Westminster Shorter Catechism 83

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 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.

On its face, it seems that all sin is the same. James wrote, “if we fail in keeping one part of the law we are guilty of all of it” (James 2:10) and John phrases it simply, “sin is the breaking of God’s law” (1 John 3:4). Yet we also see in Scripture, places where some offenses are seen as greater than others. Most notably, the statement from Jesus, “he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11).

It is important before expounding this Question 83 that we affirm clearly: we are accountable for all our sin and there is no sin that isn’t either counted to us or dealt with by the blood of Christ. That being said, there are some that are more offensive than others. This should seem obvious. We can sin by coveting or we can steal the item we covet. We can be angry with no cause or we can murder. One is greater than the other.

This is not stating with “Reformed” language the Roman Catholic distinction of sin. Rome has “mortal” and “venial” sins, where the former brings death and the latter only weakens us. We speak against this for Scripture teaches that even the smallest sin deserves death (Romans 8:32), thus we reject their distinctions.

We do well to recognize that there are some sins that are clearly more “heinous” than others, but must be careful. We shouldn’t let ourselves find relief that we have only committed “small sins”. We should have a desire to be rid of all sin in our life. To minimize even the slightest sin only manifests how desensitized we are to sin in the first place. When we give way for sin to enter in our heart, we have given Satan a footing in our soul. This leads ultimately into bondage to sin entirely.

Therefore let us find our exhortation from Paul in Ephesians 5:6:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

The “sons of disobedience” are those who are willfully disobedient. They refuse to seek repentance and the forgiveness offered in the Gospel. Their error was thinking they could live the pattern of a sinful life staying away from the big sin. They have been deceived by their love for sin and the consequence is the wrath of God.

Sin lures us with small compromises and we must be on guard. We must live a life of repentance (Luther) always turning to Christ less we set aside our freedom and in the process become enslaved to sin.