By Lenora Grimaud

We are in the year of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI. St. Paul was, perhaps, the most controversial of all the Apostles. This was not because he preached a different Gospel than Peter, James, and John, however. In fact, he made it a point to meet with them in Jerusalem in order to get their approval of what he preached: “I laid before the leading men the Good News as I proclaim it among the pagans; I did so for fear the course I was adopting or had already adopted would not be allowed.” (Gal. 2:2). Paul was controversial because he was often misunderstood, especially when he wrote about the “Law,” or took a stand against false teachers. His teachings were frequently distorted by false teachers. St Peter referred to this when he preached to the Christians, urging them to live “lives without spot or stain,” and to wait patiently, for the “Day of the Lord.” Peter said:

“Our brother Paul, who is so dear to us, told you this when he wrote to you with the wisdom that is his special gift. He always writes like this when he deals with this sort of subject, and this makes some points in his letter hard to understand; these are the points that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture—a fatal thing for them to do. You have been warned about this, my friends; be careful not to get carried away by the errors of unprincipled people, from the firm ground that you are standing on. Instead, go on growing in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory, in time and in eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:15-18).

One of the points that St. Paul made that was frequently distorted, is covered in his letter to the Galations, Ch. 2 thru 5. St. Paul taught that the Law cannot save us or make us righteous; that if it could, Jesus would not have needed to come, or to die on the Cross for us. Paul was preaching to Gentiles, not Jews. He was also reacting against a group of Jews who insisted that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the Old Covenant before they could become Christians and receive the New Covenant. Paul insisted that they were no longer under the Law, and the curse of the Law, but under the Spirit. Instead of doing good in order to fulfill the Law, they were to do what the Law required out of love, through the power of the Spirit, not out of fear; or an attempt to earn their salvation, through their own efforts. Paul taught that we are “saved by faith.” But, he never said “faith, alone,” although some people got that impression from his writings. Paul never rejected good works, the Commandments, or morality. In fact, Paul taught a higher morality than that of the Ten Commandments, and expected Christians to live it because they had received the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said: “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.” (Mat. 5:17). He also taught: “For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 5:20). Jesus calls us to live a life of “Beatitude.” (Mat. 5:1-12). This calls for great love. This calls for the fullness of the Holy Spirit. This calls for us to be holy as Jesus is holy. The Ten Commandments didn’t disappear with the New Covenant. It was the hundreds of other laws that became a “heavy yoke” on the people, which disappeared. God never asks us to do the impossible—he never asks us to do anything without giving us the means and grace to do it. The Commandments were not difficult to obey, unless one was addicted to lawlessness: “For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach.” (Dt. 30:11). But, the Law could not enable the people of the Old Covenant to love. The Law could not save them, or bring them into an intimate personal relationship with the Holy Trinity, or fill them with the Holy Spirit, or be a mediator between them and the kingdom of God. They obeyed the Law out of fear, or for selfish motives. With the Holy Spirit they could obey, motivated by love and faith, as Abraham did. When we have faith and love, we naturally and spontaneously keep the Law. We don’t even have to know what the Law says because it is written on our hearts. There are exceptions, however, due to the effects of original sin.

St. Paul insisted that if Christians were saved from sin, filled with the Holy Spirit, it would be impossible for them to continue to live immoral lives. If we continue to sin, to break the Commandments of love, we are slaves of sin and need forgiveness, healing, or deliverance. Paul taught that we “must be content to hope that we shall be saved—our salvation is not in sight, we should not have to be hoping for it if it were—but, as I say, we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet—it is something we must wait for with patience.” (Rom.8:24-25). Salvation is a process. When it is complete, we will be holy, as Jesus is Holy. There will be no obstacle to our receiving from God or giving to God—and our neighbor. In the meantime, “the just man falls seven times a day,” and we need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and healing whenever we fall back into sin, after Baptism.

