Friday, November 19, 2010

A Discussion on Assurance of Salvation between a Protestant and Catholic

Just a Discussion I moved from the comment section of one of my posts to make it it's own post.

joel in ga said...

Doing research on justification and came across your post. Thanks for such a lucid explanation of the RC view. I am fresh from reading Robert Farrar Capon's Between Noon and Three and note a sharp contrast between his Luther-like view and the RC view.

What comes to mind in particular is that when one's own love or works partly become the source of one's acceptance with God, you will never be quite sure where you stand with God, for you will never know if you have loved enough to be justified. That's not a comforting thought for one to take to one's deathbed. It would seem therefore that Luther's view offers a joyful assurance that it is not available from the RC perspective. Any thoughts?

Deeny said...

(1st Half)
Hi There Joel,
I am not sure what you mean by "when one's own love or works partly become the source of one's acceptance with God" . How are works the "source" of ones acceptance? Works are not the source- God is the source. I believe in God and accept Jesus for my salvation. I have "Faith in Him". I have Faith in what he says and his promises. Works are not the source of that faith, God's grace is. God draws all but not all accept. However faith and grace aren't stagnant. You cannot just verbally or intellectually say you believe because faith is demonstrable. Because of my faith I have works, they go hand in hand are are inseparable. James Chapter 2.
I love this parable by jesus, Luke 7 36-50, because it so clearly shows that faith is inseparable from works. In this passage many works by this woman were sited. No where does it mention that she had faith, believed, or accepted who Jesus was. She didn't make a verbal proclamation. She showed up unannounced at the Pharisee's house and standing behind Jesus she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. those actions, which are works, all showed that she knew who he was, repented and believed. Jesus forgave her sins and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Her faith was demonstrated by her works.

Why won't I be quite sure where I stand with God? I am very sure of where I stand with God. I have absolute faith in God and His plan for salvation and that is most comforting. I don't have to worry about how much "love do I need to show" I just need to show love. I can pray to be more loving with each and every day. The simple point is that I am following God's command to love my neighbor. It is because of my faith that I desire to love my neighbor and God. It is not a matter of quantity but the condition of the heart. What is absolutely clear though is that those who only have a verbal faith but have no works of charity are considered goats by Jesus and will not receive heaven. Jesus is quite clear on the matter in Matthew 25:31-46. Because I have faith in Jesus and I believe his words, I will try to include works of charity (not to be confused with works of the law) into my daily walk with him.

Deeny said...

(2nd Half)
 Now from practical experience, I am a Catholic convert from fundamentalism. I attended churches that taught eternal security for over 20 years in one form or another. In those churches that preached "once saved always saved" they were never truly sure they, or anyone else was truly saved. Here was their problem-- A truly saved person was supposed to have a transformed life and that is true. But here is the problem-- They really didn't have a way of dealing with sin once they were "saved". Problems arose when they fell back into sin or struggled dealing with a sin. In those fundamentalist circles you could only backslide so far till you and every one around you questioned whether you were really "truly saved". So the individual has to get saved over and over again and in some cases re-baptized until it finally sticks.
      Even from the Calvinistic viewpoint a "truly elect person" will persevere to the end. If they don't they weren't "truly saved or one of the elect". How many of us have known strong wonderful Christians who have in the end had a crisis of faith and fallen away. I have heard it said well they weren't "truly saved" then-but to themselves and everyone around them for years believed they were living for the Lord and saved. If they could have a crisis of faith so could I. That is in the back of the minds of most fundamentalist Christians I know, so they really (in practical terms) don't have the assurance that they claim.
      So from a Catholic viewpoint a Christian who is in a state of "saving Grace" is saved meaning heaven. Jesus paid the price for our salvation on the cross a gave us the path to salvation. We recognize Jesus as God and rely on him and his plan for our salvation. Yes our sins are initially wiped clean and we become a new creature in Christ and are transformed. But as we walk with him and stumble in sin we can continue to be forgiven if we repent and are contrite at heart. Future sins are not forgiven in the past automatically like some churches teach. I had a Baptist preacher preach that at the moment you were saved all your past present and future sins were forgiven. Now, in reality, he didn't truly believe this because he also preached that if your sins in the future are too big, well then you weren't actually saved in the first place.
     From a Catholic viewpoint the only way a believing faithful Christian can be denied heaven is to not be in a state of saving grace which means to be in a state of mortal sin. That means to willfully and knowingly commit a grave mortal sin. Most faithful Christians aren't in the habit of committing a mortal sins, and if they do, they are well aware of it. At that point they can continue in that sin which will inevitably separate them from God and God's grace or they can repent with a truly contrite heart and be restored. Once they repent with a truly contrite heart sanctifying grace is restored. So Yes I have total assurance of my salvation/heaven and thankful to God that my past sins are forgiven and that my future sins can be forgiven with repentance and a contrite heart because I know I am bound to stumble.
Ok there were my thoughts on the matter.
Sincerely, Deeny

