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By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
The authors contrast the Biblical and Catholic understanding of salvation.

What Does the Bible Teach Concerning Salvation?—Part 2

Biblically, true salvation—in the sense of our right standing before God and forgiveness of all sins—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 righteous to the believer) all occur in an instant, at a moment in time. Further, they are irrevocable since they are all gifts from God and God says that He never takes back what He gives: “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).

Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches that a right standing before God is something that does not happen fully in this life, nor can it occur in a moment of time. For Catholics, salvation is something that comprises a lengthy process that is only earned after a lifetime of good works and obtained merit and—in all likelihood—hellish purgatorial suffering after death.

Thus, all Catholics agree that they cannot have absolute assurance of salvation in this life. Many Protestant commentators have also taken note of this unfortunate fact. For example, G. C. Berkouwer observes, “At the Council of Trent, Rome rejected the Reformed confession of the assurance of salvation with unmistakable clarity.”[1]

The late evangelical authority, Dr. Walter Martin, had, in his life, many conversations with individual Catholics and Catholic priests. In one of his books, he discusses the scriptural proof that the believer in Christ now has peace with God (e.g., Rom. 5:1, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”). He then says this:

We make bold to say, however, that no Roman Catholic who really believes the teach­ings of his Church has that peace with God—and I believe it can be proved. If you ask any Roman Catholic, “Do you know that God has completely forgiven you of your sins? Do you know that because Christ died in your place, as the Bible says, you have eternal salvation now? Do you know, right at this moment that you have passed from death to life?” The answer is negative.

Every Roman Catholic whom I have ever spoken to on this subject, be he priest, theolo­gian or layman, has said to me, “I hope I will be saved; I truly hope so.” Friends, there is no peace in just hoping![2]

Of course, neither can any Protestant have the assurance of salvation, unless he also believes what God has declared is true.

In all of this, the contrasts between the biblical view of salvation and that in Roman Catholicism could not be clearer:

 

Bible
Catholicism
Grace 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. A substance or power separate from God which is placed into a believer to enable him/her to perform meritorious works and earn the “right” to heaven.
Salvation 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,” “enemies,” and “children of wrath” (e.g., Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1) and thus to those who are not objec- tively righteous. 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 per-sonal securing of objective right­eousness before God; otherwise, there is no salvation.
Reconciliation (through atonement) All sins are forgiven at the point of salvation: past, present and future because Christ’s death satisfied all God’s wrath against sin. In practice, 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.
Regeneration The instantaneous imparting of eternal life and the quickening of the human spirit, making it alive to God. (In part) The lifelong process of infusing grace (spiritual power) to perform works of merit.
Justification
The legal declaration of Christ’s righteousness reckoned or imputed to the believer at the point of faith solely as an act of God’s mercy and grace.
Spiritual rebirth and the lifelong process of sanctification which begins at the point of the sacra-ment of baptism and yet which can be lost by mortal sin.

Clearly the Bible and Rome have a difference of opinion. Although Roman Catholicism claims it believes in the biblical view of grace, the saving power of Christ’s death, in recon­ciliation and justification—and even that it does not teach salvation by works—none of this is true.

Notes

  1. Gerrit C. Berkouwer, The Conflict With Rome (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1958), p. 112.
  2. Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), p. 67

 

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