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Salvation

Salvation

In order to help explain the Anglican, and thus historic Catholic, position on salvation, the process by which we are brought into communion with God, I think it is important to clarify a couple of the terms that we frequently use but are not always distinguished as they should:

Justification is the initial act by which God in His love and mercy makes us the children of God and inserts us into the Life of the Holy Trinity. Justification is the beginning of the process that ultimately leads to our sanctification and union with God. It is the act of God’s grace that unites us to the Incarnation, Passion and Glorification of Jesus Christ and confers upon us divine sonship. But it is only the first and initially necessary stage or phase of what we usually call ‘salvation.’ We are justified, made righteous before God, by the grace and merits of Our Lord: we are justified by grace apart from the works of the Law, as Saint Paul declares. We are justified by grace through the gift of faith. But beyond justification comes the Christian life of holiness and transformation, which is usually called sanctification. In sanctification God calls us to conform our lives to His and to grow in faith, hope and love through worship, prayer, repentance and good works pleasing to God. At the end of the process of justification and sanctification is ‘salvation.’ Yes, it is all one great mystery, the sweep of God’s love and our response to it, but it is helpful to distinguish these realities. They are distinguished intellectually but never separated.

Salvation is the final and ultimate state to which mankind is called, the goal and purpose for which Our Blessed Lord came to redeem and transform us. Strictly speaking we enter the state of salvation, the ultimate consummation of our union with Christ and our perfect transformation into the Likeness of God, upon death and resurrection. Salvation, which comes from the Latin word meaning health or fullness, is really nothing less than our becoming by grace what God is by nature – it is theosis, or divinisation, whereby we are conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ and made like unto Him, body and soul, in glory. Once we are justified by grace, God begins to draw us more and more into His Image and Likeness, that we may go from strength to strength and glory to glory in the life of grace. We become Christ-like, as Our Lord reproduces His life in us. ‘Beloved, now are we the children of God, and so we are; we do not yet know what we shall be like, but we know that when we see Him, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ (I St John 3.1-3). In common speech we often use the term ‘salvation’ to describe the way by which God first unites us to Himself by His grace; but in truth, that is but one aspect of the mystery of salvation, the initial aspect called justification. In heaven, we are finally ‘saved,’ brought to our eschatological fulfillment in Christ.

‘Baptism doth now save us’ (I St Peter 3.21). Baptism is the formal and instrumental cause of our justification, the grace of justification, because it implants the Life of God in us. It is sola gratia, pure grace. Some modern evangelicals actually assert there is another kind of Baptism other than ‘Baptism with water’, but the New Testament and the ancient Catholic Church know only ‘one Baptism for the remission of sins,’ and that is the Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost, the Sacrament of Christian Baptism.

Baptism is God’s Act upon us to make us the children of God, not our act towards God. But Baptism, an objective gift which confers the gift of faith, requires the subjective response of our hearts and souls in order for it to be effective and to bear fruit in our lives. The grace of Baptism, without the exercise of personal faith after the grace is given, lies dormant in the soul. The sacraments are not magic, and they require our personal correspondence and cooperation in order for the grace given in them to produce in us what God intends. But Baptism assures us that the grace of justification is not something we engender or create through our own personal faith or effort – we cannot justify ourselves, even through our own subjective act of faith or exercise of the will. Our justification requires God to do something to us and for us and in us that we cannot do for ourselves. That gift is grace, and grace, justifying grace, is given in Baptism.

In Baptism we are marked with an indelible sacramental character and signed and sealed with the Holy Ghost. But God will not force us to be saved, even with the grace of Baptism, and therefore we must cooperate with our justification to grow into sanctification, the process in which we live out the grace of our Baptism in holiness and virtue. If we fail to respond generously to the grace of our Baptism in faith, hope and love, we cannot obtain that eternal life for which Baptism is given. Many are called, but few are chosen. Baptism does not automatically bring a person to the final state of salvation; it guarantees the grace of regeneration and the gift of eternal life, but it does not confer grace in such a way that one cannot lose one’s state of grace. A person is not guaranteed salvation simply because he is baptised, but Our Lord tells us clearly in the New Testament that we must be baptised for salvation.

Alternatively, however, we are not ultimately saved by faith alone, sola fide. The Bible itself rejects the doctrine of sola fide. Article XI of the Articles of Religion uses the term ‘faith only’ in sixteenth-century fashion but does not specifically explain what is meant by it or give it dogmatic authority; it leaves the interpretation of the phrase to the Creeds and Liturgy of the Church. The semantic phrase can be understood in the orthodox Pauline sense of intending to emphasise that it is Faith and not the ceremonial Law of the Old Testament that justifies (although it is essential to point out that St Paul never uses the controverted phrase at all), but the phrase is not true in the later confessional reformational sense which separates Faith from virtuous action. We see from Scripture that it is grace through faith that makes us righteous before God, and justification is both infused and imputed. God does what He declares. He both infuses our souls with divine grace in Baptism and the sacramental order and also declares us righteous, vindicates us from sin and death and clothes us with Christ’s righteousness, for the sake of the merits of Our Lord. But faith must be alive, that is, active in love, for it to justify.

‘You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead (St James 2.24, 26). The New Testament never divorces faith from the other theological virtues. We are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, but we are also justified, not by circumcision, but ‘by faith working in love’ (Galatians 5.6). We are justified by faith which acts in love and hope, which faith is given expression in good works, a living faith. A mere intellectual assent to the proposition of belief or a mere emotive or psychological trusting in God in one’s heart, apart from the outward and objective action of faith in love, do not justify before God. ‘And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing’ (I Corinthians 13.2). Faith is therefore not in the New Testament solely a subjective or individual response to God in one’s own heart and life, but it is God Himself believing and trusting in us and through us in a objective supernatural manner. It is Christ’s perfect Faith in His Father which is both imputed and infused into us at Baptism. In Baptism and the Filial Faith thus conferred, we ‘put on Christ’ and become the sons of God (Galatians 3.26-27).

To summarise from a favourite text what I have in a very meagre way tried to express:

‘Eternal salvation is promised to mankind only through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and upon condition of obedience to the teaching of the Gospel, which requires Faith, Hope and Charity, and the due observance of the ordinances of the Orthodox and Catholic Religion. Faith is a virtue infused by God, whereby man accepts, and believes without doubting, whatever God has revealed in the Church concerning true Religion. Hope is a virtue infused by God, and following upon Faith; by it man puts his entire trust and confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, through Jesus Christ, and looks for the fulfilment of the divine promises made to those who obey the Gospel. Charity is a virtue infused by God, and likewise consequent upon Faith, whereby man, loving God above all things for His own sake, and his neighbour as himself for God’s sake, yields up his will to a joyful obedience to the revealed will of God in the Church.’

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