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Can We Know We’re Going to Heaven?

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As we continue our conversations about his book Meeting the Protestant Challenge, Karlo Broussard asks: How can the Catholic Church teach that we can’t have absolute 
assurance that we’re going to heaven if the Bible says that we can? How can the Catholic Church teach that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation when Jesus says that no one can snatch us out of his hand?


Can we know for sure that we’re going to heaven? Coming up next with Karlo Broussard.

Cy: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, and today we welcome again our good friend Karlo Broussard for more conversation drawn from his book, Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief. Hello again, Karlo.

Karlo: Hey, Cy.

Cy: I loved the book.

Karlo: Thank you, bud.

Cy: Apparently a lot of people do. The books doing quite well.

Karlo: It is, yeah. I was just getting word from Kerry this morning, the guy who’s in charge of all of the selling of the books and marketing and all of that, and they’re all happy.

Cy: Very good. So, 50 biblical objections to Catholic belief. I have a feeling you’re not going to do 50 more biblical objections to Catholic belief.

Karlo: There’s actually-

Cy: Oh, you are?

Karlo: No, I’m not doing it. There’s much more that could be done, and maybe somewhere along the line, I might do that, but it would be a fun project. But, I think these 50 that I have in my book are the most common and the most popular. Outside of these 50, you start getting into the weeds that only the academic scholars who debate about this stuff will go back and forth on. It’s not really challenges that most Catholics face every day in their conversation with Protestant family members and friends. But, these 50 are so I think this is why the book’s doing so well because it’s meeting a need. People have a need to have the answers and ways that they can meet these challenges.

Cy: Yeah, and I think it’s important for Catholics to respond to these because often Catholics, I think, intellectually just consider their faith from a Catholic perspective, but every Protestant has to consider the Catholic perspective to some degree because what are you protesting against?

Karlo: That’s right.

Cy: Protestant preachers are really good at saying, “This is how we’re distinct from Catholics.” Whereas Catholics, I don’t-

Karlo: We’re just kind of doing our thing.

Cy: You don’t go to Catholic mass and-

Karlo: “Really, there’re other Christians out there?”

Cy: Well, don’t make us look so dumb, Karlo, but-

Karlo: Some. For some.

Cy: Yeah, yeah. I do think it’s an important intellectual exercise because it’s more common among Protestants to be very emphatic distinguishing themselves from Catholics and it’s not so common among Catholics to go, “Oh hey, we have an answer to that.”

Karlo: I think evidence of that is anybody you talk to who’s on fire for the faith, as a cradle Catholic, the story goes, “I didn’t become fire up until what? I was challenged.” They don’t become fired up and convicted in the faith and in love with the Lord often until they’re actually challenged by a Protestant. We’re complacent doing our thing until our boat is rocked a little bit, and then we start looking into this stuff and say, “Wow, look at the beauty of the church’s theology and the defenses that we have, both on biblical and reasonable grounds for our beliefs.”

Cy: Yeah, and the church didn’t ignore the Bible for 1600 years. It’s the root of everything-

Karlo: There’s nothing new under the sun.

Cy: Okay, so one of the things that is very, very important to many evangelical Protestants, I know … Friends of mine who are evangelical Protestant, it’s a very important doctrine and that is that we have assurance of our salvation. So, the challenge today is can we know that we’re going to heaven. So, challenge one. How can the Catholic church teach that we can’t have absolute assurance that we’re going to heaven when the bible says that we can know we have eternal life?

