Are you saved? The entire biblical story is about that question. But why does it so often surprise Catholics, catching them off guard? And what does it mean to be saved?
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
25 May 2019
Since the entire Bible is about salvation, it’s no surprise that today’s first reading from Acts (15:1-2, 22-29) is about it. Some of the new, Jewish Christians were insisting that one had to be circumcised to be saved. At the first Council at Jerusalem, Peter stands up and definitively rules against that idea. Circumcision is unnecessary for salvation. It’s not required to be Christian. It is by faith in Christ and the grace he offers that we are saved, not by following the Mosaic law of circumcision (see Lev 12:3). Christ himself has fulfilled that law, rendering it obsolete.
Today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation (21:10-14, 22-23), which is really the final chapter in the biblical story, is about the ultimate final reality: the reality of salvation. Here is John’s vision of a future reality: the holy city Jerusalem, the City of God, comes down to earth as a gift. In this city, there is no Temple, for the city itself is the Temple of God, the Temple of the Lord Almighty and the Lamb of God. This indescribably beautiful, ornate city needs no light from the sun or moon, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
John’s vision recorded in the Book of Revelation is not fantasy. It’s not a product of John’s imagination. It’s not a malnourished induced hallucination brought on by exile on the island of Patmos. It’s a future reality.
The Catechism teaches that “At the end of time, [when Christ returns] the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness” (CCC 1042). “Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth.’ It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head ‘all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth’” (CCC 1043). Therefore the visible universe is itself destined to be transformed (1047). “In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, …’” (CCC 1044).
All this is in your timeline. It’s the reality of the final stage of salvation. And it’s all made possible by our Lord Jesus Christ.
On Sundays we affirm in the Nicene Creed the ancient profession of the belief of the Church, that Jesus came down from heaven to suffer and die on the cross for “us men and for our salvation.”
Are You Saved?
But what does it mean to be saved? How does the prospect of salvation shape your attitudes, behavior, and life? The answers might seem obvious, but there’s actually lots of confusion about what it means to be saved.
Have you ever been asked this question from a Protestant: “Are you saved?” Were you caught off guard by it? Perplexed? Catholics often don’t know how to respond to that question. Sometimes, they feel like a deer caught in the headlights. It’s often the case that they’ll say something like, “Well, I’m a good person, and so … I hope to get to heaven.”
Wait a minute. “I’m a good person?” That sounds a lot like thinking we earn our way to heaven. It sounds like, if we act in a good way, then God will let us in. It sounds like we get to heaven by doing something on our own, which is connected to the ancient heresy of Pelagianism.
Well, no. That’s the wrong answer. We are saved by the saving death of Christ and having faith in him. We are saved by his FREE gift of grace. We are saved by grace through faith. St. Paul teaches:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
Now, of course, good works are important and, in a sense, they do merit heaven. But that’s a topic for another post.
I suspect that if we were to listen in on the conversations after Mass, during coffee and donuts at parishes around the nation, most Catholics wouldn’t be talking about “how they’re saved.” Instead, they would be speaking of salvation in terms of “getting to heaven,” or maybe as a kind of escape from hell. Or, more likely—unfortunately—they would be talking about something unrelated to the faith.
I get it. Conversations tend to descend from things above to mundane, earthly things. But Salvation is essential to our faith and our lives. It’s rather strange that we don’t talk about it. That tells us something, something rather frightening, about us, right?
What do we think about salvation? Is salvation only a future reality we should put off until the last moment? Do we see salvation as squeaking into Purgatory by receiving the last sacraments on our death bed, then, after lots and lots of purification (which, oh so thankfully, we know will eventually end), we skate into heaven? Do we think of salvation only in terms of the next life?
What about now? This moment? Is it correct to say, “I am saved”?
The name Jesus itself means “God saves.” If we are in communion with him, if he lives in us and we live in him, we are saved.
There are different ways we can speak about being saved. We can say:
In the past tense: I have been saved. That’s what occurred when you were validly baptized. As 1 Pet 3:21 teaches, baptism now saves you.
In the present tense: I am being saved. Paul reminds us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). The fact is, salvation can be lost. How? By committing mortal sin, which is a rejection of God, and jettisoning sanctifying grace. Salvation, then, is tied to living the moral life in Christ. Contrary to what some of our Protestant brothers and sisters teach—in opposition to biblical revelation—salvation is not an absolute certainly in this life. The “once saved always saved” doctrine is totally false and unbiblical, which is ironic, given that Protestants are generally governed by the doctrine of sola scriptura.
St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). “I have fought the good fight,” meaning, “I have remained in Christ, my life was lived in and through him when I finished the race, I did not reject Christ by rejecting his word and his commandments. I remained faithful to him unto death.”
Jesus himself said:
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. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Mt 7:21-23)
In the future tense: I hope to be saved. Again, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” A race is not over at the start-line. It is not finished until one crosses over the finish line, which represents death. I hope to be saved in that I hope to die in a state of grace, with sanctifying grace in my soul. If I die without it, then heaven is lost, and hell becomes my permanent home.
Which brings us to grace. What is it?
Sometimes people think grace is a self-improvement gift. It makes you into a “better you.” That grace makes people into “better versions of themselves,” like self-empowerment from above.
Well … no. Those ideas don’t get it quite right.
Sanctifying grace is not self-help. It’s not a kind of superfood that gives us a boost. Sanctifying grace is the Holy Trinity indwelling in the soul. It’s literally Christ the King, who makes all things new, living within you through the Holy Spirit. St. Paul said:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
As Jesus says in today’s gospel (Jn 14:23-29): “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Sanctifying grace creates a true change in the soul. It transforms us into a new person in Christ by God’s divine power. It’s about recreation and restoration. It makes salvation a present reality. It’s about living in Christ and Christ living in you. And these are not metaphors. They are reality. The free gift of sanctifying grace brings it about.
Karis, is the Greek word used in the NT for grace, It means “gift.” Sanctifying grace is a free gift from God, made possible by the merits of Jesus Christ.
So how do you receive sanctifying grace? By receiving the sacraments of the Church in faith. Some of the sacraments, such as baptism, confession, and the sacrament of anointing accompanied by confession, communicate sanctifying grace into the soul, other sacraments increase it, provided you receive them in a state of grace.
That makes the sacraments essential.
But they’re not works of magic. They’re not automatic, mechanized celebrations. Your disposition is important, crucial even, when receiving the sacraments. God will not force his grace on people who have no desire for it.
The free gift of grace and its effect on the person teach us something very important. Salvation is now. Living in the kingdom of Christ is supposed to be a present reality. You see, it’s not enough to be forgiven—although it’s important. It’s not enough to be good—although that, too, is important. God has a much greater plan. St. John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 Jn 3:1).
God’s plan is for us to become and remain his adopted children in his Son. We are destined to be heirs of the heavenly kingdom and to live out our lives here on earth in Christ and in his kingdom.
Everything hinges on Christ and his free gift of sanctifying grace, which brings us into communion with him. For apart from him, “you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. (Jn 15:4-6)
The good news of the gospel is that Christ died so that you could be grafted into him. He gave his life out of love for you. He sacrificed himself so that you could receive the gift of sanctifying grace. His love and power are infinite. We can have every confidence in his promises. He died to save you. Right now.
If anyone asks you if you’re saved, the answer should always be a resounding “YES! I’m saved in Jesus!”
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.