Saturday, April 02, 2011

Gospel of Grace

I had been engaged in a discussion with John Samson from the "Reformation Theology Blog" and he responded to me with a link to an audio-made-into-video, by Dr. John MacArthur:
Hi Scott,

Dr. John Macarthur (sic) shows the massive difference between a true understanding of God saving grace in the gospel, and the so called "gospel" of Rome here:

So here is my response to that:

Quoting MacArthur (and this is a complete transcript of that youtube presentation, along with my interjections and corrections to Dr. MacArthur's errors):
I'm going to give you a little course in Roman Catholic theology, here's how it works.  Do you want to be justified and made right with God?  Here's the (precedence).  God infuses grace into you.  They use the term "infused grace"...God infuses it into you.  It's grace or slash, righteousness, and it's the grace of Christ and the righteousness of Christ and it is dumped into you. 
Well, other than the commonality of the terminology - we're OK so far.
The first dose you ever get is in infant Baptism, that is why infant Baptism is absolutely required, because it is the first dispensation of infused grace.   
Absolutely required?  No, it is not!  If it were, then anyone who was not baptized as an infant could not validly or licitly receive baptism at a later date!  Infant Baptism is practiced because, 1) it has biblical precedence (Acts 16:31-34 and 18:8, 1 Cor. 1:16 mention entire households being baptized); 2) why wait?  Yes, it is the "first dose" of Sanctifying Grace for us - so we do not withhold it from our infants.  My point of objection here is that Dr. MacArthur states it is "absolutely required" and that simply is not true. 
And according to Catholic theology at that point grace is infused into you.  That grace becomes an energy in you moving you toward justification, toward righteousness as you cooperate by good works. 
I can agree, to a point with Dr. MacArthur's interpretation here.  Grace IS infused in us and that Grace IS and energy moving us toward justification and righteousness - but the cooperation of good works is a natural outflow from "saving faith" - for a faith which can save also has works.  Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith cannot save you (James 2).

Every time you go to the Mass, every time you do penance, every time you say your beads, every time you go to Confession, every time you do any of that you get more infused grace.  That's why some Roman Catholics go to church (Mass) seven days a week... because they need lots of infused grace.
Well yes, we DO need lots of infused grace!  Certainly Jesus' Act of Grace was a one-time act - but that act was for all time, not just THAT time.  The more we encounter and embrace His Grace - the less likely we are to fall into mortal sin - that sin which is unto death - because we are more and more united with and to Him.

They operate under fear, that's why they go to Confession. 
We go to Confession because God Himself empowered certain men with the authority to forgive and retain sins (John 20:23).  So, when we sin - we MUST go to one so empowered for outside of these men there is no forgiveness of sins!  This is partially true - for we DO fear God!   We DO fear His Judgment!  We go to Confession when we have stumbled and are in need of forgiveness.

They go to Confession not because they want to tell the priest all their sins, but because they want the infused grace which perpetuates them on the process to righteousness.
YES!  We ALL need "lots of infused grace!"  Clearly we are not made clean and pure, in every way, through Baptism - for we still have a fallen nature, and we still commit sin.  Show me a person who claims they do not sin and I will show you a liar.  We ALL sin and we ALL need to be infused - and reinfused, with Sanctifying Grace.  Dr. MacArthur makes this sound like a bad thing, when in reality - going back again and again to that spring of Grace is the means of Grace which God has provided for His people through the Church which He built.
If, per chance, as you move along the road, you're getting closer and closer, you commit a mortal sin, there's two kinds of sin in Catholic theology; venial sins, which don't count like big ones and mortal sins which are really big. 
Dr. MacArthur needs to take a closer look at 1 John 5:16-17 wherein Scripture itself teaches us that there is a "sin leading to death" (mortal) and a there is a "sin not leading to death" (venial).  The concept of mortal and venial sins is quite scriptural. 
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.  All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. (1 John 5:16-17 NASB).
As the reader can see above, there ARE two types of sin - one is mortal (leads to death) and the other is venial (does not lead to death).
So that Roman Catholic theology believes this: God justifies only the righteous. In other words, you're never going to be right with God until you've achieved righteousness. My Bible says: "God justifies sinners." And that is the difference. Roman Catholic theology says you'll get justified when you get righteous; the Bible says you'll get justified when you fall on your face and acknowledge you're a sinner.
Just acknowledging you're a sinner does not justify you! The demons of Hell acknowledge/know they are sinners - but that does not justify them! Those in Purgatory have ALREADY been judged "righteous" - but have some manner of impurity left upon them, and thus cannot yet enter Heaven, for nothing impure can enter Heaven (Rev. 21:27). The path to righteousness necessarily includes good works. I actually find it a bit humorous at times to see how Protestants split hairs over this issue.

