Salvation, Eternal Security, & Grace: Dialogue w Bethany Kerr

Salvation, Eternal Security, & Grace: Dialogue w Bethany Kerr February 1, 2018

Constructive, amiable Protestant-Catholic discussion on many key aspects of salvation.

[see the original, somewhat longer Facebook exchanges, with a few more helpful participants, too]


This dialogue was kicked off when I cited Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman on the difference between Protestant and Catholic doctrines of original sin:

Catholics hold that Original sin is mainly an external evil, Protestants an internal. According to us, it is not propagated in the way of cause and effect, but by an act of the will of God, exerted and carried out on each child, as it is conceived. I repeat, this is not de fide, but it is what I conceive theologians teach. (Letters & Diaries, v. 19; To Arthur Osborne Alleyne, 15 June 1860)

Our doctrine of original sin is not that of Protestants. We do not hold infection of nature – but we place original sin in the absence of supernatural grace. (Ibid., v. 19; To William Wilberforce, 9 Dec. 1860)

Bethany Kerr is a very friendly and knowledgeable Protestant with whom I have enjoyed several constructive dialogues. Her words will be in blue.


Can you explain what exactly what original sin is if not internal?

Big topic, so I’ll refer you to this good source: “Original Sin” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Obviously I haven’t had time to give the article a thorough read, but from the skimming I have done, I don’t see any clear explanation of what original sin actually is. There are lots of philosophical ideas surrounding the concept of original sin, and a lot of arguments against what it is not, but I don’t see clear explanation as to what original sin is, according to Catholic doctrine. Can you help me understand, in a simplified way perhaps, what you personally believe original sin is?

Here is a more concise definition:

Either the sin committed by Adam as the head of the human race, or the sin he passed onto his posterity with which every human being, with the certain exception of Christ and his Mother, is conceived and born. The sin of Adam is called originating original sin (originale originans); that of his descendants is originated original sin (originale originatum). Adam’s sin was personal and grave, and it affected human nature. It was personal because he freely committed it; it was grave because God imposed a serious obligation; and it affected the whole human race by depriving his progeny of the supernatural life and preternatural gifts they would have possessed on entering the world had Adam not sinned. Original sin in his descendants is personal only in the sense that the children of Adam are each personally affected, but not personal as though they had voluntarily chosen to commit the sin; it is grave in the sense that it debars a person from the beatific vision, but not grave in condemning one to hell; and it is natural only in that all human nature, except for divine intervention, has it and can have it removed only by supernatural means. (Catholic Dictionary, from Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J.; hosted at Catholic Culture)

The simplest way to put it is that many Protestants believe that original sin results in a fallen nature, whereas Catholics think it is more of a deprivation than a positive and profound evil.

So would I be correct in understanding that you believe it is a deprivation of the original good nature of Adam at creation?

No, Bethany. You are still talking about natures. It is the deprivation “of the supernatural life and preternatural gifts they would have possessed on entering the world had Adam not sinned,” as Fr. Hardon stated in the linked short definition above.

To not possess something (supernatural life and preternatural gifts) is different from possessing a bad thing (an “evil nature”). That’s why the Calvinists developed total depravity from the latter notion, whereas even most Protestants (like myself, formerly), and Orthodox and Catholics reject that.

Okay thanks, I did say nature again, didn’t I? 

Why do you believe Paul speaks of the old and new natures throughout his epistles? He speaks about the old and new man, which struggle against each other in the body. From your understanding, what does that mean. Or “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature. All old things are passed away , all things have become new”. Or the passage which speaks of God taking our heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh?  (All those questions are really one question.)

And my three replies are really one reply.  I think he is talking about regeneration and/or infused justification and/or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Catholics, too, believe that men still need all those things to be saved and made whole.

Do you believe we are given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of salvation?

No; He is given to us to help us procure the salvation that we must persevere in obtaining, always and necessarily by means of His grace and power, but with our free will cooperation.

Can you bear with me and please explain how you reconcile that belief with Ephesians 1:13 -14 which says: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

I predicted in my head that you would cite that verse. :-)

I have more! :-) But I figure you’re aware of their existence. Obviously you’ve read the Scripture. But what you’re saying doesn’t work with the Scripture I’m reading.

I have more, too: entire books of it. The same Paul warns several times that we may fall from His grace; nothing is guaranteed. We must interpret Ephesians 1 in harmony with many other of his related statements:

1 Corinthians 9:27 (RSV) but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Galatians 4:8-9 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?

