Are you saved? How do you know that you are saved?
These are questions that other Christians often ask of Catholics. Many of us have probably had these questions directed at us at one time or another by non-Catholic friends or acquaintances.
How should we answer them?
Our second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us one answer: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Throughout his writings, Saint Paul stresses that salvation comes through faith. If we believe, we will be saved. It is as simple as that.
Yet, we know that there is more to the story. If all we needed to do was believe, then there would be no need for the Bible, no need for the sacraments and no need for the other practices we engage in as Christians. If all we needed to do was believe, Saint Paul could have put his pen down after writing these words and there would be no need for the apostles and their followers to compose the rest of the New Testament.
In fact, the Bible teaches us that we are not only saved by faith, but that there are several other components involved.
Saint Paul himself in his letter to the Ephesians affirms: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8-19).” Not only by faith are we saved, then, but by grace. Saint Paul here is emphasizing that our salvation is a free gift from God. There is nothing we can do to earn our Heavenly Father’s love. Like the love of a parent, it is freely given. Just so, our salvation is by grace, that is, it is offered to us free of charge by an all-loving God.
But that is not all that the Bible has to tell us about salvation. It is certainly a free gift which we must accept in faith. However, we must also respond by our actions. It is not enough to believe, we must also act on that faith and change our lives accordingly. Saint James tells us in his letter, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?...So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2: 14,17).” Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew’s gospel: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven (Mt 7:21).” To make the gift of salvation effective in our lives, we must keep the commandments as Jesus tells the rich young man, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments (Mt 19: 17b).”
Finally, there is still more that the New Testament has to say about salvation. Salvation is, first and foremost, a result of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. The forgiveness of our sins and the sanctification of our souls are a result of the blood Jesus spilled for us. How does that saving work of Christ become applied to us? Through baptism. Therefore, we are saved not only through faith, not only through grace and not only through good works. We are also saved through baptism as Saint Peter teaches us in his first letter: “And baptism, which [Noah’s flood] prefigured, now saves you.”
What has been the point of this tour through the New Testament teaching on salvation? It is that what we believe as Catholics does not come from one verse of the Bible but from the whole Bible. Each passage of the Scriptures needs to be interpreted in light of the rest of the Scriptures. Also, contrary to what many people try to tell us, the teaching of the Catholic Church is solidly founded on the Bible - not just isolated passages from the Bible, but the whole scriptural teaching.
Therefore, if we read a passage from Scripture which appears to contradict the Church’s teaching, there are several possibilities we should keep in mind.
First of all, it could be that we have misunderstood what the meaning of the passage is. The Bible was written several thousands years ago in a language which we do not understand. It is often the case that we, with our twenty-first century mindset, can be confused by it. It is important, then, for us to find a commentary on Scripture or an educated person who can help us understand the passage better.
Secondly, it could be that we have misunderstood what the Church teaches. It is often the case that what we think is Catholic doctrine regarding Mary, divorce and remarriage or any other issue is simply not true. We have either been taught it incorrectly or have never really understood it in the first place. In this case, we can always turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church to help clarify our understanding of what it is the Church actually teaches.
Therefore, if someone were to ask us, “Are you saved?”, we can assure them that we are saved not only through faith, but through grace, through good works and through baptism. Jesus, Saint Paul, Saint James and Saint Peter affirm this clearly in the New Testament. However, our salvation is not yet assured because we have to strive everyday to put into action the gifts of grace we receive through faith. That is why we need not only the Scriptures but the sacraments, the works of mercy, the rosary and all the other helps along the way. That is also why it is so important that we study and understand our faith so that when others challenge us about our beliefs we can have an answer for them just as Jesus had a quick response to Satan’s temptations.