Anytime you commit a mortal sin you're back to zero again in the process of justification. It is just as if you've had infant Baptism, you go all the way back to ground zero.

Most Catholics don't know these nuances at all, all they know is they are working real hard hoping they can get into Heaven, but I'm giving you the inside stuff.  This is Catholic theology.  Commit a mortal sin and you're back to square one again and you start the process.  Do that when you're 75 years old and you die when you're 76, you got a long time in Purgatory.
Well again, not quite true.  When we commit a mortal sin we are separated from Sanctifying Grace, but we're still Catholics, we still have the "mark" of Baptism upon us and we're still able to go to the Sacrament of Confession and be restored to a state of Sanctifying Grace.   And again, not quite true.  If you commit a mortal sin at 75 - AND DON'T REPENT OF IT - and then die at 76 with this still unrepented mortal sin on your soul - there's no Purgatory for you, you go straight to Hell.  Now God is the Final Judge on these matters, and He could choose to show mercy based upon the soul and intentions of the individual, but all we can teach is that unrepentent mortal sin (sin which is unto death) equates to DEATH.  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, go straight to Hell.  Dr. MacArthur is NOT giving you "the inside stuff," he's giving you lies and propaganda.  I hope he's not doing this intentionally and will acknowledge and correct these errors.
Purgatory comes from the word "purge."  And Purgatory is where you go because you didn't make it to justification, you didn't make it to righteousness, but you're a good guy and you tried really hard... we can't send you to Hell - so we'll invent a place and you go there and over a period of three or four hundred years, or whatever it is, you get purged and finally you get righteous and then you can go to Heaven. 
Dr. MacArthur, again, has a false concept of Purgatory.  Every single soul in Purgatory IS SAVED!  They may have some unrepented venial sins, or some other impurity on their soul - but they ARE SAVED!  They WILL go to Heaven, once "every last cent is paid" (Luke 12:59; Matt. 5:26).
And you can get aided because there are some who had more righteousness than they needed.  In fact they were so good and they had extra righteousness and when they died their extra righteousness was put into what is called the Treasury of Merit.  The Treasury of Merit is a big hypothetical box, and God at His own discretion can take some of that out and give it to you while you're in Purgatory to move you faster along.  And you keep hoping that you're going to get, finally to righteous(ness),
Well again, not completely true.  Dr. MacArthur presents us with a partial truth and then creates a bit of a straw man argument.  The "Treasury of Merit" is comprised of Christ's infinite merit AND the merits of the Saints, which is quite finite.  The Church has the authority to loose these merits as she sees fit.  We can discuss this at greater depth if someone so desires.  Suffice it to say, for now, that this Treasury of Merit is not quite what Dr. MacArthur makes it out to be. 
And justification is not a process that finally culminates in Purgatory, it's an act which occurs in a moment of time when God declares you righteous and forgiven.  That is (a) HUGE difference.  One view saves, the other damns because it is a system of works.  
Justification is most certainly a process, as the very word implies!  If it were a one-time act, we'd say "justified" - past tense, and not use a word which is in present tense stating that it is on-going.

