The other day, I got a message from a friend who had attended a Non-Catholic event where she had an encounter with a Born Again. She had been confronted by the “once you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, you are saved and cannot lose that salvation” belief. She was polite in her response, trying to find common ground, but he wouldn’t have it. She was concerned that what he said definitely wasn’t what she believed, but she wasn’t sure how to defend it.
Born again Christians revile the idea that our salvation can be earned—Jesus himself gained salvation for us on the cross once and for all. You cannot do anything to “get” salvation. Guess what? We believe that, too! You can’t earn salvation. Ever. Under any circumstances. Jesus won it, invites us to share in it, and all we have to do to have it is say “yes.”
All Christians believe that Jesus invites us to participate in a personal, loving relationship with him that ends in eternal life. For Catholic Christians (and most other mainstream Christian religions), saying “yes” means that we choose to live differently, and that if we don’t keep up on it, not only does our “yes” cease to be, it becomes a “no thanks.” Our yes is an active one because love is action, and that’s what we’re being invited to. It is not a theoretical relationship; it is true, living and responsible. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14: 15) The letter of James reminds us that “faith without works is dead.” (Jas 2: 26) Now, when it comes down to it, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Christian, born again or otherwise, who wouldn’t agree that if you are in a relationship with Jesus, your actions and words need to match up. But, we take it a step further—our actions are our acceptance or rejection of Christ’s invitation.
In fact, our understanding of this relationship is so much based in action that we go quite the other way from the born again stance. Pope Francis keeps coming out with statements that suggest that anyone can find salvation, and that those who are doing good in their lives, whether they know Christ or not, are on the path to salvation. He doesn’t say that you have to be Baptized or even recognize that what you are doing is from God. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus tells people that they are going to heaven and they admit to never having known him before. We know that love has only one origin—God. If we participate in loving actions, we are participating in the action of God. Not everyone has the luxury of knowing that, and not everyone has seen an authentic witness to the “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:16) that we’re supposed to respond with when challenged as a witness to Christ’s unconditional love. Our actions have the potential to bring the salvation that Christ offers to everyone to a tangible state. Or not. Either way, they are essential for knowing where we stand with Jesus. Or not.