I had a discussion today with a friend and was at a loss how to answer. She says that SIN is SIN and that nowhere in the bible does it refer to any “degree” of sin i.e. original sin, veniel sin, or mortal sin. She also says that the bible says nothing about purgatory. Are there any biblical references? What is the best response?
When Paul wrote “one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom 5:18) he understood that, because of Adam’s disobedience, we are born without the grace necessary for salvation in our souls. Baptism remits all sin and infuses our souls with sanctifying grace. But we still have an inclination to sin which can lead to the loss of this grace and, consequently, the loss of salvation.
Is all sin equal? Does all sin result in the loss of salvation? John wrote, “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal” (1 Jn 5:16-17). John recognized that, while all sin is offensive to God, not all sin results in the loss of salvation.
But John also taught that those who die in a state of sin cannot enter heaven: “nothing unclean shall enter it” (Rev 21:27). So there must be a cleansing that happens to those who die in a state of sin which is not mortal before they can enter heaven. Paul taught about this cleansing when he wrote about being saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). The Church calls this cleansing fire “purgatory”.