I am greatly troubled when a Christian tells me that there are no consequences for sin. Some Christians preach that sin has been “covered” by Jesus’s death and resurrection; that our sins are no longer visible because Jesus has paid for them already. I understand how they are led that direction, but that is not what Catholics believe, that’s not what the Bible says, and that’s not what the Church Fathers taught.
Catholic Stance: Yes, Jesus died for our sins, and his death opened the gates of heaven to us, but that did not provide us with leeway to sin. What His death and resurrection did was opened us to salvation, to saving grace. Let me explain:
Step back and look at the overall New Testament—not a line pulled here and there, but the New Testament as a whole. It is a lesson on repentance, not just one repentance while in the process of being saved, but an on-going daily requirement. If we weren’t required to constantly repent, why would the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father say: “Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us.” Clearly, we will only be forgiven to the same extent to which we forgive others, and if the need to ask forgiveness was only a one-time thing, Jesus would not have told us to recite those words whenever we pray to God (Mat 6:9-13).
Our sins are not hidden from God. They are constantly visible, and we must be constantly vigilant lest he call us when we are unprepared. You have read those parables, haven’t you? Matthew 25:1-12 “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise. But the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last come also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.” (drbo.org)
Why would “the day or the hour” matter if all our sins are forgiven in one proclamation without ever a need for further examination of conscience, avoidance of sin, or repentance? Why would Jesus and the apostles have preached constantly about sin if it wasn’t so important? Why would Jesus have not said, “Hey, just say you believe and it’s all good ‘cause nothing you ever do will ever matter again?” That’s not what he said. And that’s not what the apostles said. If it only took Once to be Always Saved, Paul would not have continually written back to places he’d been to address the messages he was getting about continued sin. He would have waved goodbye and said, “You’re all good! Just keep on getting it, guys. Don’t matter what you do now. You done been saved!”
Here’s the thing: most people who argue Once Saved, Always Saved also say that if someone commits a grave sin, they weren’t really saved because saved people wouldn’t do such a thing. Well, I disagree. Maybe we’d like to think we wouldn’t, but we are human. Peter was right there with Jesus, his right-hand man, and the very first to realize—through divine revelation—that Jesus was the Son of God, and he denied Jesus three times, which is a Grave/Mortal sin: Mat 10:3 “But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.” Thankfully, Peter realized his sin. His contrition was obvious to all: He wept. If Peter, right there at Jesus’s side and the first to proclaim him Lord with his lips, managed to commit a GRAVE sin, so can any of us. That doesn’t mean we’re not saved! On the contrary, it means we can lose our salvation through sin, but we can regain it any minute of any day through repentance!
In fact, Catholics are expected to do an examination of conscience every night when they go to bed, followed by the Act of Contrition: Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee my Lord, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasion of sin again. Amen.
Living free of venial (minor) sins is next to impossible because we are failed humans, but we must strive every day to eradicate them from our lives. If we are knowingly living in mortal/deadly sin, we are in grave danger. We must stop, confess, and seek forgiveness. If a person is living in mortal sin and doesn’t repent before death, judgment will follow, Christian or not. What that judgment will be is only known to God because when all is said and done, we don’t know what God in his mercy will do, but the Bible clearly states over and over again that anyone who commits mortal sin and doesn’t repent will be throw into hell. The passages that mention this judgment do not show partiality because of someone being Christian.
This begs the question: What exactly is a mortal sin? Here’s a link to a site that discusses Mortal Sin: http://www.saintaquinas.com/mortal_sin.html To be a mortal sin, the sin must be grave; the offender must know it is a grave sin, and have deliberately committed it. (CCC 1857–1859)
The point here is that a person can be a true Christian, (“saved”) and still lose their salvation if they die without repenting over mortal/deadly sin! And it troubles me when non-Catholics lead people astray about it.
We are all offered salvation, but as Catholics we know from all the historic documents of the Church Fathers dating back to 70 AD, and from the Bible, and from Tradition passed on by the apostles to our bishops and priests today and recorded in the Catechism, the only assurance of heaven is to examine our lives on a daily basis, to live according to Jesus’s example, and to seek forgiveness for our sins.
What is assured is that we can turn to God at any moment of any day and He will take us back.
NEXT POST: Seeking forgiveness–Confession!