What is the Biblical Gospel?
What is the plan of salvation according to the Roman Catholic Church?
Reasons the Roman Catholic Gospel is False
The Biblical Gospel
When trying to understand the true Gospel from the false it is important to start with the real thing. The Gospel is mentioned in the Bible in many places. Yet, there is one place where it is explained in detail. This is in Romans 1-4. The author, Paul, is explaining the Gospel in chapters 1-4. He transitions to the topic of how to live the Christian life in chapter 5 and following. Therefore, we will articulate the true Gospel, in context, from Romans 1-4.
God is Holy and We Are Sinful
- “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans [1:18]-20
The Consequence of our Sin is Eternal Death
- “…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Romans [1:32]
Everyone is Guilty Before God
- “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written: ‘There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.’” Romans 3:9-12
Forgiveness and Righteous Needed to Be Reconciled to God Cannot Be Earned
- “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Romans [3:19]-20
We are Forgiven and Justified When We Believe that Jesus Paid for Our Sin in Full
- “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” Romans [3:21]-24
We are Saved by Faith Apart from Works (they are distinct and diametrically opposed)
- “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,” Romans 4:1-5
When We Trust in Christ’s Full Payment for Our Sin Christ’s Righteousness is Imputed to Us
This means that we are given Christ’s righteousness as a gift. We are “justified” at this time, which is a judicial term meaning “declared righteous” by God.
- “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,” Romans 4:4-5
- “Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans [4:22]-25
The Gospel according to God’s Word in Romans 1-4 is this:
God is Holy – He cannot allow any sin in His presence and must judge all sin.
We Are Sinners – We deserve the punishment of eternal death for our sin.
Jesus Died for Our Sin – He paid for all of our sins in full.
Our Part is Faith Alone – When we trust that Jesus paid for our sin in full, His payment is applied to our lives. We are forgiven. We are also given the righteousness of Christ as a free gift. This righteousness is credited or imputed to our account. We did not earn this righteousness, nor do we deserve it. It is a free gift given by “grace.” Grace simply means “undeserved and unmerited favor.”
Salvation According to the Roman Catholic Church
Now that we have a solid understanding of salvation from God’s Word, in context, let’s learn from the Roman Catholic Church what they state is the means by which someone is forgiven of their sins and gains reconciliation with God. For this, we will turn to their official doctrine on the topic. As we did with God’s Word, we will also quote their doctrine and keep it in context. The two sources of Roman Catholic doctrine we will use is the Council of Trent and the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.
Saved by: Actual Grace
In Roman Catholicism, God makes the first move in salvation. He enables a person to draw near to Him by His “grace.” Keep in mind that “grace” is defined differently by Roman Catholicism. In the Bible, “grace” simply means “underserved and unmerited favor.” It means you are getting something you do not deserve. However, “grace” according to Roman Catholicism is “a supernatural help of God for salutary acts granted in consideration of the merits of Christ.” (Catholic Encylopedia) It is a power that is infused into people enabling them to perform things for God.
- “The Synod furthermore declares, that in adults, the beginning of the said Justification is to be derived from the prevenient grace of God, through Jesus Christ, that is to say, from His vocation, whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight. Whence, when it is said in the sacred writings: Turn ye to me, and I will turn to you, we are admonished of our liberty; and when we answer; Convert us, O Lord, to thee, and we shall be converted, we confess that we are prevented by the grace of God.” The Council of Trent Session VI, Chapter V
What on earth does this mean? In short, it means that through no works of the person, God gives them “grace” that makes them turn to Him. Therefore, let’s not accuse Catholicism of a salvation that is purely by man’s good works. They claim that salvation is by faith and works cooperating with one another – and the works are enabled by God’s grace (as they define it). It is still a works gospel, however, it is not a works-apart-from-God gospel.
In any event, Step 1 is receiving God’s grace (as they define it) which draws a person to Himself.
Saved by: Actual Grace + The Catholic Church + Water Baptism + Penance
This “actual grace” leads a person to the Catholic Church, which is necessary for salvation:
- “‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ 846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” CCC 845-846
A person then needs to get baptized and do penance for salvation as well:
- “One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins 977 Our Lord tied the forgiveness of sins to faith and Baptism: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved.”519 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.”
- 978 “When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them…. Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil “521
- 979 In this battle against our inclination towards evil, who could be brave and watchful enough to escape every wound of sin? “If the Church has the power to forgive sins, then Baptism cannot be her only means of using the keys of the Kingdom of heaven received from Jesus Christ. the Church must be able to forgive all penitents their offenses, even if they should sin until the last moment of their lives.”522
- 980 It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church: Penance has rightly been called by the holy Fathers “a laborious kind of baptism.” This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.” CCC977 -980
- “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . ” (CCC 1257).
- “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted 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 2020).
At baptism, grace is infused into a person. This grace is needed for salvation. It can be lost by sinning, and more can be gained by performing the sacraments.
- “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin . . . ” (CCC 405).
- “Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy,” (CCC 1992).
- “The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism,” (CCC 1999).
