New Articles | The Modern Day Sophism of Roman Catholic Justification

By: Rob Zins

Sophistry: A method of argumentation that seems clever but is actually flawed or dishonest.

Sophism: An argument or explanation that seems very clever or subtle on the surface but is actually flawed, misleading, or intended to deceive.

It is very important for Roman Catholic defenders to use the words grace, faith, works, merit, justification, salvation, and gratuitous (free, costless, complimentary),when preserving their system of justification. Roman Catholic writers like to toss these terms around and use them to uphold their schemes.

Christians should be aware by now that Rome uses jargon familiar to Christians but defines these terms with a Roman Catholic dictionary that is altogether non-Christian.

A starting point in clarifying the acute disparity between Roman Catholicism and Christianity on the issue of justification is the Roman Catholic use of the word "grace." Rome is fond of saying that Catholics and Protestants both agree that justification is by "grace." We wish to interact in part with a position paper recently written by a Roman Catholic writer. It was sent to me by an anonymous sender who apparently would like to straighten us out with some enlightenment from this modern author. The author (initials JS) begins with this telling statement:
"Catholics need to understand that many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants have a keen sense that salvation is by grace, a belief which Catholics share." [bold mine] (JS)
He goes on to say:
"The Catholic Church teaches that "our justification comes from the grace of God." [bold mine] (JS)
What shall we say to this? Perhaps we should begin by stating clearly what Christians mean when we say that we are saved "by the grace of God." What does the word "grace" mean? What does the word "by" mean? Christians believe that the grace of God is the absolutely unmerited, unconditional, and unqualified favor of God. God is gracious toward spiritually bankrupt, lost sinners. In love God brings to life those who are spiritually dead and justifies them for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. The re-generation (born from above) of a destitute sinner may be called grace in action. Man is incapable of self re-generation and is utterly dependent upon the effective grace of God for spiritual life. Therefore in this sense the grace of God in re-generation or rebirth of a sinner is operational and effectual. It is irresistible. It always brings spiritual life to whom it is given. It is the grace of re-generation. It is not dependent upon faith, or merit, or works. The grace of God is also exhibited in the gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ as the only ground of justification. Sinners are justified as a gift by God's grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. Only in this manner are sinners justified by God's grace. The grace of God is a gift and takes its' most precious form in the free gift of Jesus Christ given to sinners for their justification. As the apostle Paul explains: "But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many" (Romans 5:15). God's grace is free. Grace cannot be merited or deserved. Neither is it brought to bear through religious exercises or sacraments.

The apostle Paul explains the nature of grace: "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Romans 11:6).

Hence the Christian believes that he is saved by the grace of God.

Does the Roman Catholic religion teach this? It most indisputably does not. When Catholics say they are saved "by" the "grace" of God they mean something totally different. For them the grace of God is brought to bear through the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic religion. This entire concept of the grace of God is at odds with Christian belief.

To begin with Rome admits that fallen man needs the grace of God in order to be justified. However, in Rome there are two instances of grace which pertain to justification. The initial grace of God comes through water, at the hands of a priest, poured onto the forehead of an infant, in the first Roman Catholic sacrament of infant baptism. It is in infant baptism that Rome claims God's grace is free and unmerited in that the baby is passive in this observance.

Re-generation and the beginning of justification is said to occur in the waters of infant baptism. Grace is said to be infused into the soul of the infant through the sacrament of baptism. This baptismal grace is irresistible to the baby. But it requires the co-operation of man via the priest of Rome.

"By baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin" (New Catholic Catechism [NCC] Paragraph 1263).

This ritual is claimed to be the beginning of justification. However justification must be maintained and even improved in Rome. To cover post-baptismal sins more grace will be needed. As the baby grows into adulthood additional grace to stay justified is available through more sacraments. There is nothing passive about attainment of this post baptismal grace. The responsibility lies squarely upon the Roman Catholic to avail himself of grace through these additional sacraments. The grace of God that maintains justification is resistible since it is dependent upon man's co-operation. If a man refuses to attend the means of grace through the Roman Sacraments he loses the grace of justification.