Among those who protested against the Catholic Church, are those who preach that we are “Saved by faith, alone!” Unfortunately, for many people, this has come to mean: “Once saved, always saved” or “once forgiven, always forgiven.” This has led people to believe that salvation means to be saved from the Law, instead of saved from sin and death; to believe that salvation means we will immediately go to heaven when we die, no matter what kind of lives we live; that we are free to sin because Jesus died for our sins; that we will not be judged at the “Last Judgment;” that forgiveness is automatic and does not require repentance or changing our lives—we never have to ask for forgiveness once we become believers; that salvation does not require good works; that being part of the “elect” means we will be spared from suffering and death—from the “Tribulation” of the end times—and be taken up in the “Rapture.” This is not the teaching of the Apostles—who were all of one mind, heart, and purpose—including St. Paul. These distortions have caused some people to reject the “Law” and the morality of the Gospels; to believe that faith is nothing more than believing that Jesus is Lord—the only Son of God—and professing that belief with our lips. They reject that the life of faith includes holiness and good works—that we witness more by our actions than we do by our words. Scripture says that even the demons know, or believe, that Jesus is the Son of God—that he is Lord—and even profess it.

St. James reacted to the “libertines” who claimed that they were “saved” and no longer needed to do good works or obey the Law. He was probably talking about men who distorted what Paul said. James said:

Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.

This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds—now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show. You believe in the one God—that is creditable enough, but the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear. Do realize, you senseless man, that faith without good deeds is useless. You surely know that Abraham our father was justified by his deed, because he "offered his son Isaac on the altar"? There you see it: faith and deeds were working together; his faith became perfect by what he did. This is what scripture really means when it says: "Abraham put his faith in God, and this was counted as making him justified;" and that is why he was called 'the friend of God.’ (James 2:14-23).

There is no contradiction between what Paul taught, and what James taught. We are in danger of false teaching when we take Scripture out of context and isolate a selective passage from the whole message of the Gospel. It is true that we are “saved by faith,” but it is also true that good works are necessary for salvation. Under the Law, good works are usually the result of fear or self striving—an attempt to earn God’s love and mercy; to earn salvation. Under the New Law of the Spirit, good works are motivated by faith and love, without expecting anything in return.

The Word of God—both, the oral teaching of the Apostles, and later, the written Word—is the living Word of God. It must be received as a whole—not in disconnected, selective pieces. God is “One.” Whenever we extract a part of Scripture, and isolate it from the whole of Scripture, we distort it. It leads to confusion, contradiction, and heresy. Because it is the “living Word,” it is like cutting off a member of our body, such as a hand. When we receive it as a whole, there are no contradictions. The human body has two hands—both hands look alike and have the same purpose, but they are not identical, and one hand serves one side of the body and the other hand serves the other. Because they are not identical, and appear to be opposite, does that mean they are not both hands, or that they contradict each other? Both hands serve the whole body. There are many ambiguities and paradoxes in Scripture. That is why Jesus gave the Magisterium the power and authority to interpret it for us. As Scripture says: “we must be most careful to remember that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual. Why? Because no prophecy ever came from man’s initiative. When men spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them.” (2Peter1:20-21). This includes the whole of Revelation—the whole of Scripture.

“Once saved, always saved!” What does that mean? The Catholic Church teaches that once Baptized, always Baptized. We can never be re-baptized. In Baptism, we receive an indelible seal upon our souls that can never be removed. It identifies us, and is our true identity. We become part of God’s family—brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ through rebirth in water and the Spirit. “The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba Father,’ and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.” (Gal 4:6-7). This is only the beginning of salvation, however.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they lost, for all of us, the personal relationship they had with God. They were no longer able to receive the promise of the Spirit. They came under the Law, and being under the Law, they came under the “curse of the Law.” The curse is that “the wages of sin is death.” Even we, who came after Adam and Eve, were subject to the same curse, because to break only a part of the Law is to break the whole Law. We could not keep the Law (written on our hearts) because we inherited lawlessness—sin—from Adam and Eve. We could not keep the Law because we were under a curse. We could keep the outward observance of the Law, but were unable to live the Law of Love written on our hearts because we were spiritually blind.