(It) sounds good, it's got grace in it, it's got faith in it, it's got righteousness in it, the righteousness of Christ is in it - they use all those terms - in fact this latest document says: "We Catholics and we Protestants believe salvation by grace and salvation by faith and salvation by Christ ALONE, and we believe in the righteousness of Jesus Christ."  And they go, and ah, and ah, (the average) Evangelical "WOW, what else can you say?"  Salvation by faith, by grace through Christ ALONE!  And then there's a paragraph at the end that says, "Of course we have yet to discuss the doctrine of imputation, the Mass and baptismal regeneration."  It doesn't mean anything!  It's just words.  HUGE difference. 
Assuming Dr. MacArthur is referring to the Joint Declaration on Justification (between Lutherans and Catholics, of which MacArthur is neither) let us be clear here... the document doesn't say, as MacArthur quotes "Of course we have yet to discuss imputation, the Mass and baptismal regeneration."  What it DOES say is this: "In this respect, there are still questions of varying importance which need further clarification. These include, among other topics, the relationship between the Word of God and church doctrine, as well as ecclesiology, ecclesial authority, church unity, ministry, the sacraments, and the relation between justification and social ethics."  Let me just say, "HUGE difference" here.  That paragraph goes on to say: "We are convinced that the consensus we have reached offers a solid basis for this clarification. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church will continue to strive together to deepen this common understanding of justification and to make it bear fruit in the life and teaching of the churches."  So while MacArthur seems to be attempting to villify this attempt to strive for unity - the document is clearly striving for just that, and what is so wrong with focusing on points of commonality as opposed to the polemics we see far too often in apologetics?  Keep in mind the desire/will of God is that we (professing Christians) should be ONE and not divided.  Yes, this document alone does not unite Catholics and Lutherans - but it is a step in the RIGHT direction!  The objective reader here can see that comparing MacArthur's polemics to God's Will there is a "HUGE difference."
And the way God, listen to this, the way God justifies a person is not by infusing grace into them so that they can become perfect, but by not counting their what?  Trespasses against them.  It's just a matter of God saying, "OK, I'm not counting those anymore against you."  It's not God saying, "Oh. there aren't anymore there."   It's not God saying, "Well, you've reached a point where you don't have anymore trespasses, you can be declared righteous."  That's not justifying the ungodly!  God justifies the ungodly, the Bible says in Romans.  He just doesn't impute their sins.  So you can say to a person, "You want some REALLY good news?  God WANTS to save you, God WANTS to justify you and to sanctify, God WANTS no longer to count any sin you ever commit against you, ever.  That is good news!
The Joint Declaration does not speak out against these things! MacArthur is engaging (again) in straw man argumentation. Yes, God wants to save, God wants to no longer count any sin you commit against you - and for those you repent of through the channel HE provided, He does not count against you, EVER.

So, this whole matter of reconciliation is by the will of God, by the act of justification which is tantamount to complete forgiveness.
Again I must stress, justification is not a one-time act!  It IS a process we go through toward sanctification.  I also stress that sins forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation are completely forgiven.
Thirdly, and I have to say this, it is by the obedience of faith, it's by the obedience of faith.  There's a faith component, verse 20.  We're going around begging people on behalf of Christ, "Be ye reconciled to God."  You say:  "If it's all of God, what are we begging people for?"  It's not apart from faith.  It's NOT apart from faith.  We're begging for a response and the response it to believe and to receive as many as received Him.  How can I say it?   They became privileged to count themselves as sons of God.  It's by faith.  So we go around calling people to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, don't we?  Be saved.  Now you know this.  So, getting people to understand this and to put their faith in Christ alone to justify them, is really what we do.  Um, just let me give you a little insight into this. You say, "So what's the actual message?"  Well, it comes down to this, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you'll be saved," Acts 16:31.  Believe that Christ came into the world, God in human flesh, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death on the Cross, rose from the grave, ascended to the right hand of the Father, having accomplished our redemption as our High Priest and coming King.  That's what I call the "drive train" of the Gospel.  You believe that.  You believe in the Christ who is the true Christ and in His death and resurrection - for you.
Scripture answers this "drive train" of the Gospel quite well... "Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble." (James 2:19)

I would be remiss if I did not include some of the things Scripture tells us we must DO to be saved, or have a "saving faith."

