Assurance of Salvation in a Pinch

November 19, 2013 | 2 comments

It's not uncommon to encounter the random street preacher who asks the question, “Are you saved?” He may follow up by asking, "Are you certain?" In fact, my Evangelical Christian friends have asked me this many times.

These questions find their purpose in the belief of most Evangelicals that once you have accepted Jesus as your personal Savior you can be assured of your own salvation. This is not compatible with Catholic teaching.

The Catholic Answers tract on salvation offers a fine response to the question:

"Are you saved?" asks the Fundamentalist. The Catholic should reply: "As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

The above is wholly adequate given the opportunity to elaborate on the answer, but I use a different approach in face-to-face situations where my time is limited.

One example of this would be an interdenominational Bible study. I have attended several of theses (a practice I do not recommend unless you already have a decent grasp of Catholic theology and Sacred Scripture) and found that an answer like the one above requires a fair amount of explanation. To avoid the perception that I am trying to dominate the conversation, I will appeal to only one passage from Scripture rather than many verses.

In 1 Corinthians 4, St. Paul writes:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. (3-5)

Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary explains Paul’s meaning:

Ver. 4. For I am not conscious. This great apostle of the Gentiles, though conscious to himself of no breach of duty, still does not dare to call himself just. How different is the conduct of this apostle, from those wicked impostors, who teach, that a man is justified by believing himself so. (Estius) — If this privileged apostle was afraid to form any judgment of his own heart and thoughts, whether they were pure or not, but left the trial thereof to the day of judgment, the day of his death, how presumptuous are they, who dare to pronounce on their election and predestination!

Rather than declare himself justified before the Lord and therefore certain of his eternal salvation, St. Paul is content to persevere in his mission and leave to God the judgment concerning his fate.

This doesn’t mean we Catholics are not confident that God keeps his promises. It means simply that we must exercise caution. As our tract on salvation states, “Assurance we may have; infallible certitude we may not.”

Keep in mind I do not expect the above to end a conversation on salvation with my non-Catholic friends. Obviously, much more can be said on the subject. I use it only when I do not have the time for a prolonged conversation, or to avoid appearing as though I am trying to dominate a group discussion.

As is the case in any conversation, you have to make a judgment call: Does the situation allow for a long explanation, or do you just need to plant a seed? If it is the latter, then use the best and least amount of evidence to make your point.


Jon Sorensen earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-...

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Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Pam Washington - Ankeny, Iowa

I am studying the Bible. When I have asked a Catholic how they know they have salvation and are heaven bound, I have been told we cannot know. I am reading these chapters and verses and I cannot understand that answer. Please read these chapters and verses below and explain that to me. Thank you.

Romans 10:9-11. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame”. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

2 Cor. 1:20-22. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Eph. 1:13-14. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.

Eph. 2:8-9. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

1 John 5:11-13. And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

January 1, 2015 at 9:17 am PST
#2  Pam Washington - Ankeny, Iowa

I am studying the Bible. When I have asked a Catholic how they know they have salvation and are heaven bound, I have been told we cannot know. I am reading these chapters and verses and I cannot understand that answer. Please read these chapters and verses below and explain that to me. Thank you.

Romans 10:9-11. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame”. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon him. For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

2 Cor. 1:20-22. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

Eph. 1:13-14. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of his glory.

Eph. 2:8-9. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

1 John 5:11-13. And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

January 1, 2015 at 9:17 am PST

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