Non-Christians and Salvation

Revelation reveals if we die in Christ we will be crowned and seated on thrones. Will those who do not die in Christ (non-Christians) be crowned in the same glory? Will they be saved? 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus answers Nicodemus’s question regarding the attainment of the Kingdom of God with, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)

Catholics affirm that Baptism is necessary for salvation, for through our Baptism we are immersed into the death of Christ and rise with him as a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – a creature “reborn of water and the Spirit.” (CCC1257) The Catechism goes on to explain that God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. Thus, Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who know this teaching; however, since Christ died for the salvation of all, there are those who can be saved without Baptism. Those who seek Baptism (catechumens and the elect), those who strive to do God’s will without ever knowing Jesus Christ, and those without the knowledge about the faith or to whom the Gospel has never been proclaimed are such examples. (CCC 1260)

The Council Fathers of Vatican II do not exclude anyone acting in good faith from the possibility of salvation. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), paragraph 16 the Council Fathers wrote:

“Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and since the Savior wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through dictates of their conscience—those too, may achieve eternal salvation.

“Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.”

That said, we must remember that just being Christian does not earn or guarantee us entry into heaven. (Romans 3:20) “Salvation is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24-25; 6:23; CCC 161-169) but, we must accept and freely cooperate with this gift. (Philippians 2:12-13; Galatians 5:6; CCC1949)” For the reason that salvation is a gift, so too is Baptism a gift, as it is conferred upon those who bring nothing of their own. In fact, St. Gregory of Nazianzus referred to Baptism as “God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift.” (Oratio 40, 3-4; PG 36,361C)

Ultimately, we can only entrust the souls of those who die without the gift of Baptism (those who do not die in Christ) to the mercy of God (CCC 1261) remembering, that God’s mercy is infinite and cannot be bound by human limitations.

References: 

  • Lumen Gentium, Second Vatican Council, Nov. 21, 1964
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Did Adam and Eve have Belly Buttons? by Matthew Pinto
  • Did Jesus Have a Last Name? by Matthew Pinto & Jason Evert

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About the Author

Kelly Wahlquist is a dynamic and inspiring Catholic speaker whose gift of weaving personal stories and Scripture together with practical advice allows her audience to enter more fully into what Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have called us into - to be witnesses of our faith and part of the New Evangelization.

Kelly travels the country speaking to all on various topics that inspire us to live the New Evangelization, but has a special love for speaking at Catholic women’s conferences. She resides in Minnesota with her husband, Andy, and their three children, and is very active in their parish, Holy Name of Jesus.

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1 Comment

  1. Catholics believe baptism is necessary for salvation.
    VATICAN II declared this in #7 of it’s decree Ad Gentes:
    “Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church’s preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself “by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it.” (Dogmatic constitution by Vatican II: Lumen Gentium 14) Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.”

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