An Invitation to Examine Roman Catholic (RC) Faith in the Light of Scripture
3rd in a series adapted by Philip L. Powell from the book of the above title (© 2005 Dr Joseph Mizzi) with the author's written permission.
Unless otherwise indicated, Bible quotations are taken from the New King James Version (Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.) Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) are marked “CCC” and followed by the paragraph number.
God is the Creator and all-powerful King of the universe. He fashioned all nations and takes care of every individual. It is consequently not only our responsibility, but also our privilege to glorify Him and render to Him grateful and joyful obedience. A God-given conscience outlines for us what is right and wrong; moreover most Roman Catholics and many others in our western countries were taught the Ten Commandments from infancy. Undoubtedly our main duty is to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbour even as we love ourselves.
In the beginning, when the Lord created our first parents, Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden. Their whole blessedness depended on their obedience towards Him.The LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die - Genesis 2:16, 17.
Perfect obedience leads to life and friendly fellowship with God; disobedience brings misery and death. The options were laid out clearly.Adam ate the forbidden fruit. He disregarded God's command and thus became a sinner, guilty before his Maker. Adam's transgression brought a curse upon the whole creation. Not only so: since Adam was the representative head of the human race, his sin is justly reckoned as the sin of all.
Scripture teaches,… through one man's offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation... by one man's disobedience many were made sinners - Romans 5:18, 19.
We are sinners by nature. Just as seeds taken from a corrupt tree give rise to similarly corrupt trees, even so, as Adam's descendants, we were conceived sinners, just as our father became a sinner by his sin. Every person makes decisions according to his own will, nobody compelling him, but, being a sinner, all his thought, words and actions are tainted with sin. As it was in the days before the Flood, it could be said of every individual,every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually - Genesis 6:5.
Man holds an inflated opinion of himself. “Weaknesses” and “mistakes” brushed aside, he is convinced of his essentially “good heart.” Scripture, however, presents an altogether contrary diagnosis:The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked - Jeremiah 17:9.
Is it conceivable that spiritual good can issue out of a deceitful heart? Do we pick figs from a bramble-bush, or grapes from thorns? Even so, man born enslaved to sin cannot produce acceptable righteousness before the thrice-holy God.
How Serious is My Sin?
Sin's vileness and gravity are revealed by God's just punishment meted out to the sinner.
“The wages of sin is death”(Romans 6:23) -
not only physical death, but also spiritual death i.e. the exile of man from the comfortable presence of God in the conscious and eternal punishment of hell. Whatever sin it might be, the inevitable payment is death. There is no such thing as a “venial” sin, which supposedly is not serious enough to deserve death.Some sins are worse than others and there will be different degrees of punishment in hell (cf. John 19:11; Matthew 10:15. Luke 12:47, 48). Anger or a lustful look are not as serious as murder or adultery. Yet Jesus warns us that anger deserves punishment just as murder does, and a lustful look is just as punishable as the act of adultery (cf. Matthew 5:21, 22, 27, 28) Moreover, the Lord makes no distinction as if some sins deserve death while others do not.
Every sinner deserves to be punished in hell forever.This truth must be etched upon our hearts. By our sins we challenge the sovereign and holy God, the fount of all blessedness. He sits enthroned in His Temple, surrounded by holy and spotless seraphim, which nonetheless cannot endure to gaze upon the brightness of His glorious majesty. They hide their faces and unceasingly say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:3).
Can we begin to comprehend the heinousness of our rebelliousness and treasonous heart in defying the will of the one true and living God? Undoubtedly, God is upright and just in meting out punishment for sin - every kind of sin! - and its punishment is nothing less than the darkness of death, the eternal separation from Him who is light.People underplay the issues:
“What was so baneful in enjoying a bite of forbidden fruit? After all, it looked quite inviting.
Was God really prepared to punish Adam with death simply for tasting a piece of fruit?” God had solemnly warned his creature, “You shall surely die.” Satan begged to differ - “You will not surely die” (Genesis 2:17; 3:4). In my career as a medical doctor I frequently meet face to face with death. I have seen adults, elderly and even infants die. Death's chill, the tears and sorrow, constantly remind me of Satan's deceit and of the sinfulness of man.
