St Francis Q&A

Friday, March 09, 2007

"Like, what's the truth?"

Kevin H. wrote, “Hi FG. My English teacher says that Catholics believe you can only get to heaven by doing good deeds. She says other christians believe that you get to Heaven just by believing in Jesus. Like what's the truth? Heaven and hell. How does God decide who is going to Hell? What is Hell like? Thanks.” Hi, Kevin! Wow, you covered a lot of ground in your comments! For answers to your questions about Heaven and Hell, you can go to “August 2006” in the archives section of our site. I wrote a few posts about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

Regarding your teacher’s comments, she is wrong when she says that we Catholics believe one can only get to Heaven by doing good deeds. Btw, I would be interested to know if you go to a public or private school (especially after Wednesday’s post about sex education in public schools). The Church teaches that salvation is through faith and works.

Marion commented on your question and directed you to a good article online that provides some answers; you can read the full text by clicking on the title of this post. Here are some excerpts from it:

“Roman Catholicism teaches that we are not saved by faith alone. The Church has taught this since 30 A.D. as part of the Divine Revelation. The truth of the Catholic Church's teaching can be demonstrated from Sacred Scripture alone. All who claim the title ‘Christian’ will be able to agree on the following two truths: salvation is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8) and salvation is through Christ alone (Acts 4:12). These biblical facts will be our foundation as we explain the teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Marion also included a very important passage from the letter of James which says, "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone . . . For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (2:24,26).

What did Jesus teach? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). This would counter what other Christian denominations teach: that all one has to do to be saved is to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Also, and this is a big one, in Matthew 25, Jesus explains how the Final Judgement will go down. He will judge whether we should go to Heaven or Hell based on how we have treated the poor. Those who have given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, etc. will go to “eternal life”; those who have not will go to “eternal punishment”. So, judgement has a lot to do with what we do or don’t do! I remember asking a Protestant minister one time on an airplane how he made sense of Matthew 25 if salvation is by faith alone. He frankly said, “I don’t know. I will have to get back to you on that”.

Two last thoughts: 1) The Church has never taught that we can “merit” (or earn) salvation. It’s not really “our” works; it’s God’s Grace working through us if we are open. But, we need to be open in order for these necessary works to occur. 2) The Protestant Reformers changed Scripture (particularly Rom 3:28) so that it would read salvation by “faith alone”. One of the Reformers (Martin Luther) admitted that he changed it. And so, for 500+ years, many people have believed it because of that. The Reformation was all part of the unfortunate situation where people got angry at the Catholic Church, and went too far in how they “protested”. “Salvation by faith alone” and “salvation by Scripture alone” were not taught by Christ, and are thus not found in the Bible.


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