6. What does the Bible teach concerning salvation?
The Bible teaches that salvation is something that comes freely to any individual who simply places genuine trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. Thus, the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith alone, entirely apart from personal merit or works of righteousness. Please read the following verses:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, emphasis added).
All the prophets testify about him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43, emphasis added).
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace ... (Ephesians 1:7, emphasis added).
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added).
[Jesus was] sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself (Hebrews 7:27, emphasis added).
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25, emphasis added).
... but he [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.... [He] offered for all time one sacrifice for sins .... because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this ... he says: "...Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more" (Hebrews 9:12; 10:12,14,15,17, emphasis added).
Do any of the above verses teach that salvation-or forgiveness of sins-comes by good works, or through religious sacraments, or by any other means of human merit? Do these Scriptures even hint that salvation comes by being good or by personal effort? No. God's Word teaches that complete salvation occurs solely by faith in what Christ already accomplished on the cross 2,000 years ago.
Because salvation is by grace through faith alone, this means that once a person has trusted in Christ, then he may know that his sins are forgiven-all sins-past, present, and future. "He forgave us all our sins..." (Colossians 2:13, emphasis added). (When Christ paid the full divine penalty for our sins 2,000 years ago, all our sins were future. If the Bible teaches our sins are forgiven at the point of true faith in Christ, this must include all of them, even future sins.) Therefore, come what may in life (see Romans 8:28-39), the person who trusts in Christ alone for salvation will go to heaven when he dies, because God Himself informs that person he now possesses "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade" because it is "kept in heaven for you..." (1 Peter 1:4-5, emphasis added).
The salvation God offers is perfectly secure precisely because it involves a gracious act of God and is in no way dependent upon human merit or works for its accomplishment:
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 5:24, emphasis added).
I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life (John 6:47, emphasis added).
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 (1 John 5:13, emphasis added).
Again, these verses teach that people can know they now possess eternal life merely by their personal trust in Jesus. If any person has eternal life, it cannot be lost, can it? Nor can it subsequently be earned, can it? However, the above Scriptures do not reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church which maintains that salvation is a provisional, lifelong process partially earned by a person's own good works and individual merit.
Biblically, full salvation in the sense of forgiveness of all sins and a right standing before God occurs at a point in time-the point of receiving Christ as personal Savior even though the practical implications of salvation (e.g., progressive sanctification or growth in holiness) are worked out over a lifetime. Thus,
1) complete reconciliation with God (full forgiveness of sins and cancellation of the penalty of sin),
2) regeneration (being made spiritually alive to God and the imparting of eternal life), and
3) justification (the crediting of Christ's full and complete righteousness to the believer) all occur in an instant, at the moment of saving faith. Further, they are irrevocable since they are all gifts from God, and God says that He never takes back what He gives (Romans 11:29).
Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches that a right standing before God is not something that can happen fully in this life, nor can it occur in a moment of time. Rather, it is something that comprises a very lengthy process that is earned only after a lifetime of good works and obtained merit and-in all likelihood-tremendous personal suffering in purgatory after death to cleanse the remnants of sin and judicially perfect the believer.
Here, the contrasts between the biblical view of salvation and the Roman Catholic view could not be clearer. The material below will prepare us for the next three questions:
Bible: A disposition of God toward men expressing His mercy and love so that the believer is now treated as if he were innocent and perfectly righteous.
Catholicism: A substance or power separate from God which is placed into a believer to enable him to perform meritorious works and earn the "right" to heaven.
Bible: The instantaneous reception of an eternally irrevocable right standing before God, secured at the point of faith entirely by grace. Salvation is given to those whom the Bible describes as "ungodly," "sinner," "enemies," and "children of wrath" (e.g., Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:1) and thus to those who are not objectively righteous.
Catholicism: The lifelong process whereby God and men cooperate in the securing of forgiveness of sin. This is achieved only after death (and/or purgatorial cleansing from sin) and is dependent on man's personal securing of objective righteousness before God; otherwise, there is no salvation.
Reconciliation (through atonement):
Bible: All sins are forgiven at the point of salvation-past, present, and future-because Christ's death satisfied all God's wrath against sin. (See Colossians 2:13.)
Catholicism: Sins are only potentially forgiven and so must be worked off through a process mediated by the Church and its sacraments over the lifetime of the believer.
Bible: The instantaneous imparting of eternal life and the quickening of the human spirit, making it alive to God.
Catholicism: (In part) The lifelong process of infusing grace (spiritual power) to perform works of merit.
Bible: The legal declaration of Christ's righteousness reckoned to the believer at the point of faith solely as an act of God's mercy.
Catholicism: Spiritual rebirth and the lifelong process of sanctification which begins at the point of the sacrament of baptism.
7. What does the Catholic Church teach concerning salvation?
Catholic popes have historically emphasized the belief that, in the words of John Paul II, "Man is justified by works and not by faith alone."
Despite changes in Catholicism, most priests remain loyal to Rome. Perhaps this explains why, according to one of the most thorough polls of American clergy ever made, "Over three-quarters of Roman Catholic priests reject the view that our only hope for heaven is through personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They hold instead that 'heaven is a divine reward for those who earn it by their good life.'" Priestly loyalty to Rome may also explain why this poll revealed that "four-fifths of all priests reject the Bible as the first place to turn in deciding religious questions; rather, they test their religious beliefs by what the Church says."
The majority of Catholic priests deny the biblical doctrine of salvation because as priests-loyal to the Pope-they are required to reject the idea that divine authority resides only in the Bible. For them, divine authority resides in the Catholic Church and Tradition. Priests, therefore, look primarily to the Church for answers to religious questions because they believe only the Catholic Church can infallibly determine proper doctrine through its interpretation of the Bible. Thus, a study of Catholic history will show that it is the Church, and not the Bible, which has developed Catholic doctrine over the years. These doctrines are, in part, upheld by the unique definition Rome gives to biblical words.
For example, Catholic writers often speak of "salvation by grace" or state emphatically that "good works can't earn salvation"-and they will cite biblical Scriptures to that effect. But again, they mean something different than what the Bible means. They are simply reiterating the position of the Council of Trent that no one can do good works or please God apart from the prior infusing of sanctifying grace. But-and this is key-Catholic theology goes on to teach that these very works which are inspired by grace are, in the end, what helps to save a person.
It is crucial to realize that once terms such as "Faith," "grace," "salvation," "redemption," and "justification" are interpreted through larger Catholic theology, they become so altered that they lose their biblical meaning.* *
Karl Keating is entirely correct when he points out, "As in so many matters, fundamentalists [e.g., conservative Christians] and Catholics are at loggerheads because they define terms differently.
Devout Catholics do not question their Church's teaching about its definition of biblical terms because the Catholic Church emphasizes that, "Over the Book [Bible] stands the Church...." The Church has final authority over the Bible and, therefore, it is the Church's interpretation of biblical words that are authoritative. In the end, it is the Church's definition of biblical terms-and not the Bible's that wins the day.
Thus, The Papal Encyclicals correctly confess that while Protestants turn to the Bible to determine whether or not a doctrine is true,
This is just the reverse of the Catholic's approach to belief. As the Catholic sees it, he must accept God on God's terms and not his own. It is not for him to "judge" the divine message, but only to receive it. Since he receives it from a living, teaching organ, he does not have to puzzle over the meaning of the revelation because the ever present living magisterium [teaching office] can tell him exactly what the doctrine intends.
Again, Catholics turn to the Church because they have been promised that the Church exercises an inerrant authority to properly interpret the Bible. In other words, the Catholic believes he can, in full trust, accept whatever the Church teaches and never have to worry that the Church might be wrong.
However, in his definitive critique of the Council of Trent (a council convened to oppose Protestant teaching), eminent Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) correctly noted that the Catholic popes and teaching office had reserved for themselves the prerogative of a biased interpretation of Scripture predicated primarily upon Catholic Tradition. The end result was an entirely new interpretation "so that we must believe not what the Scripture says simply, strictly, and clearly, but what they through their power and authority interpret for us. By this strategy they seek to escape the clearest passages [of Scripture] concerning justifying faith ... the intercession of Christ, etc."
In sharp contrast to the Bible, the Catholic doctrine of salvation teaches or implies that actual forgiveness of sins comes not only by faith in Christ, but also through many or all of the following:
a) the sacraments, such as baptism and penance,
b) participation in the Mass,
c) the help of the virgin Mary,
d) the recitation of the rosary, and
e) purgatorial suffering after death.
Because the true merit of man, achieved through these and other means, is in some sense responsible for salvation, Catholicism cannot logically deny that it teaches a form of salvation by works. A brief discussion of these five points will bear this out.
A. The Sacraments
In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott observes, "The Sacraments are the means appointed by God for attainment of eternal salvation. Three of them are in the ordinary way of salvation so necessary that without their use salvation cannot be attained [i.e., baptism, penance, holy orders]."
1. Baptism. The Catholic Church teaches that baptism remits original sin, actual guilt, and all punishment due to sin. The Catholic Church also teaches that baptism confers
2) spiritual rebirth or regeneration, and
Catholic apologist Karl Keating says, "The Catholic Church has always taught that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism" and "baptism is the justifying act." Thus, "The justification that occurs at baptism effects a real change in the Soul ...."
The Catholic Encyclopedia further explains the importance of baptism in the scheme of salvation:
The effects Of this sacrament are:
1) it cleanses us from original sin;
2) it makes us Christians through grace by sharing in Christ's death and resurrection and setting up an initial program of living...
3) it makes us children of God as the life of Christ is brought forth within us ....
Vatican II declared: "... baptism constitutes a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it. Baptism, of itself, is only a beginning. [But] ... baptism is necessary for salvation...."
Baptism, however, is only the beginning of justification because in Catholic teaching subsequent good works increase grace (spiritual power) and help perfect justification.
2. Penance. Penance is a particular act, or acts, considered as satisfaction offered to God as a reparation for sin committed. Penance may involve mortification, such as wearing an irritating shirt woven of coarse animal hair, prayer, a religious pilgrimage to a shrine of Christ or Mary, or any number of other deeds.
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Jesus Christ Himself instituted the sacrament of penance for "the pardon of sins committed after baptism." Thus, "In the sacrament of penance, the faithful obtain from the mercy of God pardon for their sins against Him...."
As noted, the sacrament of penance is designed specifically to deal with sins committed after baptism. Why?
Because the grace that is received or infused in baptism can be entirely lost by mortal ("deadly") sin. Mortal sin is held to be deadly because it actually destroys the grace of God within a person, making salvation necessary again. Thus, a new sacrament (penance) is necessary in order to restore an individual to the state of grace first received at baptism.
In fact, without penance a person cannot be restored to salvation. Penance is related to the concept of justification in such a way that it actually "restores" the process of justification. In one sense, this is why the Council of Trent actually referred to the sacrament of penance as the "second plank" of justification.
Through penance the Roman Catholic believer (in part, on a human level) actually makes atonement or satisfaction for his own sins. This would seem to say that, in a very real sense, the death of Christ alone was insufficient to cover the penalty of those sins completely.
3. Priestly Confession (dictated by Holy Orders). Although it is frequently lost upon the faithful, the Catholic Church has made it clear that in personal confession of sin, the priest does not have intrinsic authority to forgive a person's sins. His only authority is a derived one in that he is a representative for Christ, and that Christ is working through him. Thus, when the priest says, "I absolve you," he does not mean that he alone is absolving a person from his or her sins; it is Christ through him. Nevertheless, priestly confession is said to be necessary for salvation.
Further, because Christ actually is, in Person, working through the priest (who may be called "another Christ"), his absolution is as valid as if done by Christ Himself. In Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma we read, "Confession is the self-accusation by the penitent of his sins before a fully empowered priest, in order to obtain forgiveness from him by virtue of the power of the keys .... The Sacramental confession of sins is ordained by God and is necessary for salvation."
B. The Mass
Although the Catholic Church claims that the Mass in no way detracts from the atonement of Christ, it nevertheless believes that it is principally through the Mass that the blessings of Christ's death are applied to believers. Catholics teach that in the Mass Christ is actually, in a real sense, resacrificed. It is not a recrucifixion of Christ (He does not literally suffer and die again), but it is much more than merely a memorial service. Karl Keating, director of "Catholic Answers," cites Rev. John A. O'Brien as correctly describing the Mass: "The Mass is the renewal and perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross in the sense that it offers anew to God the Victim of Calvary... and applies the fruits of Christ's death upon the cross to individual human souls."
Because the fruit of Christ's death is actually applied at the Mass, one can see why Catholics attach such importance to this practice. The Catholic Catechism cites the Council of Trent as providing the standard Catholic view: "This sacrifice [of the Mass] is truly propitiatory ... through the Mass we obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For by this oblation the Lord is appeased... and he pardons wrong doing and sins, even grave ones."
