Catholics and Evangelical Protestants both agree that Jesus Christ, God the Son, died on the cross to pay the penalty for sins, but they disagree on how a person receives the gift of salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10
Evangelical Protestants believe a person must repent of their sins and come to Jesus Christ in prayer and ask Him to save them, without one, single plea of their own. Salvation is completely by faith in Christ. After we accept Christ as Savior, then good works and charity are manifested in our lives as the fruit of our salvation.
Catholics, in contrast, believe salvation is a lifelong process.* They believe a person must firstly have all their sins washed away in baptism. Then they believe a person must participate in the other sacraments to receive graces so they can obey the Ten Commandments, avoid sin, and remain in a mortal-sinless “state of grace” so as to be able to merit Heaven at the moment of their death. Although they believe salvation is merited by obedience, Catholics can claim salvation is by “grace” and “faith” because they say it is through the graces administered through the sacraments that they are able to successfully obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!).
“We must understand that we are saved by grace through the instruments of faith and obedience. That obedience includes keeping the Ten Commandments, but the keeping of the commandments is an instrument—a necessary instrument—through which the grace of God flows and keeps us in Christ, the principle of reward for us. Thus, we have to keep the commandments to be saved, but we understand it is only through grace that we can do so.” – Tim Staples, Catholic apologist
God’s Word certainly speaks about obedience and charity. After we accept Christ we are to follow Him in obedience. But no one could ever possibly justify themselves by their imperfect attempts to follow the Law. The Law shows us that we are all sinners in need of the Savior. We could never obey our way into Heaven. I sin by thought, word, deed, or by omission every single day and so do you. The Lord, Jesus Christ, was the only person who ever successfully obeyed the Law.
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:19-20
The only way to salvation is through accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone. If any part of your salvation depends upon how well you obey the Ten Commandments, you are lost.
Remember the repentant tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 who asked the Lord to save him, without one single plea of his own? That is how we come to Christ and His salvation.
*While Catholics prescribe their sacramental system as the proper way to salvation, they also grant that non-Catholic religionists (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants, etc.) may also merit Heaven “if they follow the light they are given.” Pope Francis has said even atheists can merit Heaven if they follow their conscience. None of this is Christianity.
Postscript: Just because a person attends an evangelical, Gospel-preaching church doesn’t mean they’re saved in Christ. Every person must individually repent of their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone. Also, not every church that calls itself “evangelical” these days preaches the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.