Friday, January 22, 2021

Does The Roman Catholic Church Teach That We Are Saved By Grace Alone?

        "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema." (Council of Trent, canon 1)

         Rome does not maintain that a man pulls himself up by his own bootstraps but speaks in terms of "cooperating with grace." In Roman Catholic theology, a person has to do good works in order to get justified in the sight of God. One keeps his right standing before Him by that same means. Rome teaches that one must attain an inherent righteousness in order to be accepted by God. However, these ideas run contrary to the teaching of Scripture. 

         The grace of God does not come about as a result of the doings of man (Romans 11:6). Grace and works are at odds with each other in the context of justification. Simply put, to speak of grace being infused at the moment of water baptism (which is a work) and being maintained through good works is a contradiction of terms. Paul would have understood grace to be an unmerited favor of God.

         We have failed to meet the standard of moral perfection that God requires and so have incurred for ourselves condemnation (Psalm 14:2-3; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-23; Galatians 3:10). If He kept a record of our sins, we could not stand and say that we are righteous (Psalm 130:3). No one could be saved if God chose not to be merciful toward us. We do not look to ourselves for righteousness. We look to Christ alone and the righteousness that He gives to us (Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 3:3-9). 

        The point of contention with Roman Catholicism is not whether our lives as Christians should be characterized by obedience to God. It does not at all center around whether we perform good works. They are a display of His grace in our lives. However, good works are not to be viewed as meritorious in the sight of God. Our grounds for justification before Him is the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone (Romans 5:19).

        If justification is "not of ourselves" and "not as a result of works" (Ephesians 2:8-9), then that means faith alone is the instrumental cause of justification before God. It is not obtained by both grace and works because it cannot be done that way. There are no good deeds that can save us from eternal condemnation, including those done in a state of grace. The Roman Catholic Church views grace as being necessary for salvation, but not sufficient. 

        Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness..." (Titus 3:5). He is talking about anything righteous that we do. He continues on that thought with a stark contrast, "but according to his mercy he saved us." God did not save us because of any merit on our part; just the opposite is true. Thus, Paul condemns the sacramental system of justification taught by Rome. Some people ironically use this verse to teach that baptism is necessary for salvation, but that would be a self-contradictory interpretation.


Searching for Truth said...

Hello Jesse,

An excellent article.

I am reminded of something R. C. Sproul once wrote:

It is the prerogative of the theologian to make fine distinctions;
(R. C. Sproul, "What is the Trinity," Crucial Questions, [Reformation Trust Publishing, 2011], p. 34).

While I am not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination, It has been my experience that one of the greatest obstacles to mutual understanding is a failure to properly define terms, or make distinctions regarding the utilization of a given word or phrase.

Take, for example, the philosopher Francis Schaffer, in his book "The God Who is There" he uses terms like "rationalist" and "empiricist" in a way which differs from more standard definitions (see the "Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy" or the "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"). Shaffer goes out of his way to inform the reader exactly what is meant by these terms, so there is no issue. However, if one were to overlook Schaffer's definition and impose upon his words an unintended meaning, misunderstanding would likely ensue.

It is for this reason that Martin Luther ("The Bondage of the Will") and Desiderius Erasmus ("On Free Will") could vehemently disagree over the nature of justification in the sixteenth Century, and yet leading members of the Lutheran and Roman Churches could both sign "The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Joint Declaration on The Doctrine of Justification" in the twenty-first century. Nothing has changed these past five-hundred years, rather, whereas Erasmus and Luther both utilized the same definitions, the authors of "The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Joint Declaration" have used two very different definitions of "grace alone," each without defining their meaning and each assuming that the other concurs.

Rome has begun employing similar language to the Reformers, whilst imposing a totally forign meaning. While I do not know the hearts of men and cannon speak meaningfully on the motives behind the shift, I suspect it is an attempt at ecumenism, Intended to assuage old differences and bring the Reformation back under the pinions of Rome without resolving the fundamental and irreconcilable theological differences that lay at the heart of the rift.

Anna Waldherr said...

Surely, the Roman Catholic viewpoint is based upon James 2: 14-26 which includes the phrase "faith without works is dead". The fact that "...we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2: 10) does not nullify the idea that we are saved by faith alone.

Jesse Albrecht said...

Roman Catholics certainly do point to James 2:14-26 in an attempt to salvage their works-based righteousness. However, that is done at the expense of context:

TheFlyingCouch said...

It sounds similar to Mormonism. They will talk about grace and it will sound very Christiany...but then they throw in

“It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25: 23).

which changes it all.