Are you saved? You may have been asked this question before. You may have thought about it. I hope you will. The consequences of our actions in this life resonate for eternity.
For those who are Catholic like I am, you may be asking the related question, what does the Church teach about salvation? For a generation (maybe two generations) older than me, the answer was pretty straightforward: you had to be Catholic to be saved. Vatican II introduced a deeper understanding of salvation that can lend itself to confusion. Let’s look at what the Church teaches and what it means.
Jesus is the Savior
First and foremost, Jesus saves. Period. The very name given him by the angel means “God saves.” And God saves us through his beloved Son, in whom the fullness of truth was revealed, whose death reconciled us to the Father, and who in his resurrection triumphed over death and opened the gates of heaven for us.
“It must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: ‘No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.’” (Mt 11:27) (1)
While we cannot save ourselves, we must place our trust in Jesus so that he can save us. How can we be saved if we do not trust our Savior? We must trust in his mercy, say yes to the graces he bestows on us, and give back to God and our fellow man the great love he has given to us.
“The proper response to God’s revelation is ‘the obedience of faith (Rom 16:26; cf. Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) by which man freely entrusts his entire self to God, offering ‘the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals’ and freely assenting to the revelation given by him.’” (2)
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25, 18:18)
It is true that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, and that consequently we should not boast of our works as though we had earned our salvation. Indeed, such boasting is a form of the greatest sin, pride. (3) But we must also understand that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) (4) It is not enough to say we believe in Jesus, and then spend the remainder of our days binge-watching TV. A person living this way does not really know Jesus and so cannot truly believe in him. The test of our faith, our trust, in Jesus is our response to his call. He calls us to:
Repent: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
Spread the Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Receive the sacraments: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54) “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and who sins you retain are retained.’” (John 20:22-23)
Take up our cross: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
Perform works of mercy: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)
Love God and your neighbor: “There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, ‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’ He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ He replied to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10:25-28)
The old debate between faith and works is a false choice. The works spring from, and are a sign of, our faith. Our faith calls us to love our Lord, and to show our love by doing his work.
Continuing the theme of salvation, my next post will touch on sin and God’s mercy.
(1) Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Dominus Iesus, 5.
(2) Dominus Iesus, 7, which quotes the Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 4.
(3) See 1 Corinthians 1:27-31.
(4) James 2:14-26, where he discusses the necessity of faith and works, using examples from the Old Testament, is worth reading in its entirety. I would note verse 19 in particular: You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble.”