Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are Roman Catholics Saved?



How Romanism Prevents Catholics from Becoming Right with God 
By Keith Thompson




Evangelicals will sometimes falsely say that Roman Catholics are right with God or saved because they believe in Jesus. However, the biblical requirements for salvation and the actual meaning of “believing in Jesus” are often watered down by such evangelicals. It is not enough to say you believe in Jesus. The Bible demands people trust or rely on Christ and His finished work on the cross alone for right standing with God and not anything within one’s self. According to Jesus and the apostles, good works are not to be relied on for right standing with God. If they are then one forfeits their salvation. Good works are evidence of salvation within a believer’s life, but they are never relied upon by a true believer.

“Believing”

In many passages we are told to “believe” in Christ and the gospel for salvation (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; 1 Timothy 1:16). When Evangelicals claim Catholics are saved they often assert Catholics do this and must therefore be right with God. However, the word for “believe” in such texts is pisteuō and it does not refer to a simple mental assent. In the Bible it also carries the meaning of “trusting” and “having confidence” in something(1). In other words there is sense of “relying” or exercising your full confidence when we are exhorted to believe. This needs to be kept in mind as we examine passages relating to believing in the gospel and Christ for salvation. This understanding of believing will become evidently true after reading this essay.

As John Murray put it:

“Faith cannot stop short of self-commitment to Christ, a transference of reliance upon ourselves and all human resources to reliance upon Christ alone for salvation. It is a receiving and resting upon him”(2).

Right Standing with God is by Relying on the Gospel

According to Scripture one becomes right with God when they repent and rely on Jesus and what He did on the cross and His resurrection (i.e., the “gospel”). According to 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 that is what the gospel or “good news” is – Jesus’ death for sins and resurrection:

1Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand. . . . 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-6).

The same biblical writers tell us it is by “believing” (i.e., trusting, putting confidence in) this gospel truth about Christ that one becomes right with God or is saved:

“and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:15).

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

It is clear from these texts that in order to be saved or be in right relation with God one is to believe (i.e., trust/put confidence in) the gospel. Does Rome teach this? No, Rome teaches one becomes right with God after A) the sacramental work of baptism; B) again and again after the sacramental work of penance; and C) doing the Ten Commandments. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Council of Trent, states that observing the Ten Commandments is necessary for right standing with God(3). Hence because the Catholic Church teaches Catholics to do other things besides trust in Christ for their right standing with God, they are not right with God. They do not trust or put their confidence in Christ and His work on the cross and resurrection for their right standing with God. Instead their trust is divided since they also rely on sacramental works and keeping the Ten Commandments. Sadly, this is not therefore a true trust in Christ and the gospel. It’s a trust in other things as well.

Romans 4:5 says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Notice, in regards to becoming right with God, a person who is ungodly and has no works (and hence does not rely on works) does so simply by believing or trusting. This is the opposite of Roman Catholic teaching which forces Catholics to rely on their works in order to have a righteous standing with God.

The Effects of Relying on the Gospel

The reason trusting or relying on Christ and the gospel makes a person right with God or saved is because when one does so what Christ did on the cross is applied to the person. That is to say, when someone exercises saving faith/trust in Christ and the gospel alone, Jesus’ payment for sin and turning away of the Father’s wrath He accomplished on the cross counts for the person washing away the person’s sins and making them acceptable to God. Romans 3:25 proves this comes about by faith and not works:

“whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. . .” (Romans 3:25).

When one trusts or relies on Christ and His work on the cross and resurrection (the gospel), Jesus’ propitious sacrifice is received by and applied to the person. A propitiation is a sacrifice which turns away God’s wrath(4). So, by trust Jesus’ sacrifice is applied to the person’s benefit and God no longer has wrath on them (cf. John 3:36).

Philippians 3:9 also tells us that by trust we are then viewed as righteous by God, not by our works: “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” This is again because by faith what Jesus did on the cross counts for the person – wiping away their sin and turning God’s wrath away.

By trusting in their works, however, and not in the perfect work of Christ (the gospel), Roman Catholics do not have Jesus’ payment for sin applied to them. They must renounce trusting also in what they do and bow at Jesus’ feet trusting in Him and what He did alone.

Biblical Warnings to not Rely on our Works

We are warned rather clearly in Holy Scripture to not do what Catholics do, that is, rely on our works.

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10).

he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

“9who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10).

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).

“For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness” (Romans 10:3).

