Mortal Sin: A Socratic Dialogue


Sam: What do y’all mean when you say “mortal sin”?

Justin: Ah, good question, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 1857, “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.'”

Sam: Is there any Biblical basis for that?

Justin: Absolutely, open up to 1 John 5:16. John writes, 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.”

Sam: My translation doesn’t say “mortal,” it says, “leading to death.” See? “There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that.”

Justin: Well, let’s not get caught up on terminology, it’s the reality it points to that’s important. The point I’m trying to make by referencing that verse is that the Bible does distinguish between sin that is less serious and sin that is grave, mortal, that leads to death.

Sam: We’re getting into the doctrine of once saved always saved again.

Justin: Yes, and I think I showed last time why this doctrine is false and ought to be rejected. But, look, again, let’s drop these phrases like “mortal” and even “once saved always saved” for a moment. I think, sometimes at least, Protestants agree with Catholic teaching but these phrases get in the way. Purgatory, for example, now as a Protestant you seem allergic to that word, but I showed, I think, when we spoke about that, that that concept is utterly Biblical and you, as a “Bible-believing Christian,” ought to hold to it! 

Sam: I don’t think a Christian can lose his salvation, Justin. The Father doesn’t un-adopt his children.

Justin: Fine, but the child can reject his Father, can’t he? The prodigal son, even after having been forgiven and welcomed back into the family could have left again, yes?

Sam: Sure, I suppose.

Justin: You suppose? So it’s possible that it may have been impossible for the son to reject his Father a second time?

Sam: Okay, fine, he could have rejected him again. But the thing that bothers me about Catholics is that you seem to think you can lose your salvation as easily as you lose your car keys.

Justin: Which Catholics?

Sam: Catholics I’ve met.

Justin: But I’m asking you, not to wrestle with bad Catholics, but with the teachings of their Church. Let’s not get off track, is it possible that a Christian could reject Christ and be dammed? Turn to 2 Peter 2:20, I want you to read it from your translation.

Sam: You’ve pointed that verse out before.

Justin: Just turn to it and read it for me.

Sam:  For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”

Justin: Sam, is it possible for a person to escape the pollutions of the world through coming to know Jesus Christ but then, later, turn back to the world, become entangled in sin and be lost? Since you’re a “Bible-believing Christian” you ought to believe that this latter end is worse for him than the beginning, when he was an unbeliever. Right?

Sam: I think, yes, I think it is possible to reject Christ after having received him. Let’s say I agree with you . . .

Justin: Not me, the apostle Peter.

Sam:  . . . your interpretation of the apostle Peter. If I accept that, and I’m open to that, I don’t think it would be easy.

Justin: Easy to what? Lose your salvation?

Sam: That’s right.

Justin: I agree. So what would it take?

Sam: An outright rejection of Christ. Knowing what he did for you, knowing he is your savior, and yet, as it were, spitting in his face, telling him you don’t want his salvation.

Justin: And would those words be necessary? Would this person need to say, “I reject you Jesus, I don’t want your salvation.” Or could he, in theory, say that, mean that, with his actions. For example, a person might know that adultery, or worshiping idols, or murdering would displease Christ and yet he does it as an act of rebellion against him, could those actions bring about the same end as rejecting him? As you say, spitting in his face and rejecting salvation?

Sam: Well, yes, I’m not saying, there’s this formula you have to say to reject salvation, I guess certain actions could do that, sure.

Justin: What about, say, lying about something trivial. For example, your boss comes into the office and, in front of everyone, asks angrily, “who forgot to refuel the company car?!” And you, though you did it, don’t own up to it.

Sam: That’s ridiculous, obviously not.

Justin: Okay, so the action would have to be very serious then?

Sam: Yes.

Justin: What about a serious action committed by someone who, say, didn’t know that it was wrong. Let’s say for example a person was told all his life that fornication—having sex outside of marriage—was fine. He commits that act, which, I’m sure you’ll agree is a serious sin, but he doesn’t know it’s a sin. Are you telling me he could lose his salvation just because the act is objectively serious?

Sam: No, obviously he’d have to know that it was wrong. That’s why I said it would have to be like saying to Christ, “I know you died for me, I know that you are my savior but I don’t care. I don’t want your salvation.” You can’t say that without knowing that without meaning it. And even if you could, let’s say your were drugged or something, the fact that you didn’t have your wits about you, it wouldn’t count.

Justin: Okay, okay, I see. So let me get this straight. The action has to be serious, not trivial, the person has to know that the action is wrong and choose to do it anyway . . . Well, what about a person who, let’s say, is a drug addict. He comes to Christ and is saved. But what if, since he’s still addicted to cocaine, he ends up using it again. This is a serious action, a serious action which he knows is serious, but does it anyway. Are you telling me this person would necessarily lose his salvation?

Sam: I find it funny that I’m suddenly on the defensive about all this. No! Look, if he was truly addicted, and I’m not a neuroscientist by any stretch of the imagination, but if he’s truly addicted then maybe he wasn’t entirely free, right? And if he wasn’t entirely free then how could you say he’d be damned for that? Even if he knew what he was about to do was wrong.

Justin: I’m just trying to understand your position. So you’re saying that for a person to lose his salvation, the action must be serious, known to be serious, and done freely.

Sam: I mean, I guess, I still have to think this through. I get the sense you’re setting me up here.

Justin: Read this for me. Paragraph 1857.

Sam: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”  . . . Is setting someone up in an argument grave matter? If it is I’m pretty sure you’re in trouble.


3 thoughts on “Mortal Sin: A Socratic Dialogue

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  2. Matt fradd this may not be related to this blog but I just wanted to send a msg to u saying that for those ppl who r fighting pornography, maybe in ur speech to them mention praying the St. Michael the Archangel prayer because it has helped me win the battle against lust! St Michael is. Very powerful saint to prAy to!

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