Helping a former Evangelical understand Catholic Moral Theology

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.

SeaCatholic. You said:

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.

I would be careful with these verses.

John 10:27 talks about people who “follow me” in a continuous sense. It means those who follow Jesus and CONTINUE and PERSEVERE in HEARING and FOLLOWING Him.

JOHN 10:27-28 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; 28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

John 10:27-28 does NOT mean anyone who has an emotional experience and (erroneously) thinks they are now “born again” because of their experience will necessarily persevere in remaining in “the vine”.

It doesn’t say “they followed me” but “they FOLLOW me”. This verse is talking about the people who do PERSEVERE in their following Jesus.

ROMANS 8:35a, 38-39 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . . 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:39 is talking about nothing separates us from the LOVE of God (not the Life of God). Nothing DOES separate us from the LOVE of God. God so LOVED the whole WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son.

But you are falsely concluding that because you will not be separated from the LOVE of God, that you cannot choose to (of your own free will) to separate yourself from the LIFE of God. (See also Ephesians 2:3-4 where St. Paul talks of God LOVING “children of wrath”. Does this mean they had eternal life without Christ’s work because God LOVED them?)

These are incorrect conclusions.

The “works” in Ephesians 2 don’t mean all works (St. Paul never says that). The “works” that do not save you are works done outside of New Covenant grace from Christ such as Old Covenant Works of Law (i.e. circumcision would be an example).

You also said:

Ephesians 2:8-9, which essentially states that salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works of righteousness.

Would you agree preaching the Gospel is a “work”?

Would you agree that “faith” comes through hearing the Gospel preached (see Romans 10:17)?

I would suggest you be very careful about accepting newfangled invented theology that is packaged to you as . . . . “traditional evangelical view on salvation” when it should be called “traditional evangelical Protestant view on salvation that is maybe about 500 years old depending on which Protestant group”.

Supernatural faith, hope, and charity are all graces Jesus gave us through His work to make us His sons and daughters by grace. But when we become sons and daughters we are expected to increase in faith, hope, and charity. We have the freedom to reject that sonship to our own peril if we desire that.

One of the questions your friend has is where grace fits into the idea of on-going salvation. You might start by pointing out exactly what the Catechism teaches:

that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them… (Paragraph 2068)

If you read this carefully you’ll see it doesn’t say a man becomes justified by obeying the Commandments. It says once he’s justifed he’s still obligated to obey them. So a person receives the initial grace of justification through faith but that’s the beginning of the journey not the end. Once a person is justified by faith, he’s obligated to keep his soul in a state of grace by obedience by faith to God’s Commandments. If he commits a serious enough sin, it will extinguish the life of grace within his soul and he’d have to be justified again through repentance. So the Church doesn’t teach, as some might think, that a person goes from an unjustified state to a justified one through “works of righteousness.” It does however teach, as does the Bible, that you can go from a justified state to an unjustified one through works of unrighteousness.

Remember that one of the Protestant reformers wrote that faith alone will save you “even though you commit adultery 100 times a day.” In other words, once you’ve been justified by faith serious sins have no effect on your justification. It was this that the Catholic Church declared to be error.

So when reading the Scriptures it’s important to distinguish between verses dealing with how a person gets the initial grace and verses dealing with what he’s obligated to do once he’s received it. The verse your friend quoted from Ephesians (“For by grace you have been saved through faith…”) is an example of Paul talking about how you get the initial grace. Similar verses can be found in Rom 3:28 and Rom 10:9-10.

However, a passage dealing with the continuing obligation of a Christian to live a righteous life is:

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness…I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21)

There are many similar passages. Peter warns that there is such a thing as a washed sow that returns to wallowing in the mire. (2 Pt 2:22) He defines such a person as one who has “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” but is then “again entangled in them.” (2 Pt 2:20) He says such a person will not only perish but will have a greater accountability before God than if they had never been converted in the first place. (2 Pt 2:20-21) Paul tells Timothy to hold “faith and a good conscience.” Then he says, “By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Tm 1:18-19) In other words, their faith would have saved them but for not maintaining a good conscience. And, of course, a young man asked Jesus plainly, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?” Jesus responded, “…If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (Mt 19:16-17)

In order to emphasize the point that the Church teaches that the initial grace of justification is freely given by God, it might be helpful to remind your friend that the Church baptizes infants. The Church says that the initial grace is so freely given that God will justify an infant brought forward for baptism by his parents and godparents. As the Catechism says, “The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism.” (Paragraph 1250) That, of course, goes a lot further than many non-Catholic groups which don’t baptize infants.

Your friend also asked where the belief that salvation can be lost comes from.

The doctrine of “mortal sin” or “sin unto death” is explicitly stated in the New Testament:

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal. (1 Jn 5:16-17, RSV)

It’s also apparent from the context of many verses, such as:

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: …“I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead…Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” (Rv 3:1-3)

Upon the prodigal son’s return, his father says:

“Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again…” (Lk 15:24, DRV)

“Come to life again” indicates that the prodigal son was once alive, then dead, then alive again. The prodigal son was never physically dead; so his father was referring to a spiritual death caused by a life of sin in the world.

As the Catechism says, when not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, mortal sin causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom. (Paragraph 1861)

Good luck with your friend.

