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“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
– Romans 8:35
In the final episode of Father Mike Schmitz’s Bible-in-a Year Podcast, he recommended my Great Adventure Bible study on the epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews. Here is one more “controversial passage” from Romans.
This passage has been interpreted to support Martin Luther’s understanding of salvation by faith “alone” by alleging that Paul is saying here that no sin can separate us from Christ — in which case one can’t lose one’s salvation, once they’ve come to faith. Now of course, God never stops loving us. What happens in mortal sin — sin which suffocates the life of God within us — is that we stop loving God. That is, as Catholic teaching holds, some actions are incompatible with authentic love of God, neighbor, and even of ourselves. In other words, some sins are mortal because they kill the life of God within us:
“If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal” (1 John 5:16-17).
But what does Paul mean here in Romans 8:35?
The mystery of salvation, in essence, is about divine sonship. That is, the Eternal Son takes on our humanity, dies our death and rises to new life, in order to infuse us with his divinity: As St. Peter says:
“by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4; see also CCC 460).
In other words, Jesus didn’t go to the Cross so we wouldn’t have to; he goes to the Cross not as our substitute, but as our head in solidarity with us—sending the Spirit to empower us to do the same.
By baptism, we enter into Christ’s life and death — we are born anew and receive divine life. Salvation is about the maturation of this divine life. That is, salvation is not a one-time event — it is a process. It begins in the new birth of baptism, and this divine life grows and develops within us as we become ever more conformed to Christ through the power of the Spirit. In truth, the mystery of Christianity comes down to this: for the Holy Spirit to reproduce and recapitulate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in and through each of us—this is the power of Christ’s life in us:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Are You Saved?
We can come to grips with the majesty of this grace if we realize that God the Father now looks down upon us and loves us as he loves his Only-Begotten Son. Moral perfection in the natural order couldn’t earn one drop of this grace; for this is the grace of sonship—sharing in the eternal sonship of Jesus. It begins in baptism and continues throughout the Spirit’s ongoing transformation of our lives.
For this reason, a Catholic should answer the question “Are you saved?” in the following way:
Again, salvation is a dynamic reality, not a static one-time event.
With this background, let’s look at this section in Romans 8. Paul writes:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).
Notice here that we become sons and daughters in the Son, through the Spirit. And notice the very end of this passage, where Paul states that we must share in the Cross, if we are to share in Christ’s glory.
Image: “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” by Valentin de Boulogne.