Sometimes people make it sound like the Catholic understanding of how to get to heaven is really complex.
While you can go into any of Christ’s teachings in a lot of very rich detail, he made sure that this one can be understood even by a child.
I can summarize it in two sentences.
The two sentences are these: To come to God and be saved, you need to repent, have faith, and be baptized. If you commit mortal sin, you need to repent, have faith, and go to confession.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it. And we can show each of these things from the Bible.
The need to repent is shown by the fact that, right at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus began preaching the gospel, saying “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
The need for faith is shown when the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes that “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
And the need for baptism is shown when St. Peter flatly tells us: “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
So that’s what you need to do if you want to come to God and be saved: Repent, have faith, and be baptized.
If you do these things, you’ll be in a state of grace, and as long as you remain in a state of grace, you’ll go to heaven.
But we still have free will, and we can still turn our backs on God and fall from grace, to use St. Paul’s phrase (Galatians 5:4).
St. Paul is very clear about the possibility of us committing mortal sin. He tells us: “Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
To turn away from God and commit mortal sin is the opposite of repenting. So when we fall into mortal sin, we need to turn back to God—to repent again.
We also need to have faith.
And then we need to go to confession. This is something Jesus indicated just after he rose from the dead. He came to his disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23)
So Jesus empowered his ministers to forgive or retain sins. In order for a priest to know whether he is to forgive or retain a sin, he needs to know about the sin and whether we have repented of it. That means we need to go and tell him these things, and so we have the sacrament of confession.
So that’s what you need to do. To come to God and be saved, you need to repent, have faith, and be baptized. If you commit mortal sin, you need to repent, have faith, and go to confession.
It’s all thoroughly biblical.
If you like the information I’ve presented here, you should get my book, The Drama of Salvation. It provides more information about this and many other aspects of salvation—a subject that affects where you and I will spend eternity.