Redemption and Salvation
As a result of my previous “Evangelization Corner” posts I have had a question related to Jesus describing His Church – the kingdom of heaven here on earth – as having both wheat and weeds within its members and then describing how the weeds will be burned on the Last Day. The question is a good one: “I thought Christ died for our sins on the cross to make us appealing to God’s eyes so why is it that we can still end up not making it to heaven?”
To answer this question I wanted to also address a topic which has various explanations and definitions depending on which Christian you ask and one where there is often great misunderstanding as to the Catholic teaching. And this topic is Salvation.
What is salvation?
Ultimate salvation is being in heaven with God, seeing God “face to face” and experiencing the Beatific vision. It is communion with God for eternity. And existence in heaven consists of inconceivable happiness, peace and joy that will be unending.
Is everyone going to be saved and be in heaven?
No. Jesus clearly tells us in Scripture that “many” will take the road in life that leads to eternal destruction (which is eternal life in hell – separated from God forever, inconceivable misery).
Matt 7:13-14 = Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” (Also see Luke 13:23-25)
So the critical question is, how are we saved?
Some Christians say that all we need to do is sincerely proclaim “I accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior” and from that moment one can know they will be in heaven. This is actually a belief that is very young and only a few centuries old. This is not a teaching that you will find being taught in the early Church. The Bible does tell us we must believe in Jesus and proclaim our faith but the Bible says even more than that on this topic.
Some Christians believe that God has already chosen His elect who will be in heaven and that there is nothing we can do to be saved but they also teach that there is nothing we can do if we are among those not saved. It has been decided for us and our fate is sealed. The Bible in some places can be misinterpreted such that passages can appear to say this but this is a false belief.
Some Christians believe that if we have faith in Jesus we will be saved and that as a result of our faith we will also be charitable to others as a sign that we are among the saved. The Bible does discuss that there are fruits of our faith which include doing good works but the Bible says even more than this in relation to salvation.
I could go on as to various teachings that exist among Christians and most will be able to give Scripture after Scripture in support of their own interpretations of what the Bible teaches on this subject. So with all these differing views based on various private interpretations of Scripture, how are we to KNOW what the Bible teaches us about Salvation? There can only be ONE truth among these varying and sometimes opposing interpretations. Who are we to trust?
All Christian leaders/pastors teach what they do because they feel moved by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit cannot inspire contradictions or falsehoods. Therefore, we can recognize that there is only going to be ONE true interpretation inspired by the Holy Spirit. And Salvation is critical and as such, knowing what God teaches us about how we are saved, has eternal significance! So where is this one Church and this one true interpretation?
I gave evidence for this in my previous posts. Jesus handed on His truths through the Apostles who handed it on to their successors the bishops who have continued to protect these truths for 2000 years within the Catholic Church. (I encourage you to read my previous posts on this which can be found here.)
Part I: In the fullness of time, God (the Second Person of the Trinity to be specific) became man. Born of a virgin He was given the name Jesus and was the Christ – the Messiah – whom God had promised from the beginning of creation to send to redeem humanity (Gen 3:15).
What is redemption?
The act of redemption was when Jesus, because of love, freely offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross because of the sins of humanity. Because Jesus was fully God, His sacrifice was of infinite value, and, because Jesus was fully man, He was able to offer Himself on behalf of all humanity. This was an act of expiation for the sins of all men (expiation means to “make an atonement for”).
Redemption is the understanding that because of what Jesus did on the cross – His sacrifice of love, freely offering Himself for every sin of humanity past, present and future – the relationship between God and all of humanity was restored. This was necessary because the relationship between God and humanity had been broken in the beginning with Adam and Eve. As a result of the first sin, humanity had fallen out of communion with God and had lost the ability to enter heaven and be united to God.
Before Christ’s Sacrifice: Heaven/communion with God was not possible
After Christ’s Sacrifice: Heaven/communion with God was now possible because of Jesus Christ
Because of Jesus, heaven (eternal communion with God) is now possible for every single human person! The redemptive work of Christ is complete and all-sufficient. Jesus’ death on the cross was a sacrifice that occurred at one moment in time at Calvary but it was a sacrifice that broke the barrier of time as it was a redemptive act for ALL men of all ages!
