Written by me but originally posted here.
This question came from the youth group pickle box. Yes I know that pickles don’t come in boxes but we didn’t have a jar so we had to substitute a box, therefore we have a pickle box. This is one of those questions that have a yes and no answer. Let me start with a bit of simplified background.
The Catholic tradition teaches that there are two different types of sin, venial and mortal. Venial sins are those sins that can be forgiven and do not prevent someone from entering heaven. Mortal sins cannot be forgiven and there are three conditions that must be met in order for a sin to be considered a mortal sin. The conditions are: full knowledge of wrong doing; deliberate consent of the action; and the sin must be of grave matter. These mortal sins separate us from the saving grace of God. This separation is why we need the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However, as Protestants, what do we believe the Bible teaches about sin?
Romans 3:23 states “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 states “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So at this point I think that we agree with the Catholic tradition, we have all sinned and when we commit a sin we are separated from God. But if we back up in Romans a couple of chapters we read in 2:12 that “all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” Paul is stating that even if we do not know God’s law that we are still guilty when we break the law. Compare it to driving down a road at 55 mph not knowing that the speed limit is 45 mph. If you get pulled over by a police officer he can still write you a ticket even though you could honestly say that you did not know the speed limit and did not intend to break the law.
Paul goes even further in Romans 2:14 & 15 and takes away our ignorance argument. He states, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” Paul is stating that we know when we are doing something wrong even when we may not necessarily have heard that doing it is wrong. James 2:10 states that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” He goes on to say in 3:2 that “We all stumble in many ways.” Between Paul and James, I think that they sufficiently state that we all commit sin and that just telling a small white lie is the same as committing murder.
Well, they are the same at least as far as separating us from God. No matter what we do wrong, it is enough to separate us from a perfect God. So from this perspective the answer to the original question is no, there are not different levels of sin.
Now, that does not mean that different sins do not have different consequences here on earth. If you tell that little white lie (“Yes I did all of my homework”) is not going to get you into nearly as much trouble if you do commit murder. We even have different levels of punishment for murder based upon a number of different circumstances. So from the earthly consequences perspective the answer to the original question is yes, there are different levels of sin.
I think that we should not over worry about trying to remember each and every sin that we commit. The ones that we can remember will keep us busy enough. What is important is to realize that each and every sin is enough to separate us from God and should not be treated too lightly.