Can a Jew, who is well aware of Christianity and its teachings and does not repent of his refusal to believe in Jesus Christ, possibly die in a state of grace and be saved? Yes, this is possible. Many Jews die in a state of grace and are given eternal life in Heaven, usually after a purification in Purgatory. It is also possible for such a person to die and be sent directly to Heaven, without a stay in Purgatory.
The refusal to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah is an objective mortal sin. However, it may not be an actual mortal sin, if the person who refuses to believe is sincere in seeking religious and moral truth, and yet does not believe Jesus is the Messiah. How can a sincere adult, who has the full use of his faculties of reason and free will, not perceive the Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world? One reason is that so many Christians, especially Catholic Christians, fail, very substantially, to live according to the teachings of Christ. They obscure the goodness and truth of His teachings by not living them well, by their own mortal sins. Another reason is that the world is sinful and offers a wide variety of erroneous opinions on every matter of faith and morals. It is more difficult to perceive truths pertaining to salvation in such a circumstance.
As discussed in the previous article on salvation for atheists and agnostics, a substantial reduction in culpability due to a lack of knowledge of the sinfulness of rejecting Christ results in this objective mortal sin being reduced to a venial sin. Invincible ignorance need not be so full that there is no actual sin at all. It is sufficient for salvation that an objective mortal sin be reduced in culpability to that of an actual venial sin.
But how can a Jew who does not accept Christ go to Heaven without any purification in Purgatory? Does he not need to stay at least briefly in that holy place in order to know Christ? It is probably the usual case that a Jew who dies without accepting Christ goes to Purgatory, so as to know Christ before entering Heaven. But this is not necessarily the case.
Suppose that a Jew who has no actual mortal sin on his conscience dies in an heroic attempt to save the lives of other persons, out of a sincere love of God and love of neighbor. His last act of life is a full cooperation with grace in an act of true spiritual love. Therefore, by that act of full cooperation with grace, he knows Christ, even without accepting His name. This heroic sacrifice suffices to remit all temporal punishment due for sin in his life, and also constitutes an implicit repentance from all sin by implicit perfect contrition.
Such a person knows Christ better than many Christians know Him. For many Christians lead a life of lukewarm love of God and neighbor, and when they die in a state of grace, they still require a long purification in Purgatory.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator