I’ve been asked how Catholics are saved, and it struck me as an odd question. It’s not like Catholics are saved differently from anyone else. I’m pretty sure the real question is how do Catholics believe we are saved. Let’s take a look, and let’s compare it to mainline Protestantism’s salvation theology.
First, let’s talk about two words: “saved” and “alone”. “Saved” means that a person will be allowed into heaven. Today we won’t go so deep as to separate “justified” from “sanctified” and all that. Let’s keep it simple.
“Alone” is more complicated. Take this sentence for example:
You are justified (saved) by faith alone.
Catholics take the word “alone” to be an adverb that modifies “justified”. This means that we are only justified by faith. In other words, without faith, a person cannot be justified (or saved).
Some Protestants take the word “alone” to be an adjective that modified “faith”. This means that only faith can justify.
See the difference? Catholics say faith is required, but not exclusively required. We believe other things are also required. Protestants say faith is required and nothing else is required.
Here’s the deal, all Christians believe that all people are saved by Jesus Christ alone (not Mary, or anyone else). Without Christ, no one can be saved, and because of him anyone can be saved. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
If there were no Jesus Christ, faith alone could not save us. We need Jesus.
How does Christ save us? Through grace. His death and resurrection released saving grace necessary for our salvation.
If there were no grace, faith alone could not save us. We need Jesus AND grace.
How do we “get” this grace? We are all given grace, enough grace to have faith. Faith allows us to enter more deeply into Christ’s grace. Grace makes faith possible.
So, we are saved by Jesus, grace, AND faith.
What’s the result of faith? Good works. All Christians that I know agree that true faith results in good works (like love, forgiveness, etc. Not “works of the law” like obeying rules). But are works part of being saved? That’s the big question!
Non-Catholics say works are merely a side-effect of faith and we’re saved by faith alone (sola fide). They say if you have real faith, works will follow. The faith saves, not the works. So, as James says, “faith without works is dead”.
Can’t the same argument be made of faith? Without grace, faith is dead. Also, without Jesus, grace is dead. Yet we all agree that faith is required for salvation. If faith is required, then works must be, too.
Catholics say that the works are part of our salvation. Without the works, we don’t have valid faith, without that faith, we must not have received and acted upon grace and therefore we haven’t accepted Christ. In other words, “faith without works is dead”. Sound familiar?
If “alone” means “only faith” then, true, works aren’t necessary; but then neither are Jesus or grace. Which is ridiculous. The catholic position of “alone” meaning “required” fits perfectly because we can honestly say Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, and works alone.