Archives For June 2014

On the Broad and the Narrow Senses of “Salvation”: A Brief Biblical Review

“God crowns in us the gifts of His own mercy; but on condition that we walk with perseverance in that grace which in the first instance we received.” –St. Augustine in Tractates on the Gospel of John

Since the times of the Protestant Reformation, there has been a considerable amount of public uncertainty about the means by which a Christian arrives at a state of “salvation.” In this post I will attempt to clarify the broad and the narrow senses of salvation as they are understood by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Narrow Sense of Salvation: Agreement between Catholics and Protestants

Lest anyone be deceived, the Roman Catholic Church does not teach (and has never taught) that a person can achieve salvation through his or her own merits. The entirety of the merits of salvation belong to Jesus Christ. According to the narrow sense of scriptural salvation, we appropriate our justification before God by faith through grace. Sometimes, we refer to this step of salvation as the “first justification” or the entrance into a “state of grace.” Let’s examine a few biblical verses that speak of this narrow sense of salvation:

  • Romans 4:5– “To one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.”
  • John 3:16– “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
  • Ephesians 2:8– “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

These examples make it evidently clear that–in at least some sense–Jesus saves us through the gift of faith. Catholics affirm the validity of these verses, and they accept that they are saved, in this sense, through faith in Christ.

The Broad Sense of Salvation: The Source of Some Disagreement

However, during the Reformation Era, a controversy arose about a second set of passages that seems to refer to another sense of salvation. This sort of salvation commonly bears the name “sanctification,” “holiness,” or “second justification.” According to these verses, the believer must actually become holy in order to definitively enter into God’s kingdom. For this reason, Catholics do not typically acknowledge that they are saved by faith “alone.” Let’s take a look at some of these instances:

  • Hebrews 12:13-15– “Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
  • Romans 8:13– “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
  • Galatians 6:8-9– “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”

These examples demonstrate that, in some sense, something more than mere faith is required for eternal life with God. The grace given to us by Christ must transform us into His image. No longer content with our sinful past, we call upon Jesus’ Spirit to help us overcome our weaknesses. For most traditional Protestants, this second justification has nothing to do with salvation because their salvation is by faith alone, not by actually becoming holy. (Some Protestants may acknowledge that sanctification does naturally flow from justification, which is true for Catholics as well, but most Protestants do not accept the idea that sanctification is salvation in any sense.) For all Roman Catholics, this broader sense of salvation is crucial to spending eternity with God, as Jesus warns us that only those disciples who follow his commandments truly love Him. For Catholics, obedience is a requisite. The author of Hebrews writes, “Although [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). To be truly obedient, we conform our lives to His life through love. As St. Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). When all is said and done, God will judge us by our love, for, without love, faith means nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).

I hope that this post has been helpful. May God bless you and may He bring unity between Catholics and Protestants.

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis

On the U.S. Constitution and Christianity

In light of the recent television advertisements by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (http://ffrf.org/), I’d like to dedicate a post to the topic of the U.S. Constitution and Christianity. While I am not well trained in the area of American politics, I do have some comments worth sharing.

  1. It is true that the U.S. Constitution does not include the word God. Additionally, unlike the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution does not mention a Creator. HOWEVER (and this is a big however), the document does make explicit reference to Christianity on one occasion and to a religious mindset on another occasion. Let’s examine the evidence… Just before the Founding Fathers sign the Constitution, the text reads, “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth” (my emphasis). The Lord to which the writers refer is Jesus Christ. Now, there are some who might claim that the phrase “Year of Our Lord” or “A.D.” is an empty tradition of dating to be used for the purpose of common consensus. These people are incorrect. Since the writers of the Constitution included the second referent to the number of years from the Declaration of Independence, it is evident that they purposefully chose both. One only needs to keep in mind that the French, at the time of their nearly contemporaneous revolution, specifically opted to redo their dating system to come to see that the U.S. situation is different from that of the French, which had more secular(izing) implications.
  2. As far as the more general religious/theistic mindset is concerned, let’s take a look at another piece of evidence. The Founding Fathers state, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America” (my emphasis). The word blessing has religious connotations and denotations. When this specific case is taken in context, these tendencies are even more prevalent. After all, the Declaration of Independence affirms that our liberty is a gift from the Creator. The purpose of the government is to secure that which God has given to us. 

With these pieces of data in mind, I’d like to offer two simple reflections:

  • Let us not be deceived by people from atheistic organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation who overemphasize and/or de-contextualize the non-establishment clause of the Bill of Rights. It is very clear that we are not to have an official state religion (as in England), but it is equally very clear that Christianity is the modus operandi of the Founding Fathers and of the U.S. Constitution itself. Far from a document that speaks of freedom from religion, it is a document that support freedom for religion, even in the public arena. The U.S. government should never be Catholic or Anglican or Methodist, but it should represent a nation of “Our Lord.” 
  • We need to have a serious discussion about the ability of our judges to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. Currently, there are non-Christian justices on the Supreme Court. In my opinion we must either remove the mention of “Our Lord” from the Constitution or only select Christian justices who will be able to interpret the document in a way that is true to its original form and to their consciences. 

I hope that this post has been helpful.

May God bless you and our beautiful nation!

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis