09 January 2009

Degrees of Sin – 1.9.09

John 19:11 Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

These words were spoken by Jesus Christ to Pilate on the night of His crucifixion. And I can almost hear somebody thinking, "Wait a second, Jesus. What do you mean about this greater sin? Aren't all sins the same?"

Well, no, not according to the Bible. But let's get some background.

The Roman Catholic Church has this teaching concerning what they call mortal and venial sins. In this system, there are three conditions that distinguish between the two:

  • Does the sin concern a "grave" matter?
  • Was the sin committed with full knowledge?
  • Was the sin committed with both deliberate and complete consent?

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, it is a venial sin. If the answer to all 3 is YES, it is a mortal sin.

A mortal sin, unless confessed and absolved, condemns a person's soul to hell after death. These sins are considered mortal because they constitute a rupture in a person's link to God's saving grace: the person's soul becomes "dead." (reference)

While venial sins do not condemn a person's soul to hell, they do add to the length of time that person must spend in purgatory, which can be offset by the performance of some penance prescribed by the priest. (reference)

Obviously, this teaching is in error. According to the Bible, God's saving grace has nothing to do with our works (Ephesians 2:8-9), and there is no such place as purgatory.

But what has happened is that many have reacted to this false teaching in such a way as to jump into the ditch on the other side of the road and say things like "All sins are the same." Well, according to John 19:11, that's simply not true, either. The Pharisees and chief priests committed a greater sin than Pilate did.

Don't get me wrong. One sin makes you a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, only available through faith in the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. But all sins are not the same. Some will warrant a lecture or a spanking, while others will get you thrown in jail or executed.

Now again, a sin is a sin. And the fact that some are worse than others is absolutely no excuse to commit what you might consider a "little" one. You see, I could try to deter myself or somebody else from committing "little" sins by saying that all sins are the same, but then I have to answer the guy that figures if all sins are the same, he'll go ahead and commit the "big" one.

John 8:11…Jesus said…Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.


  1. Well, that's an interesting topic. I like how Jesse Morrell has described it when he's been asked that question on college campuses. Any one sin is good enough to send you to hell, but there is a difference in the effects caused by cheating on a test vs. robbing and murdering people. And certainly a hypocrite who knows to follow Christ and pretends to but is really walking in rebellion will be deserving of a far greater punishment than someone who sins because they are a slave to sin and chose not to seek God. Well, there's a great severe admonition in Jesus' words "go and sin no more"! - Paul

  2. I wouldn't be so quick to say there is no purgatory. There are actually many references to it in Scripture.

    In 2 Macc. 12:43-46 we are told that it is a good and holy thing to pray for the dead. If someone is in hell for all eternity, why would we pray for them? If they are already in heaven with God they wouldn't need our prayers, would they? Does this not suggest a third place that a soul might be after death where they would benefit from prayer? A place of atonement, perhaps?

    As Rev. 21:27 says, "nothing unclean shall enter heaven". If someone dies in a state of unconfessed sin, then their soul isn't clean. Purgatory is simply a state of cleansing to make sure that nothing UNCLEAN can enter heaven.

    Matthew speaks of a "prison" where some sinners will be thrown until they pay the last penny (Matt. 5:25-26) and in 1 Cor. 3:14-15 one whose works are impure may be saved but "only as through fire". Purgatory is illustrated as a purifying fire for those destined to salvation.

    Just because the word "purgatory" isn't mentioned doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You won't find the word "trinity" in the bible either, but that doesn't negate the existence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. :)

  3. Allison,

    Thanks for your comment. Herein lies the difference between religion and biblical Christianity:

    I believe that Jesus meant what He said when He cried "IT IS FINISHED" on the cross. I believe there's nothing I must add and nothing I could possibly add to the perfect sacrifice the Savior made that day at Calvary (Hebrews 7:25-29; Hebrews 10:5-14). Everything that was necessary to give me total forgiveness was accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross and was imparted to me the moment I trusted Him alone to be my Savior (Hebrews 9:12-14; Romans 4:21-25). When I got saved, God took away ALL my sin - past, present, and future (1 John 1:7) and gave me the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

    So you're right to say no uncleanness can enter heaven but you're wrong to think that your continual confession is what will make you fit to enter. Repent of your dead works and trust Jesus Christ ALONE (Hebrews 6:1; Acts 20:21). He paid for the sin you committed yesterday AND the sin you'll commit tomorrow 2,000 years ago, and He offers you complete forgiveness and ASSURANCE of a home in heaven (Romans 3:22; 1 John 5:13). But it's only by faith.

    And 2 Maccabees isn't scripture.