Heaven Isn’t Earned but Hell Is: Salvation, Part II

Let me continue my thoughts about how to deal with Fundamentalists and Evangelicals regarding salvation. As I noted in my previous blog post, Romans 10:9 seems to say the mere acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior is sufficient to assure your salvation. If the verse is taken in isolation, this interpretation looks plausible; but it isn’t the only possible interpretation, and it doesn’t square with other things in the New Testament.

In Romans 10:9 Paul could very well have included an implied condition in what he was saying (and in fact this is the Catholic position): You will be saved provided you otherwise do what God commands, such as avoid sin. This interpretation comports better with other passages in Romans, passages in which Paul writes against the notion of an absolute assurance of salvation.

Who hopes for what one possesses?

Look at Romans 5:2, and compare it to Romans 8:24. The first verse reads this way, in the Msgr. Ronald Knox translation: “We are confident in the hope of attaining glory as the sons of God”—that is, we hope we will get to heaven. Romans 8:24 says, “Our salvation is founded upon the hope of something. Hope would not be hope if its object were in view.” In other words, you don’t hope for something if its attainment is already assured. If you are absolutely sure of salvation, there is no reason to hope for it.

Paul is saying Christians hope for salvation, and that means even Christians might lose salvation. Only if we understand this can we make sense of 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I buffet my body and make it my slave; or I, who have preached to others, may myself be rejected as worthless.”

Who, in all of Christian history, has a better claim than Paul to being a born-again Christian? How many others have had a Damascus Road experience? But even Paul knew that he would forfeit his salvation if he let his passions take control of him.

Elsewhere he notes that our final state, of everlasting bliss or endless night, will be a consequence of our works:

He will award to every man what his acts have deserved; eternal life to those who have striven for glory, and honor, and immortality, by perseverance in doing good; the retribution of his anger to those who are contumacious, rebelling against truth and paying homage to wickedness (Rom. 2:6).

The goats too are Christians

In this Paul is only echoing Jesus. In Matthew 25 our Lord relates the parable of the sheep and the goats. Many people forget that even the goats are Christians—after all, Jesus is talking here about the kingdom which is the Church on Earth—but they are Christians who end up in hell. Why? Because, when given the opportunity and means to do so, they failed to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit the imprisoned—that is, they sinned through omission.

This chapter can be used with devastating effect when speaking with Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. The key is to have them see that both the sheep and the goats are Christians—the sheep those who have acted in charity, the goats those who have acted against charity. If even the goats are Christians, and if they end up damned, then there can be no absolute assurance of salvation.

Contradiction only apparent

How will the “Bible Christian” respond to the Catholic who brings up such verses? Usually he will dodge to Ephesians 2:8: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.”

And what, more likely than not, will the knowledgeable Catholic say in reply? He will quote James 2:24: “You see then how it is by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”

These verses seem contradictory, and each side will take refuge in its favorite. But the contradiction is only apparent, not real. Paul and James use the word faith differently. Paul means a faith that works in charity, that includes charitable works. James is writing against people who use faith in the narrow intellectual sense. In fact, he is writing against first-century “Bible Christians” who said all one need do is accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.

They said an intellectual acceptance is sufficient for justification—for being made righteous in God’s sight. (You must be justified to be saved.) Not so, replied James. After all, “The devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19). Lucifer, with a perfectly lucid intellect, knows what the truth is, but he opposes it. Mere knowledge is not enough, and bare, intellectual faith is not enough. But faith that works in charity is.

We agree: salvation isn’t earned

Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have been told the Catholic Church claims salvation is earned, and they desperately want to avoid succumbing to what they believe to be the Catholic position—that we are saved by being religious busybodies.

In this their instincts are right, but their understanding is wrong, because that’s not the Catholic position. We can summarize authentic Catholic teaching this way: Salvation is a free gift from God. It is wholly gratuitous. But, like any gift, it can be rejected, and it can be rejected even after it has once been accepted, the rejection coming through serious (mortal) sin.

We don’t earn salvation, but we do earn damnation: Remember, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And what are wages? What we earn.

