We have to decided if the Commandments and Jesus’ elaboration in his Sermon on the Mount are elusive ideals or that which every Christian seeks to make visible in their lives. At the moment, in our present age, it seems that we are still relatively certain that people are not living their lives always on the verge of killing someone. We can have some confidence that we have the wherewithal to stay our hand (unless it concerns a baby in the womb.) We do expect people not to kill one another, whatever the provocation might be, otherwise prison sentencing would be minimal if not non existent for murder. However, it seems we are not so certain that it is at all possible when it comes to the Commandment on adultery.
Scripture of course is unequivocal, in Ecclesiasticus 15:16, God says “If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.” Therefore we can take assurance that God has not asked the impossible of us in giving us the Commandments to follow. The Church has within its teaching recognised that God has given every sane human person the ability to develop what are called the Cardinal Virtues. Temperance, Justice, Prudence and Fortitude, these natural gifts can be developed by anyone and are the reason that those who are not Christians can sometimes lead a life that is holier that some within the Church. God’s generosity has also made available the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love, as supernatural gifts for the baptised. Therefore with all these gifts we know that the commands and Jesus elaboration of them are basically doable – even in relation to adultery! Are they difficult? Hell, yes! Are they impossible? Heavens, No!
The first point then is that the commands are doable. In that same reading from Ecclesiasticus God goes on to say, “He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer.” This leads to the second point that God honours the sacred gift of free will and that God will not violate our choices made by a act of free will.
There is however a fashionable trend, out of a false sense of compassion, to say that in certain ongoing circumstances it is impossible to not sin. The implications of such thinking are utterly profound and tear the heart out of the gospel. Its logical conclusion leads to the inevitable emptying of the cross of its redemptive power by saying that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was nor sufficient to completely redeem us, that there are certain parts of our lives that are unredeemable. Does this mean that God’s grace is powerless in particular areas of sin? If so then we can only conclude that either God is not omnipotent or that God not only allows sin but is its originator as well.
If either case were true then we are prisoners to our sin and free will is just an illusion, therefore how can we we culpable? It thus requires us in the end, in dealing with this supposed inescapable sin, to call it not sin. At this point we need to remind ourselves what God says in our Ecclesiasticus passage, “he never commanded anyone to be godless, he has not given no one permission to sin.”
If God does not permit anyone to sin, then the Church itself cannot have the authority or the right to give anyone permission either. To do so is to deny the teaching of Jesus himself and reduce the Church to a social human institution only and in practice deny it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.