Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of human freedom and free will. There has been no shortage of theories, and Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two. There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue: Those who think that Christ will save us no matter what we do after coming to the Faith, and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism). Pope Saint John Paul II wrote two encyclicals, titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.
Jesus is the way
The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that he alone is the way and the truth. This echoes the words of God in creation where he saw the things that he created as good since the work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation. It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole.
Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (RH 9). Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (RM 5). What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done. It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom.
John Paul II and salvation
The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation. The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself. Where does human freedom fit into this picture?
The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many. We miss a foundation of life if we do not have love. We were made to love and live in communion with each other. Through his life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is. This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world. God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it. In this regard John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (RM 8). Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be. Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.
Encountering the truth
Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (RH 21). When we encounter him that is truth, we can either accept or deny what he says. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NRSV). Once we reach this realization, Christ calls us to a higher standard of living since it is his way we are now called to live. We are bound to regulate our lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so, or not (RM 8). Human freedom is a part of the redemption. By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love and we are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.
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