Mortal Sin: Problem only for those Outside the Church


#1

I was talking to my uncle (who belongs to a nondenominational church) about salvation. He said that Jesus has forgiven his sins and he does not need to worry about them. I mentioned 1 John 5: 16-17 (as follows):

If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.

He responded that this applies only to those who have not accepted Christ. I never heard this argument so it stopped me in my tracks. I can only assume that this argument is based on the next verse (1 John 5: 18): “We know that no one begotten by God sins; but the one begotten by God he protects, and the evil one cannot touch him.”

This rings true on a superficial level, but I know it is not what the Church teaches. What is the proper interpretation of these verses?


#2

That’s a little bit like saying that immunology only applies to those who have accepted modern medicine. But those who remain ignorant of medicine cannot possibly get infected.

Sin isn’t just a juridical issue, that is, it’s not just about breaking rules that you can only know about if you’ve been properly catechised (to whom much is given, much is expected, to be sure). Sin is like a disease of the soul, and some diseases are more life-threatening than others. People can still lose their souls by sinning such that they turn away from God and despair of the goodness he has given to them, and lose hope that they could recover it. It isn’t only Catholics.

This is why I’m not a big fan of the endless threads about what is or is not a mortal sin. It’s the wrong question to ask. The better question is “How can I have a healthy relationship with God? How can I be more fully alive?” and not “Did I check all the boxes that will send me to hell? How much can I get away with before I’m not in the state of grace?”

-Fr ACEGC


#3

Thank you, Fr ACEGC. I agree with everything you say but I am still concerned that it does not address the interpretation of those passages in the Bible.

My uncle, like many Evangelical Protestants, takes the Bible fairly literally. (He is a very good man and lives his life in accordance with Jesus’ commands!) I am still concerned that verse 18 provides comfort to those who have that juridical view of our relationship with Christ.

Thank you for your response! God bless!


#4

Hold on: he’s saying that if a Christian sees a non-Christian sinning, then the Christian should pray for the non-Christian, and God will give the non-Christian life? That doesn’t make any sense, since it runs counter to any non-denom doctrine I’ve ever heard.

Or, is he trying to say that Christians only sin in non-deadly ways, but non-Christians are capable of deadly sin? That doesn’t follow from the text, since the only person mentioned in the passage is “one’s brother”. That would seem to imply “a Christian”. So, again, ‘deadly sin’ seems to apply to Christians.


#5

A deadly separates you from God. You must be reunited to him by confessing the sin in confession and quit the sin.


#6

Agreed, the point about God granting the sinner life is inconsistent with the argument that this applies only to non-Christians. Likewise, I agree that “brother” implies a fellow Christian in this context, but I imagine that an Evangelical could still be read in a more general sense to fit their interpretation.

Two good points. I’ll try to put those forward next time the subject comes up. Thanks, Gorgias.


#7

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