

    Great stuff… I need to have you guys write my blog posts… thx for being a part of this community!

  • An excellent thread. So far as to the core Q, the Bible is clear that all sin is not the same.

    1 John 5:16-17 (MSG)
    16 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that.
    17 Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

    Now, keeping this in mind, it is interesting to note that while sin does cause a separation between us and God, it does not stop God from wanting to be part in our lives.

    Genesis 3:8-10 (ESV)
    8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
    9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
    10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

    God still came to meet Adam in the “cool of the day”. He didn’t stand there like a Greek god waiting to strike down His creation, dare I say, His friend.

    What interests me the most about the ensuing dialog comes from the Hebrew. In their language words paint pictures. It was not the act that caused the first sin to be punished, but rather the attitude that is witnessed according to the Hebraic understanding of this account.

    Genesis 3:12 (ESV)
    12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

    An “extreme legalist” will tell you, based on this verse, eating is a sin. Unless you are into protein shakes hardcore, there is no way you can survive without eating. So this example is laughable. But take a look at what typical legalism has done. The act, the missed mark, is sin. At least that is what I have seen taught. That, fortunately, is incorrect. According to Hebrew scholarship, here is the word picture painted which our anemic translations could not convey. The phrase “and I ate” is noted in their language as future tense. Adam was literally saying “I had of this fruit, and I will have more again”. Adam assessed himself here and has told God if faced with a similar temptation, he would most likely succumb to it again.

    Sin is a lifestyle, not an act. An act can lead to habitual sin, and possibly to death from there, but God will not walk away from a person for a single mistake. You can also take into account where the angels declare, at the birth of Jesus “peace and good will toward all men”. Not just a chosen few, not only to the Jew, but to all men. That peace and good will is found in the acceptance of what Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf and allowing Him to become both Savior and Lord of our lives.

  • Jimmy Hankins

    IMHO, The danger lies in the reaction to sin. The only one I can find that’s acceptable is forgiveness. And it’s not conditional on the sinner even knowing his or her sin, much less asking for forgiveness. Else Jesus was just babbling on the cross when he said that stuff about “forgive them Dad. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
    I also believe that forgiveness and discernment are just as impossible as salvation. Let’s add knowing when and where to forgive and/or discern to the list of impossible stuff to do. It must take some kind of impossible spiritual condition to manage any of this stuff.

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