Common questions on salvation with Catholic answers

I was recently asked some questions from a Protestant friend. The following answers are taken from different resources I used via Catholic Answers, and other trusted Catholic sources.

What is required to be united with Christ for eternity?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5]. . . . Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15-16).  ” (CCC 1257). Side note – If you disagree with John 3:5 as Jesus explaining baptism, here’s a link explaining John 3:5.

So, we have two parts here to be united with Christ for eternity that Christ explained himself: Baptism and faith.

Yet Christians have also always realized that the necessity of water baptism is a normative rather than an absolute necessity. There are exceptions to water baptism: It is possible to be saved through “baptism of blood,” martyrdom for Christ (ex: Matt 2:16-18 – killing of the Holy Innocents), or through “baptism of desire”, that is, an explicit or even implicit desire for baptism (ex: Luke 23:42-43 – the good thief on the cross). Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence (impure desires) that never cease leading us into evil.

This goes into the 2nd question I was asked:

Does the CC teach we can have and then lose union with Christ?

Yes.  First, I’ll answer some common objections i’ve heard.

Philippians 1:6: I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Paul is praising the Philippians in particular, not all Christians, when he expresses his confidence. The Philippian Church was the only one generous enough to support him in his time of struggle (Phil. 4:14-16). In 2:12 we also read of their obedience, which was the source of Paul’s confidence in them. Regardless, in the same verse where Paul describes their obedience (2:12) he still tells them to “work out their salvation in fear and trembling.

1 John 5:13: I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Earlier in the letter, the author of 1 John describes essential attributes one must have in order to be a true believer in the son of God. In 3:10 he says, “No one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.” In 5:3 he says, “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”  If we believe in the son of God we will keep his commandments, but if we do not keep the commandments, then we do not believe in him and can’t know that we are saved.

Now, I’ll answer the reason the CC teaches that we can lose that union with Christ.

Scripture teaches that one’s final salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. As Jesus himself tells us, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 24:13, cf. 25:31-46). The truth is that, in one sense, we are all redeemed by Christ’s death on the cross – but our individual appropriation of what Christ provided is contingent on our response. Consider the warning Paul gave: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:22; cf.  Hebrews 10:26-29, 2 Peter 2: 20-21).

Such an individual was Paul, writing at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). But earlier in life, even Paul did not claim an infallible assurance, either of his present justification or of his remaining in grace in the future. Concerning his present state, he wrote, “I am not  aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor. 4:4). Concerning his remaining life, Paul was frank in admitting that even he could fall away: “I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Of course, for a spiritual giant such as Paul, it would be quite unexpected and out of character for him to fall from God’s grace. Nevertheless, he points out that, however much confidence in his own salvation he may be warranted in feeling, even he cannot be infallibly sure either of his own present state or of his future course.

The same is true of us. We can, if our lives display a pattern of perseverance and spiritual fruit, have not only a confidence in our present state of grace but also of our future perseverance with God. Yet we cannot have an infallible certitude of our own salvation. There is the possibility of self-deception (cf. Matt. 7:22-23).

Now, what exactly can cause us to lose this union?

1 John 5:16-17: “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is a sin which is not mortal.” The Catechism of the CC explains mortal sin to have 3 requirements: 1. grave matter. 2. full knowledge. 3. full consent.  Mortal sin ceases our state of grace with God.

Here are some Bible verses to back up the explanation for the 3 requirements: 1 Timothy 1:13: “though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Hebrews 10:26: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” The Bible also refers to (mortal) sins which – if not repented of – will exclude one from heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 1:8; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 12:16; Rev. 22:15).

In the CC, we believe that to get rid of mortal sins, we confess these to a priest through the sacrament of reconciliation: This sacrament is rooted in the mission God gave to Christ in his capacity as the Son of man on earth to go and forgive sins (cf. Matt. 9:6). Thus, the crowds who witnessed this new power “glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (Matt. 9:8; note the plural “men”). After his resurrection, Jesus passed on his mission to forgive sins to his ministers, telling them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).

A classic Catholic response to this question of salvation is this:  “As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13).”

3rd and 4th questions I was asked – What do we need on the day of judgment? and what specific works does one need?

I believe i’ve somewhat answered these already and we spoke last time about works and salvation. But to clarify. The CC teaches were are not saved by good works alone. That heresy, Pelagianism, was denounced by the CC in the 300-400’s I believe. We can not buy our way into heaven either. None of us can deserve heaven. Therefore, if we were to die tonight and meet God, and God were to ask us why he should let us into heaven, our answer should not begin with the word “I” but with the word “Christ.”

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