Many times, you’ll hear people to say that salvation is an unconditional gift from God. I’ve heard that from Catholics and Protestants. However, the saying is not true. Salvation is a gift of God, but it is not an unconditional gift.
Error in the King James
I don’t know where Catholics get the idea. But I think I know where Protestants get it. It's from a misinterpretation of this verse in the King James Version (KJV):
Romans 5:16-18 King James Version
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. 17 For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) 18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
We can compare this to another Protestant Bible, the NIV and see that it does not use the term, “free” gift.
Romans 5:16-18 New International Version
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification andlife for all people.
No strings attached
So, that’s where I think that Protestants get this error. As I said, I don’t know where Catholics get it, but I suspect its from the idea that all gifts are unconditional. There’s lots of people and I used to be one of them, who believe that if you’re going to give a gift, you shouldn’t have any strings attached to it.
But that’s not the real world. In truth, there is probably no such thing as an unconditional gift. Let’s take some examples.
Do you give your children, unconditional gifts?
No. You probably gave your children the gift because they already met one condition. They are your children. You probably don’t go around giving all the neighborhood children gifts.
How about birthday presents?
You don’t just give birthday presents to your own children but, also, to many others. So? What is the condition they met? That’s easy, they lived one more year. Most of us don’t give unbirthday presents.
Faith, the first condition
Scripture says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. Therefore, and even Protestants should agree to this, faith is the first condition to be met before one receives the gift of salvation. And so, for them, there should be, at least, one string attached.
Works, the second condition
Protestants stop there. They believe you receive the gift of salvation and then you begin to work to please God. But, as Catholics, we believe we receive the gift of faith, by grace and put this faith to work in deeds of charity. And then, if we persevere in doing good for a lifetime and if our deeds merit it, God grants us the gift of salvation.
Where do the Sacraments fit in?
Just as in life, we receive myriad gifts from our parents throughout. Gifts which we don’t even recognize. Gifts which we take for granted. Food, drink, clothing, money to spend, trips to Disneyland, etc. etc. As well as providing for our health and welfare, these gifts tend to renew us in love and strengthen our bonds.
God has done the same thing for us in the Sacraments. The Sacraments are our renewal of wedding vows with God. They are our respite from the cold. In the Sacraments, we are bathed, cleansed and regenerated. The Sacraments are where we receive the faith and the strength to continue fighting the good fight.
The Sacraments are not a guarantee of salvation. But without them, salvation is a lot harder to achieve.
So, there are no unconditional gifts?
There’s only One. God’s love. God gives His love to all people without any conditions. God gave Himself to the whole world through His Son, who became flesh and died upon the Cross in order that all men could be saved from their sins.
But some men did not want to meet the conditions which God attached to salvation. Therefore they turned away from Him and rejected His Son.
But the rest of us have turned to God and His Son and are willing to obey His Son in order that we will be saved. And for that, we give thanks to God in the Mass, when we partake of the Holy Eucharist, which is God’s gift to those who love Him and Keep His Commandments.