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Karen wrote:

Hi, guys —

My husband's step-mom is a non-denominational Christian who recently made a comment on Face book that she would like to see her grandchildren baptized and saved.

I reminded her that she was at my daughter's Baptism two years ago and my other daughter had also been baptized; both my daughters and I are Catholic. She responded back:

"So true, but I want to see them saved too!"

  • In your opinion, do you think this warrants a response?

Karen

  { How do I explain the Catholic teaching on salvation and justification to my mother-in-law? }

John replied:

Hi, Karen —

This is a great question and a great opportunity for you to share with your Mother-in-law what the Church teaches. Obviously, you want both your daughters to be saved. As Catholics, we believe that we are saved by God's grace and mercy so we rely and trust on the love and mercy of Jesus to save us. Although we are objectively "saved" or rather justified in Baptism, there is a progression. We must own our faith so you tell your Mother-in-law, that you intend to:

  • teach your daughters what Jesus did for them
  • share with them how He loves them more than anyone else, and
  • encourage them to believe in Him, pray to Him, and have a relationship with Him.

These are all things which are Catholic truths, that our Christian brothers embrace but, because Catholics don't use their language, they figure we don't believe it. Sadly, sometimes, we don't believe it. Sometimes we get "sacramentalized" but we don't get "evangelized". People teach us about Jesus but they don't introduce us to Him. Start by assuring your mother-in-law that you will share the Gospel with both your daughters.

Then, if you feel competent, you can begin to talk to her about the way Catholics understand salvation. To prepare yourself, I suggest you visit our data base and go over the many questions and answers on the subject of salvation, justification, redemption, and so forth.

If you are having difficulty understanding a particular teaching, please feel free to write again for more help.

I hope this helps,

John DiMascio

Karen replied:

Hi, John —

Her comments really upset me  because she was talking about my children. I know she believes that you need to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in order to be saved and probably in a
"once saved, always saved" theology, but it made me wonder where she thought my children
(ages two and five) would end up if, God forbid, they died today.

  • Being a former pastor, do you know what Protestants believe about that?

I have gone to Catholic school my whole life and never really heard the term justification as it relates to Christianity and salvation. I have read about it on this web site, though it is still a little unclear. I think I need to familiarize myself with the faith a bit more before speaking to her on the subject.

Thanks for your help.

Karen

John replied:

Karen —

Protestant beliefs vary, but most of them would say children who have not attained the age of reason are saved. There are 30,000 denominations in the United States alone as of 1998, so it's pretty much up for grabs.

We can talk further about justification. It is a primary a Christian doctrine, especially for Protestants. I would start familiarizing yourself with the book of Romans. Bear in mind,
Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Fathers of the Protestant Reformation, completely misunderstood what Paul was saying. That's where they got the idea of "once saved, always save",
if truly saved at all. That's also where they got the idea of "faith alone". Although Romans doesn't say "faith alone", it says, faith apart from works of the law. That's where they got the idea that salvation is this one time static event.  A superficial read of Romans can give that idea, but one needs to understand the text, in context. Nevertheless, that's the best place to start.

I'd also get the Catechism of the Catholic Church, If you don't have one. Obviously, you need a Bible, if you don't have one. I recommend the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition, not to be confused with the New Revised Standard. It's put out be Ignatius press.

Put briefly, Justification is the doctrine that gets into the mechanics of:

  • How we are saved
  • What it means to be saved, and
  • What Christ accomplished for us on the Cross.

Protestants believe it is a static, forensic event; more like a simple legal status. By accepting Christ, we are legally justified. Christ declares us not guilty based on His Sacrifice and He imputes His righteousness to us. Thus, as Luther said:

We are like a pile of dung that is covered with snow.

The Church says, Yes, we are declared righteous by faith but that's where it starts; actually,
it starts with grace.  That's why we can baptize infants. The Church has the faith and, as God's emissary, it bestows the grace of justification on us at baptism so we are declared righteous but God does what He decrees, so in declaring us righteous, he makes us righteous. That said, we start out as a pile of dung, and God first covers us with snow then turns us into snow.

Now that righteousness is infused, not just imputed. That means it's real and it must manifest itself in our lives. Therefore, justification is dynamic; it's active, and it grows.  As we do good works in faith, we grow in our justification. We also grow in our sanctification as we overcome sin.

Protestants, therefore, are under the misunderstanding that we believe we are working for our salvation; this isn't true. We are cooperating with grace; it is Christ at work in us.

But again, you should get a Catechism of the Catholic Church, a Bible and familiarize yourself with the faith.

I apologize for the fact that, in all your years in Catholic school, these fundamentals of the faith were never explained. This is a huge indictment of the way the Church transmits the truths she professes. Unfortunately, it's almost an epidemic of ignorance. Because we neither evangelize or catechize the baptized properly, we lose people who are hungry, to the first Protestant that shows up with a Bible.

I hope this helps and by all in means stay in touch.

Under His Mercy,

John DiMascio

Karen replied:

Hi, John —

I have been reading and studying. I bought and have been reading the Catechism and several books by Scott Hahn. Of course, I have been reading my Bible as well.

