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A Catholic understanding of how grace saves

July 9, 2009

I have posted this in the past, but I think it is a good reminder of Catholic unity while we read through the new encyclical and deal with the inevitable disagreement over its meaning and implications for Catholic social life.

Colossians 1:15-24 contains what may appropriately be called not only one of Paul’s most profound and exalted Christological and ecclesiological teachings, but also one of his most illuminating insights on salvation. The passage forms, in my opinion, a cohesive whole, progressing from the supremacy and majesty of Christ (1:15), to his Lordship over creation as its Source and Maker (1:16-17), to His headship over His body on earth (1:18), to the specific members of the body (in this case, the Colossians) and their need to presevere in faith (1:21-23), to a single representative of the faith (Paul) who demonstrates the truest way of salvation: suffering with and in Christ (1:24). Using this hymn from Colossians as an outline, here is a biblical meditation on how Catholics understanding their salvation:

Jesus Christ, the image and manifestation of God (cf. Wis 7:26; John 1:1), is the cause of the cosmos and is King and Lord over it (cf. Mic 5:1-2; Is 9:6; Phil 2:9-11; Rev 17:14). He is the pre-existent One (cf. Prv 8:22), the Wisdom and operative hand of the invisible God, revealing His very nature and character to humanity (cf. Gen 1:1; Jn 1:1; Ps 33:6; Wis 7:22; Jn 14:8-11). He is before all things, with God from eternity (cf. Sir 34:3-5), the ultimate goal of the created order–all is ordered toward him alone. Even the highest and most splendid part of creation is nothing compared to his glory and power, for it is only by his word that it subsists and has being (John 1:2-3; Acts 17:28; Heb 2:10-11).

Chirst is the head of his Church, the guarantor of redemption and truth (cf. 1 Tim 3:15). He is the source of its life and he exercises complete dominion over it (cf. Acts 3:14; Wis 9:1-2), yet the Church is united to him and has its being in him so that his fullness dwells within it. (cf. Eph 1:22-23; Acts 9:4-5). He has purchased his people with his own blood and flesh (Heb 2:14-15; 1 Pt 1:18-19), through his own body he is both sacrifice and high priest, offering eternal mediation on their behalf (1 Tim 2:4-5; Heb 2:17-18, 6:19-20). Christ has tasted the bitterest of sufferings, descending like a slave (Phil 2:7-8) into the hell of hopelessness only to preach to the dead so as to take them up with him when he was to be raised (1 Pt 3:18-22). Through his Resurrection as firstborn from the dead, the Church’s members comprise a new humanity that is destined to rise with and in him (cf. 1 Cor 15:20; Acts 26:23). Christ is pre-eminent in creation and life, holding primacy over all things (cf. Sir 24:6)! Now, in the Church, his redemption fills all in all, the means for which humanity may be reconciled to God.

The Christian’s old sinful ways are crucified and put to death. The Christian now is reconciled to God (Rom 8:5-11; 1 Cor 6:9-11; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Heb 12:26), to be offered in grace as a pure sacrifice in imitation of the Master (Rom 12:1; 1 Pt 2:22-25). The Christian is to be afflicted, becoming like Christ in death (Phil 3:10) so that Christ may be manifested in the flesh (2 Cor 4:10-11) and so that the Christian may be glorified (Rom 8:17). While the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is all sufficient for forgiveness and redemption (Heb 7:27, 9:12-26), the suffering of the Christian is the actualization and application of Christ’s merit (Acts 14:22; 1 Thes 3:3-7).

The Christian must persevere, remaining unwavering in his conviction in order to obtain the salvation that is promised (Hab 2:4; Mark 13:13; Heb 10:36; Rom 11:22-23). Ultimately, the Christian must conform to Christ, participating in his sufferings in order to fully put to death the sins of the flesh and to live by the Spirit and inherit that which he is now heir to (cf. Rom 8:12-17; 2 Cor 1:5-7; Mt 5:11-12, 16:24). It is by the Holy Spirit that the Christian’s sufferings are meaningful and redemptive (1 Cor 12:13-26), and through the same Spirit that the Christian is made a child of God (Rom 8:14-17).

