Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Salvation - A Correspondence

This is the second of a two part post on an e-mail correspondence I had with a Protestant Evangelical. The first part can be found here. Almost three months ago I received an e-mail from a Protestant Evangelical asking me just one question. “What, in your personal opinion, do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?” The following is another part of the correspondence that was involved with answering that question. The very beginning of the conversation is the same as in the other post. I apologize for the repetition, but it makes more sense with it included. Where the first part of our correspondence ended in disagreement, this part seemed to clear up a lot of misconceptions that he had about the Catholic teaching on justification and salvation.

I have received permission from the individual to post this. His words will be in red and mine will be in green. WARNING! This post is very long so only continue on if you have a few minutes to continue reading.

I'd love to get your opinion on something. What, in your personal opinion, do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?

A simple summary of what the Catholic Church teaches you must do to be saved is: Repent, believe, and be baptized. (Mark 1:15 & Acts 2:38) We repent because we are sinners in need of God’s grace and God sent his only Son, while we were his enemies, to die for us. (Romans 5:8) We believe, because it is through faith in Christ that we receive salvation. (Mark 16:16, John 3:26 & 6:40) We are baptized, because Jesus has told us that we must be born again, of water and of Spirit to enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5, Mark 16:16)

Based upon your answer, I am quite saved…I'm not sure you would agree with that though. So, am I missing something?

I am pretty sure that whether I agree you are saved or not does not matter.

God has made it clear that it is he who judges the hearts of men and it is before him you will stand when your judgment comes, not me. I say that with all sincerity, because people get caught up in playing the 'I am saved and he is not' game. It is a deadly game. We are not God. We (and I can not stress this strongly enough) do not get to tell God who goes to heaven. Not even in regards to ourselves.

God has revealed to man the Way to heaven and that is his Son, Jesus Christ. We can know with a great degree of certainty that we are following this Way. That assurance of heaven is a great gift, but it is not an absolute certainty. We are called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling and to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. There are severe warnings of hell in Scripture to those whose faith does not work in love and for those who commit sins unto death. Only those who persevere until the end will be saved.

That is why Catholics, do not as a general rule, talk about already being saved. It is not because it is theologically wrong, but because it is theologically incomplete. It is not the only way salvation is spoken of in Scripture. Conversion in the Catholic Church is not a one time decision, but a life-long journey. We are called to convert in every moment of every day. We are called to turn over everything to Christ, whatever our station in life. Wherever we are, in whatever we do, it must all be given to our Lord. As you can imagine this is no easy task for us sinners. But thanks be to God for his grace!

To your question, "So, am I missing something?" Yes, I believe so. You currently are not in Christ's divinely instituted Church (his Body). Do I (or your relatives, or anyone else for that matter) get to tell you if you are going to end up eternally denied the Beatific Vision of your Creator because of that? The answer to that is no. That is God's domain. Do I get to share with you the hope that is within me? Yes, and that is my place in God's creation. God is the one who converts hearts by his grace. All praise, honor, and glory to him, for ever and ever!

Thanks for your clear reply. I agree with a majority of what you have shared…

I would agree that there is a progressive nature to salvation although I also agree it is a moment in time. Salvation happens at the moment one repents and believes but we are also waiting for the "completion" of our salvation when Christ returns. By "completion" I simply mean that He will come and gather us to be with Him. If we have repented and believed (demonstrated outwardly by baptism; not salvific in and of itself but the physical response we are to give to testify to the inward response that saves) we are saved completely but we also eagerly wait for His return to restore all things.

Todd, you are not far off in your understanding (that is assuming that semantically we are on the same page) but I fear that you have missed the "extra baggage" that so many pickup from the Catholic church. In a sense, that is good because you don't need it. But the negative is that you defend the Catholic church without the awareness of what the average Catholic understands the church to teach. I witness to others often and have met many Catholics. I can honestly tell you that in the years I have done that I have yet to meet a Catholic (barring yourself) who understood and could articulate for me what it takes to be saved. They either don't have a clue, give a complete works based salvation answer, or give me some of the true gospel with extra works.

I too cannot declare whether you are saved or not. If your understanding is as it seems, you very well may be a brother in Christ. Only you and Jesus can know that. My fear is that I fail to attempt to "make sure" by not engaging you in what and how one is saved.

Let me clear up some misconceptions that you seem to have acquired. Maybe I have not been as clear as you credit me for.

When I answered your original question I gave you a simple summary of what the Catholic Church teaches that is required to go to heaven…Since I am pretty sure what you mean when you say "the true gospel" and I am also pretty sure that what I have said is not what you mean by that I will endeavor to spell it out as simply as I can.

The Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by grace through faith, but not by a faith that is alone. Scripture is absolutely clear about this point. It must be a faith that works in love (Galatians 5:6). Faith that is apart from works is dead (James 2:26). You can have all the faith that it is possible for you to have, but without love you are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2b). Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans talks repeatedly about faith and I am sure in response to the above you might quote some of those verses. However, Saint Paul makes it abundantly clear the first and last times he mentions faith in that letter what he means by it. He speaks of the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5 & 16:26). Faith is not just an intellectual assent to truth.

Many who claim the Catholic Church teaches that man is saved by his own works simply do not know what the Church teaches. The Church specifically (and repeatedly) says that this is heresy. She has always condemned the idea that man, apart from God's grace, can do anything supernaturally good.

What she also condemns is the idea that it is only through faith (separated from hope and love) that we are saved. Even the demons believe... (James 2:19b) He gives us faith, hope, and love to accomplish our salvation. The Catholic Church teaches that everything that we need to go to heaven is because of God's grace which has been merited for us by the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to respond to that gift in love. Even this response is because of God's grace, because apart from that grace we have nothing to offer.

[In response to your comments on baptism, t]he Catholic Church teaches that baptism is an actual cleansing of your soul. Through baptism the redemption Christ won for mankind is applied to that person and he is reborn in Christ. Not symbolically, but actually.
(My Protestant Evangelical friend had more to say about baptism, but we did not continue that part of the conversation so I have not included it here. Maybe we will get back to that another time.)

My works are worthless. Only His will do. Through Calvary He grants me His perfection and He took my imperfection. At Calvary, He declared "It is finished". What is finished? Salvation's plan and Salvation's work. He took care of everything that I might be saved. My works, which I agree will come when their is true faith (or else it is dead), are the FRUIT of the Holy Spirit. An inevitable result of Him converting me.

Just did some reading that prompted me to want to clarify where I believe the difference lies in our understanding of the faith/works issue.

We both agree that faith without works is dead.

I would say the works are an inevitable result of true faith. When the Holy Spirit of God converts the sinner there WILL be change in his/her life and righteous works will follow. If there is no change, no salvation. It is not that I must DO works to complete my salvation. It is the works are an inevitable result of my salvation.

You would say that we must repent, put our faith in Christ, and do righteous works in order to be saved.

I completely agree that it is heretical to say that faith alone (in the sense of intellectual assent) is all that is needed. True faith involves action. I once heard a pastor share (I've not research this myself sense hearing it) that in the original Greek language there is no concept of someone learning without doing. Doing is inherent in the concept of learning. So, for one to truly "learn" (hear, understand, and agree) about the gospel and receive it by faith will produce works.

Your view puts the stress on man. My stress is on God.

Now, I understand that there are camps out there that do believe that faith/belief is all that is needed to be saved and that works/change of life may never happen. I was on staff of a church for ten months that believed this and resigned over it. They taught that you simply had to have a change of mind (intellectual assent) in order to be saved and that you may not change at all. In fact, you may even one day deny the faith but you are still saved even though you are a saved atheist. Heretical.

True faith results in works.

Now, someone could ask why this matters. It matters a great deal. Because if someone trust that their salvation is not in Christ alone but in Christ plus their works, that too is heretical and that individual is not saved. They have an idol that must be removed.

We must repent and put our faith in Christ alone to be saved.

I just wanted to ask a clarifying question on something.

When you say, "When the Holy Spirit of God converts the sinner there WILL be change in his/her life and righteous works will follow. If there is no change, no salvation. It is not that I must DO works to complete my salvation" it is slightly confusing. If at my conversion I am changed and must work or else there is no salvation, how can you turn around and say that you do not have to work to complete your salvation. It looks to me like you are saying works are absolutely required for salvation, but it is not like you have to do them. If you could clarify what you are trying to say here it would be greatly appreciated.

I'll do my best. The first half of your sentence is not what I am saying. There is a very significant difference between works that you "must" do and works that you will "inevitably" do.

When a person is converted they will do righteous works inevitably. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (not the fruit of me). The key word is "inevitably". When the Almighty God of all the universe comes to dwell in a repentant sinner, through the Holy Spirit, there WILL BE chang. It is inevitable. Sure, it may happen at a more rapid pace in the life of some than others but change will happen.

If a person professes to have put their faith in Christ and claims to have repented of their sins, and yet there is no change in their life, there is a good bet that they were never converted in the first place. As John says, "The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;" 1 John 2:4 (NASB) Though they claimed to have been converted, the fact that there was not change proves them a liar. The proof is in the pudding as they say

You said,
It looks to me like you are saying works are absolutely required for salvation, but it is not like you have to do them."

I can understand how it could appear this way but it couldn't be further from the truth. Works are not a necessity for salvation. Works are the fruit and proof of salvation.