Karlo: Yeah, in this challenge, and by the way, not all Protestants will hold to an absolute assurance of our salvation and knowing that we’re going to heaven, but there’s a large group, a big enough group among Protestants who hold to this belief that there’s a need to meet the challenge, and the passage that they’re appealing to in making this challenge is 1st John, chapter five verse 13, where St. John says, “I write this that you may know that you have eternal life.” And, that seems to contradict the church’s teaching. For example, in paragraph 2090 of the Catechism. We have the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God. Notice a confident expectation to achieve the beatific vision, and then it goes on and identifies hope and the fear You have the catechism. You know, we have the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God. Notice a confident expectation to achieve the beatific vision and then it goes on and identify as hope and the fear one has of offending God’s love and incurring punishment. Well, if we can know that we have eternal life, then what’s this business of having a confident expectation or fearing to incur God’s punishment for offending God. If we can know we’re going to be saved as Christians, there would be no need for that, right [crosstalk 00:04:43]? Yeah, amen. So, how do we meet this challenge? Well, first of all, just because John says we can know we have eternal life, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we can know with absolute certitude, and the reason is is because the term knowledge, or to know, can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used for absolute certitude. Sure. Yes, it can be. Two plus two equals four. I know. I’m absolutely certain that that is true. Something cannot both be and not be in the same respect that at the same place in time. Right? The principle of non-contradiction. I can know that’s absolutely true. That’s valid, right? Because in order to deny it, you have to use it. That’s another thing for another episode. But, we can know some things with absolute certitude, but there are some things that we don’t know with absolute certitude, but yet we still use the term to know, or knowledge. For example, if I were still in school, and I’d tell you, Cy, “Tomorrow I’m taking a test and I know I’m going to make an A because I’ve been studying for it day in and day out. I know I’m going to make an A.” Do I have absolute certainty that I’m going to make an A without goofing in any possible way? Of course not. I may have a bad morning. I may wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or eat the wrong thing and have foggy thoughts.

Cy: You’re pretty much describing every morning for me.

Karlo: Then, the brain be foggy and I goof up, and I don’t make an A. So, because knowledge can be used for absolute certitude or simply like a moral certainty, we can’t appeal to the term knowledge and then necessarily conclude John is speaking of absolute certainty because it can be used in either way. So, the question is which way is John using it? We have to look at the context. Context is going to determine how John is using knowledge. In what sense is he speaking of our knowledge that we have eternal life, absolute certainty or a confident expectation or moral certainty? I think the context points to the latter, that it’s a moral certainty or confident assurance, not an absolute assurance. For example, within the immediate context, what we have is a list of things that John gives us as conditions that must be met for salvation, for having eternal life.

So, for example, in verse 12 of 1st John, chapter five, he says “He who has the son, has life. He who has not the son of God has not life.” That’s one. We’ve got the have the son of God dwelling in us. Other conditions for salvation in 1st John chapter two, verse three, we have to keep His commandments. 1st John, chapter two, verse five, we have to keep His word. 1st John, chapter three, verse 23, we have to believe in the name of His son, Jesus Christ. Those are four conditions that have to be met in order for us to know that we have eternal life. Okay, can I have metaphysical certainly and absolute certainly that I have the son of God dwelling in my heart right now, and that I have absolute certainly that the son of God will continue to dwell in my heart until my death?

Well, does the Bible ever tell me that? No, it doesn’t say, “Karlo, you have the son of God dwelling in your heart.” Did Jesus ever appear to me in a private revelation? No, I can affirm that he’s never appeared to me and I can’t know it through philosophical demonstration and scientific knowledge in the philosophical sense. So, all the ways in which I can have metaphysical certainty and absolute certainty that the son of God is dwelling in my heart right now, there’s no way in which I can know it. All of the ways which I would need to employ in order to arrive at that absolute certainty, that’s not-

Cy: They won’t avail here.

Karlo: They don’t avail here, right. So, I can only conclude that I have a confident assurance that the son of God is dwelling in my heart, and I’m confident that the son of God will dwell in my heart until my death. What about keeping the Commandments? Keeping his word? Do I have absolute certitude that I will keep His Commandments and His word perfectly until the end of my life and never fail? Jesus never appeared to me and told me that the Bible never says it and I can’t prove it by way of philosophical demonstration.

Cy: As a matter of fact, I have some good evidence to the contrary if the past is indicator.

Karlo: That’s right. We’re going to talk about that in a few moments here. Notice how within the context of John saying, “I write this that you may know you have eternal life”, he gives these conditions that must be meet in order for us to have that knowledge. We can not have absolute certainly that we meet these conditions right here and right now, nor can we have absolute certainly that we will continue to meet these conditions until the moment of our death.

So, consequently, we must conclude that when John says, “I write this that you may know you have eternal life,” he is not speaking of an absolute assurance, but he’s speaking of a confident assurance, and that’s an important distinction to make, right? Because one is no error possible, the other is, “Whoa, I can rejoice, I can have joy, I can enjoy being in relationship with the Lord, but at the same time, I’m not presuming that I am automatically-”

Cy: That it’s all done.

Karlo: It’s all done, so I can just relax. No, I need to keep confessing faith in Jesus Christ. That’s a couple of ways in which we can meet this challenge, but there’s actually another way if you’re interested in hearing it.

