In my last post I spoke to one of the primary differences in the way Catholics and Protestants tend to view salvation. Protestants often see salvation as primarily a one time, instantaneous event that occurs when a believer comes to faith in Christ and are saved. For Catholics, we tend to view salvation as a process. We see in Sacred Scripture that the apostles speak of salvation as not only a past event, but also as an ongoing and future event. Keep in mind that the apostles are writing to already established communities of believers. These people have already come to Christ and been regenerated (born-again), yet salvation is not always presented to them as being in the past tense.
We do see salvation sometimes referred to in the past tense. Here are some examples of salvation being viewed as a past event:
Romans 8:24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
Ephesians 2:5-8 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
2 Timothy 1:8-9 Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,
Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit
However, we also see salvation referred to as a present, on-going process:
1 Corinthians 15:1-2 Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.
2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.
1 Peter 1:8-9 Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
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;
The last verse in particular is one I recommend to Catholics to commit to memory. Paul had previously visited Philippi as recorded beginning in Acts Chapter 16. And to this already established community of believers he writes back to them to “work out your own salvation” with fear and trembling. He seems to have no understanding that their salvation is a past event that is a done deal. As Catholics we do not view this as being a type of servile fear, whereby we fear God’s punishment. Rather it is a filial fear – that of a child not wanting to disappoint their loving Father.
We also see in Sacred Scripture salvation being spoken of as a future event in the life of believers. Here are some examples of that:
Acts 15:10-11 Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
Romans 5:9-10 Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Romans 13:11 Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;
Matthew 10:22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
When addressed from the Protestant perspective, these verses are often seen to refer to our sanctification, not our justification. I think the main point is they speak to our salvation. Keep in mind that Catholics do not view justification and sanctification as two separate things and are by necessity intertwined. Sanctification is not a by-product of salvation in the Catholic view, nor is it optional. It’s at the very heart of what it means to be saved – to become perfected in charity and holiness as is Christ. We become justified in God’s eyes not because Christ “covers” us but rather because Christ dwells within us and by the power of the Holy Spirit is conforming us to his image.
In my next post we’ll see how Sacred Scripture shows us salvation working as a process in the life of one person – the patriarch Abraham.