The Catholic Church Teaches Salvation by Works
Question: You mentioned something about how the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through works. This is contrary to everything that I’ve discovered about the Catholic Church.
Answer: Many Catholics will not agree with you. They frankly admit that they hope to be saved by living a good life. They seek to obey the commandments, participate in the sacraments, go to church, do penance and give alms, recite prayers and so on, in order to merit salvation. In its official writings, the Catholic Church teaches that faith is important; but it also insists on the necessity of good works to merit eternal life. Please read carefully the following quotations from the Council of Trent on Justification:
Official Catholic teaching would not allow the sinner to rely by faith on the mercy of God or to believe that his sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake only. Something more is required. You must keep yourself justified by your own good works. You must merit grace and eternal life by your works. You must pay the debt of sins by your penance and your purgatorial sufferings. That is Rome's salvation by works!
What about Canon 1?
Question But you forgot to mention canon 1, which clearly asserts that we are not justified by our works. "If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema."
Answer This canon gives an initial impression that Rome denies justification by works just as the Bible (and evangelicals) also do. In fact it does not! The canon simply says that a man cannot be justified by performing the works of the Law by his own natural powers. However, the same canon indicates that a man can 'receive divine grace through Jesus Christ' to perform the works necessary for justification. In other words, Rome teaches that God helps man to do good works and hence to fully satisfy the Law. Only then is a person qualified to enter heaven. The Council of Trent elaborates this idea in chapter 16:
To be fair, we should acknowledge that a great emphasis is placed on Jesus Christ and the grace of God. Good works do not originate in man's natural ability but can only be performed through Jesus Christ. Yet, it is also true that these works do not cease to be the good works of the Christian; personal works give him the right to heaven.
So then, what is required for a person to be justified at the end, that is, to be accounted to have fully satisfied divine law, and therefore to merit eternal life? Trent answers: THEIR GOOD WORKS! Their good works fully satisfy the divine law. Their works merit eternal life.
Catholic theology insists that the Christian's good works are truly his good merits, and by these works, he preserves and increases the initial righteousness received in baptism to finally attain eternal life (canons 24 and 32). Without doubt, the official documents of the Roman Catholic Church teach justification by works.
In contrast to this, the Bible declares:
The Bible asserts that he who "does not work" but "believes" is justified before God. Justification is not the reward for our works. Justification is the free gift of grace which we do not merit. The works that a Christian performs - and every true believer performs good works - are not the basis of their acceptance before God. The blood and righteousness of Jesus is the only basis for the believer's justification. "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him... by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:9, 19).
That is the true Gospel; Rome’s message is counterfeit.
Note: When reading Trent's canons on Justification, keep in mind that the Protestant teaching is constantly caricatured as if we hold that there is nothing more to salvation than the remission of sins. Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that regeneration and sanctification are integral aspects of salvation. So, for example, concerning canon 11, we do not exclude the grace and love poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we do not believe that our standing before God is based on our inherent righteousness, but only on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed (credited) to us by faith and His substitutionary sacrifice for our sins.
Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A