…who responded to an altar call at his church, walked forward, prayed sincerely to ask Jesus into his heart and, a few weeks later, was baptized. This guy was a terrible sinner with a couple of serious strongholds in his life. He knew he needed Jesus – after all, he had tried by his own power to clean up his act, to no avail.

As a new Christian, our guy dove headlong into the life. He rarely missed church services on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and prayer meeting on Wednesday. He joined an adult Bible study and read the Word of God voraciously.

Over the years, this guy made some real progress in living for Christ, but there were those times; times when the strongholds whispered their siren call and he gave in. Though he fought with every ounce of his human ability (at least most of the time) and prayed fervently for deliverance, he was never able to completely put these sins to death.

And, at last, at a ripe old age, our guy died.

Pretty typical story, even if you substitute “girl” for guy. My point in telling it is to ask what happens to this guy/girl in the immediate aftermath of his/her death? Does the guy (and I’ll keep calling our character a guy, though you can substitute girl if you prefer) go immediately to be in the presence of Jesus? That’s what I always heard preached and believed. At funeral homes I would hear and comfort others with “well, thank God you know he’s with Jesus now.”

We know nothing unholy can abide in heaven. Our guy, at the moment of his death, was fairly thoroughly sanctified, but was not holy. He still, on occasion, yielded to sin. So, are we to assume he was simply “zapped” into full holiness? In other words, does God graciously and instantaneously fix whatever might still be “wrong” with us at the moment of our death? If so, then sanctification is optional and all the Protestant harping on it is little more than a guilt trip.

“Once saved, always saved” assumes the above is true. Sanctification, in that scenario, may well be a good thing to do, but it is not necessary to salvation. A person who sincerely (whatever that means in this context) prays to receive Christ is saved at that moment and can never lose that salvation. When he or she dies, God will make them holy no matter what they have done or not done.

The Roman Catholic church, on the other hand, sees salvation as a process that begins at conversion, is sealed through baptism and continues until death. At any point along the way, though nothing in all creation can steal one’s salvation, the person may, himself, choose to turn back away from the straight and narrow way, turn to self-will and sin, and put his eternal soul in danger. Yet, all is not lost. Repentance, confession, absolution and penance may restore the one fallen away from the faith. At the end of life, assuming one dies in a state of grace, any remaining sinful tendencies will be cleansed in purgatory. Only after all traces of sin have been cleansed from the individual’s heart, will that person then be received with great joy into the heavenly realm.

The Protestant view that I knew for so many years was easy. Pray with sincerity and you are good to go. The Catholic view seems more in keeping with the righteous demand of a holy God.

I’ll have more to say on Purgatory in another blog.