Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Revvin' on the Road to Heaven

In most every apologetic discussion with Evangelical Protestants, the topic of eternal security will come up. Is salvation assured for those who profess their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, or is our salvation an ongoing process? Are we justified by faith alone as the Protestant often contends, or is it faith in cooperation with works as the Catholic Church teaches?

At some point, the Protestant will cite 1 John 5:13 where he says, "I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God." (NAB) They usually emphasize the word "know" as if it indicates certainty. The Catholic may agree that we have eternal life, but with less certainty, heeding the "things" that John wrote about obeying the commandments and avoiding sin. John writes about deadly sin just a few verses later. Most Protestants believe the "completeness" of Christ's Sacrifice means salvation is a done deal for the believer and anything more that we do gain eternal life indicates a belief that Christ's Sacrifice was insufficient. In fact, most Protestants believe they can commit adultery or any serious sin without losing salvation because the Blood of Christ washes away all sins, past, present and future. (No wonder they seem to be having much more fun than we do!)

Earlier this week, I found myself responding to a non-Catholic friend about the meaning of 1 John 5:13. He queried, "What does that verse mean if it doesn't mean that there is a way for Christians to know they will have eternal life?" Karl Keating's apostolate Catholic Answers offers the following response for Catholics who are asked, "Are you saved?" I am redeemed by the blood of Christ, I trust in him alone for my salvation, and, as the Bible teaches, I am 'working out my salvation in fear and trembling' (Phil 2:12), knowing that it is God's gift of grace that is working in me. (Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, p.25)

It's a good answer, but I was trying to find a simple analogy to explain my understanding of 1 John 5:13 in a friendly way. Can we be assured of our salvation? I hope what I came up with does not set Catholicism back too far!

Back in the 70's, a co-worker of mine bought an early version of the SUV with 4-wheel drive. I believe it was a Ford Bronco or something similar. We live and work in a rural area where the roads do not always get plowed in the winter, and he good-naturedly bragged that he would arrive home safely during the first big snowstorm because he had 4-wheel drive while the rest of us would be stranded. We had a heavy snowfall one day and I decided to follow behind him as far as I could on the way home thinking he could open a path. When he tried to blast his way through a rather large drift, he got stuck immediately. I stopped and we spent a half hour or so trying to get him moving. Eventually, a farmer with a much larger truck came along and pulled him out.

The next day at work, we talked about how his front wheels did not appear to be driving as he tried to free the Bronco from the snow. He got his owner's manual out, and read a section where it told about the 'transfer case', and how it needed to be engaged while the transmission is in neutral in order to apply power to the front differential. The manual also explained how the driver must exit the vehicle and manually lock each of the front hubs by turning the locking knob a quarter turn. If John had written this passage in the manual, he might have concluded by saying, "I tell you these things so you know you have 4-wheel drive."

If anyone had asked my co-worker if he had 4-wheel drive, he would have been perfectly correct is answering, "YES, absolutely! I have 4-wheel drive." He did, but he still had to play an active role for it to be effective in getting him to his destination. I look at 1 John 5:13 in a similar way. I can truthfully say, "YES, I have eternal life", but I must follow "these things" that John tells me (obey the commandments, avoid sin, etc.) in order to partake of this gift from God. In my view, John wants us to know the blood of Christ opened the gates of heaven to all of us, but we must act in cooperation with God's will to reach our destination. In this context, so many other Bible passages make sense regarding what we must do to enter the kingdom of heaven.

So there you have it! Eternal security is like 4-wheel drive - well, sort of. Perhaps I should add a disclaimer. We have just gone through about a week of 90+ degree temperatures. It's probably no coincidence that I am harking back to snowstorms. If this analogy seems a little crazy, I could be delirious from the heat. Have mercy.