joel in ga said...

Thanks, Deeny, for your thoughtful reply. What I was aiming at in my question was the dual requirement articulated in the post, that justification is a matter of "faith and love." I took such statements to mean that, in order to be in a state of grace, and specifically, accepted and forgiven by God, one must first show love. If so, the question arises, How do I know if I have showed enough love to be in a state of grace?

Or is any amount of love sufficient? In James, Abraham is regarded as justified by works for performing but one single work.

As you have also noticed, there is a widespread and often painful lack of assurance among Calvinists and Baptists (I am neither btw) about where they stand before God. Your reply is full of personal assurance, and that is as it becomes any Christian, but the Council of Trent decreed the uncertainty of grace. At best, a Roman Catholic may persuade himself that he is "probably" in a state of grace. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Sanctifying Grace")

Deeny said...

Part 1

Roman Catholic may persuade himself that he is "probably" in a state of grace. (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Sanctifying Grace")

Hi Joel, Wow your posts are short and concise and mine always seem to get lengthy. I am just a mom and not a scholar and speak mostly from my experiences. If you read The First and second half of my Faith Journey you will get more of a sense of where I have been and how I got to the point I am at now. You Don't have to read it cause it is rather long too. I only mention it because as I said I write from my experiences and those experiences have shaped my viewpoint.
First Half of My Christian Faith Journey and Christian Testimony
My Faith Journey to the Catholic Church from Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism
The short version - I was Raised Anglican, Became an Evangelical/Fundamentalist in College, spent time in a couple different Evangelical, Fundamentalist and even Pentecostal denominations before spending many years as a Southern Baptist before becoming Catholic.

Deeny said...

Part 2

Now to your statement above--- Actually I can be about as positive of my salvation as any human can be.-
Even Paul did not claim an infallible assurance, either of his present justification or of his remaining in grace in the future. Concerning his present state, he wrote, "I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby justified. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Cor. 4:4). Concerning his remaining life, Paul was frank in admitting that even he could fall away: "I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27). Of course, for a spiritual giant such as Paul, it would be quite unexpected and out of character for him to fall from God’s grace. Nevertheless, he points out that, however much confidence in his own salvation he may be warranted in feeling, even he cannot be infallibly sure either of his own present state or of his future course.

I believe (being an ex-Baptist) that there are many Baptists who have a false sense of security.
Regarding the issue of whether Christians have an "absolute" assurance of salvation, regardless of their actions, consider this warning Paul gave in Romans 11:22; "See then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off"
The Bible has scriptures that say genuine assurance is possible and desirable, but it also warns us that we can be deceived through a false assurance. Jesus declared: ‘Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" shall enter the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 7:21)."

Deeny said...

