By Reg Harbeck
As a former Protestant, I love how much sense the Catholic teaching about salvation makes. Core Christian works like C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity could as easily have been written by a Catholic as a Protestant. For that matter, the New Testament and writings of early Church fathers and saints (e.g. Augustine, Francis, Aquinas, Mother Teresa) can validly be claimed as Christian by Protestants, and they are unquestionably Catholic.
The problem is, people often misunderstand the Catholic teaching as saying that we “earn salvation.” Of course, we actually receive it as a free gift through baptism. But, having been given that gift of redemption, which Christ won through his death and resurrection, why wouldn’t we continue that journey, becoming more and more conformed to the perfect holiness that God has called us to? Wonderful Bible passages such as Philippians 2:12-13 point the way forward for all of us as we journey to Heaven and perfection.
Now, we can still backslide after being baptised. The New Testament has many rebukes for Christians who have gone lukewarm (e.g. Revelation 3:16 – “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” – NIV). This means that, while we are saved, our journey to perfection must sometimes be completed after our bodies die—as illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. Catholics call that final time of healing “purgatory,” which assumes we’re already saved and is just the completion of our journey.