Salvation: Why necessary? How does it work?

I was raised Catholic, never really “rebelled” against the Church as a teen or any of that stuff, but throughout my life (I’m in my fifties) my faith has waxed and waned. Much about Catholicism appeals to me greatly, but at this point I think that appeal might be largely due to nostalgia. I am broadly sympathetic to the whole Catholic enterprise–particularly in its ethical teaching and its philosophical underpinnings, but I have big problems with many of Christianity/Catholicism’s main doctrines. My interest in ritual, liturgy, etc., is about nil. My belief in the Real Presence is also about about nil–I haven’t taken communion for a couple years. I have a slew of questions, and I do a lot of reading on various religion/theology-related topics, but I thought I’d put one out here to see if I could get some help.

This one’s really basic (not simple, I grant you, but certainly fundamental): Why is our salvation necessary and how does it supposedly work?

Here’s the context for the question… I was listening to a sermon the other day in which the priest said that “we are responsible for the death of Christ by our sins.” This is not new, of course. We’ve all heard it a thousand times. And I take the line of reasoning to go something like this: Our sinful nature is offensive to God, and we need to be rescued. This rescue could only be effected by a blood sacrifice, so God sent his Son, the spotless lamb, so to speak, to pay the price in our place. The challenges, for me, with this argument are many, and many questions pop up. Why is a sacrifice required in the first place? How does killing someone (i.e., the sacrifice) help anything? And I’m not so sure I buy the notion that our sins are so offensive to God as to require this kind of fix. How can we “offend” an omnipotent, omniscient Creator? He made us; didn’t he see our “offensiveness” coming? I understand the argument about free will being a requirement for loving and for doing genuine good (i.e., doing good only has value in a world where doing bad is possible), but if that’s God’s take on it (free will as a baseline feature of human nature), then why doesn’t He abide by that design decision and let us live with its consequences? Why offer us an “out” by sending Christ? And how does sending an incarnate version of Himself to carry out the expiation accomplish anything? Isn’t that something like an adult man being brought in to pinch-hit in a Little League game? He’s going to dominate, but how meaningful will it be to him?

I know this all supposedly goes back to Adam & Eve, or original sin, but that’s just another problematic can of worms. How do the personal failings of our first ancestors devolve onto us? In what logical or ethical system does that seem reasonable?

Lots there, but what I’m looking for at this point is a simple point-by-point explanation of why salvation is necessary and how the Christian version of it is supposed to work.

That’s all. :slight_smile:


A long thoughful meditation on article 1 of the Catechism of the Catholic may provide some insight.

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

Relative to you OP, the bolded selections seem to me the most pertinent.

Simple answer: die in the state of grace.

I understand what’s being said in this Catechism passage, but it doesn’t really address the question. I understand that we are divided and that the Church says Christ’s death redeems and saves us, but there’s nothing here that helps me understand how Christ’s death accomplished what it’s said to accomplish. That’s what I mean by “how does salvation work?” i.e., what is it about the bloody death of an innocent God/man on a cross that somehow gives us the capacity to live forever with God, as long as we believe it?

Thanks. “Die in the state of grace” would be a good Catholic answer if my question were “How can I be assured of eternal salvation?” but that’s not my question. My question was Why is salvation necessary, and how does it work?

I think that your point is related to the fact that Mosaic law required a pure sacrifice and no man is pure for such a sacrifice thus the need for a savior that is ready to die for our sins.

I see what you mean, but what I’m trying to get at is the mechanics of sacrifice itself. How does shedding the blood of anything or anyone (whether animal, man, or God/man) accomplish our redemption? Why does God require death/blood as some kind of propitiation? How does it work?

My first answer would be: It works that way because God decided so and he told us.

My second one would be: We are too stupid and we learn things in steps. First step: we understand that we need animal sacrifice. Second step: because of step one we understand why the sacrifice of His only son. Third step: because of step two we finally understand the concept of agape or sacrificial love.

Have you read anything on Old Testament covenants. It is their inner workings you will find some of the answer you are seeking. The participants in a covenant promised to uphold their part of the agreement under penalty of death. Not only that, the covenant was irrevokeable. Only death of one of the parties would free them from the covenant.

God entered into a covenant with mankind. Mankind failed the terms of the agreement and deserved the penalty of death. Jesus paid this price.

Maybe this would help. I’ll see what I can find on covenants. In the meantime, if you have any specific texts/verses to point me to, that would be helpful as well.


God is a just god and justice demands that sin be punished.

The Old Covenant is also called the “Sacrificial Covenant” because Levitical Law required the priest to pray that the sins of the people would be transferred to the animal as it was sacrificed (punishment for sin). So the sacrificial animal was the propitiation for the sins of the people.

