How To Be Saved

Coronación_de_la_Virgen,_by_Diego_Velázquez - Edited
Coronation of the Virgin, by Diego Rodríguez Velázquez in 1636

We all want to get to heaven, right? Isn’t that what this life is about? Getting to heaven is what some Christians call “being saved” or “getting saved.” For Catholics, we understand salvation in a past, present and future tense. By following Christ we have been saved. We are being saved, and we hope to be saved. Catholic Christians don’t believe salvation is ever guaranteed to us, but we do believe we have a moral assurance that our salvation is possible if we follow Jesus Christ.

For Catholic Christians, salvation means two things. First, it means that our souls will go to heaven after we die, to be with God and his saints. (A saint is a “holy one,” and this includes both angels and human souls who are saved.) Second, it means returning to our physical bodies, which are resurrected in a perfect and glorified state, at the end of the world, so that we may live with God and his saints forever both spiritually and physically. Catholics understand physical death as an unnatural state for human beings, wherein the body and soul are separated. Human beings were not created to remain as disembodied souls. Human beings were made to represent God in the physical world. So at the end of the world, God will set all things right and return our souls to our resurrected bodies, which have been made perfect and glorified, unable to die again, in a new heaven and a new earth.

This is what we all want, right?

So how do we get it?

One way Catholic Christians understand the process of salvation is by following the “Roman Road.” By that we don’t mean a literal road leading to the City of Rome in Italy, but rather by following the precepts taught in the Book of Romans, written by Saint Paul, the Apostle, to the Church in Rome back in the middle first century. So with that in mind, let’s travel down the Roman Road…

One common mistake people make is they assume that getting to heaven is accomplished by just being a good person. “I consider myself a good person…” they say, “won’t that be enough?” Well, not exactly. Saint Paul wrote…

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
— Romans 3:23

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
— Romans 3:10

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
— Romans 5:12

You see, the Scriptures tell us (and the Catholic Church teaches us) that God is absolutely holy. God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). This means he is totally separate from humanity in all his ways. For God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is God. He is the God of nature. He is the Creator of the universe. He doesn’t operate on man’s terms, nor he doesn’t follow man’s rules, logic, or ideas of “fairness.” To say that being a good person is good enough, is like trying to make God play by man’s rules. That isn’t how it works. To help us understand what God requires of us to be saved, he revealed to Saint Moses some laws as standards by which human beings are to be judged. These laws are called the Ten Commandments (found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21). They are as follows…

  1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship only the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. You shall not worship false gods or make idols to them.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

While you might consider yourself a “good person” compared to most people, how do you measure up to God’s laws? Have you ever lied about anyone? Then you have born “false witness” and broken the eighth commandment. Have you ever desired something your neighbor has and envied him/her because of it? Then you have “coveted” your neighbor’s goods and broken the tenth commandment. Have you ever desired your neighbor’s wife or husband, and envied your neighbor because of who he/she is married to? Then you have “coveted” your neighbor’s spouse and broken the ninth commandment. Have you ever stolen anything? Even when you were young? Then you broke the seventh commandment. Have you ever spoken rudely to your parents, disobeyed them, or caused them to be disappointed in you somehow? Then you broke the fourth commandment and dishonored your parents. Do you always go to church on Sundays whenever you’re healthy and physically able to do so? If not, you’ve broken the third commandment and violated God’s Sabbath. Have you ever taken the name of God (Yahweh, Jehovah or Jesus) in vain, using it in petty or vulgar ways, or swearing with his name included? Then you’ve broken the second commandment. Have you ever put anything else in your life higher then God? such as money, possessions, pleasure or power? Have you ever participated in Wicca, the Occult, Neopaganism or Neoheathenism? Have you ever visited a medium? participated in a seance? or consulted astrology charts? Then you have violated the first commandment. Sure, maybe you didn’t kill anyone, or commit adultery, so by society’s standards you’re a “good person,” but if you’ve even broken one of God’s commandments you are not a “good person” in God’s eyes, and your personal standards are not “good enough” to be saved. Scripture tells us that if we violate even one of God’s laws, we are guilty of having broken them all (James 2:10). When we break one of God’s commandments, we are guilty of having committed sin. The word “sin” means to miss the mark. It doesn’t mean you’re a “bad person,” but it does mean you haven’t lived up to God’s standards. All “good people” (by man’s standards) fail to live up to God’s standards.

Some might be inclined to say this is unfair. If God requires us to follow these laws, then shouldn’t everybody know them? What about the people who have never heard about these laws? That’s a fair question. God created the human intellect with the capacity to discern these laws from nature, and from the inner witness of our conscience. As Saint Paul told us…

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.
— Romans 2:14-15

Gentiles are non-Jews, and these are people who likely have little exposure to Saint Moses and the Ten Commandments. Yet Saint Paul tells us even Gentiles (non-Jews) understand these laws by nature, albeit not systematically, but at least in principle, and this bears witness on their conscience, wherein they inwardly know when something is right or wrong. For example; you shouldn’t need a commandment from God to tell you that lying is wrong, stealing is wrong, murder is wrong, adultery is wrong, disrespecting your parents is wrong, and coveting other people’s spouses or things is wrong. You sort of already knew this in your heart, didn’t you? But just to make sure we are without excuse, God gave us divine revelation too, recorded in Tradition and written for us in Scripture. So we are three-times without excuse, having received witness in (1) nature, (2) conscience and (3) revelation.

