So, what is it that “we should be doing anyway,” as I put it? Well, a major part of what we should do is avoid doing evil deeds.
What is it that God warns us against, to help us avoid turning down the road to hell? What sorts of terrible things does it take for us to willingly separate us from Him, and thus from eternal life? St. Paul certainly had some answers:
“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10, NABRE).
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).
“Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:3-5).
See also Romans 1:18-32.
Certainly (and sadly), there are a plethora of Christians who refuse to avoid (perhaps even condoning—cf. Rom 1:32) the sins and vices St. Paul outlines in these passages. Yet, these are what the Bible clearly states as abhorrent, abhorrent enough to have the capacity to draw us away from eternal life.
When we preach Christianity, this is what we preach. Avoiding these kinds of things is a major part of the Christian life; if we refuse to, we in turn refuse to embrace true Christianity as we should, robbing ourselves of it. We are not being true Christians.
People who wonder why the Catholic Church seems to be so “nitpicky”—as they likely do—over sin should keep in mind that this is why. The Church goes by the Bible.
We have to remember, of course, that Christianity is not a mere list of restrictions. The Christian life is not just one of avoidance, but one of action. There is much more to goodness than a mere abhorrence of evil.
St. Paul also takes into account the “dos” of Christianity, sometimes right alongside the “don’ts”:
“In contrast [to the works of the flesh, as quoted above], the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit. Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another” (Gal 5:22-26).
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:12-17).
From this, it should be obvious that there’s so much more to Christianity than just avoiding sin. Christians aren’t meant to just not act in a bad way, but to intentionally act in a good way—to not merely abstain from hatred and evil, but to embrace love.
It is through love that we are truly “justified” before God; for as Jesus taught, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:9-10). If we embody this love through avoiding evil and embracing goodness, both to the best of our abilities (genuinely repenting when we fail, through the sacrament of reconciliation when necessary), and we will have nothing to fear of death or eternal punishment.
Again, thank you to all those who have followed this series on authentically understanding St. Paul’s doctrine of justification. I hope that you’ve learned from it, that I’ve been able to help you in some way. If you have any input on this series, please feel free to put it down in the comments; otherwise, may God bless you abundantly!
“That is what some of you used to be [see 1 Cor 6:9-10]; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). Do not give that justification up for ANYTHING! What gift could be greater than eternal salvation?