It works the same way in the NT except that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that fulfills the old Sacrifical Covenant and establishes the New Covenant as Him being the propitiation of sin. He accepted God’s wrath as the punishment for our sin.

At the stage I’m in—my faith largely in shambles, trying to find my way back to some kind of Christian belief—that sort of answer is far too pat, though I appreciate where you’re coming from.

Yes, I’m stuck at pre-step one, so a ways to go yet. :slight_smile:

OK, I can see that.

Is this really thought to be the way it worked, from God’s point of view? i.e., the people really could “transfer” their sins to an animal, and God really was somehow appeased by that? i.e., He accepted the animal sacrifice and cleared the slate of the people involved? If so, all I can say is how bizarre.

I can see how this follows, if you accept the premise. But the idea of blood sacrifice/propitiation seems so…pagan, for lack of a better word. I’m sure animal sacrifice has been going on for a very long time, and in a lot of cultures (and still is in some–I’ve traveled a bit in Nepal, where, as in India, it’s still common), but (and I guess this is my western bias speaking) it seems so backward, so superstitious. The whole idea that the God who created me can only truly accept me if I profess faith in His bloody sacrifice of His own Son, who was killed ostensibly for my sake, seems awkward, to say the least. It’s not only a very harsh idea to get your head around, it’s still not at all clear how such sacrifice clears things with God.

I also don’t get “God’s wrath.” He created us, he knew from the get-go how things would turn out, and yet we’re supposed to have the capacity to make him angry? That, too, makes very little sense to me (that puny little me could cause a change in Almighty God’s demeanor). But that’s a different subject.

Nothing to add but thanks for asking the orginal question -( I’m on a similar quest, see If I can find my way back to the faith) - I don’t understand the concept either - killing your self to appease yourself for something that you created did - seems like the epitome of self loathing.

Good luck with your quest. It’s certainly a hard concept to appreciate, and it’s even harder to embrace it as the centerpiece of one’s spiritual life. I value my Catholic upbringing, I love and appreciate all the Catholics that surround me in my life, I marvel at their faith and the good things they do with it, and I envy the peace of mind it brings them. Clearly, there is much of value in it. (Though much, of course, at least from the philosophical angle, inherited from earlier traditions–Neoplatonists, Stoics, etc.) But for those of us who haven’t been given the gift of faith, it’s impossible to embrace the entirety of Catholicism. And I’ve been after it for years–this after a very faithful youth.

I just keep coming back to the idea that if faith is a gift, I’ve apparently not received it (or, rather, it’s been taken away). If I could just accept that and get on with my life, all would be well, but I keep trying to get back the thing I lost. There’s a putting-toothpaste-back-in-the-tube quality to the quest. I believe in God–always have–mainly because of the created world and the moral law within, but that’s about as far as I go.

So once in a while I come here and post a question, and while folks here are generally nice and they try to be helpful, the answers never fully satisfy, and the discussion peters out after a while, like this one. Back to the drawing board. Good luck to you.

Porcupine, let me start out by saying that I applaude you in your efforts of sincerely seeking out answers to the questions you have regarding the Catholic faith and the Fullness of Truth which comes to us from the Magesterium of the Catholic Church. Your concern about being able to more deeply understand how salvation works within the realm of Catholicism is something which God Himself is extremely pleased with.

That being said, let us begin our journey down the road of understandng salvation with the concept of original sin.

Original sin occured when our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. From then on, all of creation was subject “to it’s bondage to decay”, and sin and death entered into the world for all of humanity.

The sinful nature which now “spiritually infected” Adam and Eve would be handed down to all further generations. One can think of this inherited “spiritual infection” along the lines of genetic evolution. In this case, I guess one would have to describe it more along the lines of a spiritual devolving of the soul, instead of an evolving. The principle point being, however, that this trait of original sin is now handed down from generation to generation in a similar way favorable genetic changes are passed down to subsequent generations through evolution. This, of course, is just a metaphor used to try to help one better understand the concept of original sin being passed down from generation to generation. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not trying to advocate that there is an “original sin” gene found within our own physical DNA. However, the affliction of original sin is, in fact, found within each and every human being.

Another point that might help one understand this essential truth of the faith is that we were, for all intensive purposes, concieved from our parents own bodies/cells. Their bodies/cells were “spiritually infected” with the stain of original sin, as was their parents bodies/cells, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. Now, since we are considered, for all intesive purposes, cells of our parents, we too have inherited original sin.

That being said, after the Fall of our first parents in the Garden (which was allowed by God due to the fact that man was created in God’s image and was thus given free will) there came about the situation where mankind was in a state of eternal seperation from its Creator.