Galatians 5:1, 4 . . . stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery . . . You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 1:21-23 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, . . .

1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.

1 Timothy 5:15 For some have already strayed after Satan.

2 Timothy 2:12 if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;

And there are many more similar non-Pauline passages . . .

Remember, Jesus said He could remove folks’ names from the Book of Life:

Revelation 3:5 He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Where does Revelation 3:5 say that anyone’s name will be blotted from the book of life?

If Jesus talks about “not” doing something, it’s strongly implied that the thing is possible.

Revelation 17:8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.

“If you do X, I will not . . . ” Therefore, it seems to follow that “If you do not do x, I will . . . ”

No, it doesn’t always follow.  Look at Rev 17:8. “whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world.” When Jesus tells those who are not His to depart from him, he says “I never knew you”. He does not say, “I am saddened to say that you departed from me”.

Yes; well, God knows everything, so it’s true that such passages are anthropomorphic. From our perspective, we don’t know who is finally in the elect (even John Calvin agrees with that) or who will fall away from faith.

But that is part of my argument. We cannot know for sure what the future will bring; therefore, we can’t be absolutely*sure of final salvation. We can only examine ourselves and make sure that we are not involved in serious sin that separates us from God, and attain a “moral certainty or assurance.”

What we know for sure is that whomever God deems to be elect is elect. We just can’t know for sure who is in that category, because we’re not omniscient like God and don’t know the future. Our concern is to follow His will and do what He says.

We cannot be sure of other people’s election, but the scripture tells us to make our calling and election sure. We can know that we are elect because the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are heirs of eternal life.  What is the will of God? To believe on Him who he has sent.

If we “know” it why do we have to strive to make it “sure”? We can know we are in God’s graces and that if we continue in those, we will be saved in the end and go to heaven. To believe in God also means to obey Him.

Well, of course. You’re obeying him by believing. What did the people who were bitten by snakes in Exodus doing in order to be saved from death? They simply looked in faith at the snake on the cross. That symbolized Jesus, who took our sin (the snake represented this) upon himself. And those who “look” on him receive life instead of death.

And faith produces works. Faith is a verb. If it is the gift of God, and God causes the faith in us, he also causes the result of faith, which is our works. We are told to examine ourselves, whether we are really in the faith. We should study and see whether our actions and thoughts line up with what the scripture teaches will be the fruit of salvation.

There is a large sense in which all these arguments are futile. All Christians agree that we must do God’s will and obey Him; we must walk with Him day-by-day and seek righteousness. Good works must be present in the Christian life. We all agree that those who are saved, are saved by God’s grace and mercy and free gift of salvation, through the atoning work of our Lord Jesus on the cross. So we do those things, and all will be well. Why argue about whether we are certain or not, and who is in and out, etc.?

Your last comment shows the essential agreement. So why argue about the elect and predestination and all that?

Because Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Hebrew Roots, Islam, etc all make the same mistake- they base at least part of their salvation on what they do. The Christian believes that you do because you believe.

What you described there is what Catholics call the “examination of conscience.”

God has given us faith, which causes our works. What are they examining when they examine their conscience? Are they examining whether they are worthy, or whether God has changed them?
We don’t believe in works-salvation. That is the heresy of Pelagianism, which we condemned 1500 years ago. This is your mistake. We believe in salvation by grace, and that faith without works is dead; that works cannot be separated from faith and grace.
Are you saved through faith? Does God give you the faith?
We are examining whether we are doing God’s will or engaged in serious sin that will separate us from God.
If God gives you faith, which produces works, how can you be stronger than God and not have works with that faith? How can you resist what he puts within you? True saving faith always produces works in the believer. But a Catholic believes that you can receive faith but not act in accordance with that faith.
We can resist because God gave us free will. Irresistible grace is a falsehood, as I show at length in one of my books. We’re saved by God’s grace, through faith. God enables all grace and faith. There is no difference here. But many Protestants wrongly think there is.
Dave, does faith necessarily produce works?
Real faith does. But we can rebel and lose faith and grace. My concern now is to show you that Catholics reject works-salvation. Here is the Council of Trent on Justification:
CANON I.-If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.

CANON II.-If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema.

CANON III.-If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so as that the grace of Justification may be bestowed upon him; let him be anathema.

