Salvation: Another reason I am Catholic

I often question, dear reader, why I pester you with my musings on the faith. Perhaps it’s because I hope you’ll read something from a friend instead of an “expert”, or perhaps it is for my own cathartic purposes; either way, the next few paragraphs will be replete with a topic I have thought a lot about: salvation. Why do we need to be saved, from what are we being saved, and who is doing the saving? As Christians whether Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox, we can answer all three of these questions with relative ease and continuity. We need to be saved because we are sinners, we need saving from Satan and our own disordered desires, and it is Jesus Christ, God’s son, who does the saving. Amen! Hallelujah! We are on the same page, right? Unfortunately, when the curtain is pulled back, differing opinions on how God saves us often carry serious spiritual repercussions. One of the fundamentals that Catholics and some reformed Protestants differ on, for example, is the topic of security. Can I lose my justified state before almighty God? Catholics say yes, the reformed position says no. How can this be and where does it leave us?

The historic understanding, to put it simply, is the Catholic position. We are saved by grace alone at our baptism (1 Peter 3:21), but that grace can thenceforth be rejected through what the church labels as mortal sin; sin that kills the life of grace within the perpetrator. As a young Protestant, of the Baptist/reformed slant, I was convinced that this could NOT be the case. “We didn’t earn it, so how could we lose it?” I would often reassure myself . Plus, doesn’t the Bible state clearly that we can KNOW that we have eternal life (1 John 15:13)?  I vividly recall one part of my spiritual journey when I struggled immensely with this doctrine, what some refer to as “once saved always saved” or the “perseverance of the saints”. In my case, I knew of serious sin in my life that I could not shake, and yet I knew I had been “saved” as a 14 year old boy. How, then, could I continue to rebel against the love of God when the Bible is very clear that NO sin shall make it into Heaven (Rev. 21:27)? Did Jesus just give me a “get out of jail” card for any and all sins that I committed after deciding to follow him? Does committing sin carry no consequence now? Or, was I not “truly” saved to begin with? I could not affirm any of these questions, and try as I might, I continued to question my state before God. Not even the soothing, reassuring voice of Baptist minister Charles Stanley could cool my burning conscious (look him up, the man is good). The answer to my question was actually found in the very Bible I used to support the doctrine with which I was struggling. In 1 John 5:16-18, the inspired author writes:

“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that is not a deadly sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those who sin is not deadly. There is sin which is deadly; I do not say one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not deadly. We know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

Wait, you mean this was in my Bible the entire time? I would soon find that there were many more of these lurking through the text, poised to surprise me. In this case, there is a clear distinction between sins that do and do not lead to death, what the Catholic Church refers to as venial and mortal sins. This bifurcation of sin flatly dispels any notion that one’s relationship with God is impregnable. I was always taught that no sin could be so grave as to separate me from God AFTER experiencing salvation and becoming a follower of Christ. That assumption, however, was foreign to John, who was writing to a Christian audience in the scripture quoted above. Though some have attempted to give alternative interpretations of this passage, and many others like it (St. Paul lists various mortal sins throughout his epistles), not one has made sense of the passage in its appropriate context to Christians. Also, the fact that the Catholic teaching has been the historic understanding of how sin impacts the lives of Christians only serves to reinforce the Catholic conclusion.

Discovering the truth about salvation, namely that I could cut myself off from my relationship with God and then need to be reinstated to said relationship, was one of the most freeing experiences of my life. Though somewhat paradoxical, I rejoice in the knowledge that my salvation is not eternally secure. Freed from the anxiety of not knowing if I am truly justified before God, I now walk in true assurance; assurance that God will remain faithful to his promises if I in turn continue to choose him and live according to his will.

And when I mess things up? This is my favorite part. God has provided us with a very special means to have our sins forgiven: the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession). Given the authority to forgive sins by Christ himself (see John 20:23), the priest stands ready not just to listen to your failures but to extend God’s mercy to us. Hearing the words of absolution from the priest is an incredible experience that no one should keep themselves from. Because of the gift of confession, I no longer obsessively wonder if my sins have been forgiven because I hear for sure that they have every time I leave the confessional.

True “eternal security” resides in the knowledge that God is good, he loves you, and he will bring you to heaven one day IF you follow him and accept salvation on his terms.

Peace be with you!

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