Whom are you going to believe: God, or the father of lies? Don't be led astray: every transgression of the Law of God is deadly sin.
All These Things Have I Kept!
The hour will come when you will appear before God for judgement:
He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained - Acts 17:31.For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ… So then each of us shall give account of himself to God - Rom 14:10-12.
These are sobering and solemn statements, indeed.What will the outcome be? When God will search your innermost being and all your deeds, do you think He will pronounce you righteous or will He condemn you? The sin of every man is evident. You have often striven against your own conscience.
Nevertheless, the sinner is prone to excuse himself. He shifts the blame on someone else, “She forced me”; he minimises sin, “God will certainly overlook a white lie”; he hides himself in the crowd, “Everybody else does the same”; and such other banal excuses. The religious person has an even greater problem because his “goodness” blinds him to his own wicked and ungodly heart.In the Gospels we read of a rich young ruler who excitedly ran to meet Jesus.
He prostrated himself before Him and asked:Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? - Matt 19:16.Perhaps you too are driven by an earnest desire to rid yourself of hell's punishment and obtain eternal life. Consider carefully, then, the Lord's reply:If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments... You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honour your father and your mother, and, you shall love your neighbour as yourself- Matthew 19:17- 19.
A fearful answer, I should say! How can we ever enter into life? Who among us has ever kept the commandments of God? Scripture itself indicts us all:There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one - Romans 3:10-12.To the extent that Christ's directive is terrifying, the youth's response is ridiculous.
“All these things I have kept from my youth.” How come? If he had never lied, certainly he did lie then! Christ brought him face to face with the perfect Law of God and yet he did not perceive the filthiness and magnitude of his sin. Only then did the Lord Jesus put His finger on the sore spot. Since he pretended having obeyed the second tablet of the Law, it would never have crossed his mind of having broken the first tablet, introduced by the all-comprehensive commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3 cf. Deuteronomy 5:7).
The inquirer thought he was worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; he professed to detest pagan idols made of wood and stone, but tucked away in his heart, the youth cherished another 'god.' Jesus therefore told him:If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me - Matthew 19:21.
Emmanuel, 'God with us,' extended a personal invitation to him, to obey the foremost commandment and be loyal to Him. The youth could not: his allegiance was elsewhere, he was serving wealth, his 'god.' So he departed, without realising his sinfulness and much less who the 'good Teacher' really was, the true God, Redeemer and Life.The Lord Jesus wants you to examine yourself thoroughly in the light of the Holy Law of God.
Don't brush this exercise aside, saying, “I've committed a few mistakes, but all in all, I'm good.” Every sin, whether heinous or apparently petty, is essentially breaking the Law of God; it is an upstart against God's wise and benevolent government. Do you still congratulate yourself, saying conceitedly, “I'm fine as I am”? If so, God despises your pride and hypocrisy.
As long as you consider yourself righteous, Christ will not save you. Should you think that your sin may be treated lightly, you will see no reason of appealing to the unique Doctor for the soul. Jesus said:Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance - Mark 2:17.
Had Adam never sinned and if we had, without the least failure, obeyed the Law from birth onwards, we would obtain life. As the apostle Paul says:The man who does them shall live by them – Galatians 3:12.In reality, everyone is born in sin and the matter of fact is that no mere man ever kept the whole Law without defect. That's why the same apostle affirms:But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident … – Galatians 3:11.
Had the Law been the only entrance into life, you would have had no possibility to enjoy God in heaven. Our transgressions witness against us and would have barred our way to heaven.
The Law Brings Us to Christ
Since we cannot earn life by our obedience, then what's the whole point of the Law?
Paul explains one of its main purposes as follows:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin – Romans 3:19-20.
The Law resembles a mirror. Looking steadfastly into it you will come to realise how spiritually unclean you really are, but of course it cannot wash you clean. To employ another simile: the Law acts like an x-ray, penetrating beyond the surface and revealing your heart, sick unto death, but it cannot heal you. Only the Lord Jesus Christ is able to wash sinners from their filth and give them a new heart.As a teenager I remember reading the Sermon on the Mount. I was much impressed and resolved to adopt it as my rule of life.
