The other day, I was changing radio stations while driving, and landed briefly on the local Protestant station. Saturday afternoons (as this happened to be), this particular station airs a talk show that apparently happens to be the most listened to spiritual talk show in Canada. I happened to catch the last 5 minutes or so (in which the host mentioned the above bit of trivia), and at the end, the host signed off with a supposedly clever catch-phrase. As a listener to such radio shows and podcasts as Catholic Answers and The Taylor Marshall Show, I’m used to that concluding statement of the host, be it Patrick Coffin’s, “Be a saint. What else is there?” or Taylor Marshall’s “Remember, Jesus said we’re to be the salt of the earth, so go out there and be salty!” They’re short, pithy, and, more to my present point, theologically sound! To put it nicely, however, the sign-off line of the protestant radio host was decidedly not!
“And remember: If you don’t sin, Jesus died for nothing!”
I’m reasonably sure I said a bad word in reaction. It did remind me why I stopped listening to that most-listened-to of spiritual talk shows, and by-and-large to Protestant radio altogether. I don’t know whether the host was joking (I sure hope he was!), but the sentiment does reflect a strain of pseudo-Christian thought that’s been around since the beginning of the Church. In fact, many accused St. Paul himself of proclaiming such a notion because they misunderstood his teachings about salvation being by grace and faith and not by our obedience to the Law. That’s why, in his Letter to the Romans, right after explaining this teaching about God’s grace overcoming sin, he stops and answers that very objection: “What should we say then? Should we remain in sin so that grace may be given the more fully? Out of the question! We have died to sin; how could we go on living in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). The notion that because our initial justification comes through God’s grace, and our faith-filled response to that grace, and that without that grace we can do nothing to save ourselves, does not therefore mean that we don’t have to do anything at all to maintain our justification! It is this “once-saved-always-saved” notion of salvation that leads to a Christianity that is devoid of sanctity. But this is simply not the Gospel. Our faith-response includes obedience to God and holiness of life, or, as St. Paul says in Ephesians, “Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life” (Eph. 2-8-10, emphasis mine), or, in another place, “So, my dear friends, you have always been obedient; your obedience must not be limited to times when I am present. Now that I am absent it must be more in evidence, so work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12, emphasis mine). Clearly, then, Jesus’ death for our salvation is the very opposite of a licence to sin!
The more I thought about the blasphemous statement that I heard on the radio, though, it caused me to ponder another flaw in its underlying assumptions about salvation. That is, Jesus came and died for us not only to forgive each of our personal, actual sins, but to undo the effect of that Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Because of their sin, we were all born without sanctifying grace in our souls, and therefore not in a right relationship with God. This lack of sanctifying grace is precisely why we can’t do anything of our own power to save ourselves, and why we depend on God’s free gift of sanctifying grace—a free gift that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice makes available to us. Whether or not we sin now has no bearing on whether Jesus died for nothing—and in fact, if we live without sin, we do so only because of His salvation! Jesus died so that we could be holy, and in truth, if we don’t strive for holiness, that’s what lessens the value of Jesus’ death—but only in our own lives. The myriad saints who’ve gone before us have already made Jesus’ sacrifice abundantly worthwhile. And, of course, the case-in-point of why the radio-host’s blasphemous statement is so utterly wrong-headed, is Jesus’ own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived without original sin staining her soul, and lived a life of perfect holiness and conformity to God’s will. Her immaculate conception itself was only possible in view of the superabundant merits of Christ’s crucifixion! Our belief in that dogma preserves us against the belief that our sins give more value to Jesus’ sacrifice.
As we heard at Mass yesterday:
“We are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they cannot get over, to the gentiles foolishness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24).