What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? (James 2:14)

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar?  Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect?  (James 2:20-22)

The following come from the Scripture Catholic site:Neh. 13:14, Psalm 11:7,28:4, Isa. 3:10, 59:18, Jer. 25:14, 50:29, Ezek. 9:10, 11:21, 36:19, Hos. 4:9, 9:15, 12:2, Sir. 16:12,14 - The 2,000 year-old Catholic position on salvation is that we are saved by Jesus Christ and Him alone (cf. Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:5). But by the grace of Christ, we achieve the salvation God desires for us through perseverance in both faith and works. Many Protestants, on the other hand, believe that one just has to accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior to be saved, and good works are not necessary (they just flow from those already saved). But these verses, and many others, teach us that our performance of good works is necessary for our salvation. Scripture also does not teach that good works distinguish those who are eternally saved from those who are not saved.
Sir. 35:19; Luke 23:41; John 3:19-21, Rom. 8:13, 2 Tim 4:14, Titus 3:8,14, Rev. 22:12 - these verses also teach us that we all will be judged by God according to our deeds. There is no distinction between the "saved" and the "unsaved."

1 Cor. 3:15 - if works are unnecessary for salvation as many Protestants believe, then why is a man saved (not just rewarded) through fire by a judgment of his works?
Matt. 7:1-3 - we are not judged just by faith, but actually how we judge others, and we get what we have given. Hence, we are judged according to how we responded to God's grace during our lives.

Matt. 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13 - Jesus taught that we must endure to the very end to be saved. If this is true, then how can Protestants believe in the erroneous teaching of "Once saved, always saved?" If salvation occurred at a specific point in time when we accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior, there would be no need to endure to the end. We would already be saved.

Matt. 16:27 – Jesus says He will repay every man for what he has done (works).

Matt. 25:31-46 - Jesus' teaching on the separation of the sheep from the goats is based on the works that were done during their lives, not just on their acceptance of Christ as Savior. In fact, this teaching even demonstrates that those who are ultimately saved do not necessarily have to know Christ. Also, we don’t accept Christ; He accepts us. God first makes the decision to accept us before we could ever accept Him.

Matt. 25:40,45 - Jesus says "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to Me." We are judged and our eternal destiny is determined in accordance with our works.

Mark 10:21 - Jesus says sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. This means that our salvation depends upon our works.

Luke 12:43-48 - these verses teach us that we must act according to the Lord's will. We are judged based upon what we know and then do, not just upon what we know.

Luke 14:14 – Jesus says we are repaid for the works we have done at the resurrection of the just. Our works lead to salvation.

Luke 23:41 - some Protestants argue that Jesus gave salvation to the good thief even though the thief did not do any good works. However, the good thief did in fact do a good work, which was rebuking the bad thief when he and others were reviling Jesus. This was a "work" which justified the good thief before Jesus and gained His favor. Moreover, we don't know if the good thief asked God for forgiveness, did works of penance and charity and was reconciled to God before he was crucified.

Rom. 2:6-10, 13 - God will judge every man according to his works. Our salvation depends on how we cooperate with God's grace.

2 Cor. 5:10 - at the judgment Seat of Christ, we are judged according to what we have done in the body, not how much faith we had.

2 Cor. 9:6 – Paul says that he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully, in connection with God’s judgment.

