Can we try not to sin?

A friend and I were having an interesting theological discussion recently.

My friend said that we are not able to put forth an effort to not sin (pardon the double negative). He said it is only by God’s grace that we avoid sin.

I disagree with this. If that were the case, hell would be unjust, because we would have no choice in what we did, or could not put forth an effort to improve.

I said that God gives us sufficient grace always to improve, but it’s up to us how receptive we are to it, and we have free will usually (except for more habitual sins) to decide what to do. There are definitely temptations, but we can give into it or not, and it is our own effort and will.

I don’t know, though. I feel wrong saying that it is by our own effort that we avoid sin, but it if it was only by God’s grace we would have no say in the matter and there would be no point trying to resist temptation.

So I am interested to know what is correct, mostly for my own understanding.

Of course. We must cooperate with God’s Grace to achieve salvation. We cooperate by trying not to sin, and repenting/confessing when we fall. We could not do anything without God’s Grace, but without our cooperation, we waste the Grace.

To believe our cooperation is meaningless is to fall into the Calvinist heresy of double predestination.

God Bless

Your friends argument negates the possibility for free will.

A more interesting question might be do some people have a greater predisposition of sin, or are we all equal in that regard as well? We certainly all have free will to act upon temptation, but there do seem to those who, for whatever reason, seem to have a greater dose of concupiscence to deal with.

We can try to do a lot of things. That does not mean we will do them. I can try to believe in God all day long, and it’s not helping anything happen. But, everyday I try to walk, and even though I can’t right now, I am getting more improvement in other areas. Too bad not that one now though.

Can we try to be holy? Of course!

This is very true. We also coorperate when we avoid the “near occasion of sin”. That’s a quaint idea that isn’t too popular now, but it used to be very common. It is also an important distiction between actually sinning and being tempted. We can certainly avoid places or situations of temptation and I believe your friend would agree with that. It is by his own free will that the alcoholic doesn’t go the the bar to begin with. It is the same with the girl that chooses not to go over to her boyfriend’s apartment to be alone. Each time we exercise our will in avoiding temptation we make it stronger and stronger so that we can avoid sin itself. Of course, during this whole time we are also receiving God’s grace through our prayers and the sacraments.

Thanks everyone. Your answers really help.

Not necessarily. We can choose to cooperate or not to cooperate with God’s grace.

Using a secular example: We must avoid being dirty and smelly. God built a shower for us and that’s the only way to avoid being dirty and smelly. However, God will not force us into the shower, we have to choose to shower to be clean.

I somewhat disagree. His argument, following your analogy, would be that we can’t get into the shower ourselves, but only God can put us in there, so it’s pointless trying.

He disagreed that we have free will, saying God is the only free agent in the universe.

Well, you didn’t tell me this in your original post. If he said that God is the only free agent in the universe, this leads to many conclusions which I’m sure he would disagree with, for example, you can sin all you want an go to heaven. After all, it is not your choice but God’s choice. So [insert list of people who committed grave evils] are all in heaven.

He’s right.

Your objection would be valid if your action & God’s were the same in kind; as if - for instance, your secondary activity were concurrent with the secondary activity of God. They are not concurrent in the strict sense; for created activity is secondary activity, because conditioned by the Primal Causality of God. This means that all causes that are not God, are “within” God’s Activity - the two are not co-causes; they are not of identical metaphysical status. So there is no “room” for conflict between them.

If they were able to conflict, creation would be pantheistic - it would be impossible to draw a real distinction between God, & creatures. Either God would be the Universe (which is one Stoic solution to the question); or God would exist, but no being other than God would exist - created entities would be impossible.

