The Roman Catholic Church teaches the following:
“Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. the distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience. Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it. Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation: When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery…. But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras. 1854-1856
First, we must clearly define what sin is. Basically, sin is the transgression of God’s law (cf. 1 John 3:4). It is committed when a person, whether in action, thought, or word, breaks the commandments of God.
Rome categorizes sin into two types: venial and mortal. Venial sin is less serious and does not result in the loss of one’s salvation. On the other hand, mortal sin is considered most serious and results in the loss of salvation until penance can be made. Is this found in Scripture? Does God differentiate between certain categories of sin? How does God view sin?
Sin and Salvation
Sin separates us from God, and we are born into this world stained with sin resulting from the fall of Adam. In other words, we are born spiritually dead:
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” – Isaiah 59:2 KJV
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” – Romans 5:12 KJV
Throughout Scripture, it is clear that sin causes death. Not some sin, not some sin that is worse than others, but all sin. Adam ate of the fruit and what was the result? The fall of all mankind. Why? Because Adam transgressed the commandment of God.
What was the purpose of the Mosaic Law?
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” – Galatians 3:21-25 KJV
Paul refers to the law as a “schoolmaster.” Why? Because the Mosaic Law taught us right from wrong, and more importantly highlighted the fact that we could never keep the law living up to God’s standard (cf. Acts 13:39). The bottom line is that all sin is a transgression of God’s law, and man cannot keep God’s law because we all sin (cf. Romans 3:23). Breaking just one law is equivalent to breaking them all (cf. James 2:10).
So what is the consequence of sin?
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23 KJV
Notice that Romans 6:23 does not differentiate between venial and mortal sin. The Scripture is clear – all sin causes death. It is only through the blood atonement of Jesus Christ can a person be washed from the stains of sin (cf. 1 John 1:7).
Problems with Rome’s Position
The differentiation between lesser and greater sins presents several problems. Let’s take lying as an example. According to Rome a “white lie” could be considered venial, but committing perjury by falsely testifying in a courtroom could be considered mortal. What does the Scripture say about liars?
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8 KJV
In this verse, it clearly states “all liars.” By definition if one tells a “white lie,” are they not considered a liar? Clearly any lie is forbidden by God’s law (cf. Leviticus 19:11).
Let’s consider another example. A married man is walking along the street and passes an attractive woman. He glances at her and for an instant has a lustful thought. According to Jesus Himself, what has this man just committed?
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28 KJV
According to Jesus, this man would have just committed adultery. There are countless other examples that can be used to demonstrate how people sin. Just imagine how many times per day an individual commits sin in either action, thought, or word: 10 times per day, 20 times per day, 100 times per day? It completely depends on the person, but the point is that everyone sins everyday, multiple times no matter how hard we try.
Is one lie enough to condemn a person to hell? God gave us the law to teach us right from wrong and to underscore his standard of righteousness. God is holy and perfect, and He demands us to be holy and perfect. Even one lie makes us fall short of what God demands. So how can we be perfect when we are incapable of keeping the law? Through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ:
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV