On the assurance of salvation
“Do you want to have assurance of salvation?” is one question commonly asked by non Catholic Christians. Some Catholics left the Church because they want this “assurance of salvation”. Not all Protestants and “Bible only” Christians teach assurance of salvation – some do believe we can lose our salvation.
What is the Catholic Church’s teaching on assurance of salvation? This question is related to predestination. Catholics believe in the existence of the Elect, whom God predestines to enter heaven (until now the Catholic Church does not declare dogmatically whether the Election is conditional or unconditional). The Elect obviously have assurance of salvation – otherwise we don’t call them the Elect. The question is: do we know who they are? Catholics believe that unless God reveals their state to us, we cannot know them. Examples from the Scripture are the criminal on the other cross to whom Jesus said that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43) and the seventy (or seventy-two) disciples to whom Christ said their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20). In Romans 16:3-16 Paul greeted a number of persons and only Rufus (Romans 16:13) he singled out as God’s Elect. This does not mean the rest will not go to heaven but Paul was given the revelation of only Rufus’ Election. In John 14:2-3 Christ told His disciples (excluding Judas who already left in John 13:30) that He will prepare a place for them. Paul himself at one time, when he wrote 1 Corinthians, indicated that he did not know he belongs to the Elect.
Every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27 (RSV)
The Greek word translated (in RSV) as disqualified is adokimos, which means something declared unworthy after being tested. It is used in the same sense in Hebrews 6:8 to describe land that produces thorns and thistles after receiving rain and producing crop. We cannot know the Elect because they are the ones who persevere or endure to the end (cf. Matthew 24:13). Only God who knows who will manage to do so. This is the reason why the Catholic Church rejects the belief that when a person becomes Christian he/she knows for sure, without God’s revelation, that he/she will persevere to the end and will be saved.
If any one saith, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate; let him be anathema.
Council of Trent, Canon XV of the Decree on Justification
If any one saith, that he will for certain, of an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance unto the end, unless he have learned this by special revelation; let him be anathema.
Council of Trent, Canon XVI of the Decree on Justification
Since without God’s revelation we cannot identify the Elect, Catholic believe that our salvation is conditional, i.e. we will be saved provided we persevere to the end (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 837 and 1821). Why some who belong to the Church are not saved should not surprise us. In His parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) Christ already predicted that sons of the evil are also part of the kingdom of heaven and they would not be separated until the judgment day. Those who claim that all members of their church have assurance of salvation, or, in other words there are no “weeds” in the church, should wonder how to apply this parable of the weeds to their church.