LAW, GRACE AND
Is conversion a one time event, or a continuous process? (CCC
Both. Conversion is turning toward God and away from sin. The
word conversion is used in two senses. The most familiar is a
one time event in which a person turns from his evil ways and
returns to God. This is similar to the prodigal son. He had left
his father and was living in sin. He experiences a change of
heart, and completely turns around to return home to his father.
This complete reversal of direction in favor or God is the first
sense of the word conversion. This is the first step in our
journey to the Lord. We must first begin by walking in the right
However, though we have turned around and began walking in
the right direction, we have not reached our destination yet.
Each day, each moment, we must choose to continue walking
in this direction. Therefore, our lives require daily
conversion. The daily struggle to reject sin and embrace what is
good comprises daily conversion. Each day, we must fight to turn
our back on sin and choose love instead. Each day we need to
continue walking closer and closer to the Father. It is
impossible to remain unmoving – we are either moving away from
God or toward Him. We need to examine ourselves each day and ask
ourselves if we have progressed, if we have loved more and loved
better today in comparison to yesterday.
What do we mean when we say that we have been justified?
Justification is an acceptance of God’s righteousness,
His faith, hope, and love. When we are justified, we are
cleansed from our sins and God gives us His righteousness. We
change from sinner to child of God. Like conversion, there are
also two aspects of justification.
First, it is the remission of our sins. On our part, the
first act of justification is conversion – we decide to turn
away from our sinful ways and toward the Lord. We freely turn
toward God and accept His invitation of love. In this act, we
are justified – God forgives us.
Second, justification is not simply a one time act. It is
also the “sanctification and renewal of the inner man” (CCC
1989). This means that justification is a process as well
as an event. We are not fully holy and perfect because we have
turned away from our sinful ways. We need a lifetime of
purification, effort and grace to reach holiness. The process of
sanctification (being made holy) is justification. Slowly, with
time and effort, we become justified. In heaven, we will be
perfectly just without spot or blemish.
What is the difference between justification and
righteousness? (CCC 1991-1992)
Justification gives us God’s righteousness. Justification is
the act of being made righteousness. Justification is the act –
we are justified. Righteousness is the gift that we receive from
Once a person has been saved, or justified before
God, will he go to Heaven no matter what?
No. This is an erroneous Protestant belief, stemming from the
Reformation in the 17th century. It is a myth to
believe “once saved, always saved.” Human experience
demonstrates that we have free will. Therefore, at any moment we
may turn around and begin walking away from the Father again.
This is why St. Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear
and trembling” (Phil 2:12). As well he states, “No, I drive my
body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to
others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). Paul
understands that salvation can be lost. If not, it would be a
negation of our free will – it means that we no longer have the
choice to turn away again from the Father. Each moment, we have
the choice to accept His graces and grow in holiness or to
reject them. If we reject God and His graces forever, we choose
an eternal destiny without His presence. Though it becomes more
difficult to turn away once we have become more holy, the
possibility always exists. As well, the Lord is the “Hound of
Heaven.” This means that He will do everything in His power to
convince us to accept His love. But we always – no matter how
holy we have become – have the choice to turn away from Him
Can we ever be certain that we will go to Heaven?
Yes and no. First, no. We can never have absolute certainty
that we are in the state of grace (free from mortal sin). We may
be quite confidant, but the state of our soul can never be
absolutely known by us.
How then can we be confidant in our salvation? We can have
moral certainty of our salvation. What is this based on?
“Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts
condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows
everything. Beloved, if (our) hearts do not condemn us, we have
confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because
we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his
commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son,
Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit
that he gave us.” (1 John 3:19-24).
We have moral certainty by ascertaining whether or not we are
following the commandments of God. If we are doing as He
commands, according to Scripture and Tradition, as interpreted
by the Magisterium of the Church, we can have moral certainty
that we are God’s children. Though we cannot see our souls, we
can examine our actions against objective criteria. In other
words, if I know what is right and what is wrong, and I am doing
what is right because I believe in Jesus as the Son of God, I
can have confidence that I will go to Heaven. Moral certainty is
based on the evaluation of my actions and the desires of my
Last, as in all things, we should have a confidence and love
of the unfathomable mercy of God. God is not a God of checks and
balances, who is looking for ways to condemn us. Instead he
desires “everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the
truth” (1 Tim 2:4). If we are truly seeking God with our hearts,
we can trust in His goodness and believe that He will guide us
safely into His arms.
When God justifies us, do we really change and actually
become holy? Or does God simply look at us through the Person of
Jesus and see us as holy, but in fact we are not?
