Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
I am sure that we have all heard the adage, "You can't get something for nothing." Generally speaking, our culture and our stance toward it have conditioned us to believe that everything comes at a price. Athletes who wish to win gold medals know that they have to work for that goal, spending hours of time practicing and conditioning their bodies. Musicians spend hours practicing before they are able to produce beautiful music. Precious objects and day to day necessities are purchased for a price. This notion is backed up by the fact that, generally speaking, we are surprised when we receive an unconditional gift. We expect gifts from people with whom we have exchanged gifts in the past.
This is precisely why we have such difficulty with God's gifts of love and redemption which are offered to us with no strings attached. We have been conditioned to believe that we must earn God's love and that we must work for our own salvation. I can remember a question on the application form that was posed to every person who was applying for religious life: "Why do you want to be a Franciscan?" Most of the time, applicants would respond: "I want to save my soul." The fact is, we cannot. It has already been saved for us. The only thing that we must do to benefit from this freely offered gift is to believe that Jesus has saved us already.
It is no easier for us to believe this than it was for the people of St. Paul's time and culture. The people of Israel believed that they would be saved if they observed the Law, the Sinai Covenant. So when St. Paul writes about our being justified by faith, he offers an example that they will understand; namely, the person of Abraham. Abraham believed in God's promise that he would have a son in his old age. He also believed that God would fulfill the promise that his progeny would outnumber the grains of sand or the stars of the sky. Because he believed, he realized these promises, not in his own lifetime, but eventually.
Our situation is the same. If we believe that we are saved, our faith is in fact our salvation. This is the lesson that Jesus teaches over and over whenever he heals or cures someone. "Your faith has saved you." Because they believed that Jesus could heal them, they were healed. Conversely, he was "unable" to heal at times because of a lack of faith. When he forgave the sins of a woman who washed his feet with her tears, he told that her faith had saved her. When Jairus and his wife beg him to save their dying daughter, he admonishes them: "Fear is useless, all that is needed is faith." When the apostles ask why they cannot do the things that he does, he says: "Where is your faith?" Over and over again, Jesus holds up faith as the one condition for salvation, healing, forgiveness, etc.
So St. Paul's claim is not something he dreamed up himself. It is taken directly from the Gospel. Indeed, it the cornerstone of our religion: Faith saves.