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Tom Jansen wrote:

Dear AskACatholic.com,

My name is Tom Jansen and I'm from the Netherlands. I have some questions which I hope you can answer.

Currently, I am in the process of converting my life to Jesus Christ. I was actually brought up as a Catholic; not really as a practicing one, but more of a cultural one. During my teens (I'm now 21),
I was an Atheist, because that was, and still is, the cool thing to be in the Netherlands. It was culturally cool to talk about how religion was brainwashing others and how it had so many fairytales, etc. Right now, I'm studying the life of Jesus, and I recently bought a Bible, which I'm also studying. (I just finished the book  of Genesis.) I'm also planning to get re-baptized.

All of this is actually giving me a new perspective on our society that we live in today, which is so different then two millennia or even two centuries ago. People in our society today are completely lost by television, popular culture and other things.  They are not focused on Jesus and the Bible so I understand the world of today much better.

My questions are:

  • Are we saved, just by accepting Jesus as our Savior, the one who died for our sins on the Cross?
  • Just by acknowledging He saved humanity by paying for our past and present sins, will we enter heaven when we die?
  • Does it basically mean because sinning is in our nature, and we cannot live perfectly, like Jesus did, we have to:
    • be open about our sin to God
    • confess our sins, and
    • then He will forgive us?

My other questions are about the term ''selfish ambition'', which the Bible is referring to numerous times:

  • What does God exactly mean by this?
  • For instance, is it bad for someone to have certain plans since [his|her] childhood based on their talents and passion; plans that [he|she] really want to achieve; is that a bad thing?
  • It is after all, a selfish ambition, but would it be OK if you put Jesus first, no matter what, and only find peace and happiness in Him?
  • Could you give me your view on this?

I'm still confused about many things. Nevertheless, I hope to get baptized real soon and ''finish'' the whole journey.

Thanks for your time and God bless,

Tom Jansen

  { Are we saved just by accepting Jesus as Savior and are career ambitions bad? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Tom —

Thanks for your question.

It is true that some verses in Scripture say all we have to do is accept Jesus as savior and his sacrifice on the cross, and we are saved; Acts 16:31 comes to mind, but Scripture must be understood in context of the whole. For example, elsewhere it says, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19). So not only must we believe, we must also repent. But wait, there is more. "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:37) Moreover, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." (Acts 26:20) So not only do we need to believe, not only repent, not only prove our repentance by our deeds, but we also need to be baptized. See also 1 Peter 3:21. But wait, there is still more. We have to obey: 1 John 2:3,
1 John 3:10,24, John 3:36, Hebrews 5:8f, Romans 1:5, Romans 2:13, Matthew 19:23ff. Even more, we must also persevere in righteousness (Hebrews 6:7-8, James 1:12, 2 Timothy 2:12, Colossians 1:22, 1 John 2:24, Matthew 10:22, James 5:19-20).

Why the discrepancy? Suppose you're driving along with me in the passenger's seat, and I'm giving you directions. I say turn left, which you do, immediately, careening over the median and narrowly missing oncoming traffic. I scream,

"What are you DOING?"

and you say,

"But you told me to turn left, and I did! Don't blame me!"

The problem was I had certain assumptions implicitly in mind when I said that, namely I was assuming you knew to wait until the next intersection and wait for the light to turn green and wait for traffic to be clear.

Likewise, when Scripture says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved," it doesn't mean literally that all you have to do is say the Sinner's Prayer and BOOM, you're set to go for life. It assumes that you understand that repentance, conversion, baptism, obedience, and perseverance are givens, or at least that "believe" is a umbrella term for these things, rather than mere intellectual assent or trust. So are entering the Church and receiving the Eucharist
(see John 6:53-54), for example.

You said:
Does it basically mean because sinning is in our nature, and we cannot live perfectly, like Jesus did, we have to:

  • be open about our sin to God
  • confess our sins, and
  • then He will forgive us?

I would agree with this. Theoretically it is possible, by a special grace, to live perfectly.
We believe this is true for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some believe this was also true of John the Baptist (although in a different manner), but for ordinary people, it is true.

As for "selfish ambition", you'll have to provide a scripture quote. I am not sure what concept the biblical translation you are using is trying to express. It sounds like vainglory, but I'm not sure.
I don't think seeking to fulfill a desire that is not intrinsically evil or disordered is sinful; God gives us natural talents and expects us to fulfill them. You have to watch your motives though;
if you did it, for example, to glorify yourself, and not for the glory of God, that would be sinful.
If you did it to make a lot of money, to acquire a lot of possessions or indulge yourself in luxuries, that would be sinful. I agree that if you put Jesus first, and cultivate humility and eradicate pride (and also do all for the glory of God), you will do well and avoid selfish ambition. This however is a constant battle; pride crops up everywhere. We must be vigilant.

As for baptism, your Catholic baptism was sufficient in God's eyes. You do not need to be rebaptized, no matter what they tell you. Ephesians 4:5 says that there is one Lord, one faith,
and one baptism. Baptism therefore cannot be repeated. Your original baptism was valid because the early Christians baptized children and infants. This is because baptism is not a public profession of faith; else why was the Ethiopian eunuch baptized privately by the side of the road?
(Acts 8:38). Rather, it is entering into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
(Romans 6:3-8, Colossians 2:12), without which we normally cannot be saved. See these articles:

This is chiefly because baptism is the New Testament circumcision (Colossians 2:11), and infants were circumcised in the Old Testament. Also whole households were baptized according to Acts, and the promise of baptism was given "to your children" (which would have been understood by the Jews in the context of infant circumcision). See the articles above for details. If you'd like to further discuss the question of why your original baptism was valid, feel free to write me back.

I hope this helps!

Eric

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