Part II: It is important to distinguish though that redemption makes heaven possible for all, but it does not guarantee any man will be in heaven. The redemptive work of Christ is complete and all-sufficient but the merits must be applied to each individual person. Because of Christ’s free sacrifice on the cross, every person is offered salvation but, unfortunately, it will be freely rejected by many. Jesus Himself tells us that many will not enter eternal life in heaven and that there will be those who freely choose the eternal fate of hell (Matt 7:13-14). Jesus redeemed ALL humanity and made salvation possible for all but not all will be saved.
Why did God not make it such that every human person could simply be in heaven?
Only God knows the depths of the answer to this question BUT we can see that ultimately the foundation for this is because of God’s love.
Because of love, God created us. Because of love, Jesus became man and suffered and died for us. Because of love, God continues to reach out to us even when we have rejected Him. And because of love, God does NOT coerce us or force us to love Him in return. God is a true gentleman. He loves us unconditionally but does not force us or coerce us to enter into a marital covenant with Him. He offers each and every one of us His covenant but also gives us the free will to either love Him in return or reject Him.
(Think of a man who loves a woman and wants to marry her. Is it more loving for him to force the woman to marry him regardless of how she feels? OR is it more loving for the man to offer her his lifelong love, give the woman the choice to love him in return but also knowing that it is possible she could reject his love? It is obvious that the latter – allowing one to use free will while knowing there is the possibility for rejection – is far more loving. Allowing us to use our free will demonstrates God’s unconditional love for us!)
God’s new and everlasting covenant is through Christ and offered to all. To those who remain in God’s covenant even unto the end, the blessing is eternal life in heaven (enjoying the marriage supper of the Lamb [Rev 19:7]). But because of God’s love, if one rejects God and His love, God respects that decision and gives that person what they want – eternal separation from God and His love (which is hell).
How is it that God saves us?
God saves us by His grace. When Jesus died on the cross and redeemed humanity, Jesus merited God’s gift of grace making it available to all (Titus 2:11; 2 Tim 1:9)! Grace is a supernatural gift from God. Grace IS the divine life of God within us. Grace transforms us and is God’s divine power within us (2 Pet 1:3-4). Grace justifies us and sanctifies us. Grace enables us to not be enslaved by sin (Rom 6:14). Grace transforms our weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9)!
In Eph 2:8-9 we are told that we are saved by grace and that this “is the gift of God”. It is important to note that Paul does not say grace is a gift “from” God but it is the gift “of” God! Grace IS divine power – it is divine life within us. It is supernatural and enables us to do what could not be done by us naturally.
With grace we can have saving faith and do good works that are salvific (such as believing, obeying God, enduring suffering, performing works of charity, etc. – all of these are “good works”). A person without grace can still do charitable works but they are not supernaturally good works. Their works cannot save them. A person without grace can still believe in Jesus but this faith does not save them. As an example, there are demons (fallen angels) who believe in God and in Jesus Christ but they do not have any grace and thus their faith is a dead faith (James 2:19). Their faith does not save them. But if grace (the divine power/life) abides within us and we cooperate with this, then we are enabled to have faith and do good works that are supernaturally fruitful. As Paul says, it is the grace within us that allows us to labor for God (1 Cor 15:10) and abound in every good work (2 Cor 9:8). Paul tells us it is by the grace of God that we can be holy (2 Cor 1:12). Grace enables us to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb 12:28). Grace is God working within us so that we can do God’s will (Phil 2:13)!
Most importantly, grace enables us to enter heaven (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:5; 2 Thess 2:16; Titus 3:7)!
Christ and Christ alone merited this grace for us through His sacrifice freely offered on the cross. Grace was then made available to all humanity. And Paul tells us that grace is a free gift (Rom 5:15)! There is nothing we do to earn the initial gift of grace merited by Christ! If we receive this gift of grace and cooperate with it, this grace will save us. Grace does NOT coerce though. We always have the choice to cooperate with God’s gift of grace or to reject God’s grace.
How is it that this grace is offered to us?
Eph 2:8 tells us that grace comes through faith. Amen! But Paul is not giving us an exhaustive list here of the means through which grace can be given to us. We must look at the entire context. Look at the very next chapter. In Eph 3:2, Paul tells us that God has given him the role of being an administrator (dispenser/steward) of God’s grace!
What does Paul mean? If grace comes only through faith, can Paul GIVE anyone faith? NO! Faith is something personal to me – between me and God! YET Paul tells us he has a God-given role of administering God’s graces. Why does Paul say this?
The answer – because as a priest in God’s Church, Paul is a minister of the Sacraments!
