The Christian woman beamed when I told her I’d accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior but had never heard of the Salvation Prayer. After receiving permission, she put her hands on me and prayed the Salvation Prayer over me. When it was completed, she practically squealed with delight at having “saved” me and ran off to tell others.
It was overly simple. I’d accepted Christ as Savior, said The Salvation Prayer, and – BOOM! – she said I was now going to Heaven. In those few moments, I’d received a golden ticket to paradise.
It was an experience I was happy to have, but it was also one that made me think more deeply about what it means to be Catholic-Christian. The more cynical part of me wondered if I could be saved simply because of my faith and saying the Salvation Prayer as many Christians profess.
I’d accepted Jesus, but I had before I’d known the Salvation Prayer existed.
I’d sought out faith in Jesus and the Holy Trinity, but the fact that I was still alive and kicking had already proven they exist.
I’d held tight to Faith, Hope, and Love. They’d already lit my darkness and given me reason to live another day.
Was professing the Salvation Prayer’s truths enough, was “accepting” Jesus enough? How was I different after having said the prayer? Had merely repeating her words saved me, or did I need to make changes too? Would anyone who saw me know I had been saved, and how much good was my being saved if everyone I Loved went to Hell in part because I didn’t show them Christ work’s in me?
Why Faith Alone is Not Enough to Save You
Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) and so we know that to get to Heaven, we must know, love, and trust Jesus, but is knowing, loving, and trusting enough?
The root of the problem may lie in the misunderstanding some have about what it means to work to get to Heaven. Some will mistakenly think that to get to Heaven we must climb a ladder of good works.
I picture their faith something like this:
Help a little old lady cross the street, move ahead 2 rungs. Rescue a puppy from a tree (How it got up there I’ll never know!), move ahead 1 rung. I guess if you’re fortunate enough to come across a really big tragedy and keep your wits about you, you may move up several rungs in a day.
Life for these folks becomes about always trying to earn your way into Heaven. It can even become a competition since we often judge how “good” we are based on how much better we are than those around us. For example, hanging out in a prison yard may make one feel like a very holy woman. Hanging out next to Mother Teresa may make the same person feel horribly selfish.
We cannot get to Heaven on works alone, We can never do enough good to be worthy of perfect Love. Besides, we know that all Good things, even those we choose to enable, come from God Himself. To try to get to Heaven based on our good works is to deny that Good comes from God. This is a bad idea.
Logically, we know climbing a ladder of good works is not how we are redeemed, but still many Christians hold onto the idea that if they are just good enough they’ll get there. This mistaken idea causes other Christians to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction.
These Christians think that if you recite the Salvation Prayer and say you know, love, and trust Jesus, then – BOOM – you’re in!
To them, it matters little what you do because forgiveness is always offered. Jesus covered our sins so we are free to be “good enough” in our thoughts, words, and actions. He knows we are “only human” and so our stumbles are brushed off.
There is little change in course after having accepted Jesus into their lives. They listen to the same music promoting promiscuity. They gossip behind each others’ backs. They covet the lives of those around them. They act unlovingly behind the doors of their homes and when they think they will not be caught. They justify thoughts, words, and actions that don’t live up to Jesus’ hopes because earthly creatures cannot attain His level of perfection.
Christians who proclaim all you need is faith to be saved fail to challenge themselves to reach their full God-given potential. They fail to bring the Gospel in action to others as we are called to do. They lean on the strength of their faith rather than on the call of the Lord to act in Love because of faith.
Salvation in the Lord Comes from Faith AND Good Works
One cannot claim faith in Jesus Christ and continue on the same path as everyone else. Faith must change a person and those changes must be evident in one’s works. How can you claim to have faith and not be challenged to act better, to give more, to be less center stage? How can you claim to have faith and not act in Love even when it is difficult to do so?
We see the command to Love and to show others the way to the Lord through our acts of Love clearly in Sunday’s Gospel.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
There is no disclaimer there. There is no asterisk stating that you should act in Love as long as the other person is of value to you. There is no footnote giving you permission to act without Love if your wife gains 50 pounds, is a slob, and generally drives you crazy. There is not even a footnote giving you permission to act without Love if your husband is a cheat. To Love and protect yourself, you may have to separate from him, but you are still called to Love.
Faith must drive your acts.
Jesus loves us unconditionally, and still He gives us, not a suggestion, but a new commandment (The emphasis is mine):
love one another as I have loved you.
To have faith means we believe the words of Christ, we accept them into our hearts, our minds, and our souls, but also that we use them to motivate us to do good works.
The command is clear,
love one another as I have loved you…
Love is an action word. Love is a choice. Love is based in faith. Love is a decision to act in a way that puts another above ourselves, even when we deem the other unworthy.
Love is based on faith that there is more out there than meets our eye. The command Jesus gives us to Love tells us that we are not to turn to others for affirmation, not even to our spouses, our children, our parents or friends. Our affirmation comes from Him. Instead, we are to reach out to others and treat them with Love as Jesus did for us.
When we have faith and do not seek affirmation from others, we realize it does not matter how we are treated. It is not about us. It is about being called to Love.
To be truly saved, we must have faith. Without faith, we cannot sit at the feet of the Lord; however, faith alone is not enough. What good is faith if it does not motivate us to act as the one we have faith in commands us?
Our change in path, our works based on faith, our thoughts, words, actions in the most difficult of circumstances show our true embrace of Jesus Christ. We show the Lord our faith in loving those we see as unworthy, especially those who have shared our homes, because we see the worth these people have to their Creator. We find ways to act in Love for them because we know it is our failings that cloud the worth Lord sees even in those who cause sadness.
Faith in action is shown in loving those who have sinned against us. It comes from doing an about-face, turning at a right angle, away from the path society pushes us toward, the path encouraging anger, bitterness, and retribution for wrongs done and toward a perpetual act of good work based on faith and love.
Faith is shown when you act in Love when you are sure your ability to love the other person is dead. Faith is shown in the Love we willingly, unselfishly, unconditionally proclaim on the altar in Marriage – and in our unwanted divorce. Faith is shown through actions in Love when reason tells us Love has died.
Good works alone cannot save you. Faith alone cannot save you. It is a combination of faith built on the Trinity that motivates you to offer a kind word, to reach out a hand, to bite your tongue, to seek Good in another in a way that shows the Lord you’ve taken His gifts to heart.
No, your works can never be good enough. Your faith can never be good enough. Without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there’d be no Heaven for us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, especially when it comes to saving a difficult Marriage, responding without malice toward our children’s other parent, living out the call to Love one another as Jesus Loves us.
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