Eschatology is the most important aspect of our Christian faith as it is the study of the end of existence, both for the individual, as well as the world. Eschatology refers to a branch of theology concerned with the final events of the earth, and individuals, and what will ultimately become of the individual once he passes on from this life. In the largest context, it is a system that deals with the promises and guarantees made by God and Jesus that have yet to be delivered. It is the ultimate linchpin of our faith, as it gives the ultimate meaning to our existence as well as instructions on what to do while here.
Eschatology is extremely important and relevant today, as it is the most questioned part of Christianity. Many Christians believe, for instance, that we will all go to heaven regardless of their beliefs and behaviors and unfortunately many of the Churches go along with this thinking process and do not correct those who make this claim. Our associate pastor recently preached on this, and stated when he was doing a funeral recently, he did not allude the deceased was in heaven, but alluded to the possibility the deceased was in heaven. He stated many of the family members were upset with this, but the associate pastor stuck to his guns, and stated it is not a fact that we know, but now a fact that the deceased knows. It is this thought process that has infiltrated the modern day Church and much of Christianity and it must be corrected in order to wake people up to the current reality.
Those who are alive live under what has been labeled as ‘eschatological tension’. This term refers to the nature of ‘already saved, but not yet’. It refers to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, in which he died for all men for all times and for all sin. However, we are ‘not yet’ saved, as we need to live our lives, and accept the free gift of salvation. So this tension exists until we accept this gift, and then live a sanctified life until the end. Since we have free will, we can choose to reject this free gift, thus falling outside of the redemptive shedding of blood by the Christ. So, this is how we are saved from the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, but we have to be an active participant in this process to complete it. Since we do not know the outcome of our lives until judgment, no one can say with certainty that they will attain eternal life. We live with the hope of this promise, but as long as we live, it is a matter of faith.
Can one be saved by works?
Many have debated this issue for ages, and many Protestants have accused the Catholic Church of teaching this concept for some time. To many outside of the Catholic Church, and even some inside the Church, see the emphasis on works over praying or other matters of faith, and conclude that works is the central tenet and teaching of the Catholic church. Yes, sometimes there can be a zeal for current issues such as ‘social justice’ and the emphasis looks like the action and work is more forced and mandated, but this is a message that has gone astray. Issues such as social justice must emanate from the heart and it is the movement of the Spirit that instigates the works, but these works will result in inner peace and joy, as they are directed from a Divine source. Much of the Catholic teachings come from the following verses out of the book of James:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Many of the Protestant denominations have witnessed the ‘overemphasis’ on works over the centuries and this has resulted in much consternation between the branches of Christianity. Many of the Protestants quote the following verse to justify their views of salvation, and de link them from works:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
Despite what is claimed, the Catholic Church has never taught this. What the Catholic Church has taught and emphasized is what is called the corporal works of mercy, in which we attend to the needs of our fellow man. Works do not attain heaven for an individual, but one who claims to have faith, or is saved, MUST be interactive in the world and demonstrating this faith through works, as love requires it. What works are important for is the REWARD one will receive at the last judgment as Jesus promised. The problem is that many well meaning Christians interchange the words salvation and reward, but these two words are not interchangeable, as they both relate to differing realities (and will be the subject of next weeks’ post).
Works do not save a man; however, works are an outward manifestation of the state of one’s soul. When these two concepts get mixed up it causes significant problems for the faithful, and some then use this as an excuse to do nothing, believing they have no obligation to act on their beliefs. This is when evil advances, and it is also when the same people will ‘curse God’ for their hardships. We need to stay focused on the prize, and understand we are active and not passive players in this militant and sinful world.