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The “Are you saved” question might be Protestant conversation starter.
September 02, 2010
Are You Saved?
Vic Biorseth, Thursday, September 02, 2010
“Are you saved” is the popular question, and “I know I am saved” is the popular joyful answer when faith-filled Protestants get together. But they view Catholics with a combination of fear, sorrow and puzzlement. When they ask the question of a Catholic, what they get in response, most times, is the deer in the headlights response – Catholics either don’t know how to respond to that, or, they just say yes, all Catholics are saved, or something similar. (Catholics are on shaky ground here, because this is an alien doctrine to them; it is a Protestant doctrine, not a Catholic one.)
A Protestant friend, who shall remain unnamed, always puzzles over how I never miss Mass on any Sunday or Holy Day, go to confession and extra devotions, my reading material is predominantly religious, I try to live a good Christian life, I argue doggedly for the faith of our fathers, and yet, I don’t even know whether I am saved or not. How can this be, he wonders. To him, it is so important to have this knowledge, this reassurance, this confidence in eternal life, that it is unimaginable how anyone with half a brain could not want to seek it and get it. And so, among the many topics we discuss, this one keeps somehow quietly coming back up, one way or another.
The question is “Are you saved?”, and my stock answer, which has become a knee-jerk, automatic response, is “I don’t know, because I’m not dead yet, I am not the judge of salvation, and neither are you.” I do try to make it not sound as brutal as the words look in print. But the fact remains that there is but one Judge of salvation, and none of us have anything to say about it. As much as I would like to just declare myself “saved” I don’t have the nerve to do it. It would take a lot of gall, because the True Judge is always listening. I await the Word and I pray for His mercy.
In the Protestant services my friend attends, the liturgy is quite simple and very moving and soul-stirring. It opens with some “gathering” hymns, followed by some Scripture reading that is almost participatory – people bring their Bibles, highlighters and take notes. The Scripture lessons evolve into Bible-based preaching of a high quality, which may go on for multiple hours. There are musical interludes here and there, and at some point toward the end there is an “Altar Call” in which the congregants are invited to come forward for special individual prayer with the minister or other “prayer partners.” It is here, most usually, that someone publicly “confesses Jesus” and is “saved.” It is here, it is in coming forward, and in the honest act of inviting and accepting Jesus as Master into one’s life, that one is “saved.” The service ends with some “going forth” hymns, through which the congregation is inspired and sent forth to spread the Gospel.
That’s the usual course of the salvation event; however, one can accept Jesus and be “saved” at any time, and there are many and varied stories of how various people came to recognize their own salvation. As a “life changing event” it is remembered in great detail, and Protestants enjoy taking turns telling their salvation story and listening to each other.
I ain’t buying it. Now, when I say that, it is not to say that these are not fully Christian, believing, decent people, who are devout worshipers of the one and only God upon Whom eternal life depends. They are on a different faith trail than we Catholics are on, but that faith trail may lead to the same eternal life we all pray for; our Lord knows for sure, and we know that He is a Lord of Mercy. To say that Protestants have been misguided is not to say that they have been damned. They honestly seek the Lord by the light they have been given, handed on to them by their faith tradition. Remember that the Samaritan woman at the well was also outside the traditional faith, and yet she was called to receive living waters of life.
Catholics who are properly catechized in their faith know that men are born anew through the Sacrament of Baptism, and they know this from the Baptismal discourse between Nicodemus and Jesus, in John 3. The main verses:
 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."The key verse is, of course, verse 5, which says:
 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.Look closely at that verse, and tell me what that word “water” is doing in there. Our Lord was referring to the Sacrament of Baptism. Protestants like to gloss over that word, or take it out and not even quote it; but it is there, and has been from the beginning. It cannot be ignored.
My friend has made the rather feeble attempt to explain that born of water means born of the earth, with reference to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the unborn baby, while born of spirit means some other event like the Altar call discussed above. It’s a weak argument, because of all the Scriptural references to water as spiritually cleansing, purifying and transforming. Jesus offered His “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well; water flowed from His side on Calvary; His own Baptism was a transformational event in the eyes of witnesses, who heard the voice of God and saw His Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
Every Baptismal event in Scripture was a transformational event. Every new Christian in the primitive Church entered by being born again through Baptism. The Ethiopian Eunuch was, spiritually speaking, born anew through his Baptism. And yet my friend insists that no Baptism, and no other Sacrament or liturgy or official event is needed for human salvation. It’s a do-it-yourself project.
What does the Catholic Church say, and what does Scripture, properly interpreted, say about it? Well, it seems we are “saved” in three senses:
And yet, we can have no assurance of salvation until we stand for judgment.
Salvation from the past:
 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;Salvation on-going:
 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.Salvation in our future:
 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
So it’s a process, begun by the unmerited Grace of God, cooperated with by our own free will, subject to test and perseverance. Nowhere in Scripture do I find any single thing a man can do to absolutely confirm and seal his own salvation, of which he may be certain. Not even Baptism does that; one can fall away into sin and corruption after Baptism. How could anyone possibly describe a salvation event in his life of which he is certain that he has obtained positive final judgment from the Lord? Even Paul couldn’t do that, and he didn’t do it.
Now, Paul was knocked off his high horse and into the dust on the road to Damascus, and struck blind, by the Presence of the Lord. It had to be the awakening of all awakenings, the humbling of all humblings, and the altar-call of all altar-calls. It certainly got his attention. Was his salvation assured from that time on? No. Absolutely not. We see in Acts, after this event, after he changed his tune, believed and had faith, he still had to be baptized –
10] Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Anani'as. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Anani'as." And he said, "Here I am, Lord."
And again –
 And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
Now, why would Paul need to be baptized and have his sins washed away if he was already saved? We have his warnings about over-confidence in being justified, as in:
 Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
and elsewhere. He was even concerned that he might lose his own salvation, as he said here:
 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Long story made short, I can state categorically that the Lord has given me salvation, that I am assured of my current state of salvation, but I cannot pronounce myself saved. There is only One Who can do that.
What I can say with certainty is that I am redeemed, that is purchased at a great price, by the blood of Christ shed for me at Calvary. I fully intend to cooperate with that redemption until the final call, but I am tempted every single day, and I cannot make any final statements about my own final judgment. My bags are packed, and I stand ready to go.
Right now, that is. I strive to always keep my spiritual bags packed and ready.
Where do you stand?
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