Meriting eternal life

how is meriting eternal life different from earning salvation?

someone explained it as God promised eternal life instead of owing it to us but that szitll doesn’t really make sense. aren’t those the same thing?

for example, your employer apromises a certain wage and at the end of the day, he does owe it to you.

i know God is not our emoloyer, more like our father so it’s more like an inheritance. but your parents can also promise you an inheritance providing you meet certain conditions and when you meet those conditions, then they owe it to you in a sense.

could someone help clarify? thanks

Eternal life is guaranteed to us all. Salvation is more concerned with where we will spend that life.

i feel like that’s almost a word game, when meriting eternal life is used, it’s refering to salvation and going to heaven

I think earning salvation refers to deserving it by means of one’s good deeds. However, according to Christianity (including Catholicism), since mankind is fallen, none of us really deserves salvation and none can earn it by good deeds alone. Salvation is not earned by us but bestowed by G-d through grace. G-d does not owe us eternal life but grants us eternal life out of His love for us.

God’s relationship with us is more like that of the “Prodigal Son” where the son received the inheritance but still managed to squander it. The father, after all that, is still willing to receive him back, forgive him.

Actually it’s a lot different. “To merit” means “to be worthy of”. How does one become worthy? Either by one’s own efforts or by external forces.

We as Catholics are taught that our merit in God’s eyes is a gift of God Himself. Thus our meriting of salvation is a work of God.

But not so fast…

Remember that one can only gain merit while having a living faith. And how does one maintain a living faith? By avoiding mortal sin and not rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit within you.

What is the work of the Holy Spirit? To change you into an image of Christ. How? Through the works that you do.

But all the works that you do that would accomplish this have already been planned for you by the Father. And God works in you both to will and to do.

So by working according to the impulse of the Spirit, we are assenting to the Grace of God planted within us, changing us and giving us the merit we desire.

Which merit is to be as the Son of God is.

someone explained it as God promised eternal life instead of owing it to us but that still doesn’t really make sense. aren’t those the same thing?

That is not a good explanation. The answer is is that the merit we must have is God’s gift of merit, not any we can attain outside of His gift.

for example, your employer a promises a certain wage and at the end of the day, he does owe it to you.

That seems to have both God owing and God promising and shows how that explanation is faulty.

i know God is not our employer, more like our father so it’s more like an inheritance. but your parents can also promise you an inheritance providing you meet certain conditions and when you meet those conditions, then they owe it to you in a sense.

could someone help clarify? thanks

our meriting is our being made worthy by God. We are really worthy, but it is not a result of what we have done, except if you think that accepting a gift, and then maintaining it, is some kind of a work (and even being able to keep it is a gift).

Thus it is all a gift, which is why Paul says:

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

One does not know for certain exactly which of one’s works are acquiring merit for oneself, and which not. Remember Jesus’s words at the end of the world where neither those at the left nor right always knew when they had been doing what Jesus wanted them to be doing.


St. Augustine summed up the Catholic position when he said, “When God rewards our merits, He is crowning His own gifts.” Merit in Catholic terms can be understood in two ways:

  1. Our works aren’t really ours. Whatever we do that is “meritorious” by the power of grace is done in us by God. We “cooperate” by opening ourselves to God and working together with God. But we are able to do even this only because of God’s grace.

  2. Insofar as our works are viewed as our own contributions (since as I said we do cooperate with God) they are not intrinsically worthy of anything. Nothing we can do can “earn” anything from God in the sense of forcing God to give us something. But it’s fitting for God to reward us, even though everything we have is God’s gift and thus we can’t earn anything from God in the way one human being can earn something from another.

The example my professor used in grad school was a toddler helping her parents. This means more to me now that I have kids, the younger of whom is currently a toddler! My younger daughter came into the kitchen this morning and wanted to help me clean it up. She handed me a plastic spatula to wash, and then she grabbed the big frying pan that was lying on a low stool within reach. She tried her hardest to lift it, but she couldn’t quite manage it, so I had to help her. Then I gave her a small brush and a dustpan and she set to work to sweep the floor. Nothing she did actually made my work faster or easier–perhaps the opposite since I had to help her help me! But I praised her for being Daddy’s helper anyway. That is what the medieval theologians called “merit of congruity.”

The difference between us and God is infinitely greater than that between me and my daughter. But God still loves us and rewards us for any movement we make toward Him, even though nothing we do has any claim on Him. Furthermore, as I said under the first point, anything we do that is good is God’s gift–God is doing it in us.


To understand merit, we first need to understand what we have become, that is, how much different we are now. And that merit only applies to the supernatural world, in us, and how it affects us in the next life.

It is thru baptism of water and the spirit that God grants us the privilege of becoming his adopted children, that is, really his children. St. Paul calls us sons of God (in the adopted sense, but a very true sense).

