This is a question that I get asked from time to time, and it is a good one. Heaven is our goal, but it can be difficult with the devil lurking around every corner. There are many temptations and stumbling blocks along the way, some small, some large, and some life-threatening (mortal sins). On the road to sainthood and to heaven, these are the sins we want to seek to avoid in a special way.
So, what is mortal sin? How is it different from venial sin? And will a person go to hell if they commit a mortal sin? These are great questions. Keep reading below, or if you would prefer to watch the video on this same topic, click here.
What is a mortal sin? A mortal sin is a very serious sin. This is in contrast to smaller sins known as venial sins. A quick story to illustrate the difference. Pretend your best friend has $2 hanging out of their wallet one day. Not really thinking about it, you just swipe the money because you need it. When your friend finds out, the trust is broken a bit. Friends do not do this sort of thing to one another. However, after deeply apologizing, he forgives you. The trust is broken a bit, but you still have a friendship. Your actions were bad but not serious enough to break the friendship completely.
In contrast, imagine hanging out at a very close friend’s house. They confide in you the location their parents keep money stashed away, about $1000. The temptation for more money has increased since your girlfriend has been pressuring you to buy her more things and take her out more often. You feel the pressure but also know that it’s seriously wrong to steal. Yet you think about it for a while and decide to steal the money for your own benefit, regardless of the damage it will do to the friendship.
Your friend discovers that you stole his parents’ money. Shocked and appalled, he cannot believe one of his closest buddies betrayed him and his family. This was no small act, or mistake. It was premeditated and intentional. Your friend angrily lectures you that true friends don’t do that, and how you have no respect for his family. “If you don’t return that money, I’m going to sue you and take you to court.” Friendship ended.
This is a very different situation. The friendship is completely severed and broken. However, it was you who chose to break the friendship when you made your decision. That is the difference between mortal sin and venial sin (the distinction is found in the Bible in 1 Jn. 5:16-17).
Venial sins still hurt our relationship with God, but they do not break the friendship, and can be repaired more easily. Mortal sin, on the other hand, breaks our relationship with God completely, and it cuts us off from the life of God entirely. It severs the relationship, meaning we lose His friendship and His grace in us. In a sense, you are no longer in relationship with God, which is why you cannot receive Holy Communion until you go to confession. This is also why a person cannot enter heaven with an unconfessed mortal sin on their soul.
Obviously, a person wants to avoid sinning mortally. In order to do this, we need to understand what a mortal sin is. There are three conditions for a sin to be considered a mortal one:
- First, the sin must be really serious – usually involving the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments: especially big sins like murder, stealing, idolatry, lust, adultery, sexual sins, and the like. It could also be intentionally choosing to not pray, or to not go to church on Sundays. These are only a few examples. In short, it has to be a big serious sin.
- The second condition is that a person has to know it’s wrong and have full knowledge that it is wrong.
- Finally, after having this full knowledge, a person has to choose to go ahead and do it anyway.
Those are the three conditions. Big sin. Know it’s wrong. Don’t care and choose to do it anyway. In a mortal sin, a person basically says, “God, I do not care what you want, I am going to do my own thing instead.”
With that being said, just because a person breaks one of the Ten Commandments doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a mortal sin, though often times it is. Remember, a person has to have full knowledge that it is wrong and choose to do it anyway. For example, if someone grew up on the street stealing, and nobody taught this person that stealing is against God, then that is not full knowledge. It is still wrong, of course, but not mortally. You are not directly choosing to go against God because you do not know better.
Let’s say that a bunch of people are gossiping about someone and you are present. Perhaps you even chime in unconsciously. This is very different from not liking another person and by making the choice to get your friends to hate this person too. You quickly start to talk about this person behind their back and try to destroy her and her reputation. That is far more serious and intentional.
It is also the difference between a man who sees a half-dressed woman walking down the street and is mesmerized by her beauty, even if perhaps in an unhealthy way. However, once he recognizes that he is gawking over her in an unhealthy way, he has a decision to make. If he looks away and just praises God for her beauty, then there is no sin. However, if he chooses to entertain the lust and imagine what she looks like under the clothes and so on, then that is a choice being made intentionally to lust. Likewise, he may even go look at porn in his room which is an active decision to lust and to sin, despite what we know is right and how we are supposed to treat a lady.
Christians today who are catechized and grow up with religion usually know exactly what is right and wrong, good and bad. It is just a matter of whether we choose to follow God or follow ourselves, in which case we make ourselves “God.” The devil chose himself once, which is why he got booted from heaven and is forever cursed. The bottom line is that God is God. We are not. We must choose to follow Him if we love Him.
