I’m trying to help a former Evangelical friend who is becoming more and more interested in Catholicism. However due to that very same Evangelical background she needs help seeing things from a new Catholic perspective. I have quoted her most recent questions for context here:
“My first question is about sacraments in general. That’s not really a word I’ve heard used in the evangelical church, I can look up and see what they are, but where do they come from and why are they so important in the catholic church? Also, I’m trying to figure out where grace fits into the catholic church’s idea of ongoing salvation. I know this is a huge issue, my understanding is that the role of grace in salvation is the primary reason the protestant church even exists. The traditional evangelical view on salvation as a transformative event is based on Ephesians 2:8-9, which essentially states that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works of righteousness. (But I am also aware that James talks about “working out our salvation with fear and trembling, which does not really jive with the transformative event idea and is a really tough topic for the evangelical church to deal with; basically everybody I’ve ever heard speak on it has a different idea about what that means)” Please know that I am not trying to challenge the Catholic church’s doctrine but genuinely asking, what does Ephesians 2, specifically the phrase “not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” mean to the catholic church in terms of an ongoing salvation process?
Additionally, I have some more questions about the idea of losing your salvation by committing mortal sins. For starters, I know that there is a lot of division within the evangelical church about whether salvation is conditional. I have always believed that is not conditional, that once a person is saved that they cannot lose their salvation, which I believed was based on Romans 8:38 where it says that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and John 10:28, which says that nothing can take us out of God’s hand. However, as I mentioned earlier, I am questioning whether or not this belief is actually true, as it seems to me that it is very unlikely that someone who is habitually sinning against people is right enough with God to go to Heaven. Traditionally this dichotomy has been explained by saying that such a person was not actually saved in the first place, but even when I look at my own life I find it difficult to reconcile my own faith experiences with some of the choices I have made and can’t honestly say I was never saved, but I also sometimes question whether I really am now. So where is the belief that salvation can be lost come from? You also talked about re-entering grace by receiving forgiveness, how do you believe we can do that? Is just asking for it enough, or do you think we need to go and confess our sins to a human intercessor? Also, I have seen (mostly in movies, so I don’t know how accurate this is), that at confession priests tell people to do things like say so many “our fathers.” What does doing these things accomplish? Is it paying off a debt we owe, is it a time of reflection, or both, or neither?”
In sum, there are two main questions. First, she wants to understand how we have come to our teachings on the sacraments and what they mean in reference to salvation. Second, she is trying to understand mortal sin and loss of friendship with the Lord given her Evangelical upbringing where salvation is taught to be unconditional.
A little guidance would be much appreciated! She is close to taking the next step and already attends Mass so I’m trying to answer the questions well enough.