The Calvinist agrees with Canons I-III. The disagreement comes with Canon IV, because of their “either/or” thinking and denial of free will:
CANON IV.-If any one saith, that man’s free will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of Justification; that it cannot refuse its consent, if it would, but that, as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive; let him be anathema.
This is what we believe: that we cooperate with God’s free grace and can also reject it.
Catholics believe in a synergistic cooperative justification…Christians like me believe that justification is an act of God only,- monergism.
Exactly. This is the heart of our disagreement. If you deny that we believe we are “saved by works” then you have not misrepresented us (as Calvin and Luther both habitually do).
The Catholic church indeed teaches that by your own merits, which are not just the merits of Jesus Christ, but your own, can merit an increase of grace, and eternal life (as long as you don’t lose your state of grace).
Correct. But all that goes back to God’s grace, as to cause. Hence, Augustine said that merit was merely God “crowning His own gifts.” Understood in this way, it remains salvation by grace alone. We merely cooperate with God. We’re not programmed robots.
The bottom line is that Catholics believe in “both/and” thinking. I believe this is demonstrably biblical, as pertains to salvation and justification.
You believe in “either/or” thinking: God must do all; we can do nothing. We are not able to resist His will. Calvinism is a self-consistent system, but based on false premises. I show how these premises are biblically false in my book, Biblical Catholic Salvation. It has 115 pages (seven chapters) devoted specifically to a critique of Calvinism and all five of the beliefs of “TULIP”.


What does the Ephesians 1 verse mean, in your opinion?

That we are sealed with and in the Holy Spirit for salvation, as long as we “continue in the faith” (Col 1:23) and “stand fast” (Gal 5:1); and don’t become “disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27), “fall” (1 Cor 10:12), “turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits” (Gal 4:9), become “severed from Christ” (Gal 5:4), “depart from the faith” (1 Tim 4:1), “stray after Satan” (1 Tim 5:15), or “deny him” (2 Tim 2:12).

Dave, in biblical times, whenever the word seal is used, can it be revoked? Once a king sealed something, could it ever be unsealed?

Why do you believe that Paul is referring to salvation when he refers to being disqualified from the prize of the upward call in Christ? First of all, that would be saying that heaven is our reward for good works- as a “prize” is a reward. That would show that as a catholic you do in fact believe in works salvation. 

Secondly, how do you reconcile this with Paul’s claim that to die is to be with the Lord? Or his claims of his inheritance waiting for him in heaven? How could he both have assurance of these things, but also lack assurance of these things?

We have a moral assurance, insofar as we examine ourselves and are not involved in mortal sin: sins that the Bible states will bar us from salvation and heaven. I gave a link to a long paper of mine about that, above.

We lack assurance insofar as we don’t absolutely know the future. The classic observation of the error of Calvinism or eternal security is when a Calvinist falls into serious sin, Calvinists say, “he never was saved.” They don’t know that. It’s circular reasoning. Since the Bible speaks repeatedly of apostasy, it’s much more reasonable to assert that the person was in God’s grace and fell away after rejecting it.

John 6, which I know as a Catholic, you are very familiar with, gives assurance that I do not believe Catholics take literally-

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

1. His father gave Him certain who would come to him. 
2. Of those that would come to Him, He would lose none of them.
3. He will raise those the father has given him on the last day. 
4. Whoever believes in Him will never be cast out. 

5. These people will be raised on the last day. 
6. Whoever looks on the Son and believes in Him possesses eternal life and will be raised on the last day. No conditions mentioned outside of looking and believing (eating flesh and drinking blood). 

Do you believe that since you have eaten His flesh and drank his blood, that you have eternal life, that he will raise you on the last day, and that he will never cast you out or lose you?

From: Society of Evangelical Arminians: “Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security”

Eph.1:13, 14; 4:30

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation- having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory….Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Much has been made of the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit by defenders of unconditional eternal security. The “sealing” of the Holy Spirit is clearly conditional since we can “grieve”, and eventually “insult” the Sprit of Grace, which constitutes total apostasy without remedy (Eph. 4:30, and Heb. 10:29). The Holy Spirit is received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 14) and can only seal us as we remain in Christ through faith. We are, in fact, sealed in Christ, by the Holy Spirit, as a direct result of faith (Eph. 1:13). The sealing of the Holy Spirit presupposes the possession of the Holy Spirit, and only believers can possess the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). He is therefore the guarantee of an inheritance for believers and not unbelievers.