Seems to me that we need the expertise of Brother JR here! Let’s pray that he recovers quickly so we can all learn from his common sense approach to helping us all learn!:slight_smile:

I am by no means an apologist but these kinds of conversations do intrigue me. The first suggestion I am going to make is to spend some time getting to know how she defines certain terms. Otherwise you will wind up talking past each other…
Believe me - this has happened to me more than once.
Actually - it appears that she has already started this process.

“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?

Yes - some protestants might refer to them as “ordinances”
THIS will help explain.
Basically the Sacraments are gifts from God administered by the Church for our spiritual health and well being.

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?

Actually it was Paul who referred to "working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
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;
St James in his Letter speaks of the need for works coupled with faith.
James 2:17 - So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
James 2:26 - For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

As for Grace - - to me, Grace is simply God’s Love pouring into us. As such, and assuming we cooperate with said grace, it IS transformative. Yet - Each of us is aware of our own failures and inadequacies. God’s grace (Love) convicts us of these things. So - when we fail we pick ourselves up, turn back to God and try to do better…This then is ongoing sanctification .
This may not be the Church explanation - but it is mine and I think it is something your friend might identify with.

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?

I would start by pointing to Jesus himself who said that not everyone who cries “Lord Lord” will be saved. Certainly those who cry thus believe themselves to be saved…
St Paul in the passage quoted above speaks of working out one’s salvation. He was not writing to non-believers, but to believers when he wrote this. Plus as you yourself say above, there are those who say say they believe but then commit grave sins. Likewise there are those who do truly believe, but then later - lose their faith.

The verse you quote above about nothing separating us from God are quite true…but that doesn’t mean we can’t separate ourselves from God…and that is what mortal sin will do.

(Cont)

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?

Both. The first and most crucial aspect is repentance and turning back to God. Second, for serious sin, is confession to a priest in accordance with Christ’s command.
You see, Christ gave his ministers the authority to forgive sins or to hold them bound. In order for a minister of Christ to do this he must know what those sins are…thus we confess and through that confession receive forgiveness and reconciliation.

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?


It is both and neither…:smiley:
The penance given in confession today (the kind you refer to) is really a “token” penance. It is designed to call our minds to our Lord and allow us to offer some small sacrifice. My confessor usually requires that we “meditate” on aspect of Christ’s teaching along with our prayers. And that is an aspect of confession that many seem to miss. It is a chance to reflect, to hold ourselves to account, to do something we would really rather not do (in many cases)…besides the many graces available through confession, it is a wonderful discipline and way to grow in humility.

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.

I know that there are so many others who can answer better than I can…but I hope the above helps a little.
May God continue to guide you and your friend.

Peace
James

To me, just an ordinary Catholic, it means that we are not able to brag about any of our works being the cause of our salvation… like no matter how much money I help raise for our Catholic school by working for the carnival there… or going out and driving elderly members to church every Sunday… these works are not the cause of my salvation… but Jesus coming from the Father drawing me to Himself causes my salvation and nothing else… Then, because I accept the grace and the salvation my body here on earth desires to work for Jesus and His church, drawing others to Him. Thus, my good works. Yet, when they are all done, still I can only say I did what I should have done all along for the love of God. Not my works, but the Love of God works in me…

SeaCatholic. It looks like you are gone but I hope you are still watching this site. I’ve been checking-in once in awhile.

You said:

QUOTE:
(I am) 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?

It means to conclude **this . . . . **

God the Father to God the Son: “Well Son. Humanity has been sooooo utterly righteous despite living in the passions of their flesh. You have just GOT to go down there and save them!”

. . . . **(It means to conclude this [above]) would be false. **

OK. What would be true then? What is true is that Jesus saved us from original sin and committed sin. And we can accept such a grace or reject it. But this acceptance is not a mere moment. It is a moment followed by a life-long process.

God sent His Son, even when we were dead through our trespasses to save us.

EPHESIANS 2:3-9 3 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast.

It also DOES mean we were created or made for good works (in the context of the grace of faith. That’s why elsewhere St. Paul can talk of “faith working in love” elsewhere–see Gal. 5:6 for that).

EPHESIANS 2:10 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Once justified initially we have God at work IN US. These WORKS are a grace too. It is not an “either/or” “faith vrs. works” situation. It is a “yes/and”. A faith AND works paradigm (and also the grace of hope).

Trent tells us (quoting Scripture) we must continue to grow in justification.

And what happens if we don’t CONTINUE (in grace) to walk in good works?

Fortunately we don’t have to speculate. Fortunately Jesus Himself tells the Ephesians (through St. John) that their “Lampstand” will be “removed”.

REVELATION 2:1-5 1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 "'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

And please also consider . . . .

EPHESIANS 5:5-6 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

1st CORINTHIANS 6:9 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

GALATIANS 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

REVELATION 21:7-8 7 He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death."

(see also MATTHEW 25:31-46 and so many other verses).

Cathaholic…

Great Post …:thumbsup:

Peace
James

Hey folks! Sorry about the delayed response, time tends to zip by when you’re in the final year of law school. I am now going to integrate the best parts of your responses into my response. Fortunately despite not getting to these answers I have been able to answer many other ones and start taking her to Mass every weekend as we have now started dating. Please pray that if this relationship continues to develop that we can grow together in virtue and be able to draw closer to the mother Church :slight_smile:

That’s a great thing to pray for…

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

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