Today I received what I hope was an honest, searching e-mail — so I took the time to give a short response. Below you can read the questions in blue and my answers in black.
I am an Evangelical Christian and have read your book "Crossing the Tiber" and listened to a CD about your testimony. (St. Joseph's Communications) Both of these were given to me by a Catholic. I don't think either of these resources were intended to explain how a person could have their sins forgiven by God and know that they would spend eternity in heaven. In Roman Catholicism, how does this happen? What must a person do?
My book Crossing the Tiber and my audio conversion story were not meant to be "Gospel Messages" per se, as is common in evangelical circles. Rather, they were a record of my search into "what is the Church?" and "What is the fullness of Christianity?"
I was asking myself "What does the Bible teach and how did the very first Christians understand Christianity, salvation, the Sacraments, and the Body of Christ – the Church?
However, even though Crossing the Tiber is not specifically about how do we get saved, the second section on Baptism has a good deal to say about salvation both as taught by the Bible and practiced by all Christians for the first 1500 years. I would encourage you to read that section, and the section on the Eucharist at the end.
About salvation, it is really quite simple. One must "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." That is the Catholic gospel in a nutshell — faith in Christ. But then, we must ask what "believe" and "faith" mean. In biblical times believe meant more than the simplistic definition it is often given today. In biblical language, the opposite of "believe" is to disobey (Jn 3:36), meaning that "believe" was a very pregnant and meaningful word.
Paul begins and ends his book on Romans referring to the "obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5 and 16:26) and in Galatians he ways "faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).
We are saved by "the obedience of faith" based on the propitiatory death and merits of Jesus Christ, but not by faith alone — unless of course we mean faith and all the things that are included within that word.
Jesus says that one is born again by "water and spirit" (Jn 3:3-%) and Peter said on the day of Pentecost not "ask Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior"; rather he said, "Repent and be baptized to wash away your sins" (Acts 2:38). Paul heard the same thing in Damascus when Ananias said, "Why do you tarry, arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling upon his name" (Acts 22:16). I could multiply the passages about the need for baptism.
Salvation by faith cannot be separated from the necessity of baptism, obedience, holiness (Heb 12:14) , and other elements the Bible and the Church have made very clear.
Consider this: if you go to a restaurant and ask for a hotdog, and the waiter dropped a frozen hotdog on the table, what would you think? You would be shocked and angry! But you asked for a hotdog and a hotdog is what you got. But you expected the waiter to have some cultural literacy — to know that a hotdog was shorthand for a plate, silverware, a napkin, a hotdog in a bun, chips, ketchup, and everything else that goes with a "hotdog."
"Believe" and "faith" are similar to the hotdog – they are shorthand for what it means to place our full confidence and trust in Jesus Christ. They imply and include all that one must do when they boy the knew to a king – full obedience and submission.
Jesus is the one who says that new birth — becoming "born again" — is accomplished through "water and Spirit" and since he had JUST been baptized by going into the water and having the Holy Spirit alight upon him, he expected his listeners and US to understand that baptism was a necessary element in obtaining salvation.
So, that is a quick summary. Read the section in Crossing the Tiber on Baptism and get back with me if you are still interested in pursuing this matter.