Baptism gave us the gift of faith, which made us sons and daughters of God by adoption, through our “yes.” It set us free of the curse of the Law and brought us into the kingdom of God, and into a personal relationship with God—a state of grace. We were set free from original sin and the dominion of Satan. This was a definitive act which we cannot lose, except through free will—through sin. Whenever we fall into sin, after Baptism, we leave the kingdom of God, the state of grace, like the prodigal son who left home. We can always return, however, through repentance and the forgiveness of sins—through the Sacrament of Penance. Baptism happens only once, but forgiveness of sins is necessary every time we sin, every time we reject grace. In this life, we always have access to “eternal life”—the life of sanctifying grace in Jesus Christ. But, we are not guaranteed eternal life in heaven when we die, unless we are already in that state of grace. Jesus came, not only to save us from original sin and the dominion of Satan, which separated us from God, but to fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we could be delivered from personal sin, as well; and through love, be transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus.

Baptism also made us members of the Church—the body of Christ on earth. Through Baptism, God has called us and set us apart to carry on the mission of Jesus—to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus came to save the whole world—believers and non-believers, alike. What we received, we did not earn, so how can we see our faith, our salvation, as meriting heaven for us while those who have not received, merit hell? St. Faustina said that Jesus fully reveals himself to every soul at that last moment between life and death, before the soul leaves the body, and gives them the opportunity to choose God or reject God. I believe this. So, why be Baptized? As the “body of Christ” in the world, we are Jesus in the world, establishing his kingdom on earth. If we are with him here, and he is in us, we are not too likely to reject him when we see him face to face. As Jesus in the world, it is our mission to teach the world how to love and to over-come sin; and to prepare them for the kingdom to come.

What purpose does the Law have for Christians? The Law is a tool to enable us to examine our conscience—not in order to condemn us or to fill us with guilt—but as a guide to help us grow in holiness. It is a tool to form our conscience; to point to the law of the Spirit—the law of love that was written on our hearts when we were created; the law of love that we were not able to see because sin blinded us from it. The Law is like a mirror that reflects the law within our heart. The purpose of the Law is to show us where we fall short; to teach us what sin is and what love is. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can see what the Law points to. It is only through the grace of the Holy Spirit that we can change our lives and become empowered to live the law of love written on our hearts. The Law helps us to see what we need to repent of; what we need to be healed and delivered from; what we need to be forgiven for; what we need to forgive. God did not save us so that we can remain in our sins. We examine our conscience in order to get to the root of sin, to be enlightened—aware of our sins so that we can be reconciled, not only with God, but with everyone.

Not all sin breaks our relationship with God and others. But, all sin is an offense against love. All sin, no matter how small, grieves the Holy Spirit within us because it wounds ourselves, others, and God. God is a relationship! Our relationship with God, and with humankind, is like a marriage. We were all created to be “one.” Married people hurt each other many times a day, and need to forgive each other and ask for forgiveness, over and over again. This is not difficult because they love each other. But, giving forgiveness and asking for forgiveness is usually not enough to heal, even these small wounds. Spouses need to make some act of reparation—an act of love—such as an embrace or hug, a gift, a smile, a card, a letter, an act of service, or some kind of sacrifice. The same is true with all relationships. This is what the Sacrament of Penance is about. It is a Sacrament of healing. Sometimes you hear married people say, “I love it when we fight because it is so much fun making up.”

Mortal sin, or serious wrong-doing, can sever a relationship completely. People who have gone through a divorce know what it means to have their relationship severed. They can’t continue to live in an intimate relationship with each other. Many of them saw it coming. They saw the writing on the wall, but were helpless to change it or save their relationship—they didn’t know how. For others, the divorce came like “a thief in the night.” It took them by surprise and they wondered, “How did this happen?” St. Paul says: “Examine yourselves to make sure you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is really in you? If not, you have failed the test, but we, as I hope you will come to see, have not failed it.” (2Cor.13:5-6). Marriage is only “until death do us part” for those who stay married. It takes more than “faith, alone” to save a relationship, and to keep it. It takes work—good works—and forgiveness.

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