There may be a parallel with circumcision which was also a “seal” for those under the old covenant (Rom. 4:11). We know that that seal was broken and guaranteed nothing when those who were circumcised broke the covenant and were cut off from the people of God (Rom. 2:25). The seal was conditioned on continued faith and obedience (2:26-29). The Holy Spirit marks us as children of the new covenant through faith in Christ, but if we abandon the faith then the Spirit of God no longer remains in us and we are no longer sealed in Christ (partakers of the covenant blessings that are found in Him alone- Eph. 1:3, 7, 10,11). Only those that continue in obedient faith remain sealed (Acts 5:32, Jn. 14:15-17; Rom. 8:5, 6, 9).

Notice that the sealing of the Holy Spirit is coupled with a warning not to “grieve” Him in Ephesians 4:30. This would seem to indicate that there is danger in grieving the Spirit who seals us and the reference to sealing may be for the primary purpose of reminding the Ephesians that to grieve the Spirit is to grieve the one who unites us to Christ. This makes the warning far more emphatic and cautions the believer to watch how he lives lest the sins which grieve Him lead to unbelief through which the seal is broken and the Spirit is finally “insulted.” The sealing of the Holy Spirit, therefore, applies only as long as we do not “grieve” (Eph. 4:30), and finally “insult” (Heb. 10:29) the “Spirit of Grace” through continued disobedience, culminating in outright apostasy.

There is no Biblical reason to see the sealing of the Holy Spirit as unconditional or irrevocable, while there are plenty of reasons to see it as conditioned on continued faith. Indeed, warnings against apostasy alone imply the conditionality of the seal.


Philippians 3:11-14 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Navarre Bible Commentary:

10–12. The calling to holiness which every Christian receives is not a reward for personal merit: it comes from God’s initiative; God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), that is, to know God himself. The Apostle bears witness to this when he says that “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” However, he also says that, in order to grow in knowledge of Christ and enjoy God in heaven, one needs to strive to share in Christ’s sufferings. “The Christian is certainly bound both by need and by duty to struggle with evil through many afflictions and to suffer death; but, as one who has been made a partner in the paschal mystery and has been configured to the death of Christ, he will go forward, strengthened by hope, to the resurrection” (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 22). This struggle, which sometimes calls for heroism, is usually pitched in the incidents of one’s ordinary day. Heroism in the everyday battle proves the sincerity of our love and is a sure way to holiness.

“Certainly our goal is both lofty and difficult to attain. But please do not forget that people are not born holy. Holiness is forged through a constant interplay of God’s grace and man’s response. As one of the early Christian writers says, referring to union with God, ‘Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big’ (St. Mark the Hermit, De lege spirituali, 172). So I say to you, if you want to become a thorough-going Christian — and I know you do, even though you often find it difficult to conquer yourself or to keep climbing upwards with this poor body — then you will have to be very attentive to the minutest of details, for the holiness that our Lord demands of you is to be achieved by carrying out with love of God your work and your daily duties, and these will almost always consist of ordinary little things” (J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 7).

“That if possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead”: St. Paul is referring here to the glorious resurrection of the just, whom the power of the risen Christ will rescue from the domain of death. At the second coming of the Lord, both the souls of the blessed in heaven and the souls of those who are still in purgatory undergoing the temporal punishment due to sins they committed will be re-united with their now glorified bodies. The reprobate will also rise, but their destiny is to suffer for ever the pains of hell in body and soul (cf. Second Council of Lyons, Profession of faith of Michael Paleologue).

Man’s supernatural last end consists in knowing God as he is and enjoying him in heaven. When he attains this, man finds complete fulfilment. His life on earth has been a route leading to this perfection, a perfection which can only be fully attained by resurrection in glory. The Apostle recognizes that he needs the help of grace to be “perfect” (that is, faithful unto death) and thereby attain the prize promised by God: perseverance right to the end is not entirely a function of the merit a person has built up; it is a gift from God (cf. De iustificatione, chap. 13). However, God does not dispense man from generously responding to grace in order to attain holiness. As St. Teresa of Avila says. “It matters a great deal, it is essential […], that one have very great, very determined, resolution not to halt until one attains it, come what may, whatever happens, however much one suffers, however much people may gossip, whether I get there or not, even if I die on the way or am not able to face all the effort involved, even if the world collapses around me” (Way of Perfection, 35, 2).

