At some point, most Catholics face this question from other Christians who want to know whether a Catholic is ‘saved’ or ‘born again.’
This question can be a trap, since Catholics seem to have a different view of salvation than other Christians. For some denominations, being saved is rooted in the concept of Faith Alone, or the passage from Romans 10:9 which states, “If you confess with your tongue that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved.” These Christians believe that once a person makes a public declaration of religious belief, then they will be saved for the rest of their lives.
Catholics agree with this, to a point. We believe every person is born with the blemish of original sin, which needs to be cleansed and forgiven just once before we are able to accept God’s salvation. Original sin is forgiven through the sacrament of Baptism, just as saint Peter directed in 1 Peter 3: 20-21:
“And this water [ of Noah’s flood] symbolizes the baptism that now saves you — not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, every Catholic is saved by baptism. So the answer to “are you saved or born again?” is “YES, when I was baptized.”
But wait, we all know Catholics who were baptized as babies but now live sinful lives and don’t seem to want God’s salvation anymore. Have they been un-saved or lost their salvation?
Catholics believe in God’s salvation, and they believe it is available to every single human. But of course not every person on earth acts like they want to go to heaven. Some people willingly choose to carry out grave sins. Clearly, even though God extends salvation to all of us through Jesus’s death on the cross, not everyone is willing to accept it.
Therefore, Catholics have a more specific definition of salvation. Salvation requires faith in God, and it is also an ongoing process that requires continuous choices and actions on our part. Catholics do not simply confess their faith once and consider themselves saved. This practice is rooted in scripture. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a man needs to confess Jesus only once. However, the Bible tells us in many places that salvation is available if we are making certain choices. The Bible also lists many situations where actions can lead to salvation. Here are some of the reasons Catholics believe that faith and works are necessary for salvation:
- Hebrews 12:14 says we will not see the Lord unless we are holy, and that we must strive for holiness. (It doesn’t happen automatically.)
- Matthew 6: 14-15 says we must forgive others or we will not be forgiven. One cannot be saved without God’s forgiveness, so God is clearly asking us to take the action of forgiving others first.
- John 6:54 says we will have eternal life if we do a very specific action: eat the flesh and drink the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- In Matthew 19: 16-17, when Jesus is asked what someone should do to earn eternal life, He responds, “Keep the commandments and you will have life.”
- St. Paul tell us that we were saved (Romans 8:24), that we are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18), and that we will be saved (Romans 5: 9-10).
So for Catholics, salvation is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is an ongoing process of growing in faith that begins with Baptism and continues throughout our lives. Jesus’s sacrifice makes salvation available to all. But we must constantly work to make ourselves open to His grace and redemption.