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What is salvation?

'Crucifixion and Saints' by Fra Angelico (1441-1442) Public domain

‘Crucifixion and Saints’ by Fra Angelico (1441-1442) Public domain

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM, answers the question of salvation
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Fr Jim Van VurstFrom time to time in talking with good and faithful people, I realize they have a basic misunderstanding about “salvation” and “how it works.” By that I mean, many people grew up thinking that they were in charge of their salvation and unless they were successful in living virtuously they were in serious difficulty … not “good enough” to be saved. Many concluded that God’s requirement was perfection or near-perfection! We might say, “Well, good luck with that!”

But let me explain a truth that is so very important and yet one so many misunderstand. The basic truth is that JESUS IS OUR SAVIOR. It’s not us! Paul’s letter to the Hebrews states it very clearly in Chapter 2 when he reminds his Jewish converts that Jesus became human “like his brothers in every way … [to] free those subject to slavery all their life.” What that really means is that the battle we face in life is NOT about our fight with Satan. That would be no contest really. Satan is a fallen angel and there is no one trickier than he.  The battle between good and evil over Satan was won by Jesus when the Son of God became human and in a sense said to all of us, “Just get behind me, my brothers and sisters, this is MY battle and I will win this battle for you.”  And he did just that as he laid down his life on the cross for all of us. Satan surely tested Jesus all through his life and you can be sure that he tempted Jesus as he suffered on the cross. But Jesus’ act of love on our behalf totally defeated Satan once and for all. Remember after the fall of Adam and Eve God promised a woman (Mary) would bear a Son (Jesus) and they would crush the head of Satan (Gen 3:15). That’s exactly what he did.

Our Lord Jesus Christ by James Tissot (1836-1902) Public domain

‘Our Lord Jesus Christ’ by James Tissot (1836-1902) Public domain

What this means is that, in fact, we and all of God’s children have been redeemed. Jesus has won and Satan has been crushed.  Now, I can understand that we might wonder as to why living a good life is not easy if indeed we have already been redeemed by Jesus. Well, the answer is because of the first sin by the first humans. Since the beginning of humankind all God’s children have been born wounded.  We don’t need proof of that if we look at what is happening (and has been from the beginning) around the world. We know that, too, from our own experience of failure in our lives. That’s what call the human condition … and the expression is, “we are wounded.”

But never forget that Jesus is the Savior and like the Good Shepherd he is, saved us. We can imagine Satan exulting as Jesus was taunted and tortured and nailed to the cross. Satan thought he had finally won his battle with Jesus. But Satan faced the terrible truth the moment Jesus gave up his spirit and as a faithful son to his Father, prayed, “Father, it is finished.” At that very moment Satan came to realize that it was Jesus who had won and he had lost the battle completely and totally. And that means that all humans never have to battle Satan.  Jesus did that as only the son of God could.

But what about us? Don’t we have to be perfect and sinless to be saved? No, not at all, and it’s not even possible for us. Jesus asked us to love God and love our brothers and sisters sincerely and as best we can. But we are never perfect … it is not possible. That’s Satan’s temptation for us … “to be perfect” because then we think we are gaining God’s favor. No, that was Jesus. And simply said, the best way to love Jesus is by loving one another.  Now isn’t that much simpler? Yes, Jesus is our Savior and our shepherd. We try to be his sheep who follow.

Fr. Jim Van Vurst, OFM

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