12–14. Growth in holiness always demands an effort. St. Paul here uses a vivid comparison — races in the stadium. He describes ascetical struggle in terms of enjoyable supernatural sport. Realizing that he has not reached perfection, he strains to win: Christ already made him his own (cf. v. 12) by entering his life on the Damascus road; from that moment onwards he has striven single-mindedly to serve God.

Our Lord helps everyone to discover his or her particular supernatural vocation. In response to that calling a person should seek to serve God in such a way that “everything good he does, interiorly or externally, he does for the glory and pleasure of God, like a loyal slave who gives everything he gets to his master. Moreover,” St. John of Avila goes on, “even though he has worked as a servant for many years past, he is not easy-going or careless […]. He always has that ‘hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (Mt 5:6): he puts little weight on everything he has done, thinking of how much he has received and how much is due to the Lord he serves” (Audi, filia, 92).

In making one’s way towards perfection it is important to be always trying to advance spiritually. “What does walking mean?,” St. Augustine asked himself; “I shall answer very briefly: it means going forward […]. Examine yourself. You should always be unhappy with what you are, if you want to attain what you are not yet. For when you were content with yourself, you stayed where you were, because if you say ‘Enough’, you are finished that very minute. Always grow, always walk on, always advance; do not stop on the way, do not tum back, do not go off course. One who does not advance is standing still; one who returns to the things he already abandoned is going backwards; one who goes off course commits apostasy. It is better to hobble along the road than run on any other route” (Sermon 169, 15, 18).


As for the relationship of the Eucharist to salvation, this is from my book on the Eucharist (section: “Presbyterian Theologians Charles Hodge’s Objection: Is the Catholic Eucharist Absolutely Necessary for Salvation?”):

Charles Hodge writes,

Romanists teach that spiritual life is as necessary to the experience of the benefits of the sacrament, as natural life is to the body’s being nourished by food [Catechismus Romanus, II. iv. 40]. They further teach that baptism, which precedes the eucharist, conveys all the saving benefits of Christ’s redemption; they therefore cannot make the eucharist essential, and consequently they cannot, without contradicting Christ or themselves, interpret John 6:48-65 as referring to the Lord’s Supper. (Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, 682 ff.)

Hodge is correct about Catholic sacramental beliefs, but wrong as to the alleged contradiction vis-a-vis John 6 and “Romanist” theology. Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Hodge and other Protestants argue that if this is interpreted as a reference to the Lord’s Supper, then the Lord’s Supper is necessary for eternal life, but that this idea is inconsistent with the other Catholic beliefs.

Also, Jesus said, “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). It is argued that if this is taken as a reference to the Lord’s Supper, then absurd conclusions immediately follow: anyone who partakes of Holy Communion or the Eucharist has eternal life and Jesus will raise that person up at the last day.

But Hodge and those who argue as he does are interpreting Jesus’ words in an improperly universal sense which allows of absolutely no exceptions, in any way, shape, or form. Biblical language rarely works in such a woodenly literalistic way. Jesus (especially) and other biblical writers often speak proverbially or hyperbolically. This was a Hebrew use of language utilized in order to express emphasis. Thus:

Matthew 5:22 . . . “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away . . .

Matthew 21:21-22 “. . . even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done.  [22] And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Luke 14:26 “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

1 John 3:9 No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God.

Even John 3:16 and 3:36 or Romans 10:9, if taken hyper-literally, would exclude Old Testament saints and all those who have never heard of Jesus or the gospel, through no fault of their own, from salvation. Thus, Hodge’s “difficulty” vanishes. On the other hand, Protestants are left with these forceful verses, and would be well advised to take them very seriously, as the biblical text warrants.

The Eucharist does indeed cleanse us from sin (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1391-1395, especially #1393). However, it is more a “preventive measure,” so to speak. We receive grace for the avoidance of future sin. If one takes communion in mortal sin, it does not wipe out that serious sin, and in fact it is a further grave sin to partake in that state.

A Catholic must confess a mortal sin to a priest and receive absolution before approaching the Lord’s Table. It contributes to our salvation insofar as it helps (by the supernatural grace imparted) to remove the sin that bars us from salvation and heaven and a right relationship with God.

Okay; I understand your line of reasoning even though I disagree with the conclusions. I have one more question since you brought up mortal sin. 