(And as one example we even see that Paul tells us he has been given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) or as Catholics refer to it today – the Sacrament of Reconciliation!)
In addition to receiving grace through faith, Christ offers this sanctifying grace to us in other ways. We can receive an increase in grace through prayer, penance, faith, knowing God and doing charitable works (1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; 3:18; 2 Cor 9:8; Eph 2:8).
But one very important means of grace are the Sacraments. These were instituted by Christ. From the beginning there have been 7 Sacraments and no one can add to or take away from this number since this is the reality as established by Christ.
The Sacrament of Baptism is the best and most important example of this. Baptism is essential because through this Sacrament a person first receives the grace merited for us by Jesus Christ. It is freely given to us!
Scripture shows us this reality (that grace is given to us through baptism):
Titus 3:5 says that through baptism (“washing of regeneration and renewal”) we are justified by grace. Also in Acts 2:38 it is through baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (grace!). And this grace received in baptism transforms us and our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38 and 22:16)! As such we can better understand why Peter says, “Baptism now saves you” when giving the analogy of the flood waters washing away wickedness/sins (1 Pet 3:21) – through baptism our sins are forgiven and we receive grace!
[And because through Baptism we first receive sanctifying grace, this is why Scripture shows us that Baptism is necessary for salvation! (See John 3:5; Mk 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21.) We must have grace – the divine life – within us in order to enter heaven.]
[Other Sacraments: The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is very important. If we have committed a mortal sin (deadly sin – 1 John 5:17) after baptism, then we have lost grace from our soul. This Sacrament restores grace. (And we MUST have grace in our soul to be enabled to enter heaven!) If we have not committed a mortal sin, this Sacrament of Confession is still beneficial as it can increase grace in our soul. There are 5 other Sacraments and all can increase grace within our soul. These are the sacraments of Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick. As an example we can see Paul reminding Bishop Timothy that the gift of grace was given to him at his priestly ordination through the laying on of hands (2 Tim 1:6) and Timothy is then to be a dispenser/administrator of grace like Paul.]
Look at Scripture. There are many occasions where Christ uses something material when performing a miracle. Christ heals the blind man through mud and spittle and Christ heals the woman with the hemorrhage through the fringe of His garment. Christ could have simply declared these people to be healed but instead He used material things as instruments of His healing power! If Christ used material things then as means to confer His healing power, similarly, with the Sacraments Christ uses some outward form as an instrument to heal us by giving us His grace. (Example: Baptism – through the water Christ gives us grace healing us and transforming us with His grace. In Confirmation through the laying on of hands grace within us is increased. In Anointing of the Sick grace is increased through the chrism oil.)
The initial grace of justification is a free gift (Catholic Catechism #2010)
The Church teaches without reservation that the initial grace of justification is a free gift and there is nothing we can do to earn this. Evidence of this is the Church’s teaching that the Sacrament of Baptism can be given to anyone. There is no act/work that one has to do to receive the grace of this Sacrament. An infant. An adult. Someone with a mental disability. Grace is given to all who receive the Sacrament of Baptism because heaven is made possible by Christ for ALL humanity!
Many non-Catholics say that one has to make an act of faith to receive grace. With that understanding, does God then withhold the kingdom of heaven from infants? Or from those who are mentally disabled who cannot truly know Jesus and have faith in Him?
As Catholics we say NO! God is perfectly loving and merciful. He would not withhold grace from anyone through no fault of their own. God in His love for us does not discriminate nor withhold heaven because of age or mental capacity. There are things that WE can do to reject God’s grace but God freely offers this grace to ALL!
Grace at work within us
We must have grace within us to be enabled to enter heaven. Grace transforms our soul and perfects us.
Those who receive grace through baptism before the age of reason (or who lack the ability to reason) will go to heaven.
Those who have been baptized and are beyond the age of reason will be able to enter heaven IF they have grace within their soul at the moment of their death. However, if they have made the free choice to sin gravely such that grace was lost, then at the moment of death if they are unrepentant and without grace, the person will be in hell and eternally separated from God.
(The “age of reason” is the age in which a person is able to understand right and wrong and make free choices regarding their actions/thoughts. There are different capacities of reason and one is only held accountable to the degree of understanding possible within that individual.)
What is the relationship between grace, faith and good works?
