Why are some sins punished by death when all sins are equal in God’s perspective?

Question: Leviticus 20:9-16 speaks on death as punishment for certain sins. Seems sort of extreme but I can justify it by saying these are held in higher esteem by God as “bigger” sins. However, I was under the understanding that all sins were equal in God’s eyes. Even though Jesus dies as an atonement for sin, these punishments are definitely more harsh than others at the time. Any thoughts?

Answer: I think there is a mistake in our thinking here. From God’s standpoint there is no sin that is any more rebellious against Him than another. Every sin, no matter how small in our sight, is the equivalent of saying, “I know better than God what is best for me and I am going to follow my way.” However, there are definitely sins that have greater and more damaging consequences in the lives of those sinned against.

For example, Jesus does not say that lusting after a person in your heart is the same as adultery, but rather it is a committing of adultery in one’s heart (Matthew 5:28). But it is far better to keep that adultery in your heart than to act on it with someone else. Adultery results not only in your committing a sin in your heart, but leads to involving another, most likely also to lying about it, and has devastating impact on the lives of any family members of the adulterers. Having hatred in my heart is bad, but actually killing someone is worse.

The sins that were punishable in Israelite law by death were sins of devastating consequences in the lives of other Israelites. Murder, of course, was such a sin. Rape was another. And a child cursing his parents was considered so because of the devastating impact such rebellion would have on others by encouraging this kind of disregard for authority. It could mean the social destruction of Israel that would lead to all kinds of other sins.

Still, physical and spiritual death is the divine penalty for all sin. And either God will exact that from us upon our deaths, or we can receive Jesus’ forgiveness by resting our trust in Him as the one who took the punishment for us.

Randall Johnson


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