Catholics appear to believe that baptism brings you to a state, like before the fall, except with the effects of sin remaining. You believe there is a distinction between mortal and venial sins. That the lesser sins do not condemn you, but the mortal ones would send you straight to hell were you to die immediately after committing them. 

What I’m not understanding about this is that if this were true, wouldn’t that mean God has lowered his standard of holiness? 

Adam, when in his original state, committed what to us humans seems very small- he simply ate a piece of fruit when he was told not to. I have no reason to believe his intentions were malicious. Eve gave to him, and he ate. Her intentions were that she saw it and it appeared good so she ate. But this seemingly tiny sin carried immense consequences. It brought the consequence of eternal death. And it also brought sin into the world.

The Bible says that if we keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, we are guilty of all. Yet, Catholic teaching would have us believe that certain sins do not have this effect anymore. That God sees some as not as bad as the mortal sins, and they do not carry the same consequences as mortal sins. 

Please tell me this. If someone were to sin a sin comparable to Adam’s first sin, in both intent and action, and was to carry this sin to his priest in confession, would the priest tell him he was guilty of mortal sin? 

I believe the answer would be no- it is venial. 

If not, this means the Catholic Church teaches that Gods standard of holiness has been lowered, since Gods standard is perfection in the Bible. (This is why only Jesus could pay his debt for us).

Here you are assuming that Adam’s sin was “small”; in fact it was not just eating the fruit, but choosing himself over God and His express commands. So your premise is wrong. You have an incomplete understanding of the horrendous nature of the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, and all of us “in” them, as the Bible states.

Dave, is it not true that in any sin we commit, we are choosing ourselves over God?  I am not misunderstanding the horrendous nature of Adams sin. I am saying that all our sins are equally horrendous in God’s sight.

What is your denomination?

I don’t really have a denomination but I am Reformed if that helps.

John Calvin has a far more “severe” view of original sin than Catholics, because he thinks it affected man’s very nature.But you think it was a minor thing; what we would call a “venial sin”. So you are in conflict with your own Reformed theology there. With no denomination to guide you, this is the sort of thing that can happen.

I am saying that from a human perspective it seems small. I am saying that if you were to go to a priest, he would call a comparable sin venial. I am saying that is fallacious.

If I told a priest that I rejected God’s direct command, as Adam and Eve did, and intended to go my own way instead of God’s he would certainly say that was mortal, not venial sin.

My question was not based on what my beliefs are. My question was directed to what appears to be an inconsistent understanding of the seriousness of sin by the Catholic Church. So if you told a priest that you lusted in your heart after a woman, but then felt sorry, he would say you were guilty of mortal sin? 

If it was sustained lust with full consent of the will, yes.

What if you told your priest that you lost your temper and used profanity?

I don’t want to go through a whole laundry list. Your premises are wrong. You deny that sins are lesser or greater.

No, I deny that all sins do not make us guilty before a righteous God. There are varying degrees of sin, but there is no sin that does not separate us from God, and make us worthy of eternal condemnation.

This is untrue, according to the Bible. We know that because the Bible specifically states that very serious sins (not all sins) will lead to hell and condemnation (noted above: 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 1:8; 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-6; Heb 12:16; Rev 21:8; 22:15). It names them, so we know what they are; and these line up with Catholic notions of mortal sin.

If what you say is true, it seems to me that the above passages wouldn’t make sense. Rather than name specific sins, it would simply say that “every sin — even a white lie about stealing a cookie — leads to hell and everlasting fire.”

Also, from my book, Bible Proofs for Catholic Truths [KJV used]:

1 John 5:16-17 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. [17] All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. (RSV: “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 a sin which is not mortal”)

Some non-Catholic Christians think that all sins are exactly alike in the eyes of God: everything from a white lie or a child stealing a cookie to mass murder. This mistaken notion is decisively refuted by the above passage. Scripture provides several indications of this difference in seriousness of sin, and in subjective guiltiness for it:

Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (RSV: “. . . whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire”)

Luke 12:47-48 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. [48] But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. . . .