God offers all of us His free gift of grace but we must be receptive to it. We must allow it to transform us and as such “cooperate” with the grace. God’s grace will not force us to do anything because this would be an unloving act that would disregard our free will. Rather, God offers us grace and awaits our response. IF we cooperate with God’s grace we can then having faith and do good works that are supernaturally fruitful. It is grace that makes it possible for me to experience a deep conversion to Christ. It is grace that allows me to have saving faith in Christ. It is grace that enables me to be obedient to God. It is grace that helps me to resist temptations and sin. IF we cooperate with grace we WILL have faith and do good works. This is why the Catholic Church echoes St. James in teaching that faith and works are inseparable! In order to be saved one must have BOTH faith and do good works. As James tells us, “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).
The Church does NOT teach that we can “earn” our salvation or “work our way to heaven”. It is grace alone that saves us. However, once we have reached the age of reason, we have the free will to either cooperate with God’s grace or reject it. If we cooperate with grace we WILL have faith AND do good works.
[And by “good works” this does not simply mean doing acts of charity. Charitable works are one example (Matt 25:32-46) but “good works” includes believing in Christ (John 3:16; 6:29; Acts 16:31), being obedient to God (Jn 6:47-57; Rom 2:6-11), loving God and others (1 Cor 13:1-3), repenting (Matt 4:17), keeping the commandments (Matt 19:16-17), being baptized (1 Pet 3:21), etc.]
When we sin, we are disobeying God. Anytime we sin, we are rejecting God’s grace in some way.
1 John 5:17 tells us that there are two types of sin: some sin that is “deadly” and some sin that is “not deadly”. The Church gives names to these two categories: mortal sins (“deadly sins”) and venial sins (“not deadly” sins).
Mortal sins (“deadly sins”)
Mortal sins are those acts of disobedience to God which bring death to our soul because as a result of these sins, we lose grace. And without grace, we experience spiritual death because we cannot enter heaven! The three criteria that make a sin “mortal” (“deadly”) are that it involves an act(s) of grave disobedience to God, we have full knowledge of the seriousness and yet we commit the act(s) regardless. When we commit these mortal sins, we completely reject God and these acts are contrary to love of God. And with these sins we lose grace.
What are examples of mortal sins? Violating any of the Ten Commandments such as committing adultery, murder or stealing. St. Paul also clearly tells us some of the acts that will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven (thus mortal sins). These include idolatry, homosexual acts, fornication (sex outside of marriage) and drunkenness (see 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21). And there are many other examples that can be found in Scripture and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
These mortal sins destroy our relationship with God – we lose communion with God. After having committed these sins, we are without grace – without the divine life within us. We then are less able to resist sin and can easily fall down into a spiral of sin upon sin. Without grace we can believe in Jesus but it is not a saving faith. Without grace we are spiritually dead.
(Because of God’s merciful love, He has given us a means to restore this grace through the Sacrament of Confession such that when we participate in the Sacrament, repent and confess our sins and do penance then communion with God and His Church is restored.)
Venial Sins (“sins that are not deadly”)
There are some sins we commit that are “lesser sins” (also called venial sins). These are still sins and cannot be taken lightly. When we commit venial sins we are disobeying God but it does not meet the criteria for being a mortal sin. With these sins, we wound our communion with God but we do not destroy it. We are spiritually weakened when we disobey God through venial sins BUT grace remains in our soul. After having committed these sins, we are not spiritually dead as with the mortal sins, but committing these sins does make us more vulnerable to temptations and to mortal sins. It is thus very important that we repent and confess these sins to God not only because of our love for God but also to increase and strengthen grace in our soul.
Our Fruitfulness Because of Grace
Are there things that we must DO in order to enter heaven?
But keep in mind these are things that I could NOT do by my own natural power and abilities. Doing these things is ONLY possible because of God’s supernatural power within me (grace)! If I cooperate with God’s grace, I too can echo St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20)!
So what things must we do? Or another way to phrase this, what things will I do if I cooperate with grace?
The most important thing of all: Love God!
If we have faith – believe in Jesus – but we do not love God, we are no better than the devil and the demons (James 2:16).
If we love our neighbor but do not love God, we are no better than the atheists who reject the existence of God.
And St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 13 that LOVE is the greatest virtue. Paul tells us that we can have faith in God that is so great that we believe that if we ask God to move a mountain He would, but if we do not have love this great faith is worth nothing! Paul even goes further and says that we can have faith in God that is so great that we are willing to be burned to death for our faith, but Paul says that even with this if we do not have love, our faith is worth nothing!
Paul shows us that love is essential! If we do not love God, we will not enter heaven (we will not be saved)!