Another standard Catholic work observes, "in the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ's sacrifice on the cross is made present, its memory is celebrated, and its saving power is applied." Thus, "As a propitiatory sacrifice ... the Sacrifice of the Mass effects the remission of sins and the punishment for
C. The Role of Mary
Catholicism officially teaches that Mary's role in salvation in no way detracts from that of Christ. However, the Catholic Church also teaches that Mary played a vital part in the forgiveness of sins and in the salvation of the world. In The Christ of Vatican II we are told that both the Scriptures and Tradition "show the role of the Mother of the Savior in the economy of salvation," that she freely cooperated "in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience," and that therefore, "The union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to His death. "
As The Catholic Encyclopedia observes, "Mary was not subject to the law of suffering and death, which are penalties of the sin of human nature, even though she knew these, experienced them, and endured them for our salvation." (For more information on the role of Mary, see Question 13.)
D. The Rosary
According to Tradition, the Rosary supplies a Catholic with spiritual power, as well as many blessings and graces from God. Pope Paul VI affirmed in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (February 2, 1974) that the Rosary was the pious practice which is "the compendium of the entire gospel." Thus, he emphasized "the Rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers ... that the Christian family is invited to recite." The Rosary is made up of both mental prayer and vocal prayer. In mental prayer the participant meditates on the major "mysteries" (particular events) of the life, death, and glories of Jesus and Mary. The vocal aspect involves the recitation of fifteen "decades" (portions) of the "Hail Mary" which involves contemplating fifteen principal virtues that were practiced by Jesus and Mary. One Catholic author writes, "... the Rosary recited with meditation on the mysteries brings about the following marvelous results: it gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ; it purifies our souls, washing away sin; it gives us victory over all our enemies.... It supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces for us from almighty God."
Catholicism believes that penance may be performed by good works in this life or through hellish suffering endured in purgatory after death. Those in purgatory are labeled as "the Church Suffering ... who have died in grace and whose souls are being purged in purgatory." Thus, "The temporal punishments for sins are atoned for in the purifying fire [of purgatory] ... by the willing bearing of the expiatory punishments imposed by God."
Purgatorial suffering is justified on the following basis: Because no one can enter heaven with any stain of sin whatever, "anyone less than perfect must first be purified before he can be admitted to [heaven]." Although technically the souls in purgatory cannot make true satisfaction for their sins, the fact of being in purgatory and enduring punishment for them is believed to both cleanse individuals of the remnants of sin and permit such persons' entrance into heaven as newly perfected people.
Thus, in purgatory the person pays for the penalty of venial or mortal sin, even if the guilt of those sins has already been forgiven by the sacrament of penance.
The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches,
The souls of those who have died in the state of grace suffer for a time a purging that prepares them to enter heaven .... The purpose of purgatory is to cleanse one of imperfections, venial sins, and faults, and to remit or do away with the temporal punishments due to mortal sins that have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. It is an intermediate state in which the departed souls can atone for unforgiven sins before receiving their final reward .... Such "purgatorial punishments" may be relieved by the offerings of the living faithful, such as Masses, prayers, alms, and other acts of piety and devotion.
We have now briefly examined what the Catholic Church teaches concerning forgiveness of sins and
1) the sacraments, such as baptism and penance,
2) the Mass,
3) the Virgin Mary,
4) the Rosary, and
5) purgatorial suffering.
In some sense, Catholicism teaches that all these practices remit sin or the guilt of sin.
But the Bible teaches that full forgiveness of sin, including its penalty, occurs solely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, based upon the complete adequacy of His death on the cross, which was a full propitiatory atonement. Catholic teaching, on the other hand, implies (at least) the death of Christ was in some sense insufficient in these areas. While Catholics may disagree with this assessment, it seems to be the logical conclusion of their own beliefs and practices.