John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (RSV: “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains”)

John 19:11 . . . he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (RSV: “The times of ignorance God overlooked,”)

Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (RSV: “to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;”)

1 Timothy 1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, (RSV: “if we sin deliberately . . .”)

James 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. (RSV: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness”)

The Bible also refers to (mortal) sins which — if not repented of — will exclude one from heaven (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 1:8; 5:19-21; Eph 5:3-6; Heb 12:16; Rev 21:8; 22:15). Objectors to these notions bring up James 2:10 (RSV): “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” This doesn’t prove that all sins are the same, equally destructive and worthy of judgment, because the passage is dealing with man’s inability to keep the entire Law of God: a common theme in Scripture. James accepts differences in degrees of sin and righteousness elsewhere in the same letter, such as 3:1 (above). In James 1:12, the man who endures trial will receive a “crown of life.” James also teaches that the “prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (5:16, RSV), which implies that there are relatively more righteous people, whom God honors more, by making their prayers more effective (he used the prophet Elijah as an example). If there is a lesser and greater righteousness, then there are lesser and greater sins also, because to be less righteous is to be more sinful, and vice versa.

[see also the following related section]:


Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.

Romans 5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

2 Corinthians 8:7 Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

Ephesians 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (cf. 1 Pet 5:5)

1 Peter 1:2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (RSV: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you”)

1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (RSV: “good stewards of God’s varied grace”)

2 Peter 1:2 Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord,

2 Peter 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. . . .

Regarding the proof text of 1 John 5:16, you must make the assumption and read into the text that he was speaking of eternal condemnation. It is simply not there. Most of the other scripture is taken out of its intended context to support what your belief, based on this one passage, teaches.


Sorry, I just noticed something. Not trying to be annoying. I have a million questions I could ask but trying to narrow it down because I know you are probably busy. 

You posted 1 John 3:9. Do you believe that God’s nature abides in one who is born of a God?

The believer progressively becomes more and more like God (sanctification); what is known in theology as theosis:

The chief New Testament reference to theosis or deification is 2 Peter 1:4: . . . (AV : “partakers of the divine nature”; NEB: “come to share in the very being of God). Certainly John 17:23 is to the point: “The glory which Thou gavest Me I have given to them, that they may be one, as We are one; I in them and Thou in Me, may they be perfectly one” (NEB, upper case added). This at once suggests the divine nuptial mystery (Ephesians 5:25-32; one may compare 2:19-22 and Colossians 1:26-27), with its implied “wondrous exchange.” That the final “transfiguration” of believers into “conformity” . . . with Christ’s glorious body (Philippians 3:21; one may compare 1 Corinthians 15:49) has begun already in the spiritual-sacramental life of faith, is clear from “icon” texts like Romans 8:29, Colossians 3:10, and especially 2 Corinthians 3:18: “thus we are transfigured into His likeness, from splendor to splendor” . . . One may also wish to compare 2 Corinthians 4:16 and Ephesians 3:14-19.

So you believe in sanctification as a lifelong process through which God conforms us to His Son’s image? If so, I would agree with this. I believe that faith produces an inner change in us in which we have new desires and God’s Spirit dwells in us and guides us into holiness.

Agreed 100%! But salvation can be lost, as the Bible repeatedly states. Catholics, Orthodox, and most Protestants through history (and almost all the Church Fathers, with the notable exception of Augustine) have believed that. Only Calvinists and those who believe in eternal security (Baptists, fundamentalists, etc.) teach otherwise.

I wish I had more time to discuss this but I’m going to walk out the door. Thank you for your patience and maybe we can talk more soon. :-)

Bethany, we could go round and round forever on this issue. I’ve been arguing it for over 30 years.  The Bible and apostolic tradition teach us that it is possible to fall away from salvation. It’s called “apostasy.” I’ve given tons of biblical proofs. The eternal security believer always has some reply, but I find them thoroughly unconvincing and arbitrarily [biblically] selective. I’m happy to let readers who are on the fence look over the biblical arguments I have made and compare them to yours, and decide which is more plausible and coherent and biblical.


I think the much more relevant and important topic is, “how can we better live day-by-day as disciples of Jesus Christ and do those things which all Christians agree are good and righteous, and avoid sin?” That is the Christian life. The other discussion is ultimately philosophical abstraction, that may be fun, but in the end doesn’t accomplish much. I’ll do it for a time, but I quickly tire of it, for those reasons.

As always, it is a rare pleasure to dialogue with you in a friendly manner. You’re a wonderful Christian, and I’m proud to be your friend. We disagree on this, but one happy day all of us will know all truth with absolute certainty, when God reveals it on judgment day.

I appreciate so much your taking the time to discuss this with me.


(originally 4-13-15)

Photo credit: Image by “geralt” (Sep. 2017) [Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons license]


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