Are there greater and lesser sins?

greater sins, lesser sins, equal, serious, sin, hell, levels, degrees, evil, rebellion

This question has been around for a while, and there is no direct “yes” or “no” answer to it. Nevertheless, there seems to be a list people carry around in their head of the sins that are worse than others. Of course, people say sins like murder and rape are at the top of the list, but the question is why? Is this idea even biblical? Are there really greater and lesser sins?


When it comes right down to it, people without God’s grace on judgment day will be sent to hell. No exceptions. So in this sense, all sins are equal. For example, if a person murders someone, they have broken God’s laws and are therefore worthy of eternal death. On the other hand, if another person steals a chocolate bar from the grocery store, they have also broken God’s laws and are worthy of the lake of fire. No matter what the sin, the result is still the same.


Though all sin leads to eternal death, there are some sins that have worse consequences than others. For instance, if a man hated someone in his heart, that would be murder according to Jesus (Matthew 5:21-22). But if a man actually physically murdered someone, then the consequences are far more serious. The Bible also says some sins are greater than others. One of the most popular examples of this being in the book of Ezekiel. God was showing the prophet Ezekiel some of the sins the nation of Israel was committing, and saying “But you will see still greater abominations” (Ezekiel 8:6).  Another example is when Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate and said, “Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11). The sins that displease God more effect our relationship with Him in a more negative way.


Jesus also revealed that there are greater and lesser commandments (Matthew 5:19; 23:23). This implies there are greater punishments for breaking the greater commandments. But what exactly makes a sin worse than another? Wayne Grudem explains it this way:

In general, we may say that some sins have more harmful consequences than others if they bring more dishonor to God or if they cause more harm to ourselves, to others, or to the church.

Since the two greatest commands in God’s Word are to love God and love others, it makes sense that sins which dishonor God or others more will have worse punishments.

Another thought to be considered are the sins done in ignorance, versus those done with knowledge.  For example, Matthew 10:15 talks about the towns who reject Jesus’ message, saying; “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” An example of this would be if someone stole something knowing it’s wrong, in contrast to a toddler stealing a toy without that same knowledge. The person who knew stealing is wrong would receive a worse punishment. This is also the case with teachers of God’s Word. If a pastor or Bible College teacher decided to commit adultery, then they would be judged far more severely according to James 3:1.


The Bible is silent on this question. All we know is people who reject God go to hell. We know hell will be the most torturous place where God is absent along with all His blessings. Regardless of if there are worse punishments in hell, it is a place that is to be avoided. Even Christians who should know better can receive punishments for not being ready for Jesus’ return. In Luke 12:42-47, Jesus talks about how the servant who knows the master’s will and does not do it, deserves a “severe beating” while those who are ignorant and don’t do their master’s will, shall receive a “light beating.”

As Christians, we know that sin disrupts our fellowship with God as well as negatively affects our relationship with Him. Sin displeases God and on judgment day we will each stand before Him to be judged according to what we have done. Believers who’ve done very little good in their lives versus those like Billy Graham, A. W. Tozer, or John Piper will all still enter heaven. But their rewards will likely differ. There will be some who escape like one escaping a burning building through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:15). And there will be others who will receive much because they’ve done well with what God entrusted them with (Matthew 25:21, 23).

The good news, however, is that our legal standing before God is still the same and we get to spend eternity with Him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is only possible because of God’s grace to undeserving people (Ephesians 2:8).


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