Cy: Now, what would give you that impression, Karlo? Come on, tell me. Yeah, because I would like to understand this. It seems to me that your pattern of saying, “Here’s the challenge, the Bible says this.” You have to be careful about being overly sure that the Bible says this.

Karlo: It’s got to actually say that.

Cy: Distinction between what is being said and the inference being-

Karlo: That I’m drawing from that.

Cy: There you go. Okay, so it does seem to me that the inference that what John is saying is I have absolute metaphysical certainty-

Karlo: That’s the challenge.

Cy: … is not a reasonable inference.

Karlo: It is not. Because of the conditions that must be met in order to have knowledge of eternal life, we can’t know with absolute certainty that we’re meeting or will continue to meet those conditions.

Cy: Okay, but it seems to me you have met that challenge to that degree, but you also, if I’m following the pattern correctly, often give evidence that okay … Evidence, positive evidence for the Catholic position.

Karlo: That is correct, and this is what I articulate in this particular chapter because think about this. We can structure the argument this way. If John is speaking of knowledge in the sense of an absolute assurance to have absolute certainty, to know with absolute certainty that we have eternal life, he would be contradicting what Paul says, right? Because, Paul actually is on the opposite side of things. Even Paul himself says in 1st Corinthians 4:4 that he’s doesn’t have absolute assurance that he’s finally going to be saved because in 1st Corinthians 4:4 he says, “I’m not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.” And then he goes on to say, “It’s the Lord who judges.” He’s leaving that act of judgment to God. He’s not aware of anything against himself, he’s not aware of mortal sin or anything like that, but he’s still not finally saved. He recognizes that. What’s the implication? It’s possible he could goof up. It’s possible he could lose his salvation.

Cy: There’s a humility in that. It’s the Lord’s job to decide this. It’s not my job to decide.

Karlo: The Lord knows my interior movements of my heart better than I do. I might think I’m in good relationship with God, but it might come to me that in reality, when the Lord shows me just where my heart is at, it’s not with the Lord. That’s a possibility. Here’s another example. In 1st Corinthians 9:27, Paul says, “I pummel my body and subdue it less after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” And, the disqualification he’s talking about is being disqualified from achieving the reward of the race that he’s running. The eternal crown. He’s using that sporting imagery there of trying to achieve that eternal crown and sharing the blessings of God, and he’s saying it’s possible he could be disqualified from achieving that reward of eternal life.

Paul recognizes it’s possible for him to lose that reward of final salvation and eternal life, which tells me he doesn’t have absolute assurance that he has eternal life in the way that the challenge from 1st John 5:13 suggests that we ought to have.

Cy: Right, right. Okay, shall we go on to the next challenge?

Karlo: Yeah, yeah. Let’s do it.

Cy: All right, so this also has to do with our assurance of heaven. How can the Catholic church teach that it’s possible for us to lose our salvation when Jesus says that His sheep always hear His voice and that no one can snatch us out of his hands? Once again, a challenge that comes from Karlo’s book, Meeting the Protestant Challenge, and this is a challenge that takes that format that Karlo tries to address. The challenge is the Bible teaches one thing, and the church teaches another. Here we have Jesus himself saying that His sheep always hear His voice and no one can snatch us out of his hand.

Karlo: That’s coming from John, chapter 10, verses 27-29. This is true. Jesus does say, “My sheep hear my voice, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” So, the inference from this text among some of our Protestant brother and sisters is that you see, this is the doctrine of eternal security. Once we’re in Christ, once we’ve professed faith in Christ, we’re once saved, always saved. Because, Jesus promises no one’s going to snatch us from his hand.

Well, just because Jesus promises that no one will snatch sheep from his hand, it doesn’t preclude the possibility or it doesn’t exclude the possibility that a sheep could wander off himself and thus lose the eternal reward of eternal life, right? We even see in scripture itself, for example, in Matthew chapter … I think it’s chapter 18 where we read about … Yes, the lost sheep. That’s right. Matthew, chapter 18, verses 12-14, we see evidence that there is those who are lost sheep-

Cy: And they wander away.

Karlo: There are some sheep that go astray, right? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go and search of the one who went astray? Notice, no one externally took the sheep from Jesus’s hand or from the flock, but the sheep itself wandered away. If we’re the sheep, Cy, which we are, and I know you are because are you the sharpest knife in the … No, I’m just joking.

Cy: Yeah, right. I have a sheepish quality to me, all right. But, I do wander off.

