The only way
This is No. 23 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
I mentioned yesterday that some Catholics accuse ex-Catholics like me of turning away from the Church because we find it too hard. That could be a pride thing, like I said, but I wonder if perhaps it’s also a reticence to consider valid the evangelical position of salvation by faith alone because it sounds too easy.
After a lifetime of believing that salvation is by faith plus works, rendering the path to Heaven more like a tower …the more works you stacked, the higher you got, and one slip-up could send it all tumbling…the notion that faith in Christ alone seals us for eternity is so radical to the Catholic mindset as to appear ludicrous. I’m pretty sure that’s what I thought myself at first.
What brought me around to believing it was doing something I had never done before – reading what God had to say about it.
Romans 4:4-5 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
That is radical, isn’t it? The ungodly are justified not by working but by faith. The book of Romans is the apostle Paul’s doctrinal dissertation, if you will, on salvation by faith alone. He begins by establishing that no one is righteous before God on their own merits. But despair not, because:
Romans 3:22-24 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ [is] for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
As a gift. Gifts are never earned nor purchased. Only received. Could it really be that easy? I didn’t recall ever hearing these verses taught as a Catholic.
But let’s go back a little to before Paul was converted from a murderous persecutor of Christians to their greatest apologist. Back to the Word himself.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
John 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,”
See a pattern here?
This one in Ephesians I was certain I had never heard nor seen before.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Nor this one in Titus (frankly, I had never even heard of these books).
Titus 3:4-6 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
Salvation is a free gift by grace through faith. Free to us but costly to Christ. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”1 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”2
Entering the ranks of the saved is easy. Working out your salvation is hard. What Paul is talking about in Philippians 2:12 is not working for your salvation, but exercising it. Just as those who make the effort to stretch and tone their muscles and strengthen their physical bodies through exercise say they’re “working out,” so too if we want a healthy, fruitful spiritual body we need to practice resistance, run with endurance, and stretch our whole selves to conform to the image of Christ.
That’s a difficult task, but we have a spiritual Trainer who will help us accomplish it. And “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”3 Yet, just as we are not welcomed into God’s family based on our spiritual condition, neither are we cast out of it if we remain a little flabby.
To those who are trusting in their hard work to help merit their salvation I ask, how much is enough? Is it based on quality or quantity, or both? Is there a level you can get to that’s just shy of salvation? Darn…just missed it. Does sincerity count? Can you get an A for effort? How do you reconcile your uncertainty with 1John 5:13? – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
And what do you do with the ungodly and undeserving thief on the cross?
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.“4
There is no shame in taking the easy way if THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.
Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
1 1 John 3:1 2 John 1:12 3 Phil 1:6 4 Luke 23:42-43