So if lots of “good people” fail to live up to God’s standards, then is it really that big of a deal? Won’t God accept us anyway? After all, we’re still “good people,” right? Remember, we can’t expect the Creator of the universe to play by our rules. God is God. He makes his own rules. It’s up to us to follow his rules. He doesn’t follow ours. God considers sin, no matter how seemingly small, to be a pretty serious matter. Saint Paul told us…

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
— Romans 6:23

Disobedience to an infinite and eternal God deserves an infinite and eternal consequence. When the Apostle speaks of “death” in this verse, he’s not just talking about physical death. He’s talking about spiritual death, which means eternal separation from God. The Catholic Church teaches us that spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God, is hell. We sometimes envision hell as a volcanic torture chamber, with lava, fire and brimstone. Such imagery, while popular, is not entirely accurate. In Scripture, hell is described as darkness (Matthew 22:13, Matthew 25:30), and yet there is fire (Mark 9:48, Revelation 20:14). Since fire produces light in nature, this means the fire of hell cannot be literal, anymore than the darkness of hell is literal. In fact, the word “thirst” is also used to describe hell (Luke 16:24). So the Scriptures are telling us that hell is an unimaginable experience, which can only be relayed to human beings in terms they can understand: darkness, fire, and thirst. Perhaps the best way to think of hell is in terms of separation from the only One who could ever make us truly happy — and that is God. To spend an eternity away from the one and only Person who could ever make us truly happy, would be hell in a very literal sense. If all happiness comes from God, and we spend eternity separated from that happiness, then we are eternally unhappy. That is hell, and that is the spiritual death Saint Paul speaks of in this passage. The “wages” of sin is death. Meaning that if we commit sin, we earn spiritual death, that is to say hell. Again, these are God’s standards, not ours, and because he is God, he makes the rules, not us.

No good judge lets a criminal escape without justice. Justice must be paid, somehow, or else the judge is not good. God is a good Judge. In fact, he is THE good Judge. Therefore, he cannot let us escape without exacting justice upon us, and as Saint Paul told us, “the wages of sin is death” meaning eternal hell. Yet, as we see in the passage above, God loves us, because he made us in his image, and therefore he has provided a way for us to escape eternal punishment without escaping his infinite justice.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). God himself came to earth, taking on human flesh and blood, to act in our place. To become a perfect and spotless representative of humanity, having no sin himself (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:22). Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, stood before God and took the punishment for our sin, on our behalf. In this sense he acted like an older brother, or kinsmen-redeemer (Genesis 48:16, Exodus 6:6, Leviticus 25:47–55, Leviticus 27:9–25), paying the penalty for sin that we could not. He did this through his passion and death on the cross (Matthew 27:32-55) two-thousand years ago.

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
— Romans 3:24-26

Then, to demonstrate that he had conquered death and hell, he rose from the dead three-days later (Matthew 28). So that if we identify with Christ, and we place ourselves in him as one of his followers, the penalty he paid for our sins will be accounted unto us, and our debt to God’s infinite justice will be paid in full. So that being justified by Christ, we are made righteous in God’s sight.

So if identifying with Christ is the way by which we are saved, how do we do that? Saint Paul explained…

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
— Romans 10:9-10

It starts with belief and confession. We can never be saved by trying to be “good people,” nor can we be saved through any amount of “good works” of our own merit. The Catholic Church specifically teaches that our own “good works” cannot merit salvation: “If anyone saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Canon I, Given in January 1547). The word “anathema” means accursed and rejected. This is considered an irreformable (infallible) dogma of the Catholic Church. It cannot be changed, not even by the pope. However, we can be saved (justified before God) by identifying with Christ, and we do this by confessing that Jesus is Lord (by faith). This means we make him our master, and we pledge to obey his teachings (in our works), trusting in HIS righteousness (not our own) to save us. In other words, even though we obey the teachings of Christ, we throw ourselves at God’s mercy, identifying with Christ as our advocate. For it is by grace we have been saved, in faith working through love (Ephesians 2:8-10, Galatians 5:4-6, Philippians 2:12-13, James 2:14-24). As Saint Paul put it to the Romans…

We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
— Romans 2:2-8 RSVCE

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
— Romans 2:21-31 RSVCE

So if we believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, how will we know that God hears us? Saint Paul anticipated this question, and gave the Romans this response…

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
— Romans 10:13

Basically, we have God’s word on it. It’s not a guarantee. Nobody is guaranteed salvation, but we do have the moral assurance that if we place our trust in Christ, and we live accordingly, God will be faithful to complete the work he began in us (Philippians 1:6).

