Last Tuesday we saw that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, even though Christ died to forgive our sins, we need to go through various sacraments in order to receive His grace. And yes, I understand that I’ve oversimplified the matter in one respect; the Catholic system for obtaining salvation is highly complex and confusing. Yet the primary message of the Protestant Reformation declares that Christians needn’t go through all the sacraments, penances, indulgences and rituals prescribed by Catholic tradition. Returning to Scripture, the Reformers brought us back to the Gospel message that Christ alone accomplished our redemption by His finished work on the cross.
The idea that God does all the work of justification caused Rome to proclaim, at the Council of Trent:
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.
I can go to a variety of Scriptures which refute Rome’s assertion that justification requires human cooperation, but today I want to limit myself to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 regarding election. (Please read the entire chapter before continuing.) I’ve chosen this chapter because it emphasizes that God chooses His elect on the basis of His sovereign will rather than because of any performance on our part.
Paul’s main argument in Romans 9 centers around God’s choice to save believers, whether Jew or Gentile, as opposed to saving physical descendants of Abraham. Within this framework, however, we can reasonably apply the embedded principles to individuals, concluding that He brings some to salvation while leaving others to die in their sins. Notice, in the passage below, that His determination of who receives His mercy has nothing to do with human performance.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. ~~Romans 9:6-16 (ESV)
Verse 12, in particular, holds the key to our discussion because God chose Jacob without considering Jacob’s works. Indeed, the Lord didn’t even take Jacob’s future works into account. Jacob was pretty much of a scoundrel, after all. Very little about him could have possibly warranted God’s favor!
Applying this passage to Catholicism, we see that the concept of cooperating with the Lord to achieve justification is absolutely foreign to how He dispenses mercy. When a person, by the grace of God, trusts completely in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for his or her justification, salvation needs no augmentation. Sacraments and penance become unnecessary, as does Purgatory, because the Lord Jesus Christ has completely accomplished our salvation! He has mercy, not because we contribute to His grace with our obedience to Rome’s rituals, but because He is compassionate to those He chooses.
I’ve belabored this point because Pope Francis world have us believe that the Reformation is now over, and that Protestants can now consider the issues that divide us from Catholics as inconsequential. Next time, we’ll look at Galatians to see what the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, said about adding human works to Christ’s work, and we’ll apply the principles there to Catholicism’s sacramental system. I believe we’ll realize, from that study, that the Reformation continues.