Reformation Day comes and goes every October 31—an occurrence I take for granted far too often. But I wonder, what was life like for people who lived after the Roman Empire’s fall and prior to Martin Luther’s courageous act in 1517?
The Roman Catholic Church maintained an incredible amount of influence, selling indulgences that individuals purchased as “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins.” Further, people carried the burden of doing, doing, and doing more in order to please God.
What a horrible existence.
The Catholic view of salvation, or in other terms, justification, has been communicated as follows: “In sum, the Church teaches that salvation is a process of becoming holier and holier through time. All of this is a work of grace that God performs in our hearts through faith.”
This teaching might sound okay at first glance. As Christians, we are on a lifelong journey—the process of becoming more like Christ. Salvation also is a gift of God’s grace. But please notice how biblical truth differs from this Catholic teaching on justification:
- When Jesus saved the thief on the cross, He didn’t require holiness as the man hung dying.
- When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, He stated, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Birth isn’t a lifelong process. Rather, it occurs at a moment in time. So it is in the spiritual realm.
- The Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” And he was told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Again, nothing is mentioned about salvation being a process.
I believe there’s an ongoing assault against the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The Catholic church’s incorrect view of salvation/justification has crept into some Protestant churches, subtly teaching that works play a role in our salvation: by doing, doing, and doing more to please God, we just might reach the end of our lives with enough good works to receive eternal life. Dr. Kenneth Howell of www.catholic.com phrases it this way: “As we trust and do God’s work, he instills within us more grace so that we may become holier and so be ready to meet him at the end of our life.”
Dr. Howell’s statement reveals a misunderstanding of justification and sanctification. Yes, God makes us holier as we cooperate with Him in the process of sanctification, but becoming holier throughout our lives DOES NOT make us “ready to meet him” at the end of our lives.
Christ ALONE prepares us to meet God.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” John 14:6
Our good works won’t prepare us, our labors for social justice won’t ready us, our stand against evil won’t qualify us, nor will ANYTHING we do save us. CHRIST ALONE paves the way to the Father.
Not only is works salvation false, it’s depressing. Just as people of Martin Luther’s day were burdened by the daunting load of doing, doing, and doing more to please God, some today are trapped in the same pit. Many of them possess wonderful intentions, yet instead of focusing on Christ, they concentrate on themselves and what they do for God.
Friends, as my husband so eloquently has expressed, “Salvation is a gift of God’s grace apart from human merit. It is received by faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Jesus breathed His last, He uttered, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Amen! CHRIST has accomplished everything pertaining to our salvation (justification), which we receive by faith alone. Then begins our lifelong journey of sanctification, wherein God conforms us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Let’s never confuse these two truths.
I thank the Lord for Martin Luther and other reformers because God used them to shine truth into darkness. We still reap the benefits 499 years later.
Most of all, I’m grateful for the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom I received eternal life the moment I placed my faith in Him at the age of ten. I don’t need to work my head off in preparation to meet God—I can trust in what Christ already has completed for me.
How about you? I’d love to hear how this salvation truth stirs your heart toward Jesus.
In His Love,