Who then can be Saved?

Dear Folks,
Our Gospel today (John 3:14-21) is cause for rejoicing but also raises some questions.
We rejoice in “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into
the world to condemn the world, but that the word might be saved through him (John
3:16:17).” We read elsewhere that God “wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge
of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” This is great. God is not simply an objective judge who is
content to send us to hell if we don’t measure up to some arbitrary standards. God wants us to
be saved, wants it very much.
Then things get interesting. “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever
does not believe has already been condemned, because he does not believe in the name of the
only Son of God (John 3:18).” This is serious. What does that mean? Does it mean that all
who are not explicitly Christian are going to hell? Does it mean that affirming the right
doctrines guarantees me salvation? The Catholic Church would say no.
“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to
light, because their works were evil (John 3:19).” If, by God’s grace, one chooses light as
best as one can understand it, that may be saving faith. The Second Vatican Council’s
Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) says, “those who have not yet received the
Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways (LG 16).”
“Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he
gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills
all men to be saved (1Tim 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the
Gospel of Christ or his Church but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and
moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their
conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation (LG 16).” We see in 1 Timothy 4:10
that “we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who
believe.”
Make no mistake, anyone who gets to heaven does so by the grace of God through the one
sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, none of us would be saved: we
would all be toast (extra crispy). There would be nothing we could do about it, nothing at all.
It is possible to believe in Jesus like I believe that Carson City is the capital of Nevada. I
believe it’s true, but it doesn’t affect my life in any way. That is not faith in the Christian
sense. It is possible to go to church, say all the right things, and still have more faith in sin to
make me happy, that is, prefer darkness to light. On the other hand, if one has been taught
such a bad imitation of the Christian faith that one cannot see the goodness, beauty or truth of
it, one would not be blamed for rejecting that caricature. I suggest that people who believe a
feeble imitation of the Gospel are far more common than most people think.
So, whom should we evangelize? Everyone, with no exception, including ourselves. Our
faith is imperfect, and we can all wander off if we are not attentive. St. Paul said, “I drive my
body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified
(1 Corinthians 9:27).” If he was not smug, how much less should we be? That shows the
seriousness of his warning that “whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to
fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).” We should never despair of anyone, and we should never be
complacent. We may someday find that a small act of sharing light may make all the
difference.
Lent is serious.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s