"The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. Sacramental grace is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament" (NCC Paragraph 1129).

In the case of adult converts to Roman Catholicism it is alleged that God gives prevenient grace to help a man see the truth but this prevenient grace can be rejected by man and hence the grace of God for salvation is resistible in adults.

In total contrast Christian theology believes that God's grace is operative, effective, successful, and not contingent on the co-operative efforts of man. However, Rome believes that God's grace is reliant upon and helpless without the co-operative religious rituals of man. In infant baptism God's grace is conditional upon the priest, the water, and the consent of the parent. Only if the elements of Roman Catholic baptism are present along with the correct desire to participate in the sacrament will Roman Catholic baptism bring down this grace of God. For converts and those who are mature in the Roman Catholic system there remains an ongoing joint effort of man and sacrament that secures the grace of God to alleviate post baptismal sins.

This radical difference between co-operative grace and operative grace marks the deviation between Rome and Christianity which will ultimately end with two totally different and competing gospels. In Rome the grace of God is infused through grace triggering sacraments. Man's collaboration in attending to the sacraments is compulsory for the sacraments to bring down the grace of God to him. Hence, at the end of the day, it is not the grace gift of Christ's righteousness that is the exclusive ground of the justification of sinners. It is rather the actual righteousness of a man, made righteous by grace infused through the sacraments, which merits justification.

So, when our Roman Catholic friends say they believe as we do that salvation is by grace, and that justification comes from the grace of God keep in mind we are really saying opposite things. Read carefully the New Catholic Catechism on baptism, grace, and justification. Is this what Christians believe?

"Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith" (Paragraph 1992 NCC).

"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" (Paragraph 199 NCC).

Like most Roman Catholic apologists JS wishes to make crystal clear that the apostle Paul does not reject "good works produced by the grace of God" as part of the ground of justification. He also wishes to clarify that the word "merit" simply means in Roman Catholic jargon "the deserved benefit of performing what God has graced one to accomplish."

The Roman Catholic theme song, when it comes to the place of works, is that we must keep a distinction between works that we might do (keeping the law, natural capabilities, raw human efforts to do the right thing etc.) and what Rome calls "good works." Rome says that the apostle Paul never meant to exclude all works as a part of the ground of justification but only human works. Rome then introduces us to "good works" done in faith prompted by the grace of God. These "good works" are said to be a part of the ground of justification. They differ from raw human works in that they are "graced works" preceded by grace, enlivened by grace, and rewarded by God's grace. Grace of course is conferred through the Roman Catholic sacraments. In short Rome relegates Paul's understanding of works that do not merit justification to law keeping works, and accomplishments based upon natural capabilities. "Good works" (graced works) prompted by infused grace (through the sacraments) not only merit salvation but are vital to justification.

Christians do not buy such fabricated distinctions. Christians cannot find in Scripture evidence to support the Roman Catholic claim that "graced works" count toward justification. In the fourth chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul enunciates how God justifies the ungodly. The apostle disqualifies all works as the ground of justification.
"3 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works" Rom 4:3-6 NASB.
In the case of Abraham God reckoned righteousness apart from works. Abraham's justification was not suspended upon so-called "grace works" gained from collaboration of some sort of sacramental system. Christians understand that works are the fruit of faith but never the ground of justification. The tension between James 2:24 and Romans 4:3-6 is relieved when once we see that the declaration of Abraham's justification is vindicated in the life of Abraham as his faith produces good works done in faith. James is interested in the authenticity of faith. James is not interested in repudiating the gospel of justification by faith apart from works of any kind. Rome does not believe this and therefore conceives of a system whereby so-called "grace works" gained through the infusion of grace via their sacraments become a principal portion of the ground of justification.

So committed is Rome to meritorious works gained from grace that they distort the obvious meaning of texts that teach just the opposite. Let us take for instance the two examples by this Roman Catholic writer who wishes to school Christians on a proper interpretation. First we shall look at Ephesians 2:8, 9.

"8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast" Ephesians 2:8, 9 NASB.

