Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Justification, Sanctification, and Salvation

This issue is a huge point of divergence between Catholics and Protestants. What I offer here is not so much a full theology of the issue, but just some responses to someone who posed the questions on a simple Facebook post about this article with someone I'm going to call "Dinah".

Dinah: I have a question. Just answer from your catholic faith without asking someone else or looking anything up. I assume you are catholic based on this article. So My hypothetical question is if you were to die today and you were standing before the throne of God, and God were to say "Why should I let you into my Heaven?" What would you say?

Interesting question. As a Catholic, I think I would first reframe the issue because I doubt that He will ask anything. He's not a judge looking to convict us, where we have to defend ourselves; He wants us with Him.
I have a relationship with Him that means He doesn't have to ask; He knows. I won't presume on His mercy, but having embraced Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I wear the indelible mark of His name on my soul through Baptism, and having been justified and cooperating with His Grace over my life to be conformed to His image, my heart will eventually be sanctified perfectly by the Spirit (Scripture tells us, nothing unclean will enter [Heaven], so what resolves that is given the name "Purgatory" (Rev 21:27)). The Father and Son, seeing the Spirit fully animating my soul, will welcome me into the Beatific Vision.

Dinah: The Bible says we can know for certain if we will go to Heaven and that Eternal life is a free gift. For by Grace we are saved through faith in Christ Jesus lest any man can boast. Its not by our works and what we do that we are saved but what Christ alone did on the cross. May I ask what did Jesus say the requirements were to be in Heaven? And this question is open for anyone on this post. I love these discussions of God and truth. And what the Bible says about this.

Okay, I am going to clear up a few things here. It's important to be sure we're using the same language, or dialogue will never work.
When Catholics speak about Grace, we do believe it's a free gift. We don't believe that God only gives it to whomever He wants, as a Calvinist might, so no predestination.
Grace is what gets us into Heaven, but as Catholics, we believe in "infused" grace, not "imputed" grace. There's a difference. Luther was very scrupulous and believed he was such a terrible sinner that he could never enter Heaven except that God would essentially ignore all of his "crap", so long as he believed and accepted God. With his analogy of men being piles of crap, these two concepts of grace would be applied thusly:
Imputed grace would cover up the crap with Jesus' perfection, allow us to sort of "sneak" into Heaven, even though we're still very imperfect.
Infused grace would actually change the crap into something beautiful, a son or daughter of God, by the nature of our union to Christ through our death in Baptism.
For us to enter Heaven, we must be pure (Rev 21:27), but we know that we are not here in this life. Paul tells us, "for all have sinned and fall short of the grace of God" (Rom 3:23). God's good will for us is more than to just cover us with Jesus, but He is powerful enough and loves us enough that He wants to change our lives.

The ever-loving God of Creation has created us with a free will. That's problematic, but He did so because He loves us. Many will say, how can that be loving, if He knows that means we will screw up, but I would answer that love that is not given a choice isn't really love. Love requires a choice, so that it chooses the other instead of itself. Otherwise, it's not love, but forced obedience, which God can't do because it violates His very Nature. So, we have free will to sin or do His will, and Christ's death satisfied the requirements of the covenant between man and God, so that we are no longer "married" (bound) to the old Mosaic Law. This is what Paul, a Jew, is talking about when he says that a man is only bound by the law while he is alive. In a marriage, you're only committed until one or the other dies. After that, you're free to enter into another marriage COVENANT (Rom 7). The Mosaic Law was the previous covenant, which they were obliged to follow, but when Jesus came, He fulfilled the requirements, which was death for the people's sin (Dt 27-28; Rom 6:23), and when we die His death (Rom 6) in baptism (which comes from conversion, and conversion is always a death experience), we also die to the Mosaic covenant and are able to enter into a new covenant, the one of grace, which the Jewish people didn't have, making them unable to accomplish the Law (Rom 7:7-16; 8:3-4; Rom 9:31-33). They were given 613 laws to follow because they couldn't follow the first 10, but they tried to follow the Mosaic Law just as rules, not because they trusted in God's providential care, and believe that God intended the good...because they didn't yet have the grace that was only made available when Jesus broke down the divide between God and man, thus making it available, so that, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you" (Rom 8:11).

However, Paul doesn't say that we just go ahead and behave however we want, as Luther did, so that by calling on Christ's name, we can just enter Heaven, without allowing the Spirit to work in our hearts. This is where the Catholic doctrines of justification, sanctification, and salvation come in. We believe that justification comes from Christ's death on the cross, not anything that we do. However, because we have free will, and nothing unclean will enter Heaven, we still have the option to refuse salvation. Christ died not just for certain people, but "once for all," (Rom 6:10, Heb 7:27, 9:12, so many...on and on). That means, God the Father, knowing His complete plan, or telos, knew what would happen all of the time, each person, regardless of the Son's sacrifice, and yet, He did it anyway. The Son, for His part, being emptied of His Divine power (Phil 2:6-8) likely did not know what each person would choose, but He, too did it anyway. Why? So that each person had the opportunity to be saved. What was required? What was lacking in the sacrifice of Christ that Paul was fulfilling (Col 1:24)? Our free participation in free gift of grace! We have to, of our own free will, allow His Grace to work within us, or "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I, by my works, will show you my faith" (Jas 2:17-18). Luther dropped this book because it didn't fit with his sola fide teaching, which was never the teaching of the Church prior to him. Some allowed him to drop books until he wanted to ditch things like Revelation, but that's where they drew the line.

Catholics, though many who were poorly catechized don't understand this, believe that we are justified by Christ's death and our freewill acceptance of that, by which we receive His Grace, and we are sanctified by again, allowing our free will to work with the Spirit in our souls to make us holy and conform us to the image of Christ, and by doing so, we desire to do good works, which don't save us on their own, but which are a reflection of our sanctification, but which are also a requirement because we, as the Body of Christ, are called to witness, which requires action (there are sentences like these that lead me to believe I've spent too much time reading St. Paul's equally exhausting run-on sentences). Conversion is a death experience, whereby we crucify the old man (or woman; Rom 6:6), and we live with the Spirit in us by Grace, and we then, as part of the Body of Christ, must go out and bring the world to the "obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5, 16:26). The end of conversion is always missionary, so action is required, and good action because only good action comes from God in the Spirit in our bodies. So through the free gift of Grace and the cooperation of our will through sanctification (which would be impossible, but for our acceptance of the gift of Grace), we receive salvation, not by our merits, but in cooperation with Christ, lest any man should boast. We could do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING good apart from Him (Jhn 15:5), so we should boast in Christ (1 Cor 1:3), even though we have to do good in our cooperation WITH Him.

You asked about requirements to be in Heaven? First faith, but cooperation of the free will, doing the will of God.

"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" (Mat 7:21).

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great" (Lk 6:46-49).

Here, I offered to answer any additional questions, but generally felt this wrapped up the conversation. I hope you may also find these answers helpful.

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