Karlo: At least I didn’t kill you like Trent kills you, right?

Cy: No, thank you. You insulted me another way.

Karlo: I just called you-

Cy: But, I don’t mind. In this context, I’m very happy to be a sheep, but my actual experience of myself is that many times I have wandered off on my own. No one snatched me.

Karlo: That’s right. We can affirm no one will snatch us from Jesus’s hand. Nothing external because no one can bind the the strong man, but yet, we as sheep can wonder off ourselves. So, the key is that we have to abide as sheep. We have to remain in the flock and not go wandering off. And this is the motif found as well in another metaphor that’s used in John, chapter 15, verses 4-6 where Jesus says, “I’m the vine. You are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” Notice, we have to abide in Jesus as a branch abides in the vine. We have to continue and remain in Jesus. As sheep, we have to continue to remain a part of that flock.

Even the language itself in the text, Jesus says, “The sheep who hear my voice.” The text suggests an ongoing action. There’s a present dimension there that we have to continue to hear His voice, we have to continue to remain in the flock, and not wander off. So, the second way we can meet this challenge is that once again, He’s saying no external power can snatch us from His hand, but He doesn’t say that the sheep itself couldn’t exclude itself from His hands.

And so the question is, well … And this is similar as well. Before I go on, this is similar to Paul’s teaching in Romans eight, verses 35-39, he says, “Can anything separate us from the love of God? Not even the sword can separate us.” He gives a list of things that can not separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, but he never says sin cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Sin can separate us. And, this leads us to another thing that I articulate in this particular chapter in the book, that it is possible to fall out of that saving relationship with Jesus. I already talked about sheep wandering off, right?

Cy: Right.

Karlo: We have the servant of the master in the household. In Matthew, chapter 24 verses 45-51, one servant continues to do what he’s called to do, waiting for his master to return. The other servant thinks his master is delayed and so he gets drunk and he beats the other servants. But, there’s judgment upon that servant. Notice that servant is a member of the household, but yet because of his sin, he is judged harshly for that. But, I think the key text here is Galatians, chapter five, verses 2-4, where Paul is writing to the Galatians, “You stupid Galatians who bewitched …” type of thing. They were going back to the old covenant, but Paul tells us the Galatians, “I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. You are severed from Christ. You would be be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace.”

If they’re severed from Christ, what does that imply? They were once in Christ. If they have fallen away from grace, what does that imply?

Cy: They were once in grace.

Karlo: They were once in grace. So, we see from Paul in this particular passage that it’s possible for a Christian, a born-again Christian, whether you say that’s baptism or just professing faith, regardless it doesn’t matter for our purposes here. If you’re in a saving relationship with Jesus, according to Paul it’s possible to lose that saving relationship with Jesus. So, we see that it is possible to be lost out of the hands of Jesus, not because we’re being snatched from any external power, but because of our sin, committing a sin such that severs us off from Christ. We’re then outside the hands of our Lord.

Cy: So, we can’t just say, “I’m saved” and then stop the struggle against sin in other words? We have to continue to keep struggling against sin.

Karlo: We have to continue. Amen to that.

Cy: Just a word of encouragement to those who might have some scruples and worry about their salvation. Despite this being a challenge that is made to the Catholic church, and I don’t know all the motivations for that challenge, but at least part of it is to say you don’t need the sacrament of life, that the sacramental life is not necessary. You don’t need confession and Eucharist and all that.

Karlo: Because you’re saved.

Cy: Because you’re saved. Hey, great. But, the difference is not so extreme that the Catholic should in any way lose hope or feel a lack of confidence in their salvation.

Karlo: That is correct, because we can have confident assurance, a confident expectation, which is a source for joy. Not an absolute assurance, because that’s crossing a boundary, but at the same time having a confident assurance that we’re in right relationship with the Lord, and to enjoy the blessings of the Lord given to us through the teachings of the church, through the sacraments, participating in the sacrament of life, and that’s a source for joy.

Cy: Karlo Broussard is our guest. His latest book is Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Belief. It’s available now at Catholic Answers press. Thank you very much, Karlo.

Karlo: Hey, thank you, Cy. Let’s do this again.

Cy: Indeed.

Karlo: All right, next week.

Cy: Thank you for listening to Catholic Answers Focus, and if you would give us a like wherever you get your podcasts that would really help to grow the podcast. We’ll see you next time on Catholic Answers Focus.

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