How a Catholic Gets to Heaven
The fourth in our series of questions deals with Catholics getting into Heaven and what they actually believe they have to do in order to get there.
Q: How do Catholics believe they get into Heaven?
A: By the Grace of the Holy Spirit which moves on our hearts thus leading us to commit to follow Christ and all He commanded us to do and to “hold fast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14, CCC 154, 155). By believing that Jesus Christ is the Divine Son of God, that he was born of a Virgin, suffered death for our sakes by Crucifixion, and was raised bodily from the dead to eternal life. Through Him alone can we be saved.¹ (1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 9:15, Acts 4:12).
Okay, but what about Mary, and praying to Saints, the Rosary, lighting candles, believing in Confession, doing what the Pope says and all that other “extra” stuff? Don’t Catholics believe all that other stuff is necessary too in order to be saved? Most importantly, don’t Catholics believe that they have to do “works” in order to be saved? Isn’t it really a “works based Salvation?”
If all Christ ever told people to do in order to obtain Salvation was to ask Him “into our hearts as our personal Lord and Savior” and from that moment into eternity we were considered “saved” then Catholicism would truly be “Christianity plus”.
The question really becomes, “what must I do in order to be saved?” Our answer can be given utilizing what Scripture tells us to do:
“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9 cf – Acts 16:31).
But that is not the only thing Scriptures tell us to do in order to obtain Salvation.
Along with that Scripture also says, “Whoever believes and is Baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16). Peter writes in his letter, “Baptism… now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” (1 Peter 3:21) [“The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.” MSG]
Once people confess Jesus as Lord the first thing we’re called to is Baptism which cleanses us from sin, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and thus presents us as Holy before the Lord. (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26, Hebrews 10:22)
Explicitly we’re told several times that in order to remain steadfast in this life we are also called to do the works of the Lord. We are told “by their fruit you shall know them” and that if anyone does not actually produce good fruit they shall be cut off and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:10; 7:19, Luke 3:9) Also we’re told, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV) We’re told explicitly in Romans 2:6 that God rewards us for our good works, that by them we are justified and righteous like Abraham and Rahab (James 2:21.23.25) and also that we cannot abide in the doctrine of “faith alone” without works (James 2:14-17) because it has no merit. Good works then have merit since they sanctify a soul drawing them closer to God. Through these “works” we live out our Christian faith or maintain in our Christian faith and we do this in a number of different ways which are mentioned in the Bible. This includes turning away from vices and living in a virtuous way consistent with the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. (Galatians 5:16-24, Ephesians 4:17-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) It includes participating in the things Christ commanded us to participate in like Baptism (referenced above), the Eucharist (John 6:51,53-56; Matt. 26:26-28; Mark. 14:22,24; Luke 22;19,20; 1 Cor. 10:16), Reconciliation (John 20:21-23; Matt. 18:18; James 5:15,16), Confirmation (Acts 8:14-16, 19:4-6; Hebrews 6:2), and Anointing the Sick (Mark 6:13; James 5:14). [Holy Orders (Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 4:14, 5:17; 1 Peter 5:1; Titus 1:5) and Marriage (Matt. 5:32; Mark 10:6-9; ; Hebrews 13:4) are also considered Sacraments in the Catholic Church but are rather signs of being sealed into a chosen vocation in life and not mandatory for Christians who do not chose them.]
Not only are we told to remain steadfast in this lifestyle but that by falling into sin we can be cut off from God. (John 15:1-6, Matthew 10:22 & 24:13, Mark 13:13, 1 John 5:16,17, 2 Peter 2:20,21)
For many Protestants good “deeds” follow naturally from the initial belief in Christ and that if one is truly in Christ as a Christian one will naturally be lead to Christian actions and successfully avoid sinful actions because a true Christian would not be overcome by any sin in a way that would undermine his Salvation. Although, the good actions performed as a Christian have no merit at all in this regard and performing them is simple more a function of following the “new nature”. They are merely a byproduct of being a believer. All the good things one does after being a believer is a natural effect of Salvation. For many Protestant denominations, Salvation has become a process of reduction to the most simplified bottom line. Anything considered ‘non-essential’ is not required and interpretation lends a lot of varied degrees about what requirements are necessary in order to obtain Salvation.
Catholics believe in an “active participation” in their faith and all that has been asked of them by Christ. We believe He established a Church with leadership to guide us and instituted Sacraments in order for us to be joined more perfectly with Him. We believe that God, through no work or action on our part, gives us the initial grace of the Holy Spirit as a free gift to respond to His call to become followers of Christ. (CCC 1966) Once we are Baptised we are buried with Christ in Baptism, washed clean of our sins, and joined with Him in the Resurrection of a new life. (CCC 1967) We believe that we must maintain this walk actively in a battle to die to our old ways, to sin, and to temptation, and that there are many ways which we have been given in order to actively receive God’s Graces. Because of our human nature, we are still capable to freely chose at any time to walk away from God or separate ourselves from Him because of our choice to sin. (CCC 162) When we have separated ourselves because of deadly sin or what we call mortal sin (1 John 5:16,17) we must reconcile ourselves to God in order to return our souls to a state of Grace suitable for obtaining Salvation in Him. This is why St. John calls it deadly sin. Only by actively maintaining in our faith by being obedient to God and fighting the good fight and running the good race all the way to the finish line can we accomplish the goal of winning the eternal crown. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in Christ to do God’s Will and we cannot accomplish anything without it. As Christ Himself says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” As St. Paul tells us we cannot do religious acts for their own sake in order to obtain righteousness because that’s what the Jews were trying to do by performing the works of the Law. That is what the book of Romans is all about. Only through Christ and with His help can we obtain Salvation. (cf CCC 162)
1. This belief is recited by Catholics each Sunday in the Nicene Creed and privately with the Apostle’s Creed. Many Protestants also recite the Apostle’s Creed and some even profess their own created creed derived or based, in some way, off the Apostolic Creed.
CCC ref. the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Each paragraph is numbered accordingly
154. Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. 155. In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace. 161. Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. 162. Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” (1 Timothy 1:18-19) To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. (cf. Mk 9:24; Lk 17:5; 22:32; Gal 5:6; Rom 15:13; Jas 2:14-26.)
1966. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. 1967. Grace… introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ… As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church. 1999. The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism.