On Salvation

The Question: Spiritual contentment can be an illusive thing sometimes, can it not? When our flesh gets in the way, God just seems to be working all too slowly or not at all. I would appreciate all of your prayers concerning my marriage. Among other things, the draw of the Catholic Curch is pressing down hard on our commitment to stay together.

The Response: I don't know nearly enough about your situation to even consider making suggestions. Rather, let me generalize and, if you find anything useful, just take it and build on it.

The contentment I refer to is not restricted to just the spiritual world. I am fully content - well, at least 99% of the time - in this world as well. I am convinced, and I may be completely wrong, that it is only when we fully and completely place our trust in God that the fruits of the Spirit accrue to the believer. I suppose the kind of trust I am thinking of is comparable to being pregnant. One either is pregnant or she is not; one either trusts fully or she does not. No intermittent stages. Intellectual trust, tendered as a conscious effort, too easily disappears in the face of difficulty. Soul trust, for want of a better term, comes into being outside of the will of man. In times of greatest difficulty, it endures.

My wife, in common with all her extended family, was raised as a Catholic in Mexico. For a time after I first was saved, we attended worship services together - with a charismatic congregation. She loved the 'wide open' style of ecstatic worship. At first so did I, but after a time I was called out of that assembly. Wifey returned to Catholicism, where she felt comfortable with the ritual and spectacle. She attends Mass in Spanish most Sundays at the RCC church near our home. After Mass, she hangs out in the church cafeteria with a bunch of her friends. As I see it, attending Mass is, for her, something like attending a concert and then going to a tea party.

It used to trouble me greatly when she would go to Mass. I tried every approach I could think of to convince her that the Catholic Mass is not Christian worship, but to no avail. She reads the Bible two or three times a day, usually in the Book of Psalms (They are just like Catholicism's canned prayers), but spends a few hours each day reading Catholic prayers and devotionals. I still try to reach her with the Gospel, and she listens carefully to my every word. And then she returns to her devotionals.

I used to be troubled by what I was convinced would be her eternal condition. Then, I was minded of what the Scriptures tell us; that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. She hears, and has often heard, the Gospel, yet she clings to her Catholic roots. She hears, it seems, with ears of flesh, not with ears of the spirit. She believes in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but only He knows whether her belief qualifies as saving faith.

That's the key to understanding and accepting the situation: only God knows the state of a person's soul. How many times must we be deceived before we come to realize that no man or woman has the ability to see into the heart of another? We can only see as far as the façade another person presents. Think of the multitude of media ministers who seek to project an image of godliness, but fall far short of the mark. Think of popes, cardinals, bishops, priests and nuns who work at projecting a pious image. How many of them truly are what they claim to be? How many people in your circle of friends and acquaintances are really saved? You cannot know for certain. Nor can I. Only God can know.

Is one's eternal state determined by his church affiliation, or lack of same? Not even Catholicism teaches that any longer, though the old extra ecclesia nulla salus thing is still on the books. We are saved, not by church membership but by the gift of saving faith, which comes to some by God's grace. Sadly, not all who are born will be saved. The Scriptures tell us that this is the will of God. Who are we to challenge God?

We live in a society that teaches, or tries to, that everyone is responsible for everyone else. In many ways, that is true. However, when the time comes to stand face to face with the Perfect Judge, we will only be called to account for our own lives. In Christ's courtroom, every person stands alone. There is no other person that can claim responsibility for the things we did or failed to do.

There is a tendency in some to forget that it is not we who call the lost to salvation, but God. Our responsibility is to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth; to share the message with all who will listen. We have neither the mandate nor the power to oblige anyone to accept the Gospel. Again, that is God's work. Perhaps it would be well to take a moment to read the 3rd chapter of Paul's 1st letter to the church at Corinth. Notice the words,

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.--1 Corinthians 3:6-9

Perhaps your situation would be made easier if you were to accept that it is God who calls, not man. By all means, continue to open the Gospel truth in your home, but perhaps it would be well to do so in a non-confrontational manner. Despite all Catholicism's claims to have brought tens of millions of pagans to salvation – all too often by the sword – no one can save anyone. That is God's exclusive province. A big part of trusting God has to do with being in submission to His will. Granted, it is painful to consider that a loved one might spend eternity separated from God, but if it is His will, so be it. What can we do? Continue sharing the Gospel, and praying for those we love - that God will pour out His saving grace upon them.

When we have done our part, we can only trust that God will open the ears and hearts of those we love.

Hope that helps.

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