Obtaining The Divine Life
From Death to Life: the Process of Salvation


Introduction

What is something we all want, but never finish receiving?

More.

We want more money, more time, more friends,
Why is it that we never feel satisfied with what we have?
or a more expensive house. But even if we get these things, we still feel like we need more of something: we are never fulfilled. There is still a basic emptiness that exists in us. Why is it that we never feel satisfied with what we have? The answer lies in our very nature: human beings have an infinite capacity for happiness; thus they cannot be fulfilled by the finite things of this world. We were made to live in the infinite, divine life of God. As St. Augustine said of God, "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."






IN THE BEGINNING...

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

Has it always been this way? Has man always been dissatisfied with his lot in life? No- God originally created mankind to be capable of enjoying His presence, resting in Him, as St. Augustine might have said.
They were completely content with themselves.
When God created Adam and Eve, they dwelt in the Garden of Eden with Him. They could converse with Him freely and they had no shame (cf. Genesis 2:25) - they were completely content with themselves and each other. Why was it that they could live in the presence of God? Because He had placed a supernatural life within them, one capable of being in the presence of an all-holy God: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26). This "likeness" is the supernatural life that only comes from God. As long as Adam and Eve had this supernatural life, they could abide in God's presence.




THE FALL

Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned (Romans 5:12)

If Adam and Eve had the supernatural life and were in the presence of God, what happened? Why are we not in His presence, yearning for nothing more?

Again, the answer is rooted in the way God created man. We are made to love. But we have free will to choose what
The Fall created a breach between God and man.
we will love: will we love our Creator and the source of all love, or will we love ourself above all else?

Genesis relates this fundamental choice: "the LORD God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die'" (Genesis 2:16-17). But then Satan told Adam and Eve two lies: that they would not die if they ate the fruit, and not only that, but they could themselves be "like God" if they ate the fruit (cf. Genesis 3:4-5).

So Adam and Eve were left to decide: would they trust in a loving God and be content in Him, or would they put themselves ahead of God and try to be like God themselves? By eating the fruit, they chose to love self over God. Did they then die? Not physically, but God had not meant a physical death; He meant a spiritual death - the supernatural life within them died. Why? In loving self over God, Adam chose to kill the supernatural life- he choose to reject God's presence within him.

Besides killing the supernatural life, there was another effect of the Fall: it created an immeasurable breach between God and man; man had no way to pay the debt for his offense against God, so it was not possible to regain this supernatural life and restore his union with God. As Genesis says, "So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden...After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24)- the tree of life represents the supernatural life to which man could no longer have access. There was no way for man to fix this breach, as it was the result of an offense against an infinite being (God), and therefore was beyond man's power to restore it.

Had Adam and Eve not chosen this selfish path, they would have passed the supernatural life on to their offspring, thus allowing them also to live in the presence of God. What instead happened was that their loss of supernatural life was passed on to their offspring- when we are born, we are born in supernatural death. We are unable to be in the presence of God and there is nothing we can do to fix this problem.

Thus, there were two effects of Adam's choice: (1) an infinite breach was created between God and mankind; and (2) all inherited the lack of the supernatural life within themselves- we are each born in death.




REDEMPTION

In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Did God abandon us in this impossible dilemma? No, He sent us his son, Jesus, to resolve it. Christ's sacrifice on the cross solved both problems associated with the Fall: (1) it permanently restored the breach between God and man ("redemption"); and (2) it gives each of us the ability to receive the supernatural life that was not available before Christ came ("justification").

Why was Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection able to restore the breach? Let us remember who
Christ redeemed all men - no longer does the breach exist between God and man.
Christ is: He is a person (God the Son), with two natures- human and divine. So he is both fully man and fully God. As a man, he is able to represent the entire human race as Adam represented the human race when he fell. "Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Like any man, he receives the just reward or punishment for his life. If he is righteous, he receives his reward; if unrighteous, then the penalty due to him: death. Christ was the only truly righteous man, but he willingly took all sin, including Adam's representative sin, onto himself and received the due punishment of death. As God, he was capable of this infinite sacrifice, but death had no hold over him. Therefore, Christ was able to break the bonds of death and to pay completely the debt owed to God for the breach.

Therefore, the work of Christ redeemed all men- no longer does the breach exist between God and man; it has been fully repaired. As Scripture states, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men" (1 Timothy 2:6)




JUSTIFICATION

For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

Along with restoring the breach between mankind and God, Christ's death and resurrection also made supernatural life available again to each person. How are we able to receive supernatural life? By entering into his redeeming death and resurrection. This happens at Baptism- "We were therefore buried
Baptism infuses the baptized with supernatural life that truly transforms who we are.
with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life."
(Romans 6:4). Baptism infuses the baptized with the supernatural life that was lost by Adam. This supernatural life is a gift. "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:3-7). This gift is initiated by God, and is freely given by Him, even though we do not deserve it. We must have faith to receive this gift - faith in the giver (God), and faith in the gift (supernatural life through Christ).

This supernatural life within us truly transforms who we are- we are actually being made in the likeness of Christ. Christ is not just "covering up" our selfish nature so that we can sneak by the judgment of God. He is actually remaking us into a new creation so that we are able to withstand this judgment: "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Now that we are a new creation, what does this mean for us?

Instead of living for our self-centered motives, all of our actions can now be in union with Christ. At baptism, we die with Christ, and then are raised with him. In other words, we are to imitate Christ in our own lives. Jesus explained how this is done: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). Taking up the cross means following God's Will above our own selfish will. There is a battle going on inside us: our supernatural life wants to live as Christ, but our selfish tendencies still exist and attempt to destroy that supernatural life. Imitating Christ was not possible before justification, but now that we possess the supernatural life we are able to receive grace to give us the strength to follow Christ, and abandon our selfish life. By cooperating with this grace, we are able to grow in the spiritual life. This process is called sanctification.




