Nick was a devout Catholic. He was baptized into the church as an infant and attended Catholic grammar school where he listened attentively to the nuns and priests. In first grade he made his first confession and received his first communion. When he was in fifth grade he was confirmed. Nick grew up to be a very religious man. When he was twenty-years-old he resolved that he would attend mass daily and receive communion. He also resolved to go to confession every Saturday and ask forgiveness for his “mortal” and even his “venial” sins. Nick was very proud of the fact that he kept up this religious routine for sixty years. A few days after his 80th birthday Nick was on his way to morning mass when he happened to notice a very attractive young woman walking ahead of him who was dressed in a rather revealing outfit. For just a few short moments he lusted heartily after the woman and didn’t notice the approaching car as he crossed the street. Nick, a devout Catholic for his entire long life, was hit by the car and died with the “mortal” sin of adultery on his soul (Matthew 5:28). He would have to spend eternity in Hell according to the Catholic theology because he did not die in a “state of grace.” Catholics are taught they must constantly sustain themselves in a “state of grace” through participating in the sacraments and through good works and “avoiding” sin. Most Catholics, if they’re honest, will acknowledge they haven’t been entirely “good” so they’re hoping they get the chance to wipe the slate clean by receiving the sacrament of Last Rites/Extreme Unction immediately before they die.
Now let’s take a look at Bill. Bill was also raised as a Catholic. He was baptized as an infant and was introduced to the sacraments of reconciliation and the eucharist just like Nick and attended mass regularly growing up. But when Bill was twenty he felt like there had to be more to it than the ritual and constant striving so he bought himself a Bible and began reading the New Testament. He began to understand that he wasn’t a sinner because he sinned like the Catholic church had taught him, but he came to realize that he sinned because he was a sinner. Huge difference!
The message of the Bible was different than what Bill had learned in the Catholic church. The priests and nuns had taught him that by obeying the Ten Commandments and the rules of the Catholic church he would be justified before God. But the Bible said there are none who are “good.” There is no one who can possibly obey the Ten Commandments in thought, word, and deed, except for One.
“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” – Romans 3:10-12
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20
Bill had heard about Jesus for many years but for the first time he really began to comprehend that God sent a Rescuer, a Savior, Jesus Christ, into the world to be the atoning sacrifice for his sins. Although Catholics call Jesus “Savior” they don’t think that they actually need to be saved.
“I have not come to call the (self) righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:32
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
“For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:2-4
“For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Bill understood that becoming a Christian wasn’t a matter of baptism, church membership, receiving the sacraments, or being “good.” Rather, becoming a Christian meant acknowledging one’s sinfulness before God and accepting His Son as Savior. Bill humbly prayed to God and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and was spiritually reborn for the first time. He realized that “good” works weren’t the means to salvation, they were the fruit of his relationship with Christ.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10.
Bill walked with the Lord for many years and when he died he joined his Lord and the other saints in Heaven, not because of his religion or “good” works but only because of the imputed righteousness of his Savior, Jesus Christ.
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” – Philippians 3:9