Here's the other side of the coin that may help. When I was lost and a sinner, I committed sin not simply because I chose to but because it was my nature. I inevitably committed sin. There really wasn't anything I could do about it. When I come to Christ, I am reborn and given a new nature. I will inevitably began to grow in righteousness by His Holy Spirit's work in me.

I am trying to understand what you are saying, but I do not see much to argue against as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. You seem to be under the impression that when I say “must” it means apart from the grace of God. As far as I and the Catholic Church are concerned, anything I do on my own is straw.

You must agree that there are many, many examples in Scripture of our judgment being according to our works. It is so clear that I am going to assume that you agree with that statement. Where I believe you think we disagree is in the fact that those works are by a person already justified. We do not however, disagree. The clearest way that I can say this is we are saved by grace. Any faith or works that we bring to the table before our justification mean nothing. They are not of God, but of man. God is the one who justifies. God is the one who gives us faith. We can not even believe without God's grace. God is also the one who works in us so that our works can be worthy of reward. If it is not God's grace working in us and coming forth from us fruitfully then it means nothing. We must of course cooperate by believing and working, but even that cooperation is only possible because it is by God's grace. Man brings nothing to God that he needs. We are helpless sinners before him.

Now once a man is justified, he has become a new creation in Christ. He is no longer fallen man, but redeemed man. He is no longer separated from God, but a temple of the Holy Spirit. He is no longer a slave, but a son. He no longer works for a wage which is his due, but receives an inheritance which is a gift.

I hope this is helpful in understanding the Catholic teaching on Justification. Let me know of any disagreements or clarifications.

I agree that we seem to agree in this area. I find that interesting in light of the fact that the reformation was strongly built on the understanding that we are completely saved apart from works. We are saved by grace through faith alone. The works follow our conversion and are evidence of it (as I thoroughly expouded upon earlier). Though there isn't any writing, that I know of, where the Catholic church states that you are saved by faith AND works, it is their own words that imply such.

"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
When they say it is NOT by faith alone and that we must "co-operate" and that "the movement of his own will" is necessary to complete one's salvation, it implies that there is a "work" I must do. Granted, we must repent and believe but that is not a work (James points out the clear distinction between the two). So, if faith isn't enough then I must do something and now my work is involved. I think we must be careful to define faith appropriately as well. Faith is not intellectual accent. Faith is belief and action tied into one. It is belief that causes change.

So, yes we seem to agree based upon what we've shared. But, that pleasantly surprises me. I would only add that the judgement of our works is simply because they reveal what is in the heart. Are my works the fruit of the Holy Spirit (pointing out I'm saved) or are they the fruit of my own wicked heart (thus, proving I am lost).

I find it interesting that most non-Catholics that I have discussed this with can not seem to do what you so easily did. See that we are not so far apart as far as salvation is concerned. We do use different language, but that comes from being separated for almost 500 years.

Here is where we start to get gritty. You keep speaking of faith and works and denigrating works when it comes to salvation. When a Catholic speaks of good works he is speaking of his faith working in love. In other words God's grace works in him and God sees that work (which his own grace produced) and because he has promised to do so (not because the Christian "earned" it on his own) will reward it.

As far as the Council of Trent is concerned I would love to walk through any questions you have about it. In response to your specific quote, imagine it read as follows and see if you can now agree with it (My comments in parentheses):

"If any one saith, that by faith (remove faith and insert intellectual assent) alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will (which is done by grace); let him be anathema"
There is a lot pasted in the following. You might need to set aside a few minutes to go through it all. In order to give support for the way I explained the meaning above (My comments again in parentheses):

"It is furthermore declared that in adults the beginning of that justification must proceed from the predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ, that is, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits on their part, they are called; that they who by sin had been cut off from God, may be disposed through His quickening and helping grace to convert themselves to their own justification by freely assenting to and cooperating with that grace; so that, while God touches the heart of man through the illumination of the Holy Ghost, man himself neither does absolutely nothing while receiving that inspiration, since he can also reject it, nor yet is he able by his own free will and without the grace of God to move himself to justice in His sight. Hence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are reminded of our liberty; and when we reply: Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we need the grace of God." - Sixth Session Chapter 5 (This is a very important chapter to explain what the Council means when it is talking about us freely assenting and cooperating with grace. In other words, it is only by God's grace that we can even be prepared to receive God's grace. It is only by God's grace that we can freely assent to and cooperate with God's grace.)

“For since Christ Jesus Himself, as the head into the members and the vine into the branches, continually infuses strength into those justified, which strength always precedes, accompanies and follows their good works, and without which they could not in any manner be pleasing and meritorious before God" - Sixth Session Chapter 16 (All our good works are preceded by grace, accompanied by grace, and followed by grace. In other words all credit is to our Lord, we are his children given the grace to do his will.)