Here is what Rome would have us believe:
"Unfortunately, many Protestants take this verse out of its context and give it a meaning contrary to what St. Paul intended. They interpret it to mean that St. Paul rejects all works including "good works." Thus the vital distinction that St. Paul makes between "works of the law" as well as accomplishments based on our natural capabilities and "good works" is ignored" (JS)
Unfortunately JS presents a distortion of how Christians interpret this verse. Christians do not think that the apostle Paul means to reject here all works in their proper relationship to salvation. On the contrary Christians understand that genuine faith produces good works.

We notice that JS deliberately leaves out the vital truth of the verse. Christians interpret Paul as rejecting all works (including the false teaching of Rome's alleged "good works") as the ground of justification/salvation.

Rome wishes to high- light Paul's words "and not of yourselves" in Ephesians 2:8. By doing so Rome suggests that Paul is conceding that there are actually some kinds of works produced by grace (not of man) that really do bring about salvation. Rome then takes the "not as a result of works" in verse 9 to mean man's unaided works, and works of the law while stipulating that Paul leaves room for "graced works" that really do bring about salvation.

However this passage of Scripture contains no such exceptions. It is a straight forward declaration that salvation is a gift of God given by grace without consideration of works of any kind under any circumstances. Rome puts into the text what is not there to rationalize her system.

Let us examine one more section of Scripture. Paul again is the author in Titus 3:5. "5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men" Titus 3:5-6 NASB.

Here is what Rome would have us believe:
"The language of this passage is quite clear. Paul insists that Christians "be careful to apply themselves to good deeds [works]" because they are meritorious, that is, they are "profitable" so that Christians will not be "unfruitful." The reverse is implied. Failure to perform "good deeds" could bring about eternal punishment." (JS)
The high-lighted portion of this text is in accordance with the translation and text used by JS in his article. We marvel that a writer could begin an explanation of this passage by stating that "the language of this passage is quite clear." We do so because of the wildest of assertions made from this text and the continued putting into the text what is not there. Roman Catholic writers are notorious for making the text fit their scheme. Here one can surely see the sleight of hand wherein JS adds the words "because they are meritorious" in keeping with Rome's theme that engaging in good deeds is meritorious. The problem is that this text teaches just the opposite. The word merit is not in the text. Neither is the implication for Christians that a failure to perform good deeds could bring about eternal punishment. Christians need not fear eternal punishment for any failure to produce enough good deeds! Rather, the failure to yield any good deeds at all would suggest strongly that Christianity is not really present. We notice as well that this verse is visited with the same Roman Catholic suppositions as are present in Ephesians 2:8, 9. So, "not on the basis of deeds we have done" refers only to natural capabilities or efforts to obey the law. Once again Rome inserts the suggestion that "graced works" which really do save are in view here. So, "saved by His grace" means saved through the grace that comes from God through faithful attendance in the Roman Catholic sacramental system.

None of this is in the text. The apostle Paul is making another straight-forward statement. He is teaching that God saves sinners while not taking into account their works of any kind in any place at any time. The Christian gospel is antithetical to Rome. Christians believe that the un-godly are saved by faith alone in Christ alone without any kind of so-called meritorious works.

We note precisely in this passage that the apostle Paul excludes "deeds we have done in righteousness" as the ground of salvation. Two things should come to mind. The first is that the apostle Paul had much to boast about since he considered himself without blame in keeping the law of God and yet dismisses it all as the ground of his justification before God. Second is the cul-de-sac Rome finds herself in while trying to explain that "graced works" done from grace must be "righteous works" but yet these "deeds done in righteousness i.e. "graced works" are specifically excluded here by the apostle Paul.

Merit

In the world of Roman Catholicism it may safely be said that God's grace is the start of everything. However, the nature of grace, the meaning of grace, the application of grace, the end result of grace, and the overall understanding of what constitutes grace eternally separates Roman Catholic theology from Christianity. Suppose we start with a story that illustrates the absurdity of Roman Catholic grace.