The Christian is not saved by faith alone (Jas 2:14-26), but by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9) through a faith that is not mere belief, but through a faith that is completed by obedience (Rom 1:5, 16:26) and love (Gal 5:6), that is, by keeping the commandments of the Lord (Jn 15:6-10; Gal 5:17-21) and working out salvation in acts of charity and goodwill (Mt 25:31-46; Phil 2:12-13). Indeed, faith is never without works.

Salvation is only by Jesus the Lord, only through a commitment to faith by means of grace, and only through suffering in conformity with he who conquers death and desires to exult humanity within himself. To imitate Christ is to believe in the plan of God, to obey the plan of God and to act out the plan of God. To reject any aspect of this imitation as necessary for salvation is to reject the very Word that saves.

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5 Comments
  1. jonathanjones02 permalink
    July 9, 2009 5:41 pm

    MJ:

    I remember this from a couple of years ago. It’s a very good summation. Reading in the context of the Catechism, it’s amazing how “Catholic” the Bible is!

  2. Jeff Douglas permalink
    July 11, 2009 4:07 pm

    Greetings! I just found your blog. I’m an evangelical catholic, too!

    This summary on the Catholic understanding of how grace saves is great up to a point. You should have stopped at “he sacrifice of Christ on the cross is all sufficient for forgiveness and redemption.” After that, you give a string of “the Christian must…”s.

    It does not follow that “the Christian must…” when “the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is sufficient for forgiveness and redemption.”

    It does not follow that “the Christian must…” when “The Christian’s old sinful ways are crucified and put to death.”

    It does not follow that “the Christian must…” when “The Christian now is reconciled to God.”

    The Good News (the evangelion) is “The Christian’s old sinful ways are crucified and put to death. The Christian now is reconciled to God.” Full stop.

    “the suffering of the Christian is the actualization and application of Christ’s merit”? Yea, it doesn’t say that in Acts and 1 Thesselonians.

    • MJAndrew permalink
      July 14, 2009 7:30 pm

      Jeff,

      Thanks for finding our blog and for your comment. I think the Bible is expressly clear on the Christian “musts” (and I referred to those passages throughout my post). Reconciliation and salvation are certainly not coextensive, as St. Paul points out numerous times. Perhaps you could comment on the several passages from which I have drawn to support the Catholic understanding of how grace saves.

  3. Cody permalink
    July 18, 2009 4:17 am

    Great outline.

    I’m having trouble understanding the strictly reformation era product that is Once Saved Always Saved. It’s not a rational conclusion of the Gospel, it imparts directly with human experience, with the experience of the witness of the conversion of the Apostles, and even those after.

    When we receive the Sacrament of Baptism, we are cleansed from all sin through the Salvation given us through Christ, the cleansing of Original Sin, and all the extras … and I will completely agree that God is the one who supply’s the Grace to actualize someone receiving Baptism … it’s all about Grace.

    If we were talking about angels, I would completely accept this notion. Angels were created, out of time, and then chose their fate. True they need no Salvation, however they were given free will whether to choose God or not. As humans on the earth, existing in time, what more is accepting the grace and receiving Salvation, but a willful choice to follow God?

    Unlike angels however, we do in fact live in time! At the moment of Baptism we are perfectly and absolutely saved, no one argues that point (regardless of the state before Baptism). After wards however, I see no logical reason why a human being could not turn and willfully choose to go against God. We do that every time we sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Every moment on this earth we are commanded to ‘resist our opponent the Devil’, however if we should happen to fall, and sin, as we ALL do … we know that in true repentance of sins, Jesus Christ in his infinite-at-the-right-hand-pleading mercy will redeem us of the sins that we committed.

    This is in perfect keeping with the Old Testament Sacrifices, of which the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the supreme example. For Christ’s Sacrifice is perfect and complete, it applies not just to one person, but to all humanity, existing for all time, willfully given and dispensed by the Infinite Mercy for all generations. However, it is nearly blasphemous to play Jesus as such a patsy as ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ seems to imply. I admit that I find it hard that anyone with a true conversion experience would renounce Christ … but I cannot admit the possibility! I mean “patsy”, in that you cannot tell me that a post-“Saved” Christian, who falls into sin, does not need to once again implore the Divine Mercy for His saving grace, to repent of your sins and be cleansed again. We live in time, visibly, and invisibly, for the future glory of eternity!

  4. donnieshortpants permalink
    October 23, 2009 8:54 pm

    It sounds a great deal like works righteousness to me. Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone. If you add works, what you are saying is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient.

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