So how do we place our trust in Christ? It begins with a simple prayer. Take a good look at this prayer. Read it over a couple times. If this prayer reflects the disposition of your heart, kneel down (if able) and pray it out loud…

O MY GOD, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in Three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I believe that Thy Divine Son became Man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, Who canst neither deceive nor be deceived.

O MY GOD, relying on Thy almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I
hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace, and Life Everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.

O MY GOD, I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured.

O MY GOD, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

Amen.

Did you pray this prayer out loud? If you did, you have just taken your first steps toward heaven. Again, as Saint Paul told the Romans…

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
— Romans 10:9-10

So now what? What are the next steps? We begin by following Jesus Christ in faith and trust. The first thing he tells all of us to do is to be baptized in the Name of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Saint Paul put it this way…

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:3-4

Trinitarian baptism is essential, for Christ himself commanded that his baptism be in the Trinitarian formula (Matthew 28:18-19, John 3:3-7). If we are followers of Christ, we will seek this kind of baptism. If you have not already been baptized in the Trinity, then the best way to go about it is to call a local Catholic parish, and ask a priest for assistance.

If you have already been baptized in the Trinity, even if it was in a Protestant or Evangelical community, that’s great! The Catholic Church accepts as valid all Trinitarian baptisms from multiple Protestant and Evangelical denominations. However, baptism is just the first sign of obedience to Christ’s command. We must also be confirmed. Confirmation is the second half of baptism, wherein the Holy Spirit is called upon to assist believers in their daily walk with Christ. This is how Saint Paul explained it…

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
— Romans 8:13-17

Only a Church with validly ordained bishops (such as the Catholic Church) can offer the sacrament of confirmation, which calls upon the Holy Spirit to assist the Christian soul in living the Christian life. This happens when a valid bishop, or his representative, lays hands on the one who has been baptized (Acts 19:5-6, Acts 8:14-17, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13, Hebrews 6:2). If you have not been confirmed by a Catholic bishop, or a Catholic priest working on his behalf, this can be easily remedied by contacting a local Catholic parish and asking for the sacrament. This usually involves a meeting with the priest, and taking a class to prepare one for reception. Once complete, candidates for confirmation are usually presented to the bishop (or his representative) at the Easter Vigil, but it is possible to receive the sacrament during other times of the year as well.

Lastly, after having been baptized and confirmed, a Christian must receive the body and blood of Christ to participate fully in the Christian life, and receive the fullness of grace that is necessary for salvation. Jesus said we cannot have eternal life unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-56). Jesus was speaking of Holy Communion here, wherein he said the bread and wine, which is blessed by a properly ordained minister of his, literally becomes his body and blood in a spiritual way. The word “spiritual” does not mean “symbolic.” It means “literal,” but in saying spiritual, one means a higher sense of reality that transcends our own reality. The body and blood of Holy Communion is not symbolic. It is literal. But it is also spiritual, meaning that it transcends our material senses, and is “more real” than the reality we perceive around us. When Jesus blessed the bread and wine of Holy Communion, he said: this “is” my body and this “is” my blood (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-19, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29). The word “is” always means “is.” It never means “symbolic” or “represents.” Many non-Catholic churches have attempted for force the interpretation of “symbolic” or “represents” onto the word “is.” This does violence to the Biblical text, and to the words of Our Lord. Authentic Holy Communion can only be confected by a properly ordained priest of our Lord Jesus Christ, and receiving it is necessary for the Christian soul.

Beyond that, we must live a life of faith in Christ, and this faith is not just mental assent to a list of beliefs. For the Scriptures tell us that even the demons believe and tremble (James 2:19). Demons are eternally damned. Their mental assent to certain beliefs did nothing to help them. The kind of faith that God wants is one that translates into actions.

So in review, how are we saved?

  1. Say the prayer (in blue italics) above in faith.
  2. Contact a local Catholic Church.
  3. Get baptized and confirmed.
  4. Receive Holy Communion as often as possible.
  5. Pray daily.
  6. Live your life for Christ.
  7. Trust in Jesus Christ, and believe that God will complete the work he began in you.

That is how we are saved!

Now, beyond that, educating one’s self in the faith is essential. The following books are called “catechisms” meaning “teaching.” If you don’t already have one of these, it would be wise to get one as soon as possible…

For Adults…

For Teenagers…

For Older Children…

For Young Children…

Likewise, if you don’t already have a good Catholic Bible, it would be wise to get one as soon as possible. The following two Bibles are the Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (RSVCE) which is arguably the best common English translation on the market, that maintains elements of sacred English throughout…

Regular Print…

Large Print…

For Children…

If you wish to get a rosary for prayer, it is best to get one that is durable and will last for years. The following rosary-making company has an excellent reputation and is highly recommended…

Rugged Rosaries
Rugged Rosaries

Are you looking for a Catholic parish nearby, where you can pray, go to mass, and speak to the priest? This website is the most comprehensive on the web. Just put in your zipcode and nearby parishes will appear with mass times and contact information…

masstimes_appicon
Mass Times and Locations

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