The idea then is that God’s grace makes a person turn to God. Christ’s work on the cross is what we need to be saved, but access to His payment is by being a part of the Roman Catholic Church, getting baptized, and penance…so far. So when we get baptized God’s grace is infused into us enabling us to do penance and perform the sacraments to continue to acquire grace.
Saved by: Actual Grace + The Catholic Church + Water Baptism + Penance + Good Works
The Roman Catholic Church is clear that good works are necessary for salvation. These works are given to a person by “grace” (RCC definition), but nonetheless, play a role in attaining eternal life.
The Roman Catholic Church is clear that good works are necessary for salvation. These works are given to a person by “grace” (RCC definition), but nonetheless, play a role in attaining eternal life. The Roman Catholic Church does not claim that a person is saved by their own good works, apart from God. In fact, they state that this is not the case. However, they do claim that works participate with faith to gain salvation. These works are possible because of the “grace” that is infused into a person at baptism.
- “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.” (CCC 2010)
- “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men.” (CCC 2011)
- “The Second Vatican Council confirms: ‘The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.'” (CCC 2068)
- “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent Canon 24)
Saved by: Actual Grace + The Catholic Church + Water Baptism + Penance + Good Works + Sacraments
The Roman Catholic Church states that sacraments are necessary for salvation. It is through performing the sacraments that a person receives “grace.” Yet, these works are not purely done by the person as it is the power of God that enables people to perform them.
- “Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.” (CCC 1127)
- “It follows that ‘the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.'” (CCC 1128)
- “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1129)
Here are the sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church:
Baptism: see above
The sacrament of confirmation completes the sacrament of baptism. If baptism is the sacrament of rebirth to a new and supernatural life, confirmation is the sacrament of maturity and coming of age.
- “It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit.'” (CCC 1285)
The Roman Catholic Mass, or Eucharistic Celebration, is the central act of divine worship in the Catholic Church, which describes it as “the source and summit of the Christian life”. Vatican II puts it this way:
- “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47).
According to the RCC, when the priest blesses the bread and the wine, its essence transforms into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. When a person eats this, they receive reparation for sins they have committed. This is the sacrifice of Jesus being made present. It is not another sacrifice of Jesus, but His same “once for all” sacrifice made present.
- “The sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands,” (CCC, 1369).
- “As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead,” (CCC, 1414).
- “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner,” (CCC, 1367).
- “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice,” (CCC, 1367).
- “If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent Canon 3)
Penance (and Confession) – see above
Anointing of the Sick:
- “By the sacred anointing of the sick and the prayer of the priests the whole Church commends those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may raise them up and save them.” (CCC 1499)
- “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time…” (CCC 1536).
When a person is ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, they receive the ability to use “sacred power” from the Holy Spirit.
- “…’ordination’ is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, …for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” (sacra potestas) which can come only from Christ himself through his Church.” (CCC 1538)
- “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (CCC 1601)
Summary of the Roman Catholic Gospel
According the the Roman Catholic Church, a person is saved by God’s grace (a power of God that enables one to perform various works) that is infused at a person’s water baptism. This enables them to have faith. Grace is lost when we sin, and can be attained by performing sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, someone is saved by faith plus works that are enabled by God’s grace to be performed. Hopefully, when you die you have enough “grace.” If not, you will pay for the remainder of you sin in purgatory.
Reasons the Roman Catholic Gospel is False
It is a Faith + Works Gospel
Romans 1-4 explains clearly that salvation (justification) is by putting our faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Faith and works are two distinct things, and only faith has any role in salvation. We are saved by faith apart from works:
- Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” Romans 4:4-5
The Catholic claim is that the works of baptism, penance, the sacraments, etc are different works than the ones Paul is talking about in Romans 1-4 because they are enabled by God’s grace. However, a work is a work. A person performing the works of the RCC is still doing something to gain something in return from God: “grace.” Redefining “works” or creating different categories of types of “works” might make an argument for this system of salvation make sense, but we have to ask if God agrees with these alterations. We know from Galatians that He does not. He clearly says that there is no possible law that can bring salvation:
- Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” Galatians [3:21]
The Roman Catholic system of grace/faith/works salvation is a set of things a person needs to do to gain salvation. They are laws that need to be performed to gain “grace” from God.
Grace is Inaccurately Defined
The RCC defines grace as “a supernatural help of God for salutary acts granted in consideration of the merits of Christ.” (Catholic Encylopedia) The entire plan of salvation according to the RCC involves various ways of acquiring this “grace” that provides salvation. However, in the Bible, “grace” simply means “undeserved or unmerited favor.” It means you are getting something you do not deserve.
Infused vs Imputed
The RCC says that “grace” is infused into a person at baptism. This “supernatural help of God for salutary acts” enables a person to perform good works. This is simply not Biblical. Again, in Romans 4 we find that righteousness is “imputed” to a person when they exercise faith alone in Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that we are given Christ’s righteousness:
- “ He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians [5:21]
The Roman Catholic Church has added many requirements to the only requirement of God’s word, faith. There were false teachers in Paul’s day that did something similar. They added laws in the Old Testament to faith in Christ for salvation. This was Paul’s response to their false gospel:
- “ I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:6-9
*For more information and rebuttals to Catholic objections, visit carm.org/roman-catholicism