Since becoming Catholic in 2004, I have encountered many, many Catholics who do not understand grace, salvation, or how they are granted access to heaven. Many have revealed they live in fear of going to hell because of some unknown, unconfessed sin or that their understanding of how they are saved is solely based on their works. These Catholics do not understand how faith and works relate to salvation. In short, they do not understand the source of their salvation.
Dr. Peter Kreeft explains the problem in his book, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? Throughout his years of teaching philosophy at Boston College, he would ask students, “if you were to die tonight and meet God, and God asked you why he should let you into heaven, what would you answer him?” He usually would receive one of three answers:
- I’m a good person (Pelagian, self-salvation)
- I hope in God’s mercy (presumption)
- Jesus Christ
He goes on to say that 0 to 5 percent of Catholics cite Jesus as the source of their salvation, and place it mostly on works, but that nearly 100 percent of Evangelical Protestants cite Jesus as the source of their salvation.
If catechumens and candidates do not clearly know that Jesus is the source of their salvation, and how works are related to it, we run the risk of creating works-based Christians who are not converted in heart and incapable of persevering until the end (Mt 24:13, CCC 161).
What follows is part one of two of an overview of how an adult moves from being unsaved to saved (and saved to unsaved) and the relationship of grace, faith, and works. Namely, what are the ordinary means of grace for salvation? Part one will focus specifically how one becomes saved and part two will focus on how one can lose salvation. For the sake of space, I am leaving out the exceptions to the normal process of salvation, since those who receive exceptions are known to God alone (CCC 848).