Karl Keating's book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, offers the standard Catholic position on salvation. He opposes the biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone. He emphasizes that, in Catholicism, men and women learn that they will merit heaven by their good works and personal righteousness, but that to merely "accept Jesus" as Savior accomplishes nothing:
For Catholics, salvation depends on the state of the soul at death. Christ ... did his part, and now we have to cooperate by doing ours. If we are to pass through those [heavenly] gates, we have to be in the right spiritual state .... The Church teaches that only souls that are objectively good and objectively pleasing to God merit heaven, and such souls are ones filled with sanctifying grace .... As Catholics see it, anyone can achieve heaven, and anyone can lose it .... The apparent saint can throw away salvation at the last moment and end up no better off than the man who never did a good deed in his life. It all depends on how one enters death, which is why dying is by far one's most important act .... [What this means is that] "accepting Jesus" has nothing to do with turning a spiritually dead soul into a soul alive with sanctifying grace. The soul [that "accepts Jesus"] remains the same [i.e., dead] .... The Reformer saw justification as a mere legal act by which God declares the sinner to be meriting heaven. ... The Catholic Church, not surprisingly, understands justification differently. It sees it as a true eradication of sin and a true sanctification and renewal. The soul becomes objectively pleasing to God and so merits heaven. It merits heaven because now it is actually good .... The Bible is quite clear that we are saved by faith. The Reformers were quite, right in saying this, and to this extent they merely repeated the constant teaching of the Church. Where they erred was in saying that we are saved by faith alone.****
But if the Bible teaches that salvation is entirely by grace, then salvation is by faith alone. To add meritorious works would mean that salvation is by faith and works. And the Bible clearly indicates that the concepts of "grace salvation" and "works salvation" involve opposing principles. One cannot have a salvation based 75 percent on grace and 25 percent on works-it is entirely one or entirely the other. Thus, Scripture itself emphasizes, "And if [salvation is] by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Romans 11:6).
8. What does the Bible teach about the doctrine of justification?
This is perhaps the most important subject in this book because no doctrine is more crucial-nor more misunderstood and neglected, even by Protestants-than the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The Bible teaches that any person who simply and truly believes in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior from sin is at that point irrevocably and eternally justified. What is justification? Justification is the act of God whereby He not only forgives the sins of believers, but He also declares them perfectly righteous by reckoning or imputing the obedience and righteousness of Christ Himself to them through faith. It might help to look at it this way: If a wealthy uncle deposits a million dollars to the checking account of his young nephew, that money is now the property of his nephew even though the lad never earned it, worked for, or even deserved it. In justification, God "deposits" the righteousness of Christ to the believer's account-He credits the Christian with the moral perfection of His own Son. Justification is thus a completed act of God, and because it is entirely accomplished by God, once for all, it is not a lifelong process as is personal sanctification (individual growth in holy living).
The following Scriptures clearly show that justification is
1) a crediting of righteousness on the basis of a person's faith,
2) a completed act of God, and
3) something that occurs wholly apart from personal merit or good works.
... to the man who ... trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.... [How blessed is] the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works (Romans 4:5-6, emphasis added).
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28, NASB, emphasis added). (See Philippians 3:9.)
Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5: 1, NASB, emphasis added).
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Romans 5:9, NASB, emphasis added; d Romans 9:30-10:4; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:16; 3:8-9, 21,24).
Unfortunately, some Catholics have misunderstood the Protestant position here, thinking it means that mere assent to doctrine saves entirely and that Protestants have little concern for good works or sanctification. To the contrary, Scripture is clear that good works and sanctification are crucial-indeed it is the very knowledge of grace it itself (in a Protestant sense) that produces good works and growth in holy living (see Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 5:12; 2 Peter 3:18; Colossians 1:6; cf 2:23). But good works and sanctification have nothing to do with our justification. What justification means to Protestants is that believers are to plead the merits of Christ before the throne of God, instead of their own merits. This is why biblical Christians accept the "gift of righteousness" (Romans 5:17) and "glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3, NASB).
Justification means that a Christian may be assured that, in God's eyes, he now possesses the perfect holiness necessary to gain entrance to heaven. Why? If the death of Christ forgave all sins and fully satisfied the divine penalty due them, and if God declares believers absolutely righteous on the basis of their faith in Christ, then nothing else is needed to permit their entrance into heaven. Thus, because of justification-i.e., because Christ's righteousness and merits are reckoned to the believer (as far as God is concerned)-the Christian now possesses perfect holiness in this life, and he possesses it from the moment of saving faith. He cannot nor does not need sacraments, indulgences, the Rosary, or purgatory in order to enter heaven. This is what the biblical doctrine of justification means.
