So, I grew up Baptist in the South during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. I went to church every week. I attended Sunday School on Sunday morning, Training Union on Sunday night, and Prayer Meeting and choir practice on Wednesday night. Every summer I went to Vacation Bible School, pledged my allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible. Then there were the revivals. Oh, the revivals! The big question was always asked: “Are you saved?” When I was about eight I was baptized in the little church in Monroe, Arkansas and then again when I was about ten, because I finally understood, I thought, what a profession of faith meant…I had asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart and be my personal lord and savior. I was saved! I grew older and while in high school and college I didn’t always behave as a professing Christian should behave, but if you had asked me if I was saved, I would have said yes.
Now it is 35 years later and I will become a grandmother in June. YEA!!!! Many things have changed in my life during that time. I married; my husband and I raised three children; we worked together to support our family; and, I became a Catholic when I was 27 years old.
I guess as a Baptist I always had questions about whether my profession of faith was enough to gain heaven. In fact, if you looked in the Bible I used during college, you would find “works ?” scribbled in the margin by the verse in James 2:24, which reads, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” I wondered about the other verse, James 1:22, that talked about being “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Paul’s writing also created some anxiety for me. In Philippians 2:12, Paul writes to the Church in Philippi, Greece, and instructs them to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In Romans 2: 6, we are told that God “will render to every man according to his works.” I didn’t think I ever got an adequate explanation how these verses aligned with the definitive action of me making my personal profession of faith. It seemed the Bible was telling me there was more required than just proclaiming Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. Yes, that was part of it, because we are told in the Gospels to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind.” However, we are also told to “love our neighbor as yourself.”
My understanding of salvation has definitely changed since my conversion. Here I will attempt to explain and give you a brief, truncated explanation of salvation from the Roman Catholic Church’s perspective. We must proclaim Him as Lord, but we are also told to love…and along the way, we have to deal with sin.
A brief explanation would be that our salvation depends on the amount of God’s grace in our souls; but, how do we get that grace?
The first thing you need to do is “repent and be baptized.” Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told his disciples in Matthew 28: 19, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Now I could do a full post about infant baptism in the Catholic church because we do baptize infants, but for now, suffice it to say, we must be baptized. The infant is baptized based on the faith of its parents who promise to raise the child up in the Catholic faith. The adult must repent and be baptized. In doing so, he admits that he is a sinner and needs the redeeming action of Christ in his life. Baptism renews us and washes away our sins: original and actual sin. Only the adult would have actual sins that would need to be cleansed, but the infant and adult must deal with the effects of original sin in their lives, which can be thought of as the tendency to sin in our lives. We aren’t to blame for Adam’s sin, but we must recognize our sinful nature and wash that away. After that, if we died coming out of the waters of baptism, we would be saved because God’s grace would have filled us at baptism.
If, however, we continue to live, we must add to this scenario. Here I will quote from Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating, who does a good job of explaining our teaching on salvation. “For Catholics salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. Christ has already redeemed us, unlocked the gates of heaven. (Note that redemption is not the same as salvation but is a necessary prelude.) He did his part, and now we have to cooperate by doing ours. If we are to pass through those gates, we have to be in the right spiritual state. We have to be spiritually alive. If a soul is merely in a natural state, without sanctifying grace, which is the grace that gives it supernatural life, then it is dead supernaturally and incapable of enjoying heaven. It will not be allowed through the gates. But if it has sanctifying grace, then heaven is guaranteed even if a detour through purgatorial purification is required first. The church teaches that only souls that are objectively good and objectively pleasing to God merit heaven, and such souls are one filled with sanctifying grace.
The saint who never committed a mortal sin and the lifelong sinner who did not stop sinning until he repented on his deathbed will each gain heaven, although the one will have to be cleansed in the anteroom of purgatory. When they get to heaven the one with the greater capacity for love will enjoy greater blessedness there, although each will enjoy it as fully as he is capable. As Catholics see it, anyone can achieve heaven, and anyone can lose it. The lifelong sinner can remain that to the very end and then he becomes an eternally lost sinner. The apparent saint can throw away salvation at the last moment and end up no better off than the man who never did a good deed in his life. It all depends on how one enters death.”
So how do we become spiritually alive? Through sanctifying grace. This sanctifying grace comes from God in the process of justification, an ongoing process, which begins at baptism as I wrote earlier.
Grace is a gift of God’s supernatural life in you. It is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become adopted children of God. Our soul is infused with grace by the Holy Spirit and, by it, our soul is healed of sin and begins to become Christ-like itself. As Catholics, we believe we receive grace when we receive the sacraments and when we lead a life pleasing to God. Whenever I attend church, pray sincerely, fast, give to charity, love my neighbor, or read and imitate the scriptures, I receive grace that comes down from God himself. Whenever we take one step toward God, He runs to meet us and gives us more of His grace. It is this grace that we hope to have in our souls the moment we die.
If we live our lives oriented to Christ and if we are open to receiving this grace, we will go through a process of justification and sanctification. We will have a true eradication of sin and will experience true sanctification and renewal in our lives. We will become Christlike in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We will detach from sin and be purified. Faith, hope and charity will pour into our hearts. We will be conformed to the righteousness of God and we will become more like Him everyday. In I Thess. 4:7, we learn: “For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness.” In Hebrews 12:14, we are told: “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” In Revelations 22:27, we are told nothing unclean shall enter heaven. We must become holy ourselves. This is sanctification. We get guidance on how to live out this call to holiness from the Gospels and the teachings of Christ, because, holiness is simply applying the principles of the Gospel to the circumstances of our everyday lives- one moment at a time. The Gospel of Matthew gives great examples of living in this holiness from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Many non-Catholics accuse us of trying to work our way to heaven. This is not true. We are saved by the grace of God and that begins our journey of salvation. By faith we receive the grace God promises us. By nurturing the relationship we have with our God through worship and prayer and study and by loving our neighbor, God’s grace is poured out on us to love even more. It is the constant infusion of grace from God that makes us holy and prompts us to do acts of charity and mercy. Grace helps us love, which is the “work” God asks us to do.
So, “are you saved?” asks the fundamentalist. The Catholic answers, “I am redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross and like the apostle Paul I am working our my salvation in fear and trembling and I do all this as the Church has taught, unchanged, from the time of Christ.” See Philippians 2:12-13.
Another important aspect that must be mentioned here is that, as we make this journey of justification, we must deal with the sins we commit along the way for we all sin and disappoint God. The Catholic does this through the sacrament of reconciliation or confession. It is another essential part of our sanctification, but that requires another post on another day!
If you are interested in learning more, read Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating and Redicovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. All are exceptional resources for apologetics and for learning how to live an authentic Catholic life.