Now when we look at Jesus, he is the only BEGOTTEN(vs.adopted) beloved Son of God. He, being the real begotten Son, equal to the Father, and he being true God, merited(earned) redemption for all mankind because of his value as Son of God. Being the Son of God, Jesus then merited for all mankind forgiveness for their sins. It is thru baptism that we receive/accept this redemption.

In the same order of this idea, we have become the sons/daughters of God, tho adopted. Nontheless, we are children with God’s life within us of his only BEGOTTEN son. We can now merit(earn) for ourselves a higher order of redemption, meaning that there are various shades/degrees of union with God as son/daughters of God. So that each time an adopted child of God performs a good action worthy of the Father(in the state of grace), then we merit(earn) a closer union with God(sanctifying grace) because we are his sons/daughters and only because we are his sons/daughters thru baptism, the method of divine adoption.

So there are shades of heavenly happiness based on a person’s own degree of intensity of being a son/daughter thru growth in sanctifying grace while here on earth, only being merited because of our sonship to the Father.

This is the Catholic teaching on sanctifying grace and the growth in it thru merit, being children of God.

As far as we know, without baptism of water and the spirit, or the desire for it, this growth does not take place, and there cannot be merit. Merit only makes sense if one is related to God by sonship which is lacking in those not baptised.

Christ merited by his sonship, we merit by our sonship.
But merit only takes place in this life, not the next. For then our sonship will be by experiencing it, what we have earned(merited). And obviously we cannot increase what we do not have, so merit also requires a person to be in the state of grace to merit an increase in the state of grace.

This is one of the critical doctrines of St. Paul and the Catholic Church. So much is based on an understanding of this teaching.

May God bless and keep you. May God’s face shine on you. May God be kind to you and give you peace.

We’re justified at Baptism, meaning we’re saved, provided genuine faith accompanies it. But this doesn’t mean we’ll stay in this justified state-that we’ll ‘remain in Christ’. Salvation is a gift of grace, like a life preserver thrown to us. But we must grab hold of that life preserver and continue to hold onto it throughout life, working out our salvation, struggling against sin, responding to and cooperating with grace, doing the best we can with what we’ve been given; consider the Parable of the Talents. We can lose our salvation, we can reject grace at any step along the way, we can turn away from God again, failing to grow in justice, in love for God and neighbor IOW. At the end of the day, God judges how well we’ve done with the grace we’ve been given.

No one merits eternal life or salvation. It is an undeserved gift from God.

Apart from eternal salvation, life itself is an undeserved gift from G-d.

So you believe that it’s to whom God gives the gift that determines who gets saved, huh? Sort of makes nonsense of a God who rains on the just and unjust, or sends the sun to shine on the just and unjust.


No, not necessarily. There are three possible ways to interpret the sentence to which you object:

  1. God does indeed choose some for salvation and not others. Those who hold this view would respond to you by saying that God gives some good gifts to everyone, and all good gifts are undeserved, so we can’t complain that He doesn’t give salvation to everyone. I say that this would make sense if the alternative to salvation were just ceasing to exist, but not in terms of eternal damnation.

  2. God has chosen everyone for salvation. In my opinion, we cannot know definitively that this is not true. But we certainly can’t count on it, so it’s unwise to have a theology in which God is only good if all are saved.

  3. Salvation is a free gift, but you can refuse the gift. This is perhaps the least sophisticated of the three options, but it is, for all its problems, the one I keep coming back to (it’s my heritage–I come from a “Wesleyan” background).


#3 is older than Methodism. It is Apostolic and Catholic as well. :slight_smile:

Hello Angel,

Before I can clarify anything I have to assume by “meriting eternal life” you are talking about Heaven. Do you even mean Heaven?


The Augustinian Catholic tradition, like the Calvinist tradition, would say that if you refuse the gift then you have not been given the gift that would enable you to accept the gift:D

But sure, the pre-Augustinian Western tradition as well as the whole Eastern tradition would agree on this.

My problem with it is that I’m steeped in the study of the Western tradition, so the apparent philosophical naivete of this position compared to the rich Augustinian/Thomist/Calvinist analysis of human decision-making and divine grace is a source of some embarrassment for me. Catholics have Molinism, of course, which may help, or may not:shrug:

Anyway, I was speaking personally, because this is the position I grew up with and then questioned through reading a lot of Augustine and Aquinas and the Reformers.


The whole topic of grace vs free will gets into such deep waters that I prefer the pre-Augustinian/Eastern tradition without any embarrassment. :stuck_out_tongue:

Fair enough.

A corollary of my return to my Wesleyan heritage has been a increasing focus on and appreciation of Eastern Christian theology–Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor in particular.


#3 is also the RC position

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