How Works Relate to the Salvation Process
In the last issue I focused on how one moves from being unsaved (not in a state of grace—NSG) to being saved (in a state of grace—SG) and how no work of the moral law (CCC 1950 ff.) can place one into a state of grace (Eph 2:8-10, CCC 2010). This article will focus on the crucial role of works in the salvation process and, while works cannot put us into a state of grace, how they are directly related to retaining or losing our state of grace.
There have been many joys since being ordained to the priesthood, but I must say that, while I looked forward to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I did not anticipate falling in love with this sacrament to the depths that I have.
It is an amazing privilege to be an extension of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness while opening hearts to the good news—the challenging news—of the Gospel. In this sacrament I have a unique opportunity to help people understand how their works relate to salvation. Some come thinking that sex before marriage is just going a little too far (see 1 Cor 6:13-20). Others are surprised to hear that getting drunk is a grave sin (see 1 Cor 5:11; 6:9-10). Still others, because of poor catechesis, lack sufficient understanding that the Ten Commandments are a good overview of grave matter (CCC 1858).
Those in RCIA, and Christians in general, seem to swing between two extremes: either salvation is by works (my first article) or that their personal sin isn’t that serious (this article).
I will start with a summary overview of the salvation process. 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).
- An unbelieving, unbaptized adult is unsaved (NSG).
- When one hears the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, believes what he hears, and is baptized, he is saved by Jesus Christ (SG).
- Being saved (justified) means that sin is forgiven (original and actual) and one is internally sanctified (made holy), an adopted son of God who shares in God’s divine life and has access to heaven.
- This process of moving from being unsaved (NSG) to saved (SG) is one hundred percent by grace and is a free gift, accessed by faith.
- Works have no part in a person moving from being unsaved (NSG) to saved (SG).
- Once saved (SG), Christians are called to good works. If there is a grave violation of faith or morals, one can forfeit salvation (mortal sin, NSG, loss of heaven). The ordinary means for restoring grace and access to heaven is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- In Reconciliation, the process of moving from being unsaved to saved is one hundred percent by grace. It is a free gift, accessed by faith, and works have no part in moving from being unsaved (NSG) to saved (SG). Once restored, the Christian is called to good works.
- All of this is made possible by the saving work of Jesus Christ in his Suffering, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.