Let us say for instance that a man is on his way to Hell. He has no hope of going to Heaven unless God intervenes in some way. So God wishes to show grace to this man. So God initiates a proposal. He then contacts this man through an earthly emissary. God has a proposition for this man. The scheme laid out by the Roman Catholic religion is alleged to be the grace of God. It is then maintained by Rome that all that follows for this man to get to Heaven stems from the grace of God. The emissary tells the Hell bound man that it is "by God's grace" he may go to Heaven. The envoy then proceeds to tell the man that this is going to be a co-operative effort. The man must collaborate with God. The messenger further explains that God has established a program. By "the grace of God", if the man cooperates, he may gain Heaven through a partnership. The man must join in the association (Roman Catholic religion) and begin to participate (collaborate) with God on this project to get himself Heaven. By "the grace of God", if this man does his share, then Heaven awaits. It does not matter what is required of this man from this point on. Rome insists that it is all by the "grace of God". If this man must attend Mass, worship Mary, confess to a priest, buy indulgences, perform good works that are meritorious, obey without question the Pope at Rome, lose and re-gain his justification, improve his justification through "graced works", land in Purgatory for un-known amount of years, do Penance for the rest of his life, and live his entire life without the assurance of actually gaining Heaven it is all perfectly fine. Why is this? Because all of this and more is alleged to be the "grace of God" in the Roman Catholic religious system!

Is this story some sort of weird caricature of Roman Catholicism? Have we grossly miss-represented Rome? We have not. The Roman Catholic religion is a collaborative religion. It is merit based. Man must do his share. This joint agreement between God and man is the foundation of the entire scheme of Rome. Right in the middle of this system is the Roman Catholic use of the word "merit". Roman Catholic theologians avoid the accusation that theirs is a works based arrangement by claiming "it is all of grace" since God initiates it. They then decree that all requirements stipulated for man's obedience are really grace based since all obligations come from God's grace and are enabled by God's grace!

So if it is all "grace based" and even the ability to meet the conditions set by God for man's entrance into Heaven is "grace based" then what is man's part? Man's part is to perform. Man must do the things. When he does achieve it is said to be the grace of God working in him. If he does not execute the strategy then it is power of man's free will that has declined God's grace and man has no one to blame but himself. Thus the grace of God is dependent upon the submission of man in order to be effective. Man's "free acting" is man's compliant collaboration! Without it God is powerless to save. Since man may "opt out" of the arrangement at any time and lose his path toward Heaven it is important for Rome to do two things to perhaps prevent this from happening. The first is to sway the will of man to stay in the system. This is done by the impartation of grace into the soul of man through Rome's sacraments. The second is to establish a coordination whereby the good works of man are rewarded with grace that may in fact sustain a man on the road to Heaven. The merit of good works performed in grace brings more grace to the faithful man.

Let us read carefully these excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man's free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful Man's merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit" (NCC Paragraph 2008).

"We can have merit in God's sight only because of God's free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man's collaboration. Man's merit is due to God" (NCC Paragraph 2025).

"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. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions" (NCC Paragraph 2010).
In all of this we must reinforce briefly a point previously made. Rome is quick to point out that no man can merit the grace of salvation initially. This is why Rome baptizes her babies. Remember they believe that baptism is the entry way into the Church and the gateway to Heaven. Hence they are vigorous to point out that all babies are passive in regeneration, and the beginning of justification which, to them, occurs through the waters of their baptism.

At the beginning of the Roman Catholic position paper with which we have interacted JS makes an important statement which we need to read over twice or three times to get the full weight.
"Protestants and Catholics also agree that our justification is by faith. This last point needs emphasis as many Protestants are not aware of the clear Catholic teaching." [bold mine] (JS)
Toward the end of the paper the same writer pronounces this:
"The Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide, is not biblical!" [bold mine] (JS)
It is my hope that after reading this article you have a better understanding of Roman Catholic sophism and the distinguishing characteristics of their religion which is altogether inimical [hostile] to Christianity. Christians know that the deal making, join venture, collaborative partnership between God, man, and the grace dispensing agents of the Roman Catholic religion are nothing more than a spiritual scam. It is fool's gold. The grace of God, and the salvation/justification of God described in the Bible are altogether contrary to the ruse of the Roman Catholic religion.

"8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel 2 Timothy" 1:8-10 NIV. "5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Rom 5:1-3 NIV

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