“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
As promised, I dug into the Catholic teaching of penance. I didn’t even bother with looking into how they address final perseverance. I’m going to be blunt. This teaching is bondage.
Why do I say that? Because every time I commit a “mortal” sin, I wipe out all my previous deeds that made me square with God. Baptism does me no good. My perfect repentance and penance does me no good. I could have gone to a million masses in half as many days, and none of it will do me any good. One single “mortal” sin will kill that good standing with God. I have lost my entrance to heaven, permanently, unless I repent and confess it in a manner mandated by the church.
This is no small deal, my friends, because the Catholics instill great fear of hell into their followers. Rightly so. I don’t want to go there, and you shouldn’t, either. So, here’s what I don’t understand. Why aren’t Catholics pulling out their hair over this HUGE problem?
Just yesterday, I drove past an accident scene where a dead driver was still laying in the ditch. She wasn’t expecting her day to end up like that. Neither were her family or friends. All of us know that life can be snatched away in an instant and without warning. It happens all the time, all over the place. So, if I have a “mortal” sin hanging over my head, I really don’t want to risk wasting any time dealing with it. Listen, if Hell is as bad as the Catholics say, then I gotta deal with this NOW!
If I really bought into this stuff, like they want me to, then I would be going absolutely out of my mind to get in “good” with God again. I tell you what, I would be banging on the priest’s door in the middle of the night, begging him to absolve me. Wouldn’t you? I’m not being a wise guy about this. If you, today, realized that your portion was the lake of fire unless and until you properly addressed it, wouldn’t you drop everything?
But nobody does that. Nobody.
Why? I don’t know, other than they must not really believe it to be true. Because if they did, they would be frantic. I would.
Well, there is a reason. It seems that there are two types of sin: “mortal” and venial. “Mortal” is the one that “kills” your good standing with God. Venial is the ordinary sin that won’t boot you out of heaven. You’ll still have to pay, in full, for that sin, but venial sin won’t burn your golden ticket up. Paying for your sin is another matter altogether. I’m not even going to bother with that topic.
What’s the difference? That’s where you will have problems pinning anyone down. There’s a difference, to be sure, but no one seems to be able to clearly say what that is. To commit a “mortal” sin, I must do so with full knowledge, according to my own free will of choice, with the act concerning a “grave matter.” What in the world might that be?
“Those sins are judged to be mortal which contain in themselves some grave disorder in regard to God, our neighbor, ourselves, or society. Some sins admit of no lightness of matter, as for example, blasphemy, hatred of God; they are always mortal (ex toto genere suo), unless rendered venial by want of full advertence on the part of the intellect or full consent on the part of the will. Other sins admit lightness of matter: they are grave sins (ex genero suo) in as much as their matter in itself is sufficient to constitute a grave sin without the addition of any other matter, but is of such a nature that in a given case, owing to its smallness, the sin may be venial, e.g. theft.” https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/sin
Got that? I didn’t think so. Here’s what makes me shake my head. If I can say that I didn’t really understand my actions or really fully want to sin, then it’s not mortal. Or, if the amount I steal is small, it’s not mortal. I don’t know about you, but I can see a lot a room for interpretation in this. I know some kids (me) who got a licking for stealing a quarter while the court of law doesn’t imprison an adult for stealing a million dollars.
It’s all relative in the eyes of the beholder. And that’s the problem. Can you see that there might be great latitude in enforcing these rules, so that there may be grave error on either the lax or severe side of interpretation? Who am I to say that one sin is minor yet another will send you to hell when there are no standards to judge by.
But there are. Most definitely, there are.
Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I don’t know about you, but if my sin cancelled out heaven for me, I would treat every sin as if in full knowledge, by my own free will, and as grave in nature. Why risk it? I’d be banging on that priest’s door in the middle of the night. That is, if it really mattered to me. Or, I would go stark raving mad knowing that I can’t possibly live up to this standard. Let’s face it, who can? Or, I would turn my back on all of it as complete and utter garbage. This, in fact, is what I did when I was a teenager.
You see, none of it makes sense in light of the gospel. Catholics do cover enough of the bible for the gospel message to get out, and that message is this: Christ died for your sins so that you won’t.
John 10:27-30 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Romans 6:14 teaches me that sin has no hold over me. That’s a statement of fact. Do I still sin? Yes, I do. Mortally, according to the Catholics, yes. Does that cancel the deal for me? That depends on who is responsible for keeping the covenant. Is salvation a conditional covenant? No, it’s not.
Look, we have no better example than Peter’s denial. Was it intentional? Yes. With full knowledge? Yes. Grave? Yes. He did it not once but three times AFTER being warned by Jesus. According to the Catholics, Peter would be in the lake of fire if that dude (whose ear Peter cut off) had stuck a sword through him in the courtyard! But that didn’t happen. Why?
Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus interceded for Simon. Jesus intercedes for us, too. He doesn’t tear up our ticket to heaven when we sin; he prays for us!
John 17:20-26 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given to me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
This salvation business actually IS conditional – conditional about God being able to hold up HIS end on the bargain. It’s a one-sided agreement. If it is up to me to remain sin-free or lose my salvation, I will lose it. Guaranteed.
A couple more thoughts, then I will end for today. Is all this a matter of definitions? Reformed says faith is a gift and works are a byproduct. Catholics say works make the faith. Look, who cares if my real problem is that I sin and lose my salvation? Pondering about these things while swimming in the lake of fire does me no good at all. None. The immediate question is whether the sin of a saint can destroy the works of Jesus. The answer to that is, “No.” The faith/works debate should certainly be addressed, but only after the perseverance of salvation issue is settled.
With regard to sin, salvation doesn’t prevent me from sinning. The penalty of sin in cancelled, but I still sin. The issue isn’t whether I lose my salvation, the real issue is whether I have it in the first place. Salvation makes a new creation, someone who has turned from their sin. Does sin still remain? Yes, but it doesn’t reign. Not like it once did. There should be a noticeable difference; otherwise, one must wonder if repentance was genuine. Now, I know this is all sounding like double-talk like the Catholic teaching, but there is a big difference. The bible teaches that without saving grace, I am dead in my sin. Dead. Sin will reign. For those who are saved, the Spirit is the one who transforms us. We don’t transform ourselves. Why? Sin is too powerful. We have become so enmeshed that we can’t hope to untangle ourselves even if we wanted to.
But the Holy Spirit transforms us from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18) by the only one who can, and will, do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24). We have promises on this by the only one who can uphold any promise, God himself.
Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also gloried.
Nothing conditional on my part in that. Paul goes on:
Romans 8:31-39 What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing will be able. Nothing. Does that mean a saved person never sins? Of course not. But it does mean that his/her outlook on sin changes, and one can expect to see real transformation if the salvation is indeed real. Repentance is not a one-time deal for me, but God’s forgiveness of my sin is.
Colossians 2:13-15 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Psalm 103:11-14 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
According to all I read in the Catholic literature, I am a heretic. So be it. I shall gladly take that label coming from their teaching. Now, make no mistake, this is not something I can say casually. I have many loved ones, family and friends, who are devout Catholic. This puts me at odds with them. Quite frankly, it’s not a one-way accusation. The Catholic church fits squarely into those false teachers that Paul spends so much time on. My hope is to be amicable about it.
Father, I need you now. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Scott Powers