Everybody fails. Everyone sins. We all mess up, and if you are like me, you mess up a lot. However, it is not usually intentional, but rather moments of weakness and poor decisions made. Some sins, however, are much bigger and more premeditated. Those are mortal sins.
Hell for a Mortal Sin??
Some people ask, “What if I go my whole life without commiting mortal sins, but at the very end of my life I commit just one; will I go to hell for that? That is correct, and here is why. Imagine a husband who is faithful throughout his whole marriage, Yet, much later one in life, he cheats on his wife. How would that affect their relationship?
It might be one thing if it was a moment of weakness and stupidity; however, if the cheater chooses to keep a relationship going, and he works hard to keep text messages on private settings, and he deletes certain search histories, and so on, then that is not a one time moment of weakness. That is done with knowledge of the wrong and yet, fully chosen.
He fully chooses to cheat and betray his wife, kids, and marriage. He may even justify his evil actions, but there is no justification. Now if he continues on that course of action and gets caught, it will destroy the relationship. (It already has anyway.) His actions caused him to be cut off from his wife physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Kind of like in our relationship with God after a mortal sin.
Now, imagine the worst happens. Imagine that the husband realized the error of his ways and decided to try to make it right. However, on the way home, he gets into a bad car accident and dies. The consequences of his actions are now eternally set in stone with no possibility of being fixed. Because of the accident, he was never able to apologize or make it right. He may have desired to, but he did not. When he died, he died in a state of permanent separation. Meaning that he could never say sorry, could never fix the problem, and the broken relationship remains broken for eternity. It is the same way if we die in the state of mortal sin. Which is why all the Saints tell us to fight against mortal sins with all of our might.
Being Free From Mortal Sin
To grow in holiness and relationship with God, the great Saints tell us to reflect on our life and our biggest sins. From there, take the most serious one and work on it with all of your might and energy. Offer all of your prayers, confessions, Masses, rosaries and sacrifices toward overcoming these sins. You will come closer to God and grow in holiness. You will be letting go the shackles of darkness and putting on the armor of light.
Resources to Help You!
I will put some good resources down below at the end. These will help you, guide you, enlighten you, and be your best help in conquering mortal sin, and even venial sins. This is the path all people must take if they are serious about going to heaven. See below.
In this fight, we not only need good resources, but we need God!! He is our power. He is the continual mercy given which helps us to get back up when we fall. So let us reflect on our possible mortal sins and why we do them. What are the root causes which lead to them? Once we discover these, we must work hard, with a 100% desire to conquer and remove that big sin. This may take a while, but God will be proud if you are trying your hardest rather than not trying or caring at all.
So, this is not a condemnation but an invitation. God actually wants to help you. God hates sin, but He does not hate you. He hates sin because sin is keeping you apart from Him and His infinite love for you. So bring your sins to God. Bring your addictions to Him
A Note on Addictions:
Perhaps you have an addiction which is not easily broken. Sometimes we like the sin and the addiction and choose to keep it. We baby it and even help it to grow. That is our choice. However, many times, we want to rid ourselves of this sin but find it difficult. In these cases, mortal sins can be lessened so that they are not even considered mortal sins. What I mean by that is, if we have a serious addiction or if we have a depression, or certain psychological conditions and issues like scrupulosity, these can lessen the gravity of certain sins.
After all, if we are not in our right minds or fully in control of ourselves, we are not held to the same standards and do not have full consent. Let us say we have a drug addiction, or a porn addiction. These are extremely difficult to break and take time. While the first time you chose to do these things may have been the mortal sin, it is probably not a mortal sin each and every time you do it later down the road because of all the chemical interfering with your decision making process, etc. In which case counseling and regular confession are in order.
Yes, these are sins and grave evils, but if you are working to overcome them and look to follow God more, then this do not fall into scrupulosity, which is thinking God is always mad at you, always looking down at you, and always displeased with you, even if you are trying. If we are seriously trying, God is pleased. So, approach Him! Don’t run from Him! God is kind. God is love. God is merciful.
If you feel like you have mortal sin on your soul, then approach the sacrament of confession immediately. If you confess your sins from the bottom of your heart and seek to do better, and make decisions to do better, you will be forgiven and can start over fresh. That’s the power of confession and the power of God’s love. If you don’t remember how to go and it has been a while, just tell the priest. He will walk you through it.
If you have any comments or questions, please let us know. Also check out our folder on prayer and spirituality for more helpful advice, both here and on our YouTube channel.