At the moment, we are in the throes of a debate about marriage here in Australia. I’ve been through that debate already once in Canada and I’ve observed it take place in the United States as well. So this feels like my third time around. Each time I’ve noticed that Christians sometimes soft pedal the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality by arguing that all sins are the same. In other words, my extra-marital heterosexual lust is no less a sin than the gay person’s homosexual lust. Sin is sin and it is all equally wicked.
In a sense this is true. It’s true in the sense of every sin being equally deserving of God’s wrath. What to us is a small trifling sin is in the eyes of God a tremendous offense. This is directly related to the holy majesty of the one sinned against. If you sin even slightly against infinitely holy majesty, you incur an infinite debt. But this line of discussion can’t go very far since, in the nature of the case, we’re not just slight sinners — see Romans 3:10-18.
As true as it is that every sin equally deserves God’s wrath, it is equally true that Scripture teaches that some sins are worse than others in God’s sight. This is immediately evident from the Old Testament law. Some sins, like blasphemy, were punishable with death, whereas others received lighter penalties. In Ezekiel 8:6, God points out to Ezekiel the great idolatrous abominations in Jerusalem. Then he says, “But you will see still greater abominations.” There are great abominations, and then there are greater abominations.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures the biblical teaching on this in QA 83:
Q. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
The Westminster Larger Catechism in QA 151 expands on this and explains what the aggravations are. They fall under four broad categories: from the persons offending, from the parties offended, from the nature and quality of the offence, and from circumstances of time and place. So, if you’re an older Christian who should know better or an office bearer, your sin carries more weight. If your sin was against a weaker brother, your sin is worse. If you broke several commandments in one go, that’s to be regarded as more heinous. If your sin was committed publicly, that’s worse than if it was committed privately.
As a quick aside, you might be wondering whether this is touched on in the Heidelberg Catechism. Well, it is, but just not directly. Some sins being worse than others is implied in Lord’s Day 36 on the third commandment. We confess that “no sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name. That is why he commanded it to be punished with death.” So, blasphemy is worse than, say, adultery or false witness. Some sins are worse than others.
There is no doubt that Scripture describes homosexual lusts and behaviour as abominable (Lev. 20:13). The Bible uses strong language about these sins to impress upon us how God regards these things as completely contrary to his design for the human race. While heterosexual extra- and non-marital lusts and behaviours are sinful, they retain something of what is natural in that they involve the opposite sex. Homosexual lusts and behaviour are worse because they bring in the additional element of overturning what the Creator God designed to be natural. This is what the Bible is saying in Romans 1:26-27 — it speaks of trading in natural relations for unnatural.
However, when we speak about sins in terms of their heinousness, we ought always to remember that there is, in Scripture, a sin that is even worse than a homosexual lifestyle. As Greg Bahnsen once described it, “there is a sin worse than sodomy” in the Bible. It’s found in Matthew 10. Jesus sent out his apostles to preach and teach amongst “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — God’s covenant people. While they did that, the possibility was there that they would meet with unbelief. In such a case, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they left that town — signifying that these people are unclean. Then Jesus adds in verse 15, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” Sodom and Gomorrah were notorious for their sexual immorality and “unnatural desire” (Jude 7). Christ was saying that there is something far worse than what Sodom and Gomorrah did: to be a child of the covenant and to reject the Saviour. To have God call you his own, for him to send you the Saviour with the glad tidings of the gospel, and for you to reject him — that is something God calls worse than homosexuality. It’s a warning to people in the church today.
Realize this: we all have sins great and small sinking us into the depths. Yet, no matter what our sins are, there is a Saviour whose atoning work is sufficient to wipe it all out. The saving work of Jesus is there for all who feel the weight of their sin and long for that burden to be lifted. Even as we speak about some sins which are more heinous than others, let’s also always speak about the grace which is super-abounding in Jesus Christ.