The Church teaches that salvation to eternal life is God’s will for all people, and that God grants it to sinners as a free gift, a grace, through the sacrifice of Christ.
Humans cannot, in the strict sense, merit anything from God. It is God who justifies, that is, who frees from sin by a free gift of holiness (sanctifying grace, also known as habitual or deifying grace).
Humans can accept the gift God gives through faith in Jesus Christ and through baptism. Man can also refuse the gift. Human cooperation is needed, in line with a new capacity to adhere to the divine will that God provides.
The faith of a Christian is not without works, otherwise it would be dead. In this sense, “by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone,” (James 2:24) and eternal life is, at one and the same time, grace and the reward given by God for good works and merits. Faith, and subsequently works, are a result of God’s grace – thus, it is only because of grace that the believer can be said to “merit” salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that through the graces Jesus won for humanity by sacrificing himself on the cross, salvation is possible even for those outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Christians and even non-Christians, if in life they respond positively to the grace and truth that God reveals to them through the mercy of Christ may be saved.