Are You Saved?
Many Christians believe that for Catholics the answer to this questions is a definite “No.” Some go so far as to say that Catholicism is a mere religion – empty ritual – that gets in the way of having a relationship with Jesus, and only that relationship of faith can save you. Even some Catholics aren’t sure how to answer this question, for we do not normally speak of ourselves as “saved” or “born again.” We speak of Jesus Christ as Our Savior, or as the Lord and Eternal Son of God. We more commonly profess our faith, as we do at Mass, in the words of the Nicaean Creed from 325 AD:
For us men and for our salvation he (Jesus) came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
. . .
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.Nicaean Creed
Since Catholics do not usually talk about themselves as “being saved,” some, even life-long Catholics, can come to believe that Catholics are not saved. The truth is that one’s salvation is more complicated than answering a “yes” or “no” question.
A lot of history and conflict has preceded and lies behind this question. This is one of the issues over which the Protestant reformers split from the Catholic Church. The basic difference is over what, if anything, a person has to do to be “saved”, and whether after being “saved” a person is able to do anything to lose his salvation.
As you will see below, some verses in the Bible say there is nothing we can do to earn the grace of salvation, and there are others that say we can refuse this grace, and so lose salvation. Catholics believe that both of these propositions are true. Some Protestants think that because there is nothing we can do to deserve salvation, there is nothing we can do to lose it. “Once Saved, Always Saved.” Not all Protestants, however, take this extreme position.
Jesus Christ: Savior and Redeemer
At the core of the Catholic faith is the belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and so redeemed the whole human race. Catholics accept completely the teaching of the Apostle Saint Paul:
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.Romans 3:21-26
As the Catholic Church teaches:
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered Himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], no. 1992
Catholics believe that God offers every person forgiveness for their sins through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. We further believe that no one can do anything to deserve this forgiveness. Salvation is a completely free and gratuitous gift from God.
The Necessity of Faith
Catholics, like all Christians, believe that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. As St. Paul tells us, salvation comes to us through faith.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. For scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame”.Romans 10:9-11
Again, this is what the Catholic Church clearly teaches
Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please [God]’ (Hebrews 11:6) and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end’ (Matthew 10:22).CCC, 161
Moreover, we cannot do anything to deserve or earn having faith in Jesus. Faith itself is a grace, a free gift from God.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8
A Christian is able to believe in Jesus as an effect of this free gift of God. It is only God’s grace which allows us to the accept this gift.
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.CCC, 2010
God offers the grace to believe in Him and we respond and cooperate with His action in our life. The difference between Catholics and some other Christians is whether our response to God’s grace happens all at once and forever, or whether we need to continue to respond to grace over a lifetime.
Instead of being “saved” in one moment by just one profession of faith, Catholics understand that you have to persevere in a life of faith. A person may have a very powerful and emotional conversion at one very particular moment in time. But the salvation that comes through faith is not over and finished as soon as one accepts Jesus Christ and is baptized. It is then that the life of faith has only begun. And this is a life lived in obedience to God. As Jesus Himself says,
Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.Matthew 7:21
Salvation and Human Freedom
Both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians hold that we must cooperate with God’s grace in order to believe in Christ and receive the salvation won by Him on the cross. Even though Jesus died for everyone (1 Timothy 2:6), not everyone is thereby saved. Only those who, by cooperating with God’s grace, believe in Jesus Christ and accept His sacrifice. Catholics, however, believe that our cooperation has to last until the end of our life in order to reach final and ultimate salvation in heaven.
This is why St. Paul tells Christians to
work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.Philippians 2:12-13
Elsewhere He says,
For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, [what] counts for anything [is] only faith working through love.Galatians 5:5-6
So, if faith and a life lived in grace are not sustained and nurtured, of if they are out-right rejected, the salvation that comes through grace can be lost.
Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith (1 Timothy 1: 18-19)”.CCC 162
Catholics believe, as Christians have from the beginning, that one can fall away from faith, and so lose the salvation they have been offered. As St. Paul warns,
See, then, the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who fell, but kindness to you, provided you remain in his kindness, otherwise you too will be cut off.Romans 11:22-23; see also, Matthew 26:21-46, Luke 8:13, 1 Timothy 4:1-2, Hebrews 10:26-27)
As Catholics, we believe that if we are faithful in our service, God will be faithful to His promises to save those who, through faith, belong to His Son. We have some assurance of salvation, but this assurance is not completely guaranteed since we always remain free to reject God’s offer of grace.
Good Works Done in Faith
So, while faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, Catholics believe that it must also be lived out through good works, as Scripture attests.
So also, faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. . .. See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. . .. For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.James 2:17, 24, 26
When done in faith and for the love of God, these works really are good, and so pleasing to God. These works will therefore be rewarded by God. As St. Paul says, God
will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works.Romans 2:6-7; see also Galatians 6:8-9
It is not that God merely forgives our sins and forgets that we are depraved and corrupted by sin; instead, through uniting ourselves with Christ, and by His power working in us, our sinfulness is healed and we are restored to God’s favor. That is, we are sanctified, made holy. We become more holy as we unite ourselves more and more closely to Jesus: Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20). Thus, the Letter to the Hebrews urges
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14
For more on the Catholic understanding of what salvation means and how Jesus’s sacrifice saves us, see the following:
It is, therefore, not easy for a Catholic to answer the question, “Are you saved?” There are really three tenses of answers to this question for Catholics: I have been redeemed from my sins through the blood Jesus Christ shed on the cross. I am being saved by cooperating in faith with the grace God offers me to do His will. I will be saved and happy forever in God’s presence in heaven if I persevere in the life of grace, and die in that state.
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