Friday, January 22, 2021

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

        "Grace is primary in the whole process, so in that very real sense we can describe our system as “saved by grace alone” -- whereas we can never say “saved by faith alone” (i.e., with works playing no part at all in salvation) or “saved by works alone.” The true Catholic position will always include the works alongside grace and faith." (

        "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 and being maintained through good works is a contradiction of terms.

        Rome requires one to do good works in order to attain and maintain justification. It teaches that one must attain an inherent righteousness in order to be accepted by God. That line of thinking runs contrary to texts such as Psalm 14:2-3, 49:7-9, 130:3, Isaiah 64:6, Luke 18:9-14, Romans 3:10-12, 23, Galatians 3:10, and 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. There are no good deeds that can save us from eternal condemnation.

        Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says, "not by works of righteousness which we have done" (Titus 3:5). He continues on that thought with a stark contrast, "but according to his mercy he saved us." This dichotomy is prevalent throughout the writings of Paul. He 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.