Practicing holiness

So how should we talk about salvation with Fundamentalists and Evangelicals? Exchanging verses should not come first. If that’s how we begin the discussion, the discussion is likely to end in a muddle. First we must explain, slowly and repeatedly if necessary, that “Bible Christians” misunderstand the Catholic position and that many Catholics (including those from whom the “Bible Christians” received their notions of Catholicism) also misunderstand it.

Then we state the position, and we must be clear about the role of good works: Performing good works keeps us from falling into evil works. Put another way, the more we increase in holiness, the less likely we will be to sin.

When a “Bible Christian” asks, “Are you saved?” here’s how to answer: “I will be saved—get to heaven—so long as I am in the state of grace. And I have a lively confidence that I will be saved, but not an absolute assurance, since that would be contrary to the Bible’s teaching. My salvation comes through faith in Christ, and it’s protected by good works, which keep me from those sins that can destroy grace in my soul.”

By Karl Keating




  1. Tom Rafferty Reply

    Why accept the non-evidenced dogma of either one?

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    I love it when Christians shred each other!
    Keating, like other Catholics is right in tune with the RCCs insistence on making Hell real, and thereby turning Jesus a monster who sends mere humans who live here but a handful of decades to eternal torment in hellfire. Any god who would do such a thing is overtly evil and should not be worshipped, nor are those who would worship such evil deserving of respect.
    On the other hand, the fundagelicals who would send people to eternal torment, do so simply for the crime of failing to believe the right thing, while Catholicism insists on some measure of doing good works. Both however would send Hitler to heaven, while the Jews he killed suffer for eternity in Hell, if he were only to repent, believe, and receive the proper sacraments on his deathbed.
    Keating (who has bragged in other posts about how rude, overbearing and unchristian he can be to visiting Jehovah Witnesses), says that Paul is echoing Matthew – but that’s baloney. Paul wrote in the 50s, and Matthew didn’t write until sometime after Mark which most scholars date to about 70 AD. Paul knows absolutely nothing of a human, flesh and blood Jesus. He knows nothing of Jesus’ birth, his family, his baptism, his ministry, miracles, parables or sermons – nothing, and Matthew was embellishing Mark. Paul’s Jesus was a celestial Jesus, and Paul believed end times were imminent and all would be judged, but those who believed what he told them to believe, would skip final judgement and go right to heaven. As we all know – Paul was wrong. The world did not end, and Mark who took these words from Paul and put them into an invented flesh and blood Jesus, made him wrong too. By the time you get to the gospel of John, this idea of imminent end times, having failed, was quietly dropped. (Paul was wrong about Adam too, since he knew nothing of evolution – but that’s another discussion).
    What it comes down to is that we have to believe what Keating believes or suffer trillions of years of eternal torment, though we live here but a handful of decades. If this vicious and evil god is also all-knowing, and knows our fate in advance and yet allows us to be born and end up in Hell, then the evil is piled on higher and deeper, till you’ve invented the worst, most monstrous evil the human mind has ever conceived of. And we’re supposed to worship this evil! Better to burn in moral superiority. Gen 3:22 says that like the gods, we know what good and evil are, and Yahweh as described by Christians who insist on eternal torment is as evil as you can get. However it’s all bogus – there are four words in the bible (Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus) all translated to the pagan word “Hell” and none of which are Hell as the Church insisted that we think of it. Look up those words.
    When you are asked, “Are you saved.” The answer is, “From what?” When they tell you “Hell” ask them which one. And if you do somehow manage to believe, say and do the right things in order to be “saved,” how can you be happy knowing there are billions of people suffering eternal torment? How could any decent, compassionate human being be happy in heaven knowing that? If the answer is that the tear will be wiped dry and we won’t know – then understand that means you are a zombie. The prayer says, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s Yahweh’s will, not ours. We’ll have to be zombies if we are to be happy, (aside from the despicable few who relish the thought of others suffering for eternity for failing to believe what they believe), and that won’t be who we are now – so who cares? Whoever that zombie is, it won’t be us, because most of us are caring and compassionate and we would never do to other humans what we worship Yahweh for doing. It’s sick, and it’s time to call it out, for the outrageous lie that it is.

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