Greater and Lessor Sins

I was reading in John the other day about the trial of Jesus. During one of His exchanges with Pontius Pilate, He declares, “You could have no power at all against Me unless is had been given to you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

The obvious truth from this statement is Jesus telling Pilate that nothing happens outside the will of God. God is sovereign and nothing comes about that He has not decreed.

But the other point is that Jesus tells Pilate there is one who has committed greater sin than the sin Pilate was committing. Jesus is not giving Pilate a pass for his part in the crucifixion, but his role is not as serious as the role that Judas Iscariot played in betraying Christ.

We are seeing that there are greater and lessor sins. We need this reminder because so many in cultural Christianity always try to say that all sins are equal in nature. I get the impression this error is put forth in order to lessen the wickedness of some sins in comparison with others.

There are several errors in this thinking. First, Jesus doesn’t pardon Pilate for his role in the trial. He just tells him that the one who betrayed him is guilty of the greater sin. Therefore, both Pilate and Judas are in need of repentance and a Savior, but the judgment upon Judas will be greater.

Secondly, we need to remember that sin is usually graded based on responsibility. Those who had the Law of God, but rejected Christ were held to a higher standard of responsibility than those who were ignorant of the Law. This is why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees, and pronounced judgements of doom upon them in the “woe” passages (See Matthew 24).

The Apostle James shows us this truth as well concerning those who would be teachers of God’s word. My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. Because of the teacher/student relationship, in which the student is trusting the teacher to guide him in the truth, the teacher is held to a stricter judgment than the student. This is because of the greater responsibility that that teacher has. He should know the seriousness of teaching that which is false and the condemnation that he falls under when he teaches falsehood.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever treated false teachers kindly. They were extremely harsh in their words towards false teachers because of the seriousness of what they were doing. False teachers lead people to eternal hell. This is truly serious.

But the entire point here of this post is that some sins are more wicked than others. We must understand this truth. All sins condemn a person, but some sins bring a harsher judgment than others. Regardless, we all should repent of both the greater and the lessor sins in our lives.

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8 thoughts on “Greater and Lessor Sins

  1. Julie

    interesting and insightful post. Thank you for pointing this out, I was ignorant of this scriptures deeper meaning. I’ve read it many times and never paused to learn from it.

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  2. Yes, we see this several other places where Jesus says, “It will be better for … than …” and mentions one particular guilty party over against another. So it would be better (in judgment) for Sodom and Gomorrah than it would be for the towns that rejected Jesus’s disciples (Matt 10:15) and “more tolerable” for pagan cities in judgment than for cities in Israel which had the miracles of Christ and rejected Him (Matt 11:21-24). Both get judgment, but some is worse than others.

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  3. Julie

    So I have to ask…will there be more horrific levels of hell? If one is judged to have a greater sin than the other, will there be a more terrible consequence for the greater sinner of the two?

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    1. Julie, it stands to reason that the level of God’s wrath would vary as well. I don’t want to say much more than this for now. But I will give it some more thought.

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  5. I agree with your points. People throw this phrase around a lot, but haven’t really thought it through. I’ve often said anyone can see that some sins are worse than others simply by observing that thinking about murdering someone but not following through (which is still sin) and actually murdering someone have vastly different outcomes and levels of responsibility.

    I would also add that I have heard the “all sins are equal” line in two different scenarios:

    1) when dealing with the issue of self-righteousness. The noetic effects of sin can cause a person to find security in the fact that his sins are not as bad as the murderer rapist thief. Yet while “all sins are equal” in the sense that they all offend the holy, righteous God, they are not equal in the ways you pointed out.

    2) when dealing with people who think their sins are too bad to be forgiven. “All sins are equal” in the sense that no sin is beyond the grace of God when a person seeks forgiveness in Christ. But this is an unfortunate way of putting the greatness of the grace of God in relation to our sin.

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