In a previous post, I answered several Catholic critics who objected to my oft-repeated statement that Catholicism teaches its members must merit their salvation. See here. Some Catholics have also sent in comments objecting to my frequent statement that their church teaches its members must obey the Ten Commandments “perfectly” in order to attain Heaven. I’ll use this post to address their objections.
I happily concede that the Roman Catholic church (RCC) nowhere formally dictates that its members “must obey the Ten Commandments perfectly to attain Heaven,” but the bottom line of its cumbersome religious system is exactly that and I’ll explain why.
Catholicism teaches baptism (usually of infants) into the church wipes away ALL sin. After a Catholic matures, they must participate in the church’s sacraments (confirmation, eucharist, reconciliation), which allegedly dispense grace so that the Catholic is able to obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and avoid sin. The RCC teaches there are two kinds of sin; major (mortal) sin and minor (venial) sin. Mortal sin loosely defined is the intentional disobedience of one of the Ten Commandments while venial sins are minor offenses such as the “white lie” a husband tells his wife when she asks if he likes her new hairdoo. It’s not always exactly clear where the dividing line is between mortal and venial sin. One priest might label a sin as mortal while another priest would say it’s venial. Nevertheless, all mortal sins must be confessed to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation to be forgiven or when a person is dying and receives final absolution. Venial sins can be absolved by attending mass and receiving the eucharist Jesus wafer.
With all that said, the theoretical constant goal of Catholics is to be without the stain of mortal sin on their souls; what Catholics call being in a “state of grace.” Catholics are taught they can only attain Heaven if they are in this mortal sin-free “state of grace” at the moment of their death. So how do Catholics attain this “state of grace”? By obeying the Ten Commandments PERFECTLY! But what if they mess up and commit a mortal sin? They must quickly go to confession and receive forgiveness so they can once again be in a “state of grace” or they will go to eternal damnation when they die.
STATE of GRACE – Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God’s friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain heaven. – from the Catholic Dictionary
Catholics concede that few can live in a constant “state of grace” so they have created confession to receive forgiveness for mortal sins and purgatory as a place where any remaining temporal punishment for mortal sins can be cleansed. Purgatory also allegedly cleanses unrepented venial sins.
Given all the above, Catholics purposely keep the sin hurdle very low otherwise their mortal sin bucket would be unmanageable. Many behaviors evangelicals would definitely consider sinful, Catholics would say are just part of everyday life. Evangelicals don’t differentiate between major and minor sins. Sin is sin. Yes, the Bible speaks of a sin unto death, which refers to the kind of unrepentant sin that leads to an early physical death of a believer, as was the case with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11.
While several folks have contributed comments complaining that I’m misrepresenting Catholic teaching, the VAST majority of RCC members could not care less about the issue. Catholic sources show that only 20% of members attend mandatory mass every Sunday and only 12% go to confession at least once a year as they are required to do. That’s a lot of mortal sin piling up. Most Catholics are so disillusioned with their church’s religious treadmill that they’ve become Catholics in name only.
Catholic friend, I break the Ten Commandments either in thought, word, deed, or by omission every single day. Try as I might there are times when I lie, steal (work productivity), covet, and lust. I often put my own selfish needs and desires ahead of God and others. I’m prideful as the day is long. I get angry and hateful with others. Sometimes I gossip maliciously. You can try to rationalize it away, but you commit the same sins, too. You and I cannot possibly attain Heaven by obedience to the Ten Commandments. The only Person who perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments was Jesus Christ, God the Son. And He offered His perfect life as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for your sins. But He rose from the dead and offers eternal life and fellowship with God to all those who repent of their sins and accept Him as Savior by faith alone. After receiving Christ as Savior, only then can you follow Him as Lord, albeit imperfectly. Trust in Christ, NOT in your extremely imperfect “obedience.” I’m so joyful that my Savior imputed His perfect righteousness to me. I have no righteousness other than His.
“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” – Galatians 2:16
In conclusion, I will continue to state that the RCC teaches its members must obey the Ten Commandments PERFECTLY and have ZERO unconfessed mortal sins on their souls in order to merit Heaven, however, I will agreeably make sure to mention the qualifier that according to the complicated Catholic salvation formula, venial sins, while frowned upon, do not remove a person from the mythological “state of grace.”