SANCTIFICATION

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

All that is necessary for salvation is the mere possession of the supernatural life, but the stronger the hold supernatural life has on us, the less likely we are to lose it. Like an athlete training for competition is strengthened by continual practice, the continual practice of the virtues strengthens our soul so that eventually we can win the race. "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)

We still have the desire for selfish choices even after receiving supernatural life, and we have the free will to make those choices. It is even possible to choose to follow our selfish desires, to love ourself over God, so much that we destroy the supernatural life within us. And if we die in this state,
Like an athlete training for competition, continual practice of the virtues strengthens the soul so that we can win the race.
we are unable to live in the presence of God and are sent away from Him (to Hell). Therefore, we don't have absolute assurance of salvation, but instead have the "hope of salvation as our helmet" (1 Thessalonians 5:8). While we are assured that we are redeemed, we are not assured that we will be saved. We must continually strive to ensure that the supernatural life remains with us. How do we do this? God gives us many opportunities and means to obtain graces that strengthen this supernatural life.

First, there are ordinary ways to obtain graces and detach ourselves from our selfish nature, usually categorized into three areas: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer involves conversation with God, in which we contemplate and interact with the supernatural, instead of dwelling on the natural. Fasting is any denial of a natural good for the purpose of obtaining a supernatural good. Denying something, such as food, just for the sake of the sacrifice is not the purpose; it is when our intention is to draw closer to God that we detach from our selfish nature. Almsgiving allows us to detach from this material world by using our resources for the good of the spiritual realm. Using the material resources available to us in order to further the kingdom of God both obtains graces for us, and detaches us from the natural world of those very resources.

Beyond these ordinary ways, God has given us supernatural ways to obtain grace: the sacraments. Receiving the sacraments is the way God touches our soul directly and either places the supernatural life in us (baptism), restores it (confession), or strengthens it (the other five sacraments, especially the Eucharist). The physical world reflects this divine reality: we must first be born into life (birth/baptism), we must be nourished to continue living (food/Eucharist), and, when we are injured, we must be healed (medicine/Confession).

These means are an extraordinary gift to each believer. God does not expect us to be able to maintain the supernatural life within us by our own power; in fact, this is impossible to do. He instead gives us exactly what we need to maintain and strengthen it in us.




SALVATION

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)

If we die with the supernatural life within us, we are justified to enter into the presence of God. Before Christ's work on the cross, man could not survive the presence of God. As God told Moses, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20). God's holiness is like a fire that would destroy someone who did not possess the supernatural life. However, those who have died justified have been transformed into a new creation that can see God and live.

However, it is possible to die with the supernatural life within us, but still have selfish desires. Since God is Love (cf. 1 John 4:8), and love is the opposite of selfishness, if we still have selfish desires in us, we cannot yet be in communion with total, infinite Love. We must be purged of our attachments to sin before entering heaven. This purging had begun in this life by choosing the good,
"God became man so that man might become God" - St. Athanasius
receiving the sacraments, and denying oneself of things of this world, but if not completed at death, then we will be completely purged in purgatory. Scripture says, "For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. " (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). This purging is necessary so that we experience complete union with God; nothing of our old nature will remain.

We will then spend all eternity as a new creation- completely free from any attachment to self, completely remade in the image of Christ, and living in the divine Love that is God. For all eternity, we will be in the presence of the almighty God- the purpose for which we were created. In a divine paradox, Christ actually transform us into a new creation whose nature is greater than that of Adam before the Fall; we are not only in God's presence, but are united to the divine life of God! "O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam! That won for us so great a salvation!" (Easter Sequence). God's divine life will live within us forever. The Church Fathers called this theosis, or deification: "For the God became man so that man might become God" (St. Athanasius). Not that we become equal to God, but in an ineffable mystery, God allows us to share His divine nature. "He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:4)




WHAT MUST I DO?

"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." (John 3:4-5)

If you realize that you can never be fulfilled by the things of this world, and desire the divine life, then you first need to receive God's supernatural life within you.

How? To receive supernatural life within you, be baptized: "'what shall we do [to receive eternal life]?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins'" (Acts 2:38) . If you are already a baptized Catholic, but
The best way to receive grace is to receive the sacraments.
have not lived a Christian life, go to confession to restore the supernatural life within you. If you are not a Catholic, visit your local Catholic Church to find out how to begin the process of joining the Church so that you can begin receiving the sacraments.

Remember, to strengthen your ability to withstand your selfish desires, you must have grace- you cannot do it through your own power. The best way to receive grace is to receive the sacraments frequently- especially Holy Communion and Confession. The Eucharist feeds your soul- it strengthens your ability to resist your selfish desires. Confession heals the breaks that have occurred in your soul, and restores supernatural life if you have lost it.

If you are Catholic, resolve now to return to the sacraments. If you are not Catholic, visit your local Catholic Church to find out how you can obtain the divine life!

Recommended Reading
  • The Bible, especially the 4 Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Healing the Original Wound: Reflections on the Full Meaning of Salvation, Fr. Benedict Groeschel
  • The Redeemer of Man, John Paul II
  • Mission of the Redeemer, John Paul II
  • Swear to God : The Promise and Power of the Sacraments, Scott Hahn
  • God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
  • Lord Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession, Scott Hahn
  • Surprised by Truth, Patrick Madrid



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