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

These passages are explicitly clear that if one relies on what they do then they will not become right with God. In order to be in good standing with the Lord one must instead trust in Jesus and what He did on the cross for the sins of people and His resurrection. If that is not depended on but other things are then salvation is forfeited.

Why no one can Become Right with God by Works

The reason God set it up so that we become right with Him through trusting in His Son’s work is that we are not able to be good enough to be right with God through our works. In Romans 3:9-18 Paul explains because all men are “under sin” (v. 9), no human is righteous, seeks or fears God – instead all do evil (vv. 10-18). Because of this sinful human condition Paul explains in v. 20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” His logic is since we are so wicked none of us will become right with God through human effort because God’s rules He gave people only show us how sinful we are much like a mirror (i.e., “through the law comes knowledge of sin”). The solution is then presented in v. 25 which is that we become right with God by trusting what Jesus did since by doing so what He did on the cross applies to us making us acceptable in God’s sight: “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. . .”

The fact that man is too wicked to become right with God in any other way than by trusting Christ is evidenced in other texts as well. In Galatians 3:10 we are told "all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them'" (Galatians 3:10). Here we see the reason no one relying on their works to be right with God will be saved is because no one abides by all things written in God's Law and does them. It is not possible to do. In other words, if you take the route of salvation which says: "do good works and earn right standing with God," then you are cursed and won't be saved because you will not be able to follow all of God's commands.

What is more, in Luke 18:9-14 we are told about a Pharisee and tax collector. The Pharisee falsely thought his right standing with God was based upon his works done in grace. Verses 9-12 say,

9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’” (Luke 19:9-12).

Here the Pharisee, like Roman Catholics, believed his works which contributed to his right standing with God were done because of God’s grace (i.e., “God I thank you” in v. 11). He had faith in God and believed in grace, but because he also relied on his own works to be righteous and treated others lower than him, he was disqualified from salvation. This is a perfect illustration showing men are not able to become right with God through works because we are too sinful. The text goes onto explain how sinful men can be saved:

13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

Indeed it is by coming to God in repentant faith admitting you are not good enough and trusting in Him that men get saved and become right with God. That is the basis for salvation according to every saved person who follows what God says in Scripture. If you ask a genuinely saved person why they are right with God they will deny it is because of anything in them. They will affirm it is because of what God did in Christ on the cross received by repentant faith alone.

Again, men are not good enough to become right with God through works. This is why Jesus came to earth and died on the cross. So that those who believe can have the benefits of His perfect atonement credited to them making them right with God. This is the saving truth of Christianity that Roman Catholics deny by also trusting in what they do in order to be right with God.

Implicit in all the texts that state justification or salvation is by faith and not works is the notion that we are not good enough to become right with God by our efforts:

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

3“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Romans 4:3-5).

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Place of Works for the Christian

All of this is not to say that Christians should not do good works or that they are not important. We should do them and they are important! We are simply not to rely on them for our basis for right standing with God. If we do that then we are not saved. Ephesians 2:8-10 explains works are a result or evidence of salvation, not the cause of it:

“8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This passage is crystal clear. The way a person becomes right with God or gets saved is by grace through faith. Then once they are created in Christ or united to Christ by faith they do good works – or are created unto good works. That is the order. Good works do not contribute to becoming in right relation with God. This means Rome is wrong when it teaches obeying the Ten Commandments, baptism and penance make a person right with God.

Conclusion

My heart breaks for the Catholics who think that keeping the Ten Commandments and doing their sacraments by grace contribute to their right standing with God. To have your own efforts as a large part of your basis for good standing with God instead of the perfect person and work of Christ on the cross (the gospel) is extremely offensive to God. It is to spit on Jesus’ atonement and say: “it is not good enough!” We must affirm the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross and trust in it alone if we are to have a true, biblical basis for acceptance with God. Good works, again, will spring forth, for, every good tree produces good fruit (Matthew 7:17). However, these works must not be trusted in or relied on. As a first century student of the apostles writing outside the New Testament taught:

“All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”(5).

Christ has risen, He is Lord!


Endnotes:


1.) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, [The University of Chicago Press, 2000], pp. 816-818; Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], pp. 511-512
2.) John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, [Wm. B. Eerdmans 1955], p. 111
3.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church, [DoubleDay, 1994], par. 2068, pp. 557-558
4.) A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, [The University of Chicago Press, 2000], pp. 473-474
5.) Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 32
 

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