"If we say we have no sin..." Is it Possible for a Man to Never Sin?


#1

It seems to me that one of the fundamental dividing lines between Catholic and Protestant thought is the issue of the sinfulness of man. I hazard that most Protestants, even Arminians, would hold that a man or woman cannot live a completely sinless life. I am not as confident that Catholics would hold to the same belief in an absolute sense.

So, putting aside what we know—that Jesus Christ was without sin—and putting aside what was dogmatically defined by Catholics --that the Mother of God was immaculately conceived and saved from sin—and, finally, putting aside the controversial examples of infants and mental incompetents, here is the question:

Can a mentally competent adult go through his or her entire life and not actively sin even once, albeit in a venial fashion? Is that theologically possible and, if so, do we have any example of it happening?

My personal belief is that it is not possible, that the utter sinful nature of mankind precludes someone from living his entire life without sinning at least once (and, experience tells us, on multiple and regular occassions). In other words, brothers and sisters “*f we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:8-10

What say you?*


#2

Catholic here.

Hmm. I’d say the likelihood would be vanishingly small even if it were possible.

We’re talking someone completely without the help of divine grace, right? Restricted to the natural powers of an unassisted human, and subject to the “bent,” concupiscent human nature that we all have post-Fall?

Vanishingly unlikely. And even if such a person did somehow exist, he or she would still not be able to earn Heaven by his/her own merits, as he/she would be lacking in the supernatural virtues that come only by divine infusion. A definite candidate for Limbo (that part of Hell in which one suffers no active punishment for evils committed, but still does not see God).

In theory, a baptized person (or a saved Christian by whatever measure you want to use, for Protestants) should be able to pull it off, though only by relying constantly on God’s grace. There would still be concupiscence to pull one toward sinful decisions, so the chance would still be small, and would be as much God’s doing as the person’s.

I know of no one who has ever claimed to have lived such a life, and I doubt I would believe them if they did make the claim. So for all practical purposes it’s impossible, but I’m not sure I could definitively pronounce it strictly impossible, especially in the case of the baptized/saved.

Usagi


#3

Not possible except by an extraordinary grace of God, and I don’t see any evidence that God is providing such graces.


#4

St. Therese was told by her confessor he believed she had never committed a mortal sin.

Blessed Margaret of Costello probably hadn’t either.

John the Baptist is believed never to have commited a sin.

I doubt St. John Vianney committed mortal sin.

In these modern times, I think it is impossible not to sin. Perhaps that is why Jesus instituted the devotion to His Divine Mercy. He knew how hard thngs would get.


#5

It would be theoretically possible in Eastern Orthodox theology, although even there the chances of it actually happening would be regarded as vanishingly small. In the West both Protestant and Catholic theologies would dismiss it as even a theoretical possibility.


#6

The teaching of the church in this regard, is that without the help of God – it is impossible not to sin. Eg: impossible along the line of “mathemeticians” vanishingly small possibility – it’s a possibility, but it can be ignored for any practical purpose because the probability is on the order of “0”.

Now, as to is it possible after baptism – Yes, I think with the grace of God it is possible, and I would not be surprised to meet such people in heaven. The world will not love them any more than it loved Jesus, so Good luck finding them in the newspapers unless the story is falsely scandalous, somehow, …

:slight_smile:


#7

Considering that a very high percentage (most?) Christians are baptised as an infant, would your comment suggest that most such people would thus be without active sin? If so, that doesn’t seem to be the rule.

I think that being baptised and holding onto the faith that comes from baptism allows Christians by the grace of God to sin less, and to repent after sinning, but I really don’t see that it results in sinless people.


#8

I believe, as a Catholic, that each of has available the grace needed to resist all sin. However, our experience suggests that few, if any, avail themselve of that grace throughout their whole life.

So, it is possible, but highly unlikely.


#9

#10

It is not pragmatically possible to live without committing some venial sin unless one died immediately after baptism or a person became completely vegetative or mentally incompetent (say be accident of no fault of one’s own) such that there was no free will or mental capacity to sin.