How does one live if they love God?
John 14:23-24 = Jesus says, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him”
1 John 5:3 = “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
What else does Scripture tell us we will do with the help of grace?
Matt 19:16-21 = Jesus was asked, “what must I do to enter eternal life?” Jesus replies, “You must keep the commandments.” Jesus will then continue by telling the man that he must also sell His possessions giving money to the poor and then commit to following Jesus (being His disciple).
Matt 7:21 = Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but He who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus will continue in this passage even saying that some will even prophesy in His name and work miracles in His name but they will still not enter heaven because they were evildoers!
Matt 13:1-23 = Parable of the Sower and the Seed – In this parable Jesus tells us that the seed is the Word of God and that there are some who receive this and believe for awhile but they soon after fall away because of trials/persecution (like the seed on rocky ground). Then there are some who believe for awhile but then fall away because of the anxieties and other distractions in the world (like the seed among the thorns). Then there are those like the fertile soil – when the seed falls onto it, abundant fruit results. This parable shows us that Jesus calls us to be like the fertile soil in that once we receive the Word of God (which is Christ Himself and all of the truths He has given us), we are to be fruitful – which means that we are to love, have faith, practice charity and be obedient to God!
Are we ABLE to be obedient to God?
I have heard some Christians tell me that “we cannot obey the commandments” or that “we are too sinful to be obedient to God”. It is true that on our own, with our own natural abilities this is the situation. However, because of Jesus Christ, grace has been merited for us. And with grace, nothing is impossible! Grace transforms us and allows us to live according to the Spirit and enables us to DO God’s will!
(See Matt 19:26; Phil 4:13; John 15:5; Matt 17:20; Rom 8:31; 1 Cor 10:13)
We also see St. Paul explaining this to us in Romans (Rom 8:1-17).
Paul says that we are to set our minds on the things of the Spirit. Paul warns us that those who set their minds on the “things of the flesh” (our earthly pleasures, our passions/emotions, worldly attachments, etc), this will result in death. And those who set their minds on the “things of the flesh” are hostile to God and do not submit to God. On the other hand, those who set their minds on the “things of the Spirit” will experience “life and peace”. And Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that they had previously been living with their minds set on the flesh but this is no longer the case. Now, the Spirit of God dwells within them and now it is possible for them to live according to the ways of the Spirit!
Paul here is referencing grace! He says that without grace, we live with our minds set on the flesh and we are spiritually dead. When grace – the divine life – dwells within us, we are then enabled to live according to the life of the Spirit! We are empowered by God to be faithful and obedient! As Paul says the requirements of God’s law CAN be “fulfilled in us” (Rom 8:4)!
But Paul still warns them that if they were to again live “according to the flesh” they will die (Rom 8:13) and Paul is referring to the spiritual death that occurs when we lose grace in our soul.
If we have grace within our soul and cooperate with this grace we can enter heaven. And we must persevere until the end taking care so that we do not reject grace (Matt 10:22; 24:13; Phil 2:12; 1 Cor 10:12; 2 Cor 6:2). But Scripture warns us that those who do not cooperate with grace – those who do not believe and who do not obey God – are rejecting grace and will be in hell, eternally separated from God.
John 3:36 – “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
John 15:5-6 – “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”
Matthew 25:34–40, “Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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…as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. Then He will say to those at His left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink…as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
Romans 2:8 – “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life”
2 Cor. 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men.”
Gal 6:7-9 – “Whatever a man sows he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life”
1 Cor 6:9-10 – “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor the idolaters, nor the adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor revilers, nor drunkards, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God…”
Do not receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor 6:2)
Because of love, Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins. He redeemed humanity restoring the relationship between God and mankind and made grace and salvation available to ALL men. Through Baptism we first receive this gift of grace and then throughout our lives God has provided means for this grace to be strengthened. (God has also provided a Sacrament to restore this grace if it is lost after baptism.) Grace is the divine life within us. Grace is a supernatural power that transforms us and enables us to enter heaven. If we cooperate with God’s grace we will be able to have faith and do good works. And we MUST believe in Christ and be obedient to God because that is the fruit of our cooperation with grace. If we are disobedient to God, then we are rejecting His free gift of grace. It is possible that we could do something grave such that we fall away from grace resulting in spiritual death (and if we die in this state unrepentant, we will be in hell). If we do not resist God’s grace, His grace will make us perfect, pure and holy so that ultimately we can be in heaven united to God eternally!
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