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Is it possible to sin while intending to do good?

There are selfless acts where we are harmed by our actions to help others.

The ultimate kind of harm for a Christian is of course eternal damnation.

If a selfless act by one person to help or save other people involves disobedience to one of god's commandments, will it surely result in the doer's damnation? If so, in the balance, has good been done in the world, or evil?

It has become clear to me that my question is quite possibly a duplicate of "Is it possible to sin while intending to do good?", perhaps dependent on interpretation of damnation and sin.

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    I challenge you to come up with an example of a selfless act that results in the doer's damnation. I don't think such a thing exists. Sep 5, 2011 at 22:56
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    Perhaps killing somebody holding a hostage? Sep 5, 2011 at 22:57
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    As explained in this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/49/… "kill" does not mean any killing, but only "murder". rescuing a hostage by killing their taker would not be murder. Sep 5, 2011 at 22:59
  • @DJClayworth: I have assumed that any sin is sufficient for damnation to result and that a sin committed as a selfless act still counts as a sin. But I'm very interested to hear whether either assumption is wrong. Sep 5, 2011 at 23:00
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    IF you were going to try to make an argument based on that example it would have to start with the deed not being sin. There are situations where killing someone is not sin (say if you are an agent of the state carrying out the states God given authority to issue the death penalty). The 10 Commandments prohibition is on murder not killing. However it is much more practical to remember that such contradictions are not actually real, sin never leads to goo. Either you have your definition of sin wrong or you the good you hope for isn't good.
    – Caleb
    Sep 5, 2011 at 23:03

3 Answers 3


This whole question is based on a wrong understanding of Christianity and sin; it imagines God as a cosmic traffic cop, letting people into heaven only if they haven't done anything on a hard-and-fast list. In fact that's not the case. God loves his creations - all of them - and wants everyone to be with him in heaven.

Forgiveness is key to Chrstianity, and the central act of God - the crucifixion - was carried out to obtain forgiveness for all people. It goes without saying that forgiveness would be applied to anyone who broke a command for a truly self-sacrificing reason, and they wouldn't therefore receive eternal damnation.

Jesus sums up the law as "Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself." A truly loving act would not be against the law. (I should warn you against trying to take that argument too far, outside the immediate context of this question, though).

  • It's late. I'll have to think how your answer fits together with other answers I've received tonight where all sins seem to be equal, being acts of disobedience, which does on the face of it seem rather hard-and-fast. Sep 5, 2011 at 23:12
  • But if God says "love your neighbour" then a loving act isn't disobedience. Sep 6, 2011 at 0:01
  • Beware of spending too much time contemplating hypothetical, not to say extremely unlikely, cases. They will not lead you to a core understanding of Christianity. Sep 6, 2011 at 0:20
  • My gut tells me that cases would be less unlikely in times of war, genocide, totalitarianism, etc. Sep 6, 2011 at 6:50
  • It seems that a definition of "loving act" would be necessary. Sep 6, 2011 at 6:56

I think before you can come up with an example scenario, you need an example of a sin that would "result in damnation for the doer."

There is no such sin, since everyone is already deserving of damnation.

And for a Christian who has accepted Christ's forgiveness, there either is no possibility to lose the forgiveness, or the only way to lose the forgiveness is to choose to reject it (depending on your interpretation).

So this might leave room for "Choosing to reject Christ's forgiveness" as a possible sin that would lead to damnation of the doer. But I cannot imagine how this sin could ever be done as a selfless act. So even if it is possible to lose your salvation, it is impossible to it selflessly, or in a way that would save others.

  • Interesting point I had failed to take into account, that the doer is by default already damned even before the act. Sep 6, 2011 at 6:57


No act of sin (however selfless it appears) will ever result in saving or helping another person. There is no question of "balance" here. The long term good outcome from another person will never be the result of someone else having done evil.

See also: Under what conditions can a "good" or "charitable" act actually be sin?

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    How is this enforced? Suppose that a Christian lives in an area where Christians are persecuted by a despot, killing tens of thousands, while immorality is taught and praised, leading millions down the wrong path. Perhaps the ideal thing would be for said Christian to convert the despot though it would cost him his own life (torture, etc.). But the Christian hasn't the courage and instead blows up the despot and tens of thousands of other people, while carefully orchestrating the attack to make it look like it was the work of a neighboring despot who is also anti-Christian.
    – Rex Kerr
    Sep 5, 2011 at 23:10
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have agreed with you, Rex. Sep 6, 2011 at 0:17
  • @DJClayworth - I suspect so. Which is one reason why I am skeptical of Caleb's assertion; I'd like to see more to back up that point of view.
    – Rex Kerr
    Sep 6, 2011 at 0:37
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    I've thought about this and I'm going to have to vote this down, even if logically it's just the inverse of what I wrote. But it's starting from the wrong place. Jesus frequently 'broke the rules', on the basis of love and doing good. He never held with the view that "no good would come from sinning (e.g. healing on the Sabbath) even if it appears good". Sep 6, 2011 at 0:43
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    @DJClayworth: "healing on the sabbath" was never established as sin in scripture. I think Jesus' point wasn't "sinning for the greater good is okay" but "you guys are confused about what sin is." The OP is asking about "real" sin, not confused sin.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 6, 2011 at 3:44

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