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TOM - Had a co worker tell me stealing bread is as bad as murder in Gods eyes because all sin is sin. I get that God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance… But bread and murder?
Are there levels of sin? Are some things harder to be forgiven for? Any NT references to help answer this?
JOEL - Well in a way your coworker is right but it requires a better understanding of what God means.
"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2: 10)
Any sin we commit brings us short of perfection and exaltation; it doesn't matter how small the sin. It's kind of like no one can be just a little bit pregnant.
That being said there are a few sins that in the eyes of God might be worse than others, because for them there is no repentance possible, such as the unpardonable sins of blasphemy against the holy ghost and shedding of innocent blood(murder).
"Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:" (Mark 3: 28-29)
"Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." (1 Jn. 3: 15)
Sexual sins are at the top of the list also. Alma said adultery is the second most serious sin next to murder (see Alma 39:3-5).
Then there are the sins of omission:
"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James. 4:17.)
Most certainly a sin of omission, like not paying tithing, is not as bad as committing fornication. There are opinions of past church leaders who agree that there are different levels of sin. According to President Joseph F. Smith:
"We are of the opinion there are more grades or degrees of sin associated with the improper relationship of the sexes than of any other wrongdoing of which we have knowledge. They all involve a grave offense — the sin against chastity, but in numerous instances this sin is intensified by the breaking of sacred covenants, to which is sometimes added deceit, intimidation, or actual violence.
Much as all these sins are to be denounced and deplored, we can ourselves see a difference both in intent and consequence between the offense of a young couple, who, being betrothed, in an unguarded moment, without premeditation fall into sin, and that of the man, who having entered into holy places and made sacred covenants, plots to rob the wife of his neighbor of her virtue either by cunning or force and [who] accomplishes his vile intent." (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., p. 310.)
"Of course, there are different degrees of sin, and there is a difference in the degrees; but no man or woman, in listening to the confession of another, need pride himself or herself and say, "I am not a sinner" (George Q. Cannon).
"There are different sins, and there are different degrees of sin of the same kind. For instance, the word of the Lord has come to us that we must observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Some men disregard this commandment to the extent that they go to their fields and work upon the Sabbath day; some attend horse races, or theatres, or pleasure resorts, etc., on the Sabbath day. Others have advanced so far towards perfection in righteousness that they cannot look upon such conduct with toleration; it is sin and wickedness in their sight, and yet some of them, perhaps, will justify themselves in going out for a carriage ride, or an automobile ride, or perhaps remain at home on the Sabbath day, although the commandment is that we shall meet together, partake of the sacrament and worship the Lord our God." (Elder George F. Richards, Conf. Report, April, 1911)
In Proverbs God seems to single out a few sins He hates worse than all others:
"These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,
A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren." (Prov 6:16-19)
As Jesus stood on trial before Pilate He seems to suggest that one sin might be greater than another when he said:
"Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."
In this life and to the mortal man, sins may have different degrees of severity and consequences that we expereince as a result of committing the sin. The type of sins we commit may also determine which of the two lower kingdoms we enter in heaven after this life. But ultimately, in regards to our salvation in the Celestial Kingdom(where no sin is tolerated), it doesn't matter if there are "degrees" of sin, because any sin hinders our striving for perfection and disqualifies us from obtaining exaltation if we don't repent.
Every violation of the law brings punishment or suffering. There are only two ways possible to meet the demands of the law of justice; either one keeps the law perfectly and never gets in debt to the law, or else one must pay the debt of suffering (or let Jesus pay for it). The law is very exact. Even if it is violated only once, the violator is in its debt and must suffer the consequences. Perhaps this is why James wrote, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all"
(James 2:10). We can see why both Paul and Lehi warned us that no one can be justified by the law: no one (with one exception) has ever kept the law perfectly. Every soul is in debt to the law, "for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
"When James said, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2: 10). he did not mean that a man who stole was guilty of murder, or that one who lied was guilty of unchastity. He was endeavoring to impress upon the minds of the members that the kingdom of God is one. Its laws are perfect. No unclean person can enter there. Since it is a perfect kingdom, its laws must be obeyed. There can be no disunity, no opposition in that kingdom. Being an immortal kingdom with laws that have been proved through the eternities, they are perfect, therefore there is no room for varied opinions in relation to its government, such as we find in human man-made governments. These laws cannot be changed, for eternal things have been tried and tested and therefore are eternal. They are based on justice and mercy with the perfect love of God. Therefore each who enters the kingdom must of his own free will accept all of the laws and be obedient to them, finding himself in complete accord with all. Anything short of this would cause confusion. Therefore the words of James are true. Unless a man can abide strictly in complete accord, he cannot enter there, and in the words of James, he is guilty of all. In other words if there is one divine law that he does not keep he is barred from participating in the kingdom, and figuratively guilty of all, since he is denied all." (ANSWERS TO GOSPEL QUESTIONS, VOL. 3 by Joseph Fielding Smith)
The scriptures tell us no unclean thing can enter into heaven, but God provides a way out:
"And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end." (3 Nephi 27:19.)
"Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven;" (D&C 1:31-32)
Jesus told us:
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48.)
Thank goodness that we don't have to achieve complete perfection in this life and that through repentance we can allow the atonement to work for our salvation.