Catholicism Examined: "Are you saved? A Catholic Response"

Brian Demarais is our Assistant Director of Faith Formation. Among many formation opportunities, he oversees Saint Mary's RCIA Program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the informative classes leading up to adult entry into the Catholic Church). RCIA really hits at the heart of Catholic theology, and participants have excellent questions about the Catholic faith, questions that any of us may have as well.

As questions come in, Brian will often send his responses over to the blog, so we can all benefit from learning more about our faith.

"Are you saved?" A Catholic Response
By Brian Desmarais
Have you ever been approached by someone with this question and felt unsure on how to answer? Many Protestants believe that salvation was received the instant they expressed faith in Christ as their personal Savior, and that it never can be forfeited. This view is popularly described as "Once saved, always saved." Who doesn't want the assurance that God will save us, regardless of what we do in the future? There is something very appealing about this position and many biblical passages seem to imply that believers do have that kind of certitude. For example, Paul says "nothing can separate us from the love of God" (Rom 8:39). And of course there is the ever popular John 3:18: "Whoever believes in him will not be condemned…"
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does not embrace the idea that once we are saved, we are always saved. When we look at the whole of Scripture, we get a much more complex view of salvation. Click "read more" below.
Many Biblical passages speak of our salvation as a work of God accomplished in the past. "For by grace you have been saved by faith." (Eph 2:8) "…because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5), "For in hope we were saved" (Romans 8) There definitely is a sense in which we, as believers, have already been saved. At the point of our baptism, all of our past sins were pardoned forever and we entered into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters. In this sense we can speak of a definitive moment when we were saved by God.
Salvation is also referred to in the present tense. Salvation, apparently, is not a done deal. In a letter to believers at Corinth, Paul wrote: "Now I am reminding you, brothers, the gospel which I preached to you … through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preach to you " (1 Corinthians 15:1-2), or "work out you salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). Paul is speaking of a salvation that is a process and is still at work in us right now. Furthermore, salvation is a gift that can be wasted. Speaking to those in the Christian community who were trying to justify themselves by their own deeds, Paul says "You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal 5:4) Paul in his letter to the Hebrew warns us of sinning deliberately after receiving "knowledge of the truth." Paul doesn't even take his own salvation for granted, "All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it." (1Cor 9:23)
Finally, salvation is frequently spoken of in the future tense, as something that remains to be accomplished. Paul wrote: "our salvation is nearer than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11). Later, he would tell Timothy, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18). The apostle Peter would speak of Christians "receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9). That is, the goal of our salvation is eternal life with God.
So there is a definitive beginning of salvation with our baptism, there is our ongoing salvation that plays out in our daily lives (called sanctification), and there is the end goal of our salvation: eternal life with God. Salvation, it turns out, is not a onetime event but an ongoing process.
The question that remains is this: as believing, baptized Christians, can we be certain of our salvation in the future tense? That is, can we be certain that we will live with God forever in the way that we are certain, in faith, that God loves us or that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? If we take the whole of Scripture, without singling out any one passage, there is nothing to suggest that we possess that kind of certitude. Rather, Scripture spends a great deal of time warning against what the Catholic Church calls the sin of presumption. In Matthew's "judgment of the nations," he has Christ the judge separate the sheep from the goats. The goats seem surprised at their fate, for they recognize Jesus as their Lord, but failed to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, etc.
If our salvation (in the present tense) is not certain, what keeps us from the opposite sin of despair? The answer is hope. Paul writes about putting on the "helmet that is hope for salvation" (1Thessalonians 5:8). Hope is an active trust that God will deliver us. Hope is God's gift that enables us to confidently expect that God will save us, despite the lack of certain knowledge of our destination. But like all of God's grace, hope can be squandered. God does not force us to respond to his grace. God has left open the possibility that we may by our own free will fall away from him. Rather than give us a reason to despair, this reality should give us all the more reason to cling to Christ as our savior, in hope, ever grateful for what he has done for us and expectant of what he will do.
So how do we respond to the question “are you saved?” Well, for starters, we could thank our brother or sister in Christ for having the courage to bring up the question in the first place. Perhaps an adequate Catholic response might be “Yes, I am saved, am being saved, and hope for eternal life with God.” Surely that would be a good starting point for a deeper more enriching discussion.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please include your name when you comment! We like to know who you are!