As you know by now, Pope Francis has visited the United States within the past week, and prior to his visit, the most recent papal visit came back in 2008. In a lengthy and politically charged visit by Pope Francis, we have all had news streams filled with images of the Pope being adored by people as they gathered in large crowds to get a glimpse of him. As he paraded along in his “Pope Mobile” he offered blessings in the sign of the cross to crowds. You can get a glimpse from one person’s video they took on Fifth Avenue in New York as they captured footage of the Pope riding through the city.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article asking the question, “Are Roman Catholics Christians?” Today, I want to focus upon the doctrine of salvation taught by the Roman Catholic Church. With approximately 69 million Roman Catholics in the United States, this is an extremely important subject to consider. Suppose a person asked, “Pope Francis, what must I do to be saved?” How would he respond?
The False Salvation of the Roman Catholic Church
According to official Catholic doctrine, in order for a person to be saved, it’s quite a tedious task. It involves steps such as actual grace, faith, good works, baptism, participation in the sacraments, penance, indulgences, and keeping the commandments. In short, the doctrine of soteriology taught by the Roman Catholic Church is a works based system where a person must work their way to God. Below you will see some citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Necessity of Faith (not alone)
Faith is central to Christian theology, but according to the Roman Catholic Church, it’s merely one aspect of the system of salvation. According to their Catechism, they write:
- “Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned,’ (Mk 16:16)” (CCC 183).
According to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, faith is necessary for salvation. That’s good, but they don’t stop there. Faith, in Catholic theology, is merely the starting point. They build from there adding to faith other works of man – including involvement in “the Church” and tradition.
- “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
The Necessity of Baptism
- “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).
- “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).
As you can see, according to the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is necessary for salvation. In a blasphemous way, they claim, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.” Their reference to “The Church” is a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. They don’t recognize any other church as legitimate. The basis of their claim is centered on their belief that “baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin” (CCC 405).
The Necessity of Good Works and Power of the Human Will
- “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).
Notice how they place “faith alone” in the direct cross hairs of their teachings. They vehemently oppose the teachings of Scripture that salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, they likewise teach that human will prepares us and cooperates with God in order to bring about justification. This stands in contradiction to the teachings of Scripture.
True Salvation in Jesus Christ
The Scriptures are clear regarding the doctrine of salvation. In fact, that was the central issue of the Reformation – salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the remission of sins. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther said, “If any man ascribes anything of salvation, even the very least thing, to the free will of man, he know nothing of grace, and he has not learned Jesus Christ rightly.” The 5 Solas of the Reformation were based on this clear teaching – salvation is a gift of God.
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
- Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
- Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
Right from the beginning, the Reformers stood upon the sole authority of the Bible as opposed to the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church. The Bible is God’s Word and we must stand upon it alone as our authority.
The Necessity of Faith Alone in Christ Alone
Was it our works or the work of Christ that satisfied God? According to passages like Isaiah 53 and 1 John 2:1-2, it was the work of Christ. Paul makes it abundantly clear that our salvation is a gift of God and not of works as he writes to the church at Ephesus:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
John Calvin comments:
This passage affords an easy refutation of the idle cavil by which Papists attempt to evade the argument, that we are justified without works. Paul, they tell us, is speaking about ceremonies. But the present question is not confined to one class of works. Nothing can be more clear than this. The whole righteousness of man, which consists in works, — nay, the whole man, and everything that he can call his own, is set aside. We must attend to the contrast between God and man, — between grace and works. Why should God be contrasted with man, if the controversy related to nothing more than ceremonies?
There will be no boasting before the Lord of our works. The work of attending and joining a church is insufficient. The work of the “sacraments” is insufficient. The cooperation of the human will is insufficient. All of these acts and deeds are nothing more than frail attempts to please God. We can’t please God in our flesh. We have nothing to offer Him that would impress Him or satisfy His holy justice. That’s why Paul makes the clear point – “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9).
The Frailty of the Human Will
The Bible teaches that before salvation, our human will is dead (Eph. 2:1). According to John 1:13, we are not born again by our human will. If the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), how does the Roman Catholic Church teach that we must cooperate with God in order to receive justification? Commenting on Ephesians 2:10, John Calvin writes:
What remains now for free-will, if all the good works which proceed from us are acknowledged to have been the gifts of the Spirit of God? Let godly readers weigh carefully the apostle’s words. He does not say that we are assisted by God. He does not say that the will is prepared, and is then left to run by its own strength. He does not say that the power of choosing aright is bestowed upon us, and that we are afterwards left to make our own choice. Such is the idle talk in which those persons who do their utmost to undervalue the grace of God are accustomed to indulge. But the apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good.
Therefore, we must conclude that salvation is a gift of God and is bestowed upon guilty sinners out of sheer mercy and love – not based on any performance or work that we offer up to God. Everything we do in our worship and service to God is by means of a changed heart that God wrought in us and willed to do before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3-7).
I’ve had Roman Catholics claim that they don’t actually believe in a works based salvation and that they cling to Christ alone. My question to that individual is very simple – why do you remain committed to a church that teaches a doctrine of salvation that is blasphemous to God, robs Him of His glory, and devalues the work of Christ on our behalf? Why not break from Rome? Unless you’re committed to their “true Church” theology, you should break from Rome immediately once you come to see the false salvation of the Roman Catholic Church. Charles Spurgeon, the well known English Baptist preacher, once said:
It is the bounden duty of every Christian to pray against Anti-Christ, and as to what Anti-Christ is no sane man ought to raise a question. If it be not Popery in the Church of Rome there is nothing in the world that can be called by that name…because it wounds Christ, because it robs Christ of His Glory, because it puts sacramental efficacy in the place of His atonement, and lifts a piece of bread in the place of the Saviour, and a few drops of water in place of the Holy Ghost, and puts a fallible man like ourselves up as the Vicar of Christ on earth; if we pray against it, because it is against Him, we shall love the persons though we hate their errors; we shall love their souls though we loath and detest their dogmas, and so the breath of our prayers will be sweetened, because we turn our faces towards Christ when we pray.