If your sorrow is because of certain consequences which have come on your family because of your sin, this is remorse, not true repentance. If, on the other hand, you are grieved because you also sinned against God and His holy laws, then you are on the right road.”
“How should I witness to someone who belongs to a denomination, who I suspect isn’t trusting the Savior?”
The most effective way to speak about the issues of eternity to a religious person is not to get sidetracked from the essentials of salvation. Upon hearing a person’s background, we may feel an obligation to speak to issues such as infant baptism, transubstantiation, etc. However, it is wise rather to build on the points of agreement between the Bible and the per-son’s denomination, such as the virgin birth, the cross, and so on.
One point of agreement will almost certainly be the Ten Commandments. They are the key to bringing any religious person to a saving knowledge of the gospel. After someone is converted to Jesus Christ, the Bible will come alive and he will be led into all truth by the indwelling Holy Spirit. God’s Word will then give him light, and he will forsake religious tradition as he is led by God.
While there are strong biblical arguments that may convince unregenerate people that their church’s traditions contradict Holy Scripture, there is a difficulty. Some religious people hold the teachings of their church to be on a par with, or of greater authority than, Holy Scripture. It is therefore often futile to try to convince them intellectually that their trust should be in the person of Jesus Christ, rather than in their own righteousness or in their church traditions. For this reason we should aim at the conscience, rather than the intellect. Take sinners through the Law of God (the Commandments) to show them that they are condemned despite their works, and strongly emphasize that we are saved by grace, and grace alone, rather than by trusting in our own righteousness or religious traditions.
If they are open to the gospel, and are interested in what God’s Word says in reference to their church’s teachings, they will listen to Scripture. For example, in Matthew 8:14 we see that Peter (whom the Roman Catholic church maintains was the first pope) was married, as were many of the other apostles (see 1 Corinthians 9:5).
Earning Your Justification
By Matthew J. Slick
Justification is a divine act where God declares the sinner to be innocent of his sins. It is a legal action in that God declares the sinner right-eous—as though he has satisfied the Law of God. This justification is based entirely on the sacrifice of Christ by His shed blood: “...having now been justified by His blood . . .” (Rom. 5:9). Justification is a gift of grace (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7) that comes through faith (Rom. 3:28; 5:1). Christians receive Jesus (John 1:12) and put their faith-filled trust in what Jesus did on the cross (Isaiah 53:12; 1 Pet. 2:24), and in so doing are justified by God. The Bible states that justification is not by works (Rom. 3:20, 28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8,9) because our righteous deeds are filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Those who are justified are saved and salvation is a free gift (Rom. 6:23), something we cannot earn (Eph. 2:1–10). However, Roman Catholic doctrine denies justification by faith alone and says: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Anathema, according to Catholic theology, means excommunication, “the exclusion of a sinner from the society of the faithful.” Roman Catholic theology therefore pronounces a curse of excommunication, of being outside the camp of Christ, if you believe that you are saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus.
Does the Roman Catholic church specifically state that we are “saved by grace and works”? Not that I am aware of. But, when the Roman Catholic church negates justification by faith alone, it necessarily implies that we must do something for justification, for if it is not by faith alone, then it must be by faith and something.
At this point many Catholics appeal to James 2:24, which says, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” But the context of James is speaking of dead faith as opposed to living, saving faith. James states that if you “say” you have faith but have no works (James 2:14), that faith cannot save you because it is a dead faith (v. 17). In other words, mere intellectual acknowledgment of Christ is a dead faith that produces no regeneration and no change in a person’s life. This faith does not justify. Rather, it is only that real and believing faith in Christ that results in justification. Someone who is truly justified is saved and regenerated, and the results of true saving faith are manifested in the changed life of the one justified by faith alone. Real faith produces good works, but it isn’t these works that save you. Good works are the effect of salvation, not the cause of it in any way and they certainly do not help anyone keep their salvation.
The Bible maintains that justification is not by works in any way but is by grace through faith in Christ and His sacrifice alone. The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Furthermore, the Bible states explicitly: “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
Catholicism teaches that certain things must be done by people in order to be justified and to keep that justification. Of these acts, baptism is the first requirement. Consider these quotes:
Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 977).
Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted to us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy (CCC, par. 2020).
I do not see the Bible saying anywhere that we are justified by baptism. This would contradict the clear teaching of Rom. 3:20,28; 4:3; 5:1; and Eph. 2:8, which says salvation is by grace through faith, not grace through faith and baptism. However, according to Roman Catholicism, baptism is only the first sacrament of forgiveness. Good works, according to Roman Catholicism, are also required and are rewarded with going to heaven:
We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ (CCC, par. 1821).
The above quote clearly states that heaven is the “eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ.” Catholic theology asserts that works are a predecessor to justification in direct contradiction to God’s Word which states that “a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). What are the deeds of the Law? Anything we do in hopes of getting or maintaining our righteousness before God.
In the CCC, par. 2010, it says, “Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification.” How does anyone merit for himself the undeserved kindness of God’s grace? Grace is by definition unmerited favor. This is an utterly false teaching. So how does the Catholic church get around this apparent dilemma that grace is unmerited but it is obtained through our merits? It states, “Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it” (CCC, par. 2023).
This is the crux of the problem. Roman Catholic theology asserts that God’s grace is granted through baptism and infused into a person by the Holy Spirit. This then enables him or her to do good works which then are rewarded with heaven. Basically, this is no different from the theology of the cults which maintain that justification is by grace through faith and your works, whether it be baptism, going to “the true church,” keeping certain laws, receiving the sacraments, or anything else you are required to do. In response, I turn to God’s Word at Galatians 3:1–3:
You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Does not the above Scripture clearly state that receiving God’s Spirit is by faith and not by what we do? Does it not teach us that we cannot perfect our salvation by the works we do in the flesh? To receive Jesus (John 1:12 ) means to become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), which means a person is saved, justified. Is this salvation something we attained through our effort? Of course not! Is it something we maintain through our effort? Not at all. It is given to Christians by God and assured by God because it rests in what God has done and not in anything we have done—that is why salvation is by faith and not works. If it did rest in any way in our works, then our salvation could not be secure and we would end up trying to be good enough to get to heaven. That only leads to bondage to the Law and the result is a lack of assurance of salvation, a constant worry of not being good enough, and a repeated subjection to the church’s teachings and requirements about what one must do to be saved. The only natural effect of such a teaching would be that you can lose your salvation over and over again and that you must perform the necessary requirements of the Catholic church to stay saved.
Maintaining Your Justification
Because the Catholic view of justification is a cooperative effort between God and man, this justification can be lost by man’s failure to maintain sufficient grace through meritorious works. Roman Catholicism teaches that works are necessary for “re-attainment” of justification. According to Catholic theology, penance is a sacrament where a person, through a Catholic priest (CCC, par. 987), receives forgiveness of the sins committed after baptism. The penitent person must confess his sins to a priest. The priest pronounces absolution and imposes acts of penance to be performed.
Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace’ (CCC, par. 1446).
Acts of penance vary, but some of them are prayer, saying the rosary, reading the Scripture, saying a number of “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” prayers, doing good works, fasting, and other such things. Is it by doing these acts of penance that the Catholic is able to regain his justified state before God? In essence it is earning one’s salvation. Think about it. If you do not have it and you get it by saying prayers, fasting, and/or doing good works, then you are guilty of works righteousness salvation, which is condemned by the Bible.
I confess my sins to God. He forgives me (1 John 1:9). I do not need a Catholic priest to be my mediator of forgiveness. I need the true High Priest, Jesus, who alone is my Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) to forgive my sins and intercede for me. He finished the work on the cross (John 19:30) so that I do not need to perform any work in order to gain, maintain, or regain my salvation. That is why the Bible teaches that we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1) apart from works (Rom. 3:28).
To say that we can add to the finished work of Christ on the cross is to say that what He did was not sufficient to save us. May this never be! We are saved by grace through faith, not grace through faith and our works: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6).
God desires fellowship with His people (1 Cor. 1:9), not rituals and works righteousness that cannot save us. May God receive all the glory due Him because of His grace.
Adapted from an article by the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (www.carm.org).
Pastor Justin Thomley
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