I did my very best, but it eventually dawned upon me that the more I endeavoured to keep the standard, the more my frustration increased and my failure became apparent. How could I ever be perfect even as the heavenly Father is perfect?But the Lord was teaching me a simple yet profound lesson. Simple, I said, but so difficult a lesson for a “good” teenager to grasp.
The “good” teenager is a guilty sinner! Then I began to appreciate the Lord Jesus Christ; I began to understand what the Bible means when it speaks about the grace of God manifested so bountifully on Calvary. Only then was my soul ready to flee to Christ for refuge.Initially God deals with man on Mount Sinai, creating a wholesome fear of judgement and a sure conviction of sin. God again deals with the sinner on Calvary's hill. There He bestows full forgiveness, freedom and life. God's use of His Law would have reached its fundamental purpose:Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith – Galatians 3:24.
The biblical doctrine of Justification is the very heart of the Gospel. It is so central to the Christian faith that the Holy Scripture curses anyone who perverts it (cf. Galatians 1:6-9) This doctrine deals with the question of how God, the righteous Judge of the world, actually pronounces a favourable sentence on men who are guilty of breaking His law. How can He who detests sin acquit us of the punishment due to our transgressions, and receive us into His fellowship?
All of us are born sinners by virtue of Adam's sin put to our account. Adam, the first man and father of the human race, was our representative. Therefore when he sinned, we fell with him.Through one man's offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation - Romans 5:18.Moreover, we daily increase our debt with every sin of commission and omission, in word, thought and deed.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – Romans 3:23.How then can a person be righteous before God? According to Scripture, there is only one way, and that is to be justified by faith in Christ.Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – Romans 5:1.
God Justifies the Ungodly
Roman Catholics are taught that justification is initiated in baptism and that justification merely “conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly by the power of his mercy.” According to this position, the sinner is made righteous or “inwardly just” and if he manages to maintain this righteousness to the end, through the sacraments, good works and penances, God will finally reward him with eternal life.
Can anyone hope to be justified because he receives divine help to reform, clean and make himself righteous? Does God look at such a man at the end of this process and declare, "He is justified because he is now a good and righteous fellow"? No! The Gospel does not say that God justifies the "godly." On the contrary, the Scriptures triumphantly announce the amazing truth that God justifies the "ungodly"!The apostle Paul writes:Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness – Romans 4:4-5.God graciously justifies the believing sinner even though he is ungodly. This proves that justification is not based on personal righteousness. Nor does God justify the sinner because he does his utmost to convert himself and become a good man. God justifies those who have no good deeds to their credit – only “him who does not work but believes” is counted as righteous by God.
This is the true gospel, comforting balm for the poor sinner's soul!Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit - Titus 3:5.
Well then, how can God justify the believer, seeing that he is still a sinner? Negatively, God does not charge his sins against him any longer:Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute (does not charge) sin – Romans 4:7-8.
Positively, God credits to the believing sinner a perfect righteousness which he has neither striven for nor earned ... simply because there is NOTHING he can do to merit salvation.David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes (credits to one's account) righteousness apart from works – Romans 4:6.In other words, God does not count the believer's sins against him but credits to him a righteousness for which he did not work. This raises serious and important questions. Is God just when he justifies the believer, since he is still a sinner and sin ought to be punished? Does God simply disregard the Law in order to show mercy?
The Bible answers these questions clearly. God justifies the sinner because of what Christ, His Son, did for the sake of His people.The apostle Paul explains that believers are justified “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24). God frees them from condemnation because Jesus bought their liberty with His own blood. Jesus took away their guilt when He suffered and died on the cross in their place.
The cross of Calvary is the eternal proof of the justice of God in the salvation of sinners: “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). God is both the just and the justifier: just because sin has been punished in Christ; justifier because through Christ, God frees the believer from guilt and punishment.