There is room for moral conflict between God & creatures - but not as though God were a man; even to talk of moral conflict between God & creatures, we have to talk of God as though God were another human being; & God is not human. The problem for us is that any analogy or model we use for talking about God has to be based on our experience; which is that of creatures, beings that by definition are not God. The Incarnation is helpful up to a point - but it shows what is God can be like as another man; not what God is, as God. It is revelatory, but it is not the unmediated Vision of God enjoyed by the Blessed, & still less is it the infinitely perfect fullness of self-revelation of God that only God is able to enjoy. The Incarnation occurs among incomplete beings, for their benefit, so it has to be adapted to their incapacity. To see God as God sees God is impossible to whatever is not God. So we have to do our best with the very limited means that are available to us. Which is why we rely on analogy.

I said that God gives us sufficient grace always to improve, but it’s up to us how receptive we are to it, and we have free will usually (except for more habitual sins) to decide what to do. There are definitely temptations, but we can give into it or not, and it is our own effort and will.

That position doesn’t go far enough - it implies that Providence is limited. It’s also inconsistent, because you make an exception in favour of free will, only to limit the exception. Which makes the reason for the exception in favour of free will a bit pointless.

I don’t know, though. I feel wrong saying that it is by our own effort that we avoid sin,

That’s the analogy of faith objecting to your position :slight_smile:

but it if it was only by God’s grace we would have no say in the matter and there would be no point trying to resist temptation.

The cogency of the objection is dependent on your mental picture of how God’s grace & human freedom are related - & even to say they are related raises difficulties; for God is Transcendent, & created beings are not. And the nature of a being gives rise to the sort of causality it is capable of effecting. God works through creatures - but this does not amount to altering their created status, still less to obliterating them: water is not destroyed by being used in a Sacrament; it’s ennobled. It is water, yet it has been elevated beyond the capacities usual to it, so that it acts to cause a strictly supernatural effect, e.g., the remission of sins. This is not usual for water - but it is not contrary to its nature; water has the capacity to be used like this.

So with us. God’s action & His unceasing maintenance of us in being, do not amount to altering our created status, still less to obliterating us; God is not Siva the Destroyer; but is our Creator. Of ourselves, our strength to resist temptation is nothing; grace acts upon our capacity to resist temptation, & is able to work in what we are so that we do. What is involved in resisting temptation ? It’s easier to outline than to fill in the details; the Church provides outlines of what is involved. Since this subject is fundamentally mysterious, it is known to God alone :shrug:

Mental pictures are unavoidable, & are essential for us humans, since we do not have direct intuition (not being angels); & some of our MPs & analogies & models for what we think about are less inadequate than others. There is no one entirely adequate MP of God, or of anything else; so they have to be put together. Nothing is reducible to one model - not the Church, not God, not God’s Action: &, in this thread, not the “relation” between God’s Causality & that of creatures.

So I am interested to know what is correct, mostly for my own understanding.

We can not even entertian this topic without really knowing what we are saying when we say “God”.

We can rely on the CCC to tell us, or the bible to tell us, but we really can not know.

Not catholic here, but an athiest.

I still think this is actually a very interesting question regardless of belief. Can we try to not “do the wrong thing/miss the mark/mess up”(sin).

Of course.!!! Everything we are aware of is ultimately about choice. No matter what we can choose to try and do well, or we can choose not too. There is no inbetween imo. There is no sitting on the fence, when it comes to the concept of “sin”(given my definition above). A choice alway’s has a consequence so right or wrong is alway’s possible. Given that, how can you logically say you cannot “try” not to sin?

I think the issue is not wether or not we can “try” not too. We have no choice. The question is, can we avoid sin completely. No we cannot. No matter what you do, what you believe or how strictly you adhere to any religious principle. You are going to mess up.

This is why the concept of forgiveness is so important. Those that do not feel they can be forgiven(no matter what) often end up convincing themselves they do no wrong. it’s too painful to live with the horror of what you’ve done, if you have no way of being forgiven for it.(and accepting that forgiveness)

Although I respect certain ideas behind a more protestant views of the world the really evangelical/pentecostal claims are imo quite dangerous. They say, it is only through accepting a saviour can you be freed from sin. I’m sorry but no walking to the front of a church and asking jesus to save you is going to stop you from doing the wrong thing.