We really do become holy in the act of justification. Most
Protestants believe that justification is like a blanket thrown
over our evilness. In other words, we don’t really become holy.
We just look like it because instead of seeing us, He
sees Jesus. Many people use the visual of a pile of dung
covered by snow. Unfortunately, this view of holiness means we
are still dung – yes, dung covered by a pile of snow, but still
dung. The truth is that holiness is real – in other words, we
really are changed. We really do become holy. We do not
remain a pile of dung. In time, with our participation and the
power of God’s transforming grace, Jesus who lives inside of us
transforms our inner nature. We are made perfect and without
flaw, ready to enjoy eternal life with God. This is truly good
news, and it manifests the great power of God. Instead of merely
covering us and choosing to look past our weaknesses, He has the
power to change them and make us strong again.
Does the act of justification require our participation, or is
it solely the work of God? (CCC 1993, 2002)
Justification requires the participation of both God and man.
God offers His grace and life, and we accept it or reject. If we
accept it, we become justified. If we reject it, we remain in
our slavery to sin. The Holy Spirit comes with His power to
prepare us to receive the grace and to accept it. He both
precedes our justification and He assists in it.
All is grace, and we could not even accept the graces of
God were it not for the graces of God. However, again, we still
have to give our free assent, in which we say “yes” to all these
graces. Though the work of God, justification still requires
man’s free cooperation.
What is grace? (CCC 1996-1999)
First, “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help
that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of
God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of
eternal life” (CCC 1996). Again, we see that everything is a
grace. The Lord wants us to spend eternity with Him. We lost our
chance to do this with sin, and we are far too weak and
powerless to remedy the situation. Therefore, we comes to us
with His divine help so that we can become His children and
share in His divine life.
As well, grace is actually participation in the divine
life of the Trinity. He puts His very own life into us. The
Trinity dwells inside of us. Because of this, we are united with
Son, we can call God our Father, and the Holy Spirit works in
our hearts to purify us of sin so that we can increase our union
with God and receive more grace. This grace, this participation
in His divine life is purely supernatural and pure gift. We
cannot comprehend its depth or its power or the love that
motivates it. We must only pray for the grace to give proper
thanks and worship to God for this unmerited gift.
Are there different types of grace? (CCC 2000-2005)
Sanctifying grace – Sanctifying grace is a habitual and
permanent grace that resides in us, giving us supernatural life.
It elevates our souls, deifying them, making them able to
participate in God’s life.
For our own sake we have classified grace into categories
that aid in our understanding of it.
Actual grace – Actual grace is divine help at given moments in our life
that help us to accept further graces, to move closer to God,
and to perform good acts. They are divine impulses that help us
move toward salvation. In general, they are temporary, in that
they are given at certain moments, specifically when we need
them. Though sanctifying grace has primacy over actual grace,
actual graces must precede those of sanctification because they
prepare us to accept them.
Sacramental graces – These are the graces received from the Sacraments.
There is a wealth of powerful graces available through the
Sacraments that is often overlooked or underestimated by many
Catholics. We should approach the fount of grace available
through the Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist and
Reconciliation, as frequently as possible.
– These are special graces given to a few for the benefits of
the Church as a whole. They are not meant fro simply and
individual, but they should be at the service of the whole
Church. They include (but are not limited to) the gift of
tongues, prophecy, teaching, and healing.
Graces of state – These graces help us carry out the responsibilities
associated with our particular state in life. If we are married,
this includes graces to be a good spouse, parent, and employee.
What is merit? (CCC 2006-2011)
Merit is the recompense given to us for our works and
actions. This recompense can either be a reward or
punishment. Merit is associated with justice.
Man alone cannot merit justification (being made righteous
and holy) or the grace of final perseverance and life with God
and heaven. Alone, we merit nothing.
However, God desires to reward us. Therefore, when we have
accepted sanctifying grace and we are in the state of grace (not
in mortal sin), He allows us to cooperate in His work of
salvation. In other words, He wants our help, and He wants to
reward us for it. He does not need it, but He wants us to have
the satisfaction that comes with working hard and receiving a
reward. Therefore, when we perform good works (in the state of
grace), He attaches merit to these works. This merit will be
reward in heaven and more grace here on earth.
Here we see the incredible love and mercy of God. He
gives us the ability to perform good works, He makes them
meritous, and He gives the reward – all of our merit is
due to God. This is why St. Augustine says, “in crowning your
merits, you are crowning your own gifts” (cited in CCC 2006).
The Council of Trent states that the Lord’s goodness is such
that “He wants His own gifts to be their merits” (DS 1548). How
great is our God.