Some Catholic Christians and some non-believers are often heard to say that the Church never taught that a "personal relationship with Christ" was necessary for salvation.
The term "personal relationship" is, first of all, not biblical. Neither word nor the compound phrase is found in the Bible. But then, neither are such terms as "Trinity", "Incarnation", "Eucharist", "Lord's Supper", etc., found in the Bible. The expression "personal relationship" comes neither from the language of the Bible nor from the history of Christian faith. The expression comes from the humanist psychology of the last hundred years, principally that of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Eric Fromm. It also has its roots in over emphasis on the attitude of rugged individualism of the early development of America.
In using the expression "personal relationship" there is a danger in attempting to harmonize the formulas of the Bible with the formulas of psychology, psychiatry, and/or American nationalism. The language of the Bible and the languages of psychology, psychiatry, and nationalism reflect divergent perceptions and conceptualizations. Attempting to treat them as identical can only be artificial.
How did the Catholic Church of the past and how does the Church of the present teach the relationship each Christian must have with his or her Lord and Savior?
Many see the foundation for a personal relationship with Jesus implicit in John chapter three.
Jn 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him (Nicodemus), "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above."
Nicodemus, as Christians to follow for all ages, asked Jesus in return what was it that will allow a man to be "begotten from above." Jesus answered him repeating Himself:
Jn 3:5 Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
Again Nicodemus presses Jesus for a further explanation. Jesus answers only that belief and action - deeds, works done in God - will accomplish what is required.
Jn 3:12-21 ... whoever believes in him ... whoever lives the truth ... his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
But Jesus seems not to be entirely clear on the requirements. But as the Church has taught through all ages, all of the Bible does present clear requirements for the Christian's relationship to Jesus.
The Catholic Church, using explicit Scriptures, has always found that the basis of a personal relationship with Jesus begins at the origin of the Christian life. The Church, from Pentecost onward, examines the language of Christ and Sacred Scriptures and the content of that language for God's desire for the Christian's relationship to Him. The Church begins at the beginning of life as a Christian.
The origin of the life of a Christian and of Christian perfection to which the Bible constantly calls us, is the Heavenly Father, Who communicates His life through the Son, and through the Son, the Holy Spirit.
1 Jn 4:7-10 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
The initiative for the life of a Christian is a movement descending from the Father to men: the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit sanctifies man.
1 Jn 4:10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us ... 2 Cor 13:13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you. 1 Pet 1:2 ... in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: ...
The movement descending from the Father to man touches man first in baptism.
Rom 6:3-5 Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Col 2:12-13 You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead (in) transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him ... Eph 2:4-6 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
Through this participation the Christian is a new creature living in an atmosphere clearly new.
2 Cor 5:17 So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
This new life of the Christian is directly a participation in the life of Christ, is the life of a member, joined with the Head, in the Body of Christ which is the Church.
Eph 4:15-16 Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love.
The movement through Christ in the Father, founded in participation in the divine life - the movement of life in its origin involves union with Christ and -through Christ - with the Father.
Jn 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." Jn 14:20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Col 3:3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
The new life of the Christian is an assimilation of God through Christ. This life begins in baptism.
Gal 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Rom 8:9 But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Rom 8:14-17 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
The new life of the Christian is a personal gift of the Father.
Rom 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
The response to this personal communication in the Christian is the gift or the donation of self to God through Christ.
2 Cor 11:2 For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 1 Cor 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? 1 Cor 6:19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Corresponding to this ontological state, the Christian life is not to be lived for itself, but for Christ and -through Christ - for God.
Rom 14:7-8 None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. Rom 6:11 Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
How is this gift of self of the Christian to be made manifest? It is first manifested in service to God because service to God involves conformity to the divine will and also praise to God.
Christ is the model for the Christian of service in the divine will.
Heb 10:5-7 For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: "... a body you prepared for me ... 'As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'" Jn 4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work."
Jesus teaches us that obedience to the will of the Father is our calling.
Mt 6:9-10 This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Mt 12:50 For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.
The total earthly servitude of Christ consummated on the cross was praise and glory to God.
Jn 17:4 I glorified you (Father) on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Just as with Christ, the servitude of the Christian is simultaneously praise to God.
1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Eph 1:11-12 In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.
The gift of the self for the Christian is the denial of self.
Mk 8:34-35 He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it." Mt 19:21 Jesus said to him (the young man), "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
In the life of the Father through Christ, charity/love holds first place.
Mt 22:36-40 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." 1 Cor 12:31-13:13 Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. ... So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. Gal 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Rom 13: 8-10 Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, (namely) "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl. Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2011, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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