A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

8 thoughts on “A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

  1. grateful2him says:

    Thank you, Herman, for visiting my website and commenting on this article. You have posed some very interesting and important questions, and I understand your uncertainty. In fact, similar questions have occurred to me in the past. Let me respond briefly to your individual questions. Yes, we can know that we are saved, i.e., have eternal life (1 John 5:13). I know that my faith is not dead faith because it has produced good works in me. I do good works because I am saved, not to become saved. The ultimate evidence of my saving faith is 1) I believe in my heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was sent to save the world, 2) I confess my sins and repent of them, 3) I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and 4) my salvation has produced good works. I know that I have saving faith because the word of God says I do; i.e., I have God’s word on it. And it’s not about quantifying the good works to see if they are sufficient to demonstrate saving faith. That’s the doctrine of salvation by “grace plus works” just couched in different terms. The issue is only whether or not the finished works of Jesus Christ are sufficient to save me. And they are; I have God’s word on that too. The good works are nothing more than a product of my salvation by grace through faith. And in my case, my believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ came as a result of a supernatural vision with a voice from heaven during a revival meeting when I was 8 years old. You can read more about it in my article, “A Date with Fate at Eight.” I also want to encourage you to read two of my other articles relevant to your questions: “Am I Good Enough for Heaven?” and “Faith, or Works, or Faith and Works.” May the Lord speak to you about your own faith and lead you to saving faith with full and unwavering assurance. I hope I have helped in some way.

  2. Herman says:

    Aren’t you supposed to “know” that you are saved? How do you know that you have this “special kind of faith” and not a “death faith”? How do you know that your good works are sufficient to demonstrate a “saving faith”? Even the most evil people in history did some good things. And how do you know that Satan has not deceived you into believing that you have a “saving faith” when in fact you a “dead faith”? Certainly you can “believe” that you have a “saving faith” but how do you “know” that you have it? Did an angel visit you at night and tell you that your faith is a “saving faith”?

  3. grateful2him says:

    Thanks again, Edward, for your comment. The fact that “people would go to hell just by having different sets of beliefs” is sound, biblical teaching and doctrine. Even the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, when they say, in their Catechism, that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation. Jesus himself said, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” People who are not yet born-again should be terrified by this fact and ask God to save them! And the battle of Armageddon is a sound biblical prophecy, not anyone’s “theology”, to the best of my knowledge. Regarding the remainder of your “straw man” comment, these positions are not mine, and to the best of my knowledge, not a part of anyone’s theology per se. Are you really a devout and well-informed Roman Catholic, or are you just another atheist wasting my time?

  4. edward says:

    Well, your evangelical theology has me terrified that people would go to hell just by having different sets of beliefs, that creationism and mandatory prayer must be taught in public schools, that there should be no separation of church and state, and that there should be a war in the Middle East where millions will die in order for Jesus to return.

  5. grateful2him says:

    Thank you, Edward, for sharing your thoughts. I do not share your veneration of “tradition”, although I do not believe it should be totally ignored either. In my view, doctrine is sufficiently explained and clarified in the Bible, enabling almost any born-again Christian to understand it with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Bible says about all born-again Christians, in whom dwells the Holy Spirit of God: “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). When I come before Christ to be judged, I will be held responsible for what I believe; no church, denomination, tradition, priest or pastor will be there to defend me. So, it behooves me to search out these spiritual matters for myself and trust God’s Holy Spirit — not man’s tradition — to guide me into all truth. If you see it otherwise, that’s not my problem. By the way, your RC tradition had me terrified that I might very well be destined for hell in the next life, that there was nothing that I could do about it one way or the other, and that I could not find out my eternal fate until after I die. Then I discovered (on my own) 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” So much for your tradition!

  6. Edward says:

    I think you’re creating your own Holy Spirit. The fact is that no one believed what you do before the Protestant reformation. Without a doctrine or tradition to guide you, you’re just giving your own interpretation of the Bible.

  7. grateful2him says:

    Thank you, Edward, for your comment. Of course I have read, and studied, James 2:14-26 very carefully. When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead and produces no good works. The other kind of faith is that of a person who is truly saved, it is alive and produces good works. The good works are a result of and evidence of the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what saves. As Paul pointed out in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” and in Galatians 2:16, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” And, in Jesus’ own words, “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” in the usual sense of the word; only faith (belief). Thus, “sola fide.” Since all scripture is God-breathed (inspired by the Holy spirit), in order to understand James 2:14-26 fully and correctly, one must take into account all of the pertinent Bible verses. And doing so leads one to the conclusion that salvation is, in fact “sola fide.” The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself.

  8. Edward says:

    I think you should read this before embracing the Protestant invention of “sola fide”:

    James 2:14-26

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