"Thus, neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves, nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated, for that justice which is called ours, because we are justified by its inherence in us, that same is the justice of God, because it is infused into us by God through the merit of Christ." - Sixth Session Chapter 16 (Even though Catholics say God makes us actually righteous ("our own justice" referenced in the first sentence) it is not from ourselves. In fact it is God's righteousness in us through the merit of Christ. In other words, we are reborn in Christ. We are a new creation.)

"Nor must this be omitted, that although in the sacred writings so much is attributed to good works, that even he that shall give a drink of cold water to one of his least ones, Christ promises, shall not lose his reward; and the Apostle testifies that, That which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; nevertheless, far be it that a Christian should either trust or glory in himself and not in the Lord, whose bounty toward all men is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their merits." - Sixth Session Chapter 16 (Even though Scripture makes so much of good works, nevertheless God forbid that we should trust or glory in ourselves and not in the Lord. He loves us so much that he rewards our works even though it is by his grace that we accomplish them.)
One more that speaks so clearly about what we are talking about:

"But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the Apostle says, grace is no more grace." - Sixth Session Chapter 8 (Notice the last part where it says that nothing which precedes justification, whether faith or works, can earn the grace of justification. Because if it is grace, it is not by works, otherwise grace would not be grace. Also notice how the Council says it is to be understood in the sense the Catholic Church has always held it to be. Meaning this has always been the teaching of the Church and also meaning that it always will.)
Sorry to paste in so much in here, but most people pick and choose the parts that seem to show the Church saying what everyone has always told them she taught. Here are some of the parts that explain those harder to understand sections. I do not expect you to have read all of the Council of Trent, but woe to me if having you in this conversation I do not show you these parts. I hope this has been helpful and please let me know if you need any clarification anywhere.

I have read your reply and honestly don't see much we can continue to discuss here. What baffles me most is that you present (not wrongly) a view that so few catholics seem to know or understand. My sincere prayer is that you truly grasp what the word says about salvation. And that you will come to a point in your life where you know you are saved.

I've enjoyed the emails and will be willing to tackle any questions you might have. If our conversation ends here, I thank you immensely and wish you well.

I am sorry that you are baffled by my (which I have learned from the teachings of the Catholic Church) views of justification and salvation. Like I said from the beginning I did not want to talk about what some Catholics 'seem to know or understand', because I wanted to discuss what the Catholic Church taught. Who knows why certain people do not understand what the Church teaches. There are plenty of reasons that could be thought up, but it does not change what the Church teaches. I can find plenty of people in Protestant denominations who believe faith means intellectual assent and nothing more, but that does not prove anything about what your denomination teaches.

I hope you were able to read the examples I gave from the Council of Trent as I believe they are clear examples of what the Church means when she says, "If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will." I hope I was able to show that she is consistent with Saint Paul's statement that it is "by grace you have been saved through faith" and Saint James' statements that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." and "as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead."

I have enjoyed our dialogue and appreciate that you approached these topics with charity. God bless you and those you serve in the gifts and ministry he has given to you. I will continue to pray…that you will be given the grace to follow God's will in your life.

As is evident a lot of issues were cleared up for him about what the Catholic Church teaches about justification and salvation. I do not pretend to think that he understands the Catholic teaching fully or that we mean the exact same things, but it is heartening to hear a Protestant say, “Faith is belief and action tied into one.

The Catholic idea of salvation is all about sonship. Jesus, our Lord, is the Son of God. Because he has taken on human flesh and redeemed mankind we can become his brethren and likewise God’s sons. Apart from that redemption we are slaves. We are slaves to sin, the wages of which are death. Now that we have become sons of God we have been given an inheritance. Now a son cannot earn something he only has because of his relationship with his father. In the same way man cannot earn heaven; he can only inherit this gift from his loving Father.

I once read an analogy that I think sums all this up well by Tom Jensen:
A mother is baking a cake. Her little daughter comes in and wants to help mommy make the cake. The mother accepts her help and tells her how much flour to put in, when to put in the eggs, and holds her hand when she is mixing the ingredients, etc. In the analogy, God is the mother and we are the little girl.

Is the mother dependent on the girl’s help? No. Is the mother completely sufficient to the task? Yes. Is the daughter’s addition a real addition? Yes.

If the mother is completely sufficient to the task and doesn’t depend on the girl’s help, why does she accept it? Because love receives. The mother wants the daughter to grow up and mature, and image her example. God loves us as we are; but He loves us too much to let us stay that way.
A visiting priest gave the homily at Mass this week and was talking a little bit about salvation. When he got near the end of his homily he made it clear that no one can earn their salvation, but then he finished, “But I have never met anyone for whom Jesus is Lord that did not go about doing Christ’s work.”

Amen Father.

Once again I would like to thank my Protestant Evangelical friend for his charitable attitude throughout our conversation and ask anyone who may be reading this to pray for his intentions.

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