Theological commentary

Justification and Salvation

by Robert Haddad

"Are you born-again?"
"Are you saved?"
"Do you have assurance of salvation?"
"If you die now do you know if you will go to heaven?"

These are all difficult questions that Catholics are confronted with from time to time by "Born-again" Christians. In the face of these questions Catholics are often left dumb-founded, confused, bemused or even renounce their faith.

What do Fundamentalists mean by these questions? How should Catholics respond? Are they even valid questions?

Fundamentalists believe they are "born again" by simply accepting Jesus Christ as their "personal Lord and Saviour." Once Christ is accepted in this way one is saved, or "born again" (John 3,3). However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that we are "born again" through Baptism: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3,5).

Fundamentalists regard Baptism as only an ordinance not necessary for salvation. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that Baptism is necessary for salvation: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…" (1 Pet. 3,21); "He who believes and is baptized will be saved…" (Mark 16,16).

Fundamentalists assert that upon accepting Christ as personal Saviour one’s sinful soul is "covered up" by His merits. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that our sins are not simply "covered up" but actually washed away, and this by Baptism: "Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2, 38); "Get up, be baptised, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name" (Acts 22,16); "...he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit 3,5-7).

Further, Sacred Scripture throughout conceives the forgiveness of sins as a real and thorough removal: "wash," "cleanse" (Ps. 51 [50], 2); "removes" (Ps. 103 [102], 12); "takes away" (John 1, 29); "inner renewal" (Eph. 4, 23); "washed," "sanctified" (1 Cor. 6, 11).

Fundamentalists assert that even after one is justified the soul remains "totally depraved," covered only by Christ’s merits. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that the Christian becomes a "temple of the Holy Spirit" and that the soul is filled with the life of the Blessed Trinity: "He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’" Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive." (John 7, 38); "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (John 14, 23); "…through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature"(2 Pet. 1, 4-5).

Fundamentalists assert that we are justified by "faith alone" and that good works are not necessary for our salvation. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, repeatedly tells us of the need for good works to be saved:

"Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7, 21); "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19, 17); (God) "will render to every man according to his works" (Rom. 2, 6); "And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13, 2); "For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5, 10); "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save you?...So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead...Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?...You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone...For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (Jas 2,14; 17; 20; 24; 26).

There are numerous other verses in Scripture that concur with the above, speaking both of the meritorious value of good works as well as their necessity to enter eternal life: Matt 6,3-5; Matt. 6, 19; Matt. 13, 23; Matt. 19, 17; Matt. 25, 31; Luke 3, 8; Luke 21, 1; John 5, 29, etc.etc. The list is virtually endless.

Fundamentalists believe that upon accepting Christ as "their personal Lord and Saviour" they are "saved," and that essentially nothing further needs to be done except wait for death. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that Christians should be working constantly to earn their salvation: "Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10, 12); "Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2, 12).

Fundamentalists believe that if they die now that they are certain of entering heaven. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that St. Paul himself had no such "assurance of salvation": "I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4, 4); "Not that I have already won the prize, already reached fulfilment. I only press on, in hope of winning the mastery, as Christ Jesus has won the mastery over me" (Phil. 3, 12).

Fundamentalists believe that once they are "saved" they cannot lose their salvation, not even by serious sin. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture tells us otherwise: "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off" (Rom. 11, 22); "...but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9, 27); "For if we wilfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10, 26-27).

Fundamentalists assert that all the saved in heaven are equal because Christians when justified all receive the same mystical covering of Christ’s merits. However, the Catholic Church, relying on Sacred Scripture, tells us that the saved will each shine with a different glory dependent on their own meritorious works done in faith: "Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear" (Matt. 13, 8); "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory" (1 Cor. 15, 41).

Catholics believe that Christ by His death and resurrection has redeemed us and opened the gates to and possibility of entering Heaven. Our Lord has done His part to redeem us, however, to be saved we must do more than just a one off act of fiduciary faith in Him. This includes being baptised in the Name of the Trinity and performing good works by a faithful observance of the Ten Commandments. Such souls are pleasing to God ("in a state of grace") and if they persevere along this path have the right to enter heaven after death. Perseverance in God’s grace is necessary, for even a person living a saintly life all their years is not automatically saved and guaranteed heaven but can, at the last moment, throw away any chance for eternal life through subsequent serious unrepentant sin before death.

"Are you born-again?" Yes, answers the Catholic by baptism (John 3, 5), faith and obeying the Ten Commandments (Matt. 19, 17); "Are you saved?" "We are redeemed," is our answer, "and like St. Paul we are working out our salvation in 'fear and trembling' (Phil. 2, 12), doing good and avoiding evil, waiting for judgment day with hope when we will be judged according to all our works" (2 Cor. 5, 10); "Do you have assurance of salvation?" Like St. Paul the Catholic answers "I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9, 27); "If you die now do you know if you will go to heaven?" Like St. Paul again the Catholic answers "I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4, 4).


Robert Haddad is a lecturer at the Centre for Thomistic Studies, in Sydney, Australia.

This article posted May 2000. It was published in Universitas, Vol 3 (1999), No. 1.
Permission is granted to copy or quote from this article, provided that full credit is given to the author and to the
Centre for Thomistic Studies, Sydney, Australia.
We would be grateful to receive a copy of any republication.