Some people say that one should be sure of salvation. They believe and teach others that a child of God should be sure that he is saved and that he or she has no more sin. This sort of teaching has a history. Dr. Martin Luther, a 16th century professor of theology in the University of Wittenberg, believed that the justification that brings salvation is faith in the God of promise, in Christ the mediator. Accusing Catholics of stressing DEEDS and also of being unsure of salvation, he offered for his followers certainty of salvation and joy in the Spirit; he said that one should “ cling to God who cannot lie”, for Luther, to doubt one’s salvation is to doubt: “ God’s power and mercy, or “ not to believe in divine promise” (ibid., p.26). So if we doubt God’s grace and do not believe that God is well pleased with us for Christ’s sake, then we deny that Christ has redeemed us; indeed we question absolutely all his mercies (ibid. p.23).
This is Luther’s theory of Salvation, the hinges of his spirituality: one should be certain that one is saved because through faith; we are sons of God in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). Catholicism, Luther further says, turns a religion of redemption into one of achievement based on man’s good conduct. This thought of Martin Luther shocked ecclesiastical ears so much that the Council of Trent took time to answer Luther. It quickly recognized the question as an inseparable part of the article of justification.
The Catholic reaction: in the decree of justification (section 6, Ch.9), the Council of Trent says:
No one can know with certainty of faith, in which there can be no error that he has obtained God’s grace.
Catholic theology teaches us that if a man does not place an obstacle on his, the sacraments confer (saving) sanctifying grace. In that case, one would be sure of salvation because the sacraments work irrespective of the moral condition of the priest who celebrates it.
The conclusion of the Council is this: if a person has to cooperate in the realization of his salvation, there cannot be personal certainty.
St. Thomas Aquinas said: A Christian cannot see his own soul and be absolutely certain he is in grace, but he can have moral certainty that he is in grace, judging by his life of charity and morally goodness (Summa theologiae, 1-11, q. 112, a. 5). It is advisable for us to hope to be saved (Rm. 8:23-25; Col. 1:27; Heb. 6:19) but we cannot declare ourselves acquitted (justified) before our final judgment. It is God who will judge us whether we lived well or not. We must learn from St. Paul who said:
I will not pass judgment on myself. True, my conscience does not report me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. There must be no passing of premature judgment, leave that until the Lord comes._ 1 Cor. 4:4-5.