Moreover His people are credited with Christ's righteousness even though they did not perform it.For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous – Romans 5:19.It is no wonder that believers call the Lord “our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). Christ took away their black and dirty clothes; in exchange, they are dressed in the white robe of His righteousness God… made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Corinthians 5:21.
The Righteousness of God
As a Roman Catholic I was taught that I was justified by my baptism as an infant. Throughout my life I had to work hard to remain right with God. As soon as I committed a “mortal sin,” I lost my justification. So I had to go to confession and do penance to regain it.
However, after a while I proved myself a loser of all blessings because of another “mortal sin.” I was caught up in this vicious circle, going in and out of a revolving door. Ultimately, though, it is my final state that counts. At the moment of death, would I happen to be in or out?
As a Roman Catholic I could never be certain of salvation – indeed, I could never be saved at all because my religious works were keeping me from trusting fully in the Lord Jesus.By God's grace, today I no longer rely on the merits of personal righteousness for my eternal salvation.
Now I depend solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ, my glorious Redeemer, who actually and effectively delivered me from sin's condemnation. With a clean conscience I can adopt Paul's confession as my own:Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith – Philippians 3:8-9
I have been justified by the Judge of the world on the basis of “the righteousness which is from God” – that is, the perfect righteousness of Christ - and not on account of “my own righteousness.” I do not have to wait until the Day of Judgement to know His verdict. I am already “justified by faith” and I fear no judgement because I am hid in Christ my righteousness.There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus – Romans 8:1.
Be Merciful to Me, A Sinner
God wants us to trust in Him, to yield ourselves to His mercies. We should depend completely upon Him, not on our self-righteousness.
The Lord Jesus once narrated a parable in the hearing of some who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other – Luke 18:9-14.
Ponder a little while upon these two men. The first one presented his own righteousness and good works to God. The second approached God empty-handed. The Pharisee considered himself righteous and came confidently forward. The publican was ashamed of himself, knowing he was spiritually bankrupt.
Both went up to the temple to pray: the Pharisee presented his merits while the publican pleaded for mercy. Both returned home. One was trusting in himself to be spiritually acceptable, but in God's sight he was not. The other one depended solely upon God's mercy - nothing but His mercy, and it was this believing sinner that went home justified. He trusted only in the mercy of God. The mercy of God is His promise to justify the ungodly through faith alone in Christ alone.
Christ is our righteousness.Which one of them is your model? In what do you trust for your acquittal? In your own attainments, or in the mercy of God as revealed upon Calvary's Cross? Are you seeking to be accepted by God because of your deeds, or are you leaning upon the all- merciful God in Christ, by faith?Every professing Christian makes a choice between these two alternatives.
Either you are trusting in God's mercy alone, or else you are depending on your co-operation and best efforts. The Roman Catholic Church pronounces a curse on those who say that “justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy that remits sins on account of Christ.” Jesus says the very opposite. He blesses the man who, having no merits of his own, has nothing but full confidence in God's mercy. This man will be certainly justified on account of Christ's blood and righteousness.
Together with the Paul the apostle, evangelical Christians “conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Historically this biblical position has been known as “sola fide” – “by faith alone.” A person is justified by faith alone in Christ alone. While good works always accompany the living faith of every genuine Christian, his standing before God is not based on the merits of such works.
Whereas the Roman Catholic Church only admits that “faith is the beginning of human salvation, the fountain and root of all justification.” According to Rome, faith is necessary but it's not enough. To obtain justification, Rome prescribes faith plus works. “He who says that the received righteousness is not preserved and even increased before God by good works... let him be accursed.”
The Roman Catholic message is: faith and the merits of personal works lead to final justification. The Gospel embedded in Scripture is of a radically different sort:For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith' – Romans 1:16-17.
“From faith to faith,” for Christians do not seek their salvation in Christ together with their personal achievements; from faith to faith, because the Christian forever depends completely on Christ.
Could my zeal no respite know,Could my tears forever flow?All for sin could not atoneThou must save and Thou alone.Nothing in my hand I bring,Simply to Thy cross I cling.
NEXT - Baptism
Author Dr Joseph Mizzi