“Stop saying Catholics believe they must MERIT their salvation!”

Over the past two years, MANY Catholics have written to this blog objecting to my frequently repeated charge that Catholicism teaches its members must MERIT their salvation. They claim their church teaches salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But is that REALLY true? I’m no stranger to the Catholic faith, after having been a Roman Catholic for twenty-seven years and studying the religion quite a bit subsequent to my departure, and I know for a fact Roman Catholicism teaches its members must ultimately MERIT their salvation. So why the disconnect? How can myself and other ex-Catholic Bible Christians charge that Catholics believe they must MERIT their salvation while Catholics emphatically deny it?

This controversy is a slippery eel and I must cut through the semantics fog, so I ask the reader for a little patience as I state my case.

The Roman Catholic church (RCC) is fully aware of the many Bible verses which declare that salvation is a free gift and cannot be merited, and yet it is a religious system which demonstrably relies heavily on works. How does it address this dichotomy?

The RCC teaches that all sin is washed away by the sacrament of baptism. If a Catholic is baptized and dies immediately after baptism, the church teaches they will go straight to Heaven, which is why the emperor Constantine gambled by postponing his baptism until he was on his deathbed. However, the vast majority of Catholics are baptized as infants. Because the act of baptism is non-meritorious (the baptized infant is obviously quite helpless), Catholics can claim their initial salvation is an absolutely free gift.

After a Catholic is baptized and matures from a child to an adult, they must regularly participate in the church’s clergy-administered sacraments (confirmation, the eucharist, confession). Catholics are taught the church’s sacraments confer grace (in much the same way that water flows from a tap), which allegedly equips the Catholic to obey the Ten Commandments and avoid sin. The goal of every Catholic is to be holy – without any serious (mortal) sin on their soul. They refer to this as a sinless “state of grace.” Catholics are taught they cannot attain Heaven if they have any unconfessed serious sins on their souls. So, Catholics will readily admit they must obey the Ten Commandments in order to attain Heaven, but attribute the ability to obey the commandments and avoid sin to the grace they receive from the sacraments. They object to anyone who accuses them of trying to merit or earn their salvation because they ascribe their ability to obey the commandments (impossible!) to grace.

So what’s the bottom line for this discussion? Catholics believe obedience to the Law is required for salvation, with the caveat that obedience is dependent on sacramental grace. Evangelicals would rightly counter that obedience to the Law as a means to salvation, whether qualified as dependent on grace or not, is anti-Gospel, not to mention, impossible.

Catholics will eagerly agree that “salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ” but will NOT agree that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ ALONE. They would say instead that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ AND works.

Having said all that, Catholics will STILL insist their salvation is NOT merited or earned, although they undeniably believe that obeying the Ten Commandments is a requirement for salvation. Despite the caveats, qualifications, and double-speak, Catholics believe they must obey the Law (impossible!) in order to attain salvation.

Catholics counter by saying Bible Christians propagate easy believism; i.e., just say a prayer and live like the devil the rest of your life. Genuine Bible Christians would reply that we came to Christ as helpless sinners, without a single plea of our own, and accepted Him as our Savior by faith ALONE. After we accepted Him as Savior, we follow Him in obedience, albeit imperfectly. Any good works we manifest are the fruit of our salvation, not the cause. Catholics hope to die in a “state of grace” and appear before the Lord without any sin on their souls (or only minor “venial sins). In contrast, Bible Christians will appear before God covered by the imputed perfect righteousness of our Savior. The two approaches are worlds apart. One leads to hell, one leads to salvation.

“For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” – Romans 10:3-4

Although “merit” is a dirty word in contemporary Catholic parlance, the official Catechism of the Catholic Church actually DOES recognize works and merit, yes merit!, as parts of its salvation system. See here and here.

Catholic friend, turn from institutional religion, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith ALONE.


Is Catholicism a false religion? Are Catholics saved?
https://www.gotquestions.org/catholicism.html

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13 thoughts on ““Stop saying Catholics believe they must MERIT their salvation!”

  1. Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
    Amen!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Andi! No one will be allowed a seat at the wedding feast clothed in their own self-righteousness.
      11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matt.22:11-14

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yup, hallelujah sister!!!!! As I write about our unmerited salvation through our Savior, Jesus Christ, I can only bow my head in humble and grateful thanksgiving!

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I will totally grant that there are ignorant Catholics, and I do not doubt that they have contacted you with that objection. However, next time something like this happens, I recommend looking up the word through reliable Catholic sources. In this instance, you never gave the Catholic definition of merit and incorrectly assumed that it means “earn.” Perhaps the Catholics who contacted you thought this same thing and so gave you a wrong impression. You have probably heard of the “crisis in catechesis,” and this appears to be a good example of it.

    If so, this is unfortunate, because the actual definition of merit is easy enough to find online through reliable Catholic sources. It is very consistently defined as a reward for the practice of virtue, which is totally compatible with what Sacred Scripture says about reward. When the word “reward” is used in the NT, it is in conjunction with actions that please God. Here is a search at BibleGateway for the word “reward” in the KJV of the NT:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?qs_version=KJV&quicksearch=reward&begin=47&end=73&limit=50

    This shows rewards for prayers, giving alms, fasting, giving water to the thirsty, loving enemies, doing good, lending, etc. It is not a debt that God pays for good works, but a reward he gives for them. God can never be in anybody’s debt, on that I am sure we agree.

    I also think we can agree that it would be best if these actions were founded on a explicit faith in Christ, but even Romans 2:14-15 shows how heathens have God’s law written in their hearts and so are capable of actions that please God.

    I am OK with you saying that the Church teaches us to merit salvation. But please at least give the Catholic definition of merit when you do.

    Like

    1. Thank you. I appreciate Catholics who do not attempt attempt to deny that merit plays a rather large part in Catholicism’s salvation system. As to the difference between “merit” and “earn,” there’s no need to quibble over that.

      Bible Christians take the stand that genuine redemption/justification will manifest itself in sanctification/obedience. In 180 degree opposition to that, Catholicism teaches that sanctification/obedience “hopefully” leads to eventual redemption/justification. The unsaved can’t wrap their heads around unmerited salvation only through the acceptance of Christ as Savior. Salvation based on works, merit, obedience, and “being good” is the only “logical” option for the natural man.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Right. When I was a young Catholic there was no such obfuscation. We were clearly taught by the nuns and brothers that salvation was merited by obedience to the Ten Commandments and the church. I now have “grace” Catholics telling me I wasn’t “catechized” properly. But if you press them they will also admit that obedience to the Law is a requirement for salvation, however they will emphasize that grace enables obedience. And round and round and round we go.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think as much as they get upset once you asked if we’re saved by grace alone it is like a monkey wrench in the wheels. Or at least that’s the case with my limited experience witnessing to Catholics.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I like it. You’ve written a good post, especially in a way that a layperson can understand. I think our works are a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and they give evidence of our salvation, but not the means by which we attain it. I think it comes down to who get the glory, God or us? Keep going, and rest in-between, you are doing a great job!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! The difference between Catholic and Christian soteriology on surface seems to be so close with both claiming “salvation by grace through faith.” I tried to break down the difference in layman’s terms and I pray the Holy Spirit uses my meager efforts.

      Liked by 1 person

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