Friday, January 22, 2021

Why The Roman Catholic Church's Concept Of "Grace Alone" Is Not Really "Grace Alone" At All

        "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)

        The grace of God does not come about as a result of the doings of man (Romans 11:6). 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.

         In Roman Catholic theology, a person has to do good works in order to get justified in the sight of God. One keeps their 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, that line of thinking runs contrary to Scripture. 

         We have failed to meet the standard of moral perfection that God requires and so incurred condemnation (Psalm 14:2-3; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-23; Galatians 3:10). If He kept a record of the sins of mankind and chose not to be merciful toward us, none of us could stand (Psalm 130:3). We do not look to ourselves for righteousness but to Christ alone (Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 3:3-9). 

        The point of contention is not whether our walk with God is to be characterized with a desire to serve Him. Our good works are a display of His grace in our lives. However, they are not to be viewed as meritorious in His sight. Our grounds for justification before God 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. Justification 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.

        Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness..." (Titus 3:5). The New Revised Standard Version renders that phrase as, "not by any works of righteousness that we have done." He continues on that thought with a stark contrast, "but according to his mercy he saved us." Thus, Paul would most definitely have condemned the sacramental system of justification taught by the Church of Rome.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

  4. 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.