Part 3
Related to the issue of whether one can know with complete certainty that one is in a state of salvation is whether one can lose one’s salvation. Even if one could not lose one’s salvation, one still might not be sure whether one ever had salvation. Similarly, even if one could be sure that one is now in a state of salvation, one might be able to fall from grace in the future. The "knowability" of salvation is a different question than the "loseability" of salvation.

One can be confident of one’s present salvation, and one can be confident that one has not thrown away that grace by simply examining one’s life and seeing whether one has committed mortal sin. the tests that John sets forth in his first epistle to help us know whether we are abiding in grace are, in essence, tests of whether we are dwelling in grave sin. For example, "By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:10), "If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20), "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).

Deeny said...

Part 4

Likewise, by looking at the course of one’s life in grace and the resolution of one’s heart to keep following God, one can also have an assurance of future salvation. It is this Paul speaks of when he writes to the Philippians and says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
This is not a promise for all Christians, or even necessarily all in the church at Philippi, but it is a confidence that the Philippian Christians in general would make it. The basis of this is their spiritual performance to date, and Paul feels a need to explain to them that there is a basis for his confidence in them. Thus he says, immediately, "It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel" (1:7). The fact that the Philippians performed spiritually by assisting Paul in his imprisonment and ministry showed that their hearts were with God and that it could be expected that they, at least in general, would persevere and remain with God.

There are many Christians who have long lived the Christian life and whose characters are marked with profound spiritual joy and peace. Such individuals can look forward with confidence to their reception in heaven.

Such an individual was again Paul who, writing at the end of his life, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day" (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Deeny said...

Part 5

The same is true of us. We can, if our lives display a pattern of perseverance and spiritual fruit, have not only a confidence in our present state of grace but also of our future perseverance with God. Yet we cannot have an infallible certitude of our own salvation, as many Protestants will admit. There is the possibility of self-deception (cf. Matt. 7:22-23). As Jeremiah expressed it, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). There is also the possibility of falling from grace through mortal sin, and even of falling away from the faith entirely, for as Jesus told us, there are those who "believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). It is in the light of these warnings and admonitions that we must understand Scripture’s positive statements concerning our ability to know and have confidence in our salvation. Assurance we may have; infallible certitude we may not.

For example, Philippians 2:12 says, "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." This is not the language of self-confident assurance. Our salvation is something that remains to be worked out.

PS: This is Just FYI- It is a silly pet Peeve of mine and Catholics who don't know better all the time refer to themselves as Roman Catholic too but
technically there is no such thing as "Roman Catholic". Technically There is no such thing as a Roman Catholic Church it is Simply Catholic- The Latin Rite. There are several different rites. The term "Roman" Catholic to refer to the Latin Rite Catholics of the Catholic Church started during the Reformation as a slur. Although it is not usually used as a slur today by most people it still bugs me.

Have a great day,
Sincerely, Deeny

Deeny said...

Sorry Guys if you got emailed this in multiple parts on the Blog - It said my posts were too long but then published some of them anyway. So it probably sent this to you in different parts some being repeated. I deleted the extra posts on the blog but they probably were already sent automatically.
So oops- I apologize for all the extra email.

joel in ga said...


You are quite the theologian, and your status as a godly wife and mother only enhances your grasp of practical divinity. I'm not sure your interesting reply addressed the points I had in mind, but it would seem that Protestants and Roman Catholics approach the subject of assurance differently. (By the way, I add the adjective "Roman" not at all as a pejorative, but simply to convey the thought that the great communion headed by the Bishop of Rome is but one part of the Church catholic.)

My observation has been that Calvinists, Baptists, and Catholics do not believe in the forgiveness of sins--how shall I phrase this?--unconditionally. (I'd rather say, "by grace alone" instead of "unconditionally", but since "grace" is understood differently by RC's and Prots, I refrain.) In other words, forgiveness is attained through God's grace and some work on our part. That is, certain conditions must be fulfilled before one may believe his sins are forgiven. For many Baptists, they must first sincerely ask Christ into their heart. Many Baptists struggle because they are unsure if they ever rightly asked Christ in. Catholics believe love and good works must accompany what they believe about Christ, therefore, given the impossibility of knowing whether one's love and good works are sufficient, the Catholic's assurance of forgiveness is at best a probability, as the Catholic Encyclopedia is not bashful about saying.

But we are invited to rejoice in the Lord always. That surely presupposes a forgiveness that is bestowed by pure grace, over and above and apart from anything we do, for, who can worthily magnify the Lord if he believes no more than that his sins are probably forgiven? The best assurance, I find, is simply to believe that Christ is our Redeemer, and therefore we are forgiven. If I understand history correctly, that is the messsage of the Gospel that launched the Reformation, in its Lutheran expression anyway.

All the best.

Deeny said...

Thanks for the Kind words Joel - Sometimes i think I talk in circles or that I can't make what I see clearly in my mind clear on paper. and that only I can see what I'm trying to convey. I also have a tendency to ramble.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 7:23 PM, joel in ga wrote:

My observation has been that Calvinists, Baptists, and Catholics do not believe in the forgiveness of sins--how shall I phrase this?--unconditionally. (I'd rather say, "by grace alone" instead of "unconditionally", but since "grace" is understood differently by RC's and Prots, I refrain.)

Your observation is somewhat correct- The Church teaches that we can be saved only by God’s Grace. Absolutely By Grace Alone-- But Not By Faith Alone-- We have Forgiveness available to us only because of God's Grace but One has to cooperate with that grace.
Romans 3:28 is a key verse in the differences between traditional Protestants and Catholics. You will notice that Paul says a man is justified by faith (pistei in Greek). When Martin Luther translated the letter to the Romans into German in the sixteenth century, he added the word alone —but alone is not in the original Greek text. The phrase "faith alone" does occur in the New Testament: one time, in James 2:24. There the inspired apostle denies that justification is from faith alone. "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."

And I will contend no one, not even the apostles has or had the %100 percent assurance that you are talking about because future sins are not automatically forgiven and no one can be %100 percent certain about what will happen in their future or what they will do. Paul certainly wasn't. Catholics don't look on salvation as a one time moment event but a path ,or journey one begins and need to stay on to the end. They look at Salvation as an ongoing process.

You said >> The best assurance, I find, is simply to believe that Christ is our Redeemer, and therefore we are forgiven. If I understand history correctly, that is the messsage of the Gospel that launched the Reformation, in its Lutheran expression anyway. <<

Now you said "and therefore we are forgiven" My question to you would be forgiven of what? All past sins? I can agree that all past past and present sins are forgiven when we become Christians. I can agree that the debt for all our future sins has been paid but that we need to repent and make amends to receive that forgiveness.I would call that cooperating with grace. Are you saying when we commit sins in the future that we have no need to repent of them since they are already forgiven? I have heard it preached (again a Baptist Preacher) that even "repentance is a work" and therefore for a saved Christian it is not necessary.

1 comment:

Michael Gormley said...

The Council of Trent, in answer to Luther's exposition of the Biblical truth of Justification by faith alone, went a step farther than Gregory the Great.

They were not content to say that assurance was dangerous and not desirable, they declared that it was a mortal sin to claim assurance of salvation.

They went still farther and, with full Papal authority and sanction, hurled anathemas and consigned to eternal damnation all who dared preach or believe such a doctrine.

Let any who doubt this read the section on justification in the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and see how specifically and clearly the Jesuits spelled out how deeply Rome hates the doctrine of Assurance. Here are the actual words used by the Council of Trent:

Whosoever shall affirm, that when the grace of Justification is received, the offence of the penitent sinner is so forgiven, and the sentence of eternal punishment reversed, that there remains no temporal punishment to be endured, before his entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, either in this world or in the future world, in purgatory, let him be accursed. Council of Trent, January 1547.