What makes it particularly hard not to sin is that God’s justice can hold us accountable for our actions that may unintentionally impart a leadership influence or example on others that leads them to sin. For example, someone who is very articulate teaches an impressionable friend a false religious doctrine that they themselves hear and believe to be true but in God’s eyes it is not. Or somone fails to warn a neighbor of obvious immoral conduct that is contrary to their understanding of right and wrong. Or conversely, someone disturbs the peace of their neighbor with an over scrupulous mind and sees sin in everything their neighbor does and harasses them just to feel self righteous and dutiful in their own eyes.

Bottom Line: We all need the regular grace channeled through the sacraments of the Church such as Confession and the Liturgy of the Mass to regularly purge venial sins. Without confession and the mass penitential rites the sins we commit daily will rapidly accumulate like pennies in a piggy-bank to lead to large sins and cut us off from grace. Even a few venial sins can significantly impede our spiritual growth and prevent us from attaining the fullness of grace. Remember that we need to pray and ask for forgiveness and be charitable and merciful to others - “…give us this day our daily bread”. God wants each of us to attain the fullness of life and goodness we can grow to while we are on this earth so that we may enjoy the fullest potential of life possible in the ever after.

James


#11

I didn’t realize that the question was about majority / minority – I thought it was about the possibility. The road to hell is wide, so even though Catholics make up the “majority” in some places, I would not expect the “majority” to be actively sinless – no.

As for those baptized, all those who are baptized are sinless after baptism – it is only by falling again that they become “soiled” in sin.

However, by your statement you judge all of your neighbors in one fell swoop – which is itself something we are cautioned against in the scriptures.

Whether you see “sinless” people or not is a facet of your judgementalness – unless you are aware of invisible details the rest of us can not see.
eg: do you see as God sees? or do you see the outside, and judge as men do?

When the scriptures say “We” are not without sin, it is a communal aspect – even Mary could agree that when the disciple spoke in her name, that at least one in the group (not her of course) had sins.

But that does not impute absolute guilt to every person actively.

Peace.


#12

In theory, possible.

In actuality, never.

Scripture states that when we have a temptation, God always provides us a way out if we resist the temptation. However, we humans are thrown so many temptations that by the time we are an adult, I don’t think that there are any that have not sinned at least once. As St. Paul states, we all live in a body of death. Since we live in that body, it’s only natural that we will occasionally turn towards that side of things (or in some cases, often) even though we don’t have to (such is the nature of free will).

The big problem comes because as human beings we have incomplete knowledge about God and the eternal side of things. In some ways, that’s actually a good thing- we can be forgiven after we sin (unlike the angels) cause we don’t know all. But it also means that as we live out daily lives, we don’t know the true ramifications of our decisions, and are likely to make sinful ones because we don’t think it affects anyone else (not to mention God). If we all saw the eternal effects of our sin at the time we were contemplating the sin, I think we would all sin a lot less!

Let’s look at some math: Let’s say each of us gets tempted to sin once per hour. Let’s also say we live to be 70, and consider age 18 when we become an adult (even though the age of knowledge is lower). That means we will be tempted about 455,520 times in our life- and temptations don’t take a break for the bad times. The odds are so stacked against it as to be effectively non-existant.

Andy


#13

I like your observation, but I would comment that the math simply counts the number of temptations – and does not take into account that the will grows in grace with each attempt and success. Mary is the only one known not to have fallen, by a singular grace, from the moment of conception. The rest of us, appear to have fallen at least once between conception and baptism – in some kind of absolute sense (eg: we are absent sanctifying Grace, so the probability argument is not necessary there) – but once baptized, our choices are biased by experience and infused knowledge – so that, although the possibility (even probability) of falling remains, one may grow in Grace and Holiness so that with each temptation it becomes less likely to sin – the will gradually becoming more holy, and more perfected.

Scruples, remember, are not sins. So it is even possible that such a person does not realize that they are sinless, which is the very thing to remedy pride.


#14

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