Why do Catholics try to earn their own salvation, despite the fact that salvation can only come as a free gift from Jesus Christ?

Catholics fully recognize that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for their sins and thus “opened the gates of Heaven,” and that salvation is a free gift which no amount of human good deeds could ever earn. Catholics receive Christ’s saving and sanctifying grace, and Christ Himself, into their souls when they are baptized. Yet they also know that Christ has established certain conditions for entry into eternal happiness in Heaven – for example, receiving His true Flesh and Blood (John 6:54) and keeping the commandments (Matt. 19:17). If a Christian refuses or neglects to obey Our Lord’s commands in a grave matter (that is, if he commits a mortal sin), Our Lord will not remain dwelling in his soul; and if a Christian dies in that state, having driven his Lord from his soul by serious sin, he will not be saved. As St. Paul warned the Galatians with regard to certain sins: “They who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:21). It must be added that Christ will always forgive and return to a sinner who approaches Him with sincerity in the Sacrament of Penance.

Catholics follow St. Paul, who did not think that his salvation was guaranteed once and for all at the moment he first received Christ into his soul; for he wrote: “I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (I Cor. 9:27). Also: “With fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you…” (Phil. 2:12-13). “And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.” (Luke 12:48). “He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22). Nevertheless, Catholics realize that even the fulfilling of Our Lord’s requirements for salvation is impossible without the free gift of His grace.

Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961