Also, the permeation of sin within all of humanity made it impossible for human beings to ever restore their status and fellowship with God on their own (which meant that humanity was now helpless with regards to obtaining a state of sanctifying grace). Thus, everyone was, for all intensive purposes, destined for hell. This was due to the fact that no one was capable of saving themselves from this unfortunate fate.

However God, out of His infinite love and goodness, came up with a way for all of mankind to be redeemed from it’s eternal damnation within the fires of hell. He sent His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for us and our redemption, so that we might be able to enter into the eternal beatitude of heaven with the Holy Trinity, the blessed Virgin Mary, and all of the angels and saints who have served the One, True, God throughout the ages.

Christ’s death on the cross won the victory over sin and death because Christ was able to take upon Himself all of the sins (both original and personal) of the entire world (past, present, and future) and thus became the propitiation of sin in order for God’s justice to be fulfilled and carried out.

We must not forget that, although God is love, God is also a God of justice. This helps us to understand why the issue of sin had to be dealt with in regards to man being able to come back into fellowship with a Holy and Perfect God. Thus, God’s justice needed to be carried out through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, by which He took our sins upon Himself, thus conquering sin and death and obtaining for us our redemption.

Here are two sections from the Caechism of the Catholic Church which explain these points in greater detail. Both sections should be read in their entirety in order for one to more fully understand the concept of salvation within the Fullness of Truth of the Catholic faith:



I hope that helps.

May God bless you and Mary keep you in her prayers always.


This is an answer that doesn’t really answer your original question exactly, but it is a pretty powerful concept for me.

If, apart from the concept of life after death and eternal salvation etc., we look at how Jesus’ sacrifice transforms things in this life, here is how it plays out for me:

  1. Sin begets sin. The more we do evil to others, the more we are likely to do more evil in the future because it forms our souls in a certain way. Also, others are likely to respond to our sin with more sin, resulting in the same transforming effect.

  2. Christ, among many other things, serves as the perfect example of God as man. In other words, he shows us how we would behave if our decisions were not tainted by sin (blinded is probably a better word, as sin causes us not to be able to see things clearly).

  3. One of the accomplishments of Christ’s final sacrifice on the cross is that we, in this life, can see that it is possible to remain good even if we are treated very, very badly, and that it is necessary for us to sacrifice in order to remain good.

Now with regards to how exactly our own “salvation works”:

Our salvation is, first and foremost, a gift from God, though His divine grace, which was obtained for us by our Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for us and our redemption.

However we, as individuals, have our own part to play with regards to our salvation, due to our free will. This includes us having faith plus works, us following the Ten Commandments, and us taking part in the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Here are sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which explain these points in greater detail. These sections should also be read in their entirety in order for one to more fully understand the concept of salvation within the Fullness of Truth of the Catholic faith:




I hope that helps.

May God bless you and Mary keep you in her prayers always.


Porcupine, there’s a reason the answers never satisfy. Because the people here just parrot what their bible and priests tell them. It IS a silly concept, and hard to believe - that we’re all brought into this world as these ‘broken’ things, and that a scapegoat (jesus), had to supposedly die for our ‘sins’.

It’s funny how christians would put down pagan religions and their animal sacrifices, but they use the same barbaric rituals. Most likely to win over said pagans back when they were trying to convert them to christianity. They didnt want everything to seem TOO different from what they had already come to know and love…

I don’t. I think about a topic and then write about it. It frequently happens to be based on or agree with the Bible or Catholic Teaching, but that’s because they’re authoritative.

It IS a silly concept, and hard to believe - that we’re all brought into this world as these ‘broken’ things, and that a scapegoat (jesus), had to supposedly die for our ‘sins’.

We aren’t brought into the earth broken, just sinful. You may misinterpret it as that, but no, sinfulness is a sign of God’s forgiveness and love for our souls enough to create them.

I don’t know how it was accomplished, but Jesus saved us by death and suffering, which he ultimately triumphed over anyway. So yes, blood was needed to be spilled, but only one more time. It was an infinite sacrifice.

It’s funny how christians would put down pagan religions and their animal sacrifices, but they use the same barbaric rituals.

Did you do your homework? The Church Fathers refuted it because Christ’s Sacrifice eliminated the need for that. Also because it was to a false God(s), and practiced (continued) human sacrifice is wicked.

Most likely to win over said pagans back when they were trying to convert them to christianity. They didnt want everything to seem TOO different from what they had already come to know and love…

The crucifixion happened, the atonement happened. The Church Fathers didn’t fabricate it to appeal to Pagans. Do some research and don’t insert emotional bias next time.

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