Salvation


1. Catholics make salvation such a difficult thing. In the Bible it's simple: have faith and you're done.

That's not what Jesus said. Jesus said you have to do what is right to get into heaven. St. Paul said you have to do what is right to get into heaven. And that makes sense, because James says that true faith does what is right. In the Bible, having faith in God and Jesus Christ is part of it, that's true. But there's other parts too, and they're all connected. Believe in Jesus and you'll believe what He said: including what He said about doing what is right, receiving the Sacraments, and belonging in the Church. These things are all necessary. None of them can be excluded.

2. "For by grace you have been saved through faith...not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9)

That's absolutely right, and works do not save you -- not in the sense that Paul is talking about, anyway. But he doesn't deny that good works are *part* of being saved. In Catholicism, a Christian has to believe in the truth before he can act on it. And so when he begins to believe, that is where he starts on the journey of salvation -- not when he does works later. So good works aren't what gets us on the right track, but they are part of being on it, and are part of our salvation in that sense. If you neglect to do good works, you're not on the right path. But doing good works isn't what got you on it.

3. "We hold that a man is not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." (Gal. 2:16)

Amen, and Catholics believe that. Good works do not justify us (in St. Paul's sense of the term) because for a Christian, acting right isn't what gets us on the road to Christ. Right faith precedes right action, and right faith is what gets us on the right road. At that point we begin to do good works that advance us on the road to Christ. So good works are good and necessary, but in the matter of getting us onto the right course, of getting us saved or justified in Paul's language, good works aren't the tipping point. Turning to Christ in faith is. And that's what he's talking about there.

4. "To one who does not work but has faith...his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Romans 4:5.

It certainly is. What else would faith in Christ be reckoned as? Wickedness? Of course faith is reckoned as a holy thing; of course faith in Christ is righteousness to us. But that doesn't mean you can stop there. An atheist will never turn to Christ by doing good works. But if he has faith, it will be righteousness to him, and then his good works will start having value. These passages don't prove anything against the Catholic doctrine of salvation because Catholics don't deny that faith is the first act of a conversion. What we deny is that we can stop there, a fact which Protestants also agree with, and what we affirm is that, since we all agree that you have to go on and do good works, we can't downplay that or say that they don't do anything for your salvation. They do. They just don't do what faith does, because right faith precedes right action and allows it to have value.

5. You can't earn a gift by works, it's a gift (Romans 4:4); Catholics try to earn it, and that won't work.

Yeah, you can't earn a gift, but a grateful attitude and an accompanying good behavior is still necessary for a person who's been given such a great gift as salvation. When you do good works out of respect and gratitude to God you aren't earning His favor, you're responding to it. He would favor you no matter what. But your response is the kind that we are designed for and it moves us closer to Him. That's important and must be respected by those who are supposed to be teaching people salvation.

6. James 2:24 only means faith must result in good works. But it's the faith that saves you -- not the works.

James 2:24 is a classic Catholic passage on the role of good works in our salvation. Look carefully at what it says: "You see that a man is justified by good works, and not by faith alone." The key phrase there is "justified by good works." That idea has no place in "faith alone" theology, because the "faith alone" idea exclusively commandeers the word "justified" to make it a synonym for being converted, and good works can't convert you -- see question 4. But justified means more than just being converted. Justified means becoming just. And the first thing that comes there is conversion of the heart and faith. That's what St. Paul focuses on in the book of Romans and the book of Galatians, where he criticizes the idea that you have to follow the old Jewish laws and customs in order to get into the Christian Church. But the truth is that after you've been converted, "justified" for the first time with God, our path toward God moves upward, and we have to do the right thing to advance. We have to love others, do charitable actions, evangelize the nations, and fight temptations. All those things are part of our ongoing justification too, our ongoing path of "being made just," which is what justification means. God's justice meets us first in faith, and not works, but good works have a place after that, and express the process of becoming just, or of justification, in an important way. And so when James says that good works justify you, he's expressing a fundamentally Catholic idea. Not that you can earn your salvation, but that good works are part of moving toward God, a path that He has set us out of total gracious favor and love for us.

7. Where in the Bible does it say you can lose your salvation?

By serious sin? It teaches that in a hundred places. Whenever it says that Christians must do certain things, it implies that if they don't they've given up their Christianity. If it doesn't mean that, that "must" means nothing. (Luke 9:23, Matthew 5:20) It also states several times that if a converted man goes back to a sinful lifestyle, he may go to hell. Hebrews 10:26-27, 2 Peter 2:20-22, Ezekiel 18:24. The Old Testament and the New Testament bear out the reality that a man may lose his salvation by serious sin, and that is why Catholics believe it.

8. The Bible says, "You may know that you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13.

You can know it, as far as we can know anything in this life. We can be as sure that we have eternal life as we are that our crops will grow during summer. But that conviction leaves room for the contrary possibility too, and that is that if we fail to do what is necessary for something to happen, whether it is salvation or harvesting, it won't happen. I know that I will go to work tomorrow in my car. But sure as I am, I also know that if I go out and remove my car tires and destroy them, my previous knowledge has been turned on its head. And so that passage is not at all against Catholic doctrine, not if you read it with common sense in mind.

9. Eternal life means life that CAN'T be lost. You believe in conditional life; Baptists believe the Bible.

Eternal life means life that lasts forever. And it will, but an unsaved man won't be part of it. A man who gets saved and then gets unsaved hasn't changed eternal life -- he's changed his hold on it. Eternal life is of course conditional. It is conditional on believing in God and behaving accordingly. To deny that would mean you don't have to believe in God, and you don't have to avoid sin to be saved. But if at once we admit that there are conditions to getting ahold of this life, then we admit that this life is conditional, and you lose the idea of "Once Saved Always Saved."

10. The Bible says, "None will pluck them from my hand." John 10:28.

And that's true: none will. But the assumption you're making is that that means you can't take yourself out of God's hand, and that doesn't follow. No one can snatch me from a speeding car, but I can jump out myself. Keep in mind that the same logic that applies to ordinary language like that applies to the Bible, which is written in ordinary language and is inspired by God. People get this funny idea that if the Bible makes a strong statement, you have to put a hedge around it and prevent common sense from helping you interpret it. So you get people saying "It says NO ONE will pluck them from my hand, and here you are saying you can pluck YOURSELF from His hand! Aren't you a someone? Then you can't do it either, because God says no one!" Remember that that's not common sense interpretation. Saying that no one can do something to God's people doesn't mean God's people can't do things to themselves. This is how human language works, and the Bible wasn't written except so that human language could comprehend it.