Q. I was told by a priest that going to church is not going to save my soul from going to hell. But it is how you live your life. It is about believing in God and about love, forgiving, compassion to others. Is this true?
A. I would say the answer is both “Yes” and “No.” And I presume that your priest would agree with the following clarifications.
It’s true that going to church cannot, by itself, save your soul from going to Hell. An obvious example would be a person who lives a horribly sinful life all during the week, and then, as a way of making others think he is good, goes to church to be seen but is in no way interiorly invested in the worship. In this case, the physical act of being in a church during Mass in no way means that you are truly “at Mass.” To go to church means you are not there only physically, it also means you are there spiritually, worshiping God and growing in faith.
With that said, going to church for the right reason is part of the process of salvation. God wants you there. He wants you to come and worship in the Mass and to be nourished by Him through His Word and through the Eucharist. So, if you are on the road to Heaven, that road will most certainly have faithful Mass attendance as part of the journey.
However, the contrary is also true. It’s not enough to just do good things and to expect that these “good works” will save you. God does not look down from Heaven and say, “OK, you’ve done enough good to earn a ticket to Heaven.” No, salvation cannot be earned by what we do.
But be careful here. The accurate answer really includes everything above and more. Let me paint the full picture of salvation:
- Salvation is a free gift of God and that we can never earn. It was won for us on the Cross, and the grace from Christ’s Cross is what saves. This is the only way to Heaven!
- We receive the gift of salvation when we let God into our hearts and we surrender over to Him, giving Him control of our lives. This produces the gift of faith.
- When we have faith, we cannot separate that faith from our works. In other words, if we truly believe and have Christ alive in our hearts, it WILL affect the way we live. We WILL be forgiving, compassionate, and loving to others.
- When we have faith, we will also hear God calling us to Sunday Mass faithfully, and we will need to respond to that call from God in how we want to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. You cannot say “I believe” and at the same time refuse to worship as God wants.
All of this, together, is a brief summary of the full picture of salvation. I hope it helps!