Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on forever, and never see the Pit (Psalm 49:7-9). The Catholic Church’s teaching undergirds that of Protestants who recognize that by grace (we) have been saved through faith; and that not of (ourselves), it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9). If there is one thing which the 1999 Joint Declaration On Justification (the landmark statement by Lutherans and Catholics together) made clear, it is this. But there is so much more involved in our ongoing journey toward salvation, after an initial conversion setting a person firmly upon the road toward heaven, that we certainly cannot assume that we have already arrived at the place where Jesus Christ intends for us to be; the house still needs to be fully constructed “upon the rock” (see Matthew 7:24,25). And there are some important ways in which we as Christians still differ in understanding concerning our journey as the people of God.
In the second half of Ephesians 2 we will see that the Christians in that city, shortly after their conversions, had need of ongoing exhortations and teachings by the Apostle because lifelong, generations-long, habits of thinking were having a negative effect on their relationships. There was still a great deal of purification of hearts which had to take place in order for them to begin to embody the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for His Body on earth, “ut unum sint,” “that they all may be one” (John 17). An essential Scripture passage which helps us to see the situation in Ephesus from the point-of-view of God Himself is Revelation 2:1-7: To the angel of the church in Ephesus….I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles, but are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent….To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. From this Scripture and many others we see that our behavior and deeds and words–all of which flow from the heart, the center of our being–never become irrelevant in the eyes of our God. He has bestowed upon us the outrageous dignity of growing into a fullness of human life, into His very image, while we are still on earth; and this growth can never be simply an idea, an ideal, or something separated from the day to day nuts and bolts of living in relationship with our Father and with one another.
The Catholic Commentary has this to say: “A positive result of the Protestant Reformation was the rediscovery and emphasis on Scripture’s teaching about the primacy of grace. Although this was always the genuine Catholic doctrine, faulty teaching and some popular religious practices had obscured this truth. Over the years many Catholics have heard these truths for the first time from Protestants. Protestant teaching, however, often fails to give adequate place to the role of good works. The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century and the Second Vatican Council in the twentieth century reaffirmed the centrality of God’s grace while affirming the necessity of human cooperation with that grace.” (PSW, p.67)
Williamson points out that “Paul says that we are in the process of being saved” and mentions two Scriptures which are important regarding this: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18); and “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13). He goes on to say, “It is one thing for a person to be saved from being lost and set on the right road; it is another to arrive at one’s destination. Believers are summoned to continue on the road to salvation, living a life of divinely enabled charity and good works, to reach the destination of eternal life with God.” (PSW, p. 67)
And here are two more reliable voices whose words underscore the truths we have been emphasizing above:
“Jesus offers to all the souls who seek Him a face-to-face encounter, to accept Him or reject Him….I would be ready to give up my life, but not my faith….Faith is lacking in the world today because there is too much selfishness and too much striving for financial gain….Love and faith walk side by side…they perfect each other. Consequently, if faith is to be authentic, there must be a love that gives.” -Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“O Lord Jesus Christ, give me the grace to become your true disciple. Let me see ever more clearly that faith in you is not merely a conviction of my mind–but a call to live my life for you and in you….Give me the grace, O Savior of the world, to bring your presence even to your enemies and to persist faithfully in witnessing to them even when I find it painful to do so. Let me be inspired by your martyrs who constantly call us back to you, our only hope and salvation.” -Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R.
(Both quotes above are from Firmly On the Rock, edited by Debra Herbeck.)