9. What does the Roman Catholic Church teach about the doctrine of justification?
The Catholic Church has never denied that justification is by an act of God's grace. In fact, Catholic writers often sound perfectly biblical-and this is what leads to confusion. For example, consider the plain answer given to the question, "How is the sinner justified?" in Stephen Keenan's Doctrinal Catechism: "He is justified gratuitously by the pure mercy of God, not on account of his own or any human merit, but purely through the merits of Jesus Christ; for Jesus Christ is our Only mediator of redemption, who alone, by his passion and death, has reconciled us to his Father."
The problem here is not that Catholics teach that "justification occurs by grace" The problem is that the Catholic definition of "Justification" and "grace" is different from what the Bible teaches. The Catholic Church teaches that justification is the infusion of sanctifying grace or supernatural ability which actually works to help make a person objectively righteous and pleasing in the eyes of God. If sustained until death, this grace permits one to merit entrance into heaven because of the righteous life he lived: One actually deserves heaven because one's own goodness, in part, has earned it. This explains why the basis for justification in Catholic theology is not the fact of Christ's righteousness being reckoned (imputed) to a believer by faith alone. Rather it is the fact that-through the sacraments-Christ's righteousness is infused into our very being so that we progressively become more and more righteous. And on that basis-the fact we have actual righteousness now-we are declared "righteous." Thus, in Catholicism justification occurs primarily by means of the sacraments and not exclusively by personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, the Church argues that because this infusion of sanctifying ability is not merited by anyone, it is therefore entirely a free gift of God's grace. But all this really seems to be saying is that God gives the means by which individuals can help to earn their own salvation. In the end, what saves us is the works we do after conversion that have been energized by grace. Let's explain this more fully.
In Catholic theology infused grace is a spiritual power or strength given to believers which enables them to perform meritorious works. When believers cooperate with this grace and make good use of it, they gain the power to become just and righteous in themselves. If we have this "grace" (i.e., a power or substance) within us, we can then literally earn our way to heaven. How? By cooperating with the habitual grace within us, we can arrive at a state of actual righteousness. It is at this point only that we are then "declared" to be "just" because, in fact, we are objectively righteous. By further cooperating with God's grace and through individual performance of merit, we actually increase our grace and justification. Because "the soul becomes good and holy through the infusion of grace" as these are increased throughout life, a person naturally dies in a state of grace. Then he enters purgatory to pay the final penalty for his sins and to await his heavenly reward. In a very real sense, then, Catholic justification is simply God's recognition of human merit or goodness.
Perhaps a review would be helpful at this point. In Catholicism, justification is an internal renovation and empowering of man-both a regeneration and sanctification. It comes through an infusion of God's grace and it means that man himself, in his own being, is made just or pleasing to God. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers the following as the definition of justification: "Primarily and simply justification is the possession of sanctifying grace .... We are justified by Christ ... and by good works...."
According to Catholic teaching, justification is the gracious act of God whereby an individual-in cooperation with God-makes himself righteous. Another way of saying this is that justification is the work of grace within a man which assists in making him internally and externally holy:
... the Bible shows that justification is a rebirth. It is a generation of a supernatural life in a former sinner (John 3:5; Titus 3:5), a thorough inner renewal (Ephesians 4:23), and a real sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:11). The soul itself becomes beautiful and holy. It is not just an ugly soul hidden under a beautiful cloak [a reference to the Protestant view of imputed righteousness]. Because it is beautiful and holy, it can be admitted to heaven where nothing unclean is allowed.
But unfortunately, Catholicism has only confused justification with sanctification and regeneration. As Catholic P. Gregory Stevens writes in The Life of Grace, "First of all, justification is a real and profound transformation of man [regeneration], a genuine gift of sanctification to him." But this is wrong because justification (Romans 3:28-4:6; Philippians 3:9), regeneration (John 3:6-7; 6:63; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), and sanctification (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 3:18) are three distinct and separate biblical doctrines. To confuse them is to distort the very essence of biblical salvation.
The Bible teaches that justification is God's work of grace in Christ declaring the believer righteous. It is not God's work of grace in man to actually make him righteous, which is sanctification. (See Romans 10:1-4; 1 Corinthians 1:30.) The lexical documentation and discussion in footnote 75 proves the Catholic view of justification is wrong.