How are We Saved?JEFFREY MIRUS
How are we saved? The best way to know is to look at the teaching of the Church, which Christ instituted to safeguard the doctrine that He gave to the apostles, and which was completed through the revelation of the Holy Spirit to the apostles after Jesus’ ascension. We cannot pick and choose what we believe about faith and salvation.
However, it is also easy to see that a mere intellectual belief in the teachings of Jesus does not sufficiently express the meaning of His words in Mark 1:15. When Jesus tells us to “believe the good news of the kingdom of God,” something more is implied. To believe the good news means to believe that salvation has indeed arrived for men--that through Jesus we are rescued from sin and death and made adopted children of God. Christ promised His followers that they would not die forever, but that He would raise them up on the last day. Belief that He spoke truly, i.e., trust in His promises, is also called Hope. This, then, is the second of the theological virtues, the second aspect of the belief in the good news.
But there is still something missing. The good news of the kingdom, as preached by Jesus, also includes the moral law, summed up in the law of charity. If we truly believe the good news, we must have charity, or love: the third theological virtue. Thus Jesus says in Mt 22:37ff: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two [commandments] the whole law and the prophets depend.” Later, He explains again what this love means (Jn 14:21): “He who keeps my commandments, and observes them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father . . . .” In other words, belief (faith in the narrow sense) is not enough. Hope is not enough. In order to receive the Father’s favor, we must love, and this includes keeping the commandments. As James says (Ja 2:26), “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
In sum: How are we saved? Not by faith alone, but by grace alone, as I believe Fr. Most has said. This grace it is that makes us participate in the very nature of God himself, so that we become his adopted children. In other words, this adoption, and it alone, is what justifies. But to avoid being disinherited, as it were, we must act as sons, and so God give to all those in the state of grace the capacities for supernatural acts of faith (again in the restricted sense), hope, and charity. Unless we practice these virtues, we shall lose that sanctifying grace, that divine adoption; we shall no longer be justified. If I refuse to believe what my Father has told me about himself and his plan for me, I certainly cannot participate in that plan. Thus without the gift of Faith, i.e. belief (insofar as I am informed and capable of believing), I cannot be adopted. If I later reject the faith, I shall be disinherited. Also, if I refuse to trust in the promises that my Father has made to me, then too I show myself to be truly unworthy of them. Thus if I refuse or reject the gift of Hope, I cannot be a son of God. Finally, if I do not act in a way proper to a child of God, if I do not will in conformity to and and in response to the divine will of my Father, I cannot retain my adoption. That is, if I reject the gift of Charity, which as we have seen involves the keeping of the moral law, I cannot be saved.
If you look carefully at the above, you will find that the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity, correspond perfectly to the three aspects of Pauline faith. And this is not at all surprising, because St. Paul, as has the Catholic Church for 19 centuries after him, read the Gospels as an elucidation of that first teaching of Christ. For Paul, faith is our response to the original mandate to believe the good news of the kingdom of God, which, as we have seen, includes all three aspects which Paul explains in his epistles.
Grace comes first. Faith necessarily accompanies it. Faith shows itself under the three aspects of theological faith, hope, and charity. This is the pure teaching of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom of
Mirus, Jeffery A. “How are We Saved?” Trinity Communications (February 14, 1999).
Published with permission of Jeffery A. Mirus and Trinity Communications.
Jeffrey A. Mirus received a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Princeton University in 1973. In 1977, Mirus collaborated with Warren H. Carroll in founding Christendom College. Jeff Mirus served as a professor, founded the apologetics program, was the first Director of Academic Affairs, made Faith & Reason the College’s journal and founded and directed Christendom Press. He also co-authored the apologetics text Reasons for Hope and authored The Divine Courtship (Franciscan Herald Press). Jeffrey Mirus now spends a majority of his time managing Trinity Communications and developing the CatholicCulture.org website.
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