FGO by Brother Jason Rhoad:
Chances are, you have been asked that question at some point in your life. If not, chances are real good that you will be asked. But the real question is: Do you have a good answer to the question? Typically, the questioner has a somewhat different view of salvation as compared to what the Catholic Church as always taught. Usually what they really mean, is “don’t you wish you had an absolute assurance of salvation?
As with most Protestant teachings, we have to be careful not to paint with too broad of a brush. There is quite a range of views about salvation out there. That in itself is a bit telling. Often times in my discussions with people, the notion that all Christians agree on the essentials comes up. I usually respond with something like this. “Do you consider salvation an essential?” I then proceed to point out that there is terrible disagreement among Christians on the topic of salvation. What do we have to do to get it? Can we lose it once we have it? Is faith alone all that is required? Does baptism have anything to do with it? As you might suspect, there are as many answers to these questions as there are denominations. I mention all this just to point out that this topic is not unlike any number of others that divide Christians. But I want to focus on a particular viewpoint on salvation that is quite popular in this part of the country. That is, Once Saved Always Saved.
Two major pillars of the Protestant Reformation are Sola Scriptura (The Bible Alone is the sole rule of faith) and Sola Fide (Salvation is by faith alone). It is an offshoot of this second pillar that we will examine here. According to the OSAS teaching, once a person accepts Christ as their personal Lord and savior, they then have an absolute assurance that when they die, they will go to heaven. They may well lead a good and holy life after accepting Christ, but it is not a condition for salvation. Indeed nothing they do, no sin they commit, can ever undo their salvation, even if they want it to. The thinking goes like this: There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, therefore there is nothing we can do to lose it. That sounds reasonable enough, until we take a closer look.
We would agree that there is nothing we can do to merit salvation. We are saved by God’s grace, which is a free, unmerited gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. There is no criteria like, if you do this many good deeds, etc. you go to heaven. Only Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross and the grace that flows from it is enough to be able to reconcile man to God. But it in no way follows that once we receive an unmerited gift that we have to keep that gift forever. Our free will is still intact and we can choose to do any number of things with a gift given to us. We can give it back, misplace it, destroy it, give it to someone else, take it back to the store, etc. We can even forfeit something we are given by later displeasing the one who gave it. For instance, when someone has been given a special position but is later stripped of the position due to mismanagement.
What about when we turn to scripture? We find there Adam and Eve, who received God’s grace as unmerited as any of us. But they most definitely did do something to demerit that grace. Through their disobedience, they lost the grace they had been given. So while it sounds nice to say that since we did nothing to get it we can do nothing to lose it, it simply does not hold up scrutiny.
Elsewhere in scripture, there is the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke chapter 15. The Prodigal Son was in his father’s house, and the father in the parable is representative of God the Father. Then, the Prodigal Son leaves his father’s house and goes and lives a sinful life. In the end, though, he repents and returns to his father. After he comes back, the father says this of him in verse 24: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
To be dead is to be unsaved, and to be alive is to be saved. Notice very carefully, though, that the father says the son is alive “again.” In other words, the son was alive, or saved, when he was in his father’s house at the beginning of the parable; was “dead,” or unsaved, when he left his father’s house and lived in sin; then was alive again, saved again, when he repented and returned to his father’s house. Alive, dead, alive again. Saved, unsaved, saved again.
These are merely two of many examples from scripture that point out the fallacy of OSAS. The argument can be furthered via practical example. Take for instance, someone who professes Christ as his savior at age 14. For ten years, lives an exemplary Christian life. He then gets married and starts a family. Eventually though, he begins to grow lukewarm. He succumbs to temptation and cheats on his wife. He stops going to church and eventually comes to believe that God doesn’t even exist. Does a decision he made at one point in his youth trump every other decision he ever makes? A typical response to this is that the person was never really saved in the 1st place. To which I answer, what kind of assurance is that? He thought he was. What if he’d have died during the 10 year period following his salvation experience before falling away? If he was never really saved, would he have gone to hell, even though he thought he was saved?
I once asked a Baptist friend of mine, are there people who think they are saved but are really not? He said yes. I said, are you one of those people? Oh no, he said, I know I’m saved. See a problem here?
So what does the Church teach concerning salvation? Simply put, if we persevere to the end, and die in a state of grace, we will go to heaven. If we die in a state of mortal sin, we will go to hell. And we leave the judging to Christ. We do not judge ourselves. Paul puts it best in 1 Cor 4:4, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not there justified. It is the Lord who judges me. In 1 Cor 9:27, Paul admits that even he could fall away. “I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
I have heard and read of many occasions where Catholics were talked into leaving their faith because the Church does not teach an absolute assurance of salvation. I can certainly sympathize. I wish the Protestant doctrine of once saved always saved were true. But unfortunately, it simply isn’t. That doesn’t mean that we are to go around terrified of whether or not we will get to heaven. Indeed we can be assured that if we remain in God’s grace, He will be true to His promises. Furthermore, Christ gave us the sacraments, particularly reconciliation, to impart in a visible and real way, His grace upon us. But as scripture, practicality, and the constant 2000 year authoritative teaching of the Church informs us, more is asked of us than a one time acceptance of Christ. So as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."