There is a great deal of disagreement among Christians as to how we are saved, or “justified.” We all agree that Christ Jesus offered his life to bring us salvation and that both God’s grace and faith in Christ are indispensable elements for receiving eternal life. Past that, however, we find ourselves at varying levels of disagreement over the necessity of baptism, whether there is a difference between initial and final salvation, whether salvation can be lost and regained, the importance of visibly belonging to the Church, the role of the sacraments, etc., etc. What makes it incredibly difficult is that each “group” claims that its view best represents the belief witnessed to in the pages of the New Testament. Allow me to provide hyperlinks to verses given in support of these different positions. (Please note: This is in no way meant to be exhaustive):
- Faith, or belief, in Jesus is all that is necessary for salvation. (John 3:16, John 6:28-29, Romans 3:21-28, Romans 10:9-10, Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9)
- Faith is the beginning of salvation, but it is baptism that actually imparts God’s life to us. (Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:37-38, Romans 6:3-5, 1 Peter 3:20-21, Titus 3:4-7)
- Faith and baptism are the beginning of our life in Christ, but we must remain in him until the end to fully inherit eternal life. (Matthew 24:12-13, John 15:6, 2 Peter 1:10-11, Hebrews 10:35-39)
- We must cooperate with Christ’s grace, allowing him to manifest his good works through us. (John 15:1-8, Galatians 5:5-6, Hebrews 6:10-12, James 2:21-24)
- We can sever ourselves from Christ through serious sin. (1 Corinthians 9:27, 1 Cor. 10:1-12, Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Peter 2:20-21, 2 Peter 3:17-18)
- The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, provide us with vital nourishment for maintaining our spiritual lives. (John 6:53-58, John 20:22-23, James 5:13-16)
- We, the members of Christ’s Church, even act as conduits of grace to one another (1 Corinthians 7:16, 1 Timothy 4:16, Hebrews 13:17, Jude 22-23)
You can see that many of the verses cited by those holding opposing views come from the very same books of the Bible. Alas, if only the Son of God possessed enough foresight to establish some means of ensuring the correct understanding of his teaching! (He did of course; but that is yet another huge bone of contention.) Setting that point to one side, I want to tell you that there is a passage in the New Testament that brings together all of these elements and witnesses to the salvific synergy existing between them. Let’s look to the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25)
If you will indulge me, I want to break the passage apart and offer commentary; because, brief as it is, I am convinced that is the fullest statement of the “plan of salvation” within the pages of the New Testament:
- “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the [heavenly] sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God…”
- Jesus’ life, offered to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, merited salvation for the human race.
- “…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
- We are united with Christ and first receive salvation through the unmerited gifts of faith and baptism.
- “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…”
- His life is maintained and grows in us through (a) grace-filled works, (b) active membership in his Body, and (c) participation in the Church’s Eucharist and sacramental life
- “…and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
- Until we are united with him in heaven and then share his bodily resurrection on the last day.
This is the normal path of salvation. Mind you, God is free to impart his grace and the gift of salvation in any way and by any means he sees fit! There is obviously much more to be said. For the moment, let me simply encourage you to meditate upon the above passage and to share it, as the Holy Spirit provides you with opportunities, with our separated brothers and sisters. You might also want to dive back into the Epistle to the Hebrews. There are an abundance of riches to be mined!
Editor’s note: Information shared in this article was adapted from Shane Kapler’s book, The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics (Angelico Press, 2016). Learn more about this book and Mr. Kapler’s work at his website, ExplainingChristianity.com.