Our Redeemer is Christ Jesus

St. Paul by Philippe Champaigne

St. Paul by Philippe de Champaigne

“What do I need to do to be assured of going to heaven?” This is a question that many of us have thought about, if not actually asked a priest or a teacher or a friend.  One of the most “famous” people to ask the question is the rich young man in the Gospels (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). Like many of us, the man felt he was doing all the right things and he wanted some definitive assurance it was enough. Jesus’ answer was not comforting!

Saint Paul also takes up the question because in his travels he found that people were debating about whether you earn salvation or whether it comes with believing in Jesus.  Paul was clear – our salvation is a gift from God, won for us by Jesus in his redemptive works (Romans 3:23-26).

Jesus preached that “only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven” will enter the kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 7:21). It is by leading a life pleasing to God, obeying his commandments, all rooted in the demanding commandment of love, that we live in the world the life we have received. By doing the will of God in charity we grow in the divine life we have received.

The Christian is not called merely to conversion followed by a static preservation of a gift once received. Christ has given us new life, a life that must be dynamic and grow.

Paul insists – “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  By ever becoming more intensely alive in the Lord, who is Truth and Love, and by exercising this life in union with him in personal prayer and in liturgy and in deeds of love, we also prepare for the heavenly life to which all earthly sharing in Christ’s life is ordered as its final crown and final perfection.

All our prayer, worship and works of love in this world are imperfect. Paul reminds us that we live in a state of faith and obscurity, and in a world still suffering, awaiting final redemption (cf. Romans 8:22-23).

There are people and things of this world that would seek to keep us from that redemption.  The people in Rome, no less today, faced temptations and opposition.  But Paul tells them to have hope.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he points out. “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

While the works of a Christian may bring this world ever closer to conformity with the plan of God’s kingdom, that kingdom cannot be perfected here. What we strive after in living now the life of Christ will be fully realized only when we have come to see God face-to-face, and in his light rejoice in the utter victory of Christ over all sin, death and imperfection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

The grace of God, which moves us to good deeds and builds up the Body of Christ, merits eternal life for us. It is not our own power which makes our good deeds so effective, so fruitful. We ourselves could never initiate or draw out our own resources to bring about life forever with God. Rather, it is Jesus who merits for us all the holiness we hope for.

It is the Lord’s generosity that enlarges our life by his grace, so that we may truly believe and love, that we may truly share in the work of God. In that hope, Paul assures us, we are saved (Romans 8:24).

This is the fourth installment in a series on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.