Can a Roman Catholic have a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ? Such a question is not well-received in this era of watered-down theology and inclusiveness. But before you become offended, let’s take a look at this query calmly and objectively.
It’s referred to in different ways – trusting in Christ, accepting Jesus as personal Savior, knowing Christ, following Christ, accepting Jesus into your heart, etc., – but they all refer to a moment in time when a person comprehends they are a sinner and deserves eternal punishment, that Jesus Christ, God the Son, came into this world and died for their sins, but rose from the grave and offers them forgiveness and eternal life, and the person comes to Jesus in prayer and genuinely accepts Him as their Savior by faith alone, knowing they themselves did not do a single thing to earn the gift of salvation that Christ offers. When a person genuinely places their trust in Jesus by faith alone, they then enter into a personal relationship with Christ that lasts throughout all eternity. That is the very Good News!
But is that what Roman Catholicism teaches?
Well, Catholicism also teaches that we are sinners and deserve eternal punishment. It also teaches that Jesus is God the Son and that He came into this world to die for our sins, and that He rose from the grave conquering sin and death. So far so good. But what happens next is where Catholicism goes off the track. Rome teaches that Jesus established its sacramental system and that a person must be baptized and participate in the other sacraments in order to receive graces so they will be able to allegedly abstain from sin – aka “cooperate with grace” – and try to maintain their soul in a “state of grace” up to the moment of death in order to be able to merit Heaven. For Catholics, justification does not happen in a moment of time, but rather is a lifelong process with an unknowable ending.
In deference to Bible verses that speak of salvation as a free gift, Catholicism claims that its sacramental system dispenses God’s unmerited grace, but then Catholics must regularly receive the sacraments and “cooperate with sacramental grace” by obeying the Ten Commandments and church rules in order to merit Heaven.
A person who has genuinely trusted in Christ as their Savior has assurance of their salvation because their salvation rests completely on the finished work of Christ and HIS imputed perfect righteousness, not on themselves. A Catholic has no assurance of their salvation because their salvation depends on how well THEY “cooperate with grace” by obeying the Law right up until the moment of their death. In fact, their church teaches that a person commits the “sin of presumption” if they believe they have already been saved. Just ask a devout Catholic if they know if they’re going to Heaven and listen to their answer. It’s all about what THEY do or don’t do.
The Bible certainly speaks of obedience and good works, but we can only walk with the Lord in obedience (albeit imperfectly) AFTER we have accepted Him as Savior.
People of different faiths are passionate about their religion. Pious Mormons will certainly insist they have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. Jehovah’s Witnesses will claim they have a “personal relationship” with Jehovah through Jesus. But we know both groups are trusting in their works religious systems with their aberrant christologies rather than trusting in the Christ of the Bible by faith alone.
Many Catholics are also passionate about their religious system and regularly proclaim Jesus as their “Savior.” But a careful consideration of Catholicism reveals its members are trusting not in Christ, but in how well THEY participate in their church’s sacramental system and how well THEY “cooperate with grace” by obeying the Ten Commandments and church rules.
A person’s reliance on themselves for ANY part of their salvation indicates they DON’T have a “relationship with Christ” and that they are actually denying the Savior and His gift of salvation.
There are no doubt some Catholics who become so discouraged by trying to follow the precepts of their church that they finally fall at the feet of Christ and plead for His forgiveness. Those Catholics are saved in spite of their church, not because of it. After they have received Christ, they should obediently remove themselves from a false religious system and find an evangelical church where the Gospel is preached.
Having a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ means putting all of your faith in Him, without one single plea of your own. Trust in Him by faith alone and then walk with Him in an eternal relationship.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13
Postscript: A Catholic who is faithful to the teachings of their church (i.e., salvation via sacramental grace and merit) and insists they DO have a personal relationship with Jesus the Savior is kind of like a person who eats at KFC every day and insists they follow a healthy diet. Does not compute. If Jesus is your Savior, then why are you attempting to save yourself?
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” – Galatians 2:21