2 Cor. 11:15 - our end will correspond to our deeds. Our works are necessary to both our justification and salvation.

Gal. 6:7-9 – whatever a man sows, he will reap. Paul warns the Galatians not to grow weary in doing good works, for in due season they will reap (the rewards of eternal life).

Eph. 6:8 – whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord.

Col. 3:24-25 - we will receive due payment according to what we have done. Even so, Catholics recognize that such payment is a free unmerited gift from God borne from His boundless mercy.

1 Tim. 6:18-19 – the rich are to be rich in good deeds so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed, that is, eternal life.

2 Tim. 4:14 – Alexander the coppersmith did Paul great harm, and Paul says the Lord will requite him for his deeds.

Heb. 6:10 - God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake. God rewards our works on earth and in heaven.

Heb. 12:14 – without holiness, no one will see the Lord. Holiness requires works of self-denial and charity, and does not come about simply by a profession of faith.

1 Peter 1:17 - God judges us impartially according to our deeds. We participate in applying the grace Jesus won for us at Calvary in our daily lives.

Rev. 2:5 - Jesus tells the Ephesians they have fallen from love they used to have, and orders them to do good works. He is not satisfied with their faith alone. They need to do more than accept Him as personal Lord and Savior.

Rev. 2:10 – Jesus tells the church in Smyrna to be faithful unto death, and He will give them the crown of life. This is the faith of obedience to His commandments.

Rev. 2:19 - Jesus judges the works of the Thyatirans, and despises their tolerance of Jezebel, calling them to repentance.

Rev. 2:23 - Jesus tells us He will give to each of us as our works deserve. He crowns His own gifts by rewarding our good works.

Rev. 2:26 - Jesus says he who conquers and keeps my works until the end will be rewarded in heaven. Jesus thus instructs us to keep his works to the very end. This is not necessary if we are "once saved, always saved."

Rev. 3:2-5,8,15 – Jesus is judging our works from heaven, and these works bear upon our eternal salvation. If we conquer sin through faith and works, He will not blot our names out of the book of life. This means that works bear upon our salvation. Our “works” do not just deal with level of reward we will receive, but whether we will in fact be saved.

Rev. 3:15 – Jesus says, “I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. Because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Jesus is condemning indifferentism, which is often based on our works.

Rev. 14:13 - we are judged by the Lord by our works – “for their deeds follow them!” Our faith during our life is completed and judged by our works.

Rev. 20:12 – “the dead are judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done.”

Rev. 22:12 – Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done.”

Sirach 16:12,14 – we are judged according to our deeds, and will receive in accordance with our deeds.
May God richly bless you and all who read this.



  1. Thanks for this manageable and organized post.

    You would be surprised at how much of this content is covered (at the level of 12-year-olds) in my Catechism class.

  2. kk, thanks. I guess I shouldn't be so astounded that many non-Catholics attack that which they REALLY don't know. The words of Bishop Sheen ring true... "There are not 100 people in America who hate Catholicism, but there are millions who hate what they THINK is Catholicism.

    I hope Rev. Samson takes a moment to reflect on his ill conceived words he used against me on his blog and I hope somehow the word gets to Dr. MacArthur too - though somehow I think they may be too locked in their paradigm to accept that they got this wrong and will not be open for correction.

    Keep up the good work in your catechism class.

    In JMJ,

  3. “A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies.” GKC

  4. Hello! I am a Protestant, but I just have a clarifying question. I appreciate your explanation of purgatory, but I confess that I still am not so clear on its necessity. I understand that nothing unclean can enter heaven...but what is the necessity of putting forth a doctrine about the mechanism by which God purifies? Is that just for information purposes or is there some other need being met for the believer to be taught this mechanism?

    In Christ,

    1. Hi Betty, rather than respond here where the article is two years old already (and moderated due to age) I have created a new posting here to respond to your questions. Please feel free to continue the discussion in the new article (which doesn't go into automatic moderation for 4 weeks).


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