Only you can change that. My ex was a fundamentalist and I realized how inherantly dangerous his churches beliefs were. Since no-one could 'save" him but jesus, this became the EXCUSE to no longer try. In other words, he…had been saved. He was quite literally able to do anything at that point(although he should try and do what God wants, as long as he said he was sorry, it was all okay).

This is often what gets under the skin of many an athiest. As long as you’ve been “saved” you’re okay. No you are not. You still hurt others and every choice you make can still have consequences that are harmful. The recognition of wrong doing is as important as the recognition you can be forgiven if you are sorry.

Not sure of what the catholic stance is on this, but the really fundamentalist(ask jesus to save you) type view is often an excuse for wrong doing. It has no foundation in any well researched theological discourse from what I’ve seen either.

My 2 c’s.


Gottle of Geer,

Your argument makes no sense to me.

Firstly, free of all you said, how is it possible to say we don’t have the free will to try to resist temptation? I mean to say that we don’t is to say we are predestined, and there’s nothing we can do, so we may as well not try. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

So to take that argument to its natural conclusion: if a person is tempted to lie, should they not worry about it because they can’t do anything to resist it anyway? Should they actually make no effort to resist that temptation?

As for your arguments, well they simply don’t make any sense to me, and I don’t know all of the theological terms you are using, so I’m in no place to respond.

Would you agree with this person that God is the only free agent in the universe?

Note I’m not saying that we have the strength to resist. Clearly God gives us the grace to do that. But in my view, God could give us all the grace in the world, but if we don’t act on it, then we can’t improve. Just like he gives all sufficient grace to attain salvation, but the ball is in their court to respond and do something with it.

We can’t improve without his grace, but we can’t improve if we aren’t willing to improve, either. If we aren’t making an active effort to resist temptation, then there’s nothing to be done. It won’t just happen.


Totally agreed. Even the decision to sit there and do nothing is a decision with consequences.

Yep we always mess up. Fortunately, being conscious of your wrongdoing usually helps you to overcome that temptation a bit. Some things are just habits, but being conscious of them helps a lot I think. It starts by realizing a split second after the action that you have just succumb to temptation, but then eventually hopefully you can stop yourself before it is done.

But yeah that’s why the idea of God’s forgiveness is so important.

I also agree. Nothing can happen if we don’t actually try to improve. Believing in Jesus isn’t a free pass to sin without consequences. Indeed Jesus said to “be perfect as God is perfect.” Of course that’s nearly impossible in the limited time we have here, but we can’t just say “oops, I sinned” and not make any attempt to improve.

I said recently that if we knew how abhorrent sin is to God, we wouldn’t dare sin again, or if we did, we’d be eternally thankful for his mercy in forgiving us. Therefore we really shouldn’t test God’s mercy by continuing to sin without genuine sorrow and the will to improve.

It’s nice to talk to an Atheist who is willing to discuss such theological matters, even if you might not believe in them. :slight_smile:


You can try not to sin. You can’t stop someone else from defining your actions as a sin. Someone has already defined eating pork as a sin. Someone has already “defined women in public without veils” a sin.

Both of you are right in one sense… in short your free will is precisely in conforming with God’s will. I.e. by saying yes to God’s grace( or rather by choosing to accept His grace) you are exercising your free will and allowing the grace to help you improve yourself. Accepting God’s grace does not mean not doing anything (pardon my double negative:p) about your salvation but rather accepting the only thing that can allow you to make the right choices to not sin.

Making choices on your own without God’s grace might cure you of alot of lesser faults but it will give you the worst sin of all in return; the sin of Pride, of living under the illusion that I can do things on my own without God and create my own happiness apart from Him…

Hope this helps!
In Christ

This suggests that sin is not an act of any kind, but a value put on acts. :cool:

So the answer to the question in the title seems to be “no” - because the **value **could be put on any act whatever.

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