As a very interesting side story, I decided to share all that I had been learning with a very good ex-catholic friend of mine. This same friend invited me to her church's Bible study a few years ago which I went to then decided to stop going to about a year ago. I wanted to explain to her why
I stopped going. After a few hours of talking, to my surprise, she asked if she could read the
book I had been talking to her about, Scott Hahn's Rome Sweet Home. That was two month's ago. We have been getting together now every Tuesday, after our kid's gymnastics, to study. She is meeting with our parish priest to discuss coming back to the Church as well as getting her three children baptized. So, to all of you at AskACatholic, thank you! God is definitely using this web site for wonderful things.

And now for my question. Your above response was really clear and helpful on the Catholic view of justification.

  • I am wondering how sanctification is different?

Our justification process starts at baptism but it progresses and grows as it manifests in our lives. We are becoming the very snow that God first covered us with, as we do good works with faith and love and, of course, that is only because God gave us the grace to do so.

  • Do I have that right?
  • If so, how is this different from sanctification?

Thanks!

Karen

John replied:

Karen —

Justification and sanctification are inextricably linked together. I choose to look it at like this. Sanctification is the process through which we rid ourselves of vices and increase virtues in our soul; this process of ongoing growth by grace continues to justify us by grace.

Justification and sanctification also differ in couple ways too.

Justification brings news life when someone is spiritually dead. So if someone hasn't been baptized yet, they are justified by the grace of the sacrament of Baptism. If they don't know or understand the need for baptism, but receive Christ as Lord and Savior, then we can assume they have received a baptism of desire. Also, if someone loses their justification through mortal sin, they can regain it through the sacrament of Confession or through perfect contrition and repentance.

Again, all of these actions are a work of Grace.

As for sanctification, I wrote that it is a process through which we rid ourselves of vice and increase virtue in our soul. Let me be really clear. That is also a work of the Holy Spirit.
The phrase rid ourselves may suggest it is our own work. While I'm pretty sure you understood what I mean, if you talk to your friend, you don't want her to think we believe in a gospel of works.

God Bless,

John

Karen replied:

Hi, John —

Thank you. Yes, this helps a lot.

One last question, you said:
Also, if someone loses their justification through mortal sin, they can regain it through the sacrament of Confession or through perfect contrition and repentance.

The leader of that Bible study I was in said that if a person, who accepted Jesus, led a life of "what we would call" mortal sin and was not contrite, then most likely, they never were sincere when they accepted Jesus and therefore never justified.

This explanation would by in line with their belief of "once saved, always saved".

Is this how Catholics would view it:

We would believe that had that person been baptized either through the sacrament of Baptism or through its desire, they were justified, but by turning away completely through mortal sin, without contrition, they actually would loose their justification. And that whether they were saved at their death, would not be for us to judge.

Sorry for the emails. As you can see, I have been trying for a few months now to really understand justification.

Hopefully, this will be the last one.

Karen

John replied:

Karen,

Yes, this is because they understand Justification as static and forensic, rather than dynamic and intrinsic.

Baptism, justifies someone objectively. When a baby is baptized [he|she] is born again. [He|She] receives the life of God, the Holy Spirit and the grace to overcome sin.

You see, Protestants start by asking the question:

  • "What must I do to be saved?"

that's the essential question for them. That is what all their theology hangs from. Catholics and Orthodox Christians have always started from the question that Jesus asked Peter:

  • "Who do you say that I am?"

We let God worry about salvation. Surely, we want to love and serve God. We want to go to Heaven. We want to avoid Hell, but we don't go around saying this one is saved and that one is not. Our theology is contingent upon answering the question:

  • Who is Jesus?
  • Not, what about me?

We are called to get our eyes off ourselves and worship Him. As far as salvation is concerned,
we rely on His mercy, love and justice; knowing He desires all men to be saved.

John

Eric replied:

Dear Karen,

You're quite right; they believe that once you are saved, you can do nothing to lose your salvation, and that if you do something to lose your salvation, you've proven that you weren't saved in the first place. Rather circular logic, especially when you ask:

  • Did the person who later proves he never was saved in the first place know he was not saved in the first place when he first got "saved"?
  • In other words, if you get "saved", how can you be sure that you won't later prove that you weren't "really saved" in the first place?
  • Or how can you be sure when you get "saved" that you will never, ever do anything to prove that you weren't saved in the first place?
  • If you can't be sure, isn't that the same as not having assurance of salvation?

There are a few verses that address this, especially in the book of Hebrews which says:

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned."

Hebrews 6:4-8 (NKJV)

So this refers to people who have been "enlightened", have been "partakers of the Holy Spirit", and have repented, that is, who were saved, but who "fall away" in apostasy (which implies of its very nature a previous belief), to be brought again to repentance, and they will be burned.
(a symbol of Hell) Hebrews 10:26-31 (NKJV) says:

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Mose's law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

By "no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" means someone whose sins were previously remitted, but who lose salvation. Hebrews 10:38 says that the righteous (saved) one can shrink back and be destroyed:

"But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."

Hebrews 3:12 says that we have to hold firmly to the end to share in Christ:

"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first."

Other books speak of this as well. Paul says we should judge nothing until the appointed time in
1 Corinthians 4:

"So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been giving a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God."

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

He feared losing his salvation:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Jesus spoke on this, too:

"I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

John 15:5-8

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."

Matthew 5:21-22

"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."

Matthew 5:29-30

So these people really do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on. This is only a small fraction of the verses I have on file refuting "Once Saved Always Saved".

Eric

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