Roman Catholicism

Rome Says, 'You Cannot Know You Are Saved.' What Does the Bible Say?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from works. Salvation is secure because it is all of Christ.
From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

In this series we're exploring five key distinctions between Roman Catholicism and authentic Biblical Christianity:

  1. Doctrine: Tradition vs. Scripture (read here)
  2. Authority: Church vs. Christ (read here)
  3. Salvation: Works vs. Faith (read here)
  4. Mediators: Many vs. One (read here)
  5. The True Church: Visible vs. Invisible (read here)

Today we come to point number three: Is salvation by works as Rome claims, or by faith alone? We are quoting approved Vatican sources (which bear its claim of infallibility) versus the Word of God.

3. Salvation: Works vs. Faith

Roman Catholicism puts works first as the way of salvation, and faith second. Rome says that a person can never be sure of eternal life, and that we must gain a righteousness of our own in order to be saved. This is done through the Mass, confession of sins to a human priest, and doing works of penance in payment for sin. Rome says that salvation is not secure:

"Protestants claim the following three qualities for justification: certainty, equality, the impossibility of ever losing it. Diametrically opposed to these qualities are those defended by the Council of Trent:

  • uncertainty [no one can be sure he is justified]
  • inequality [some are more justified than others]
  • amissibility [justification can be lost].

"Since these qualities of justification are also qualities of sanctifying grace, see [the entry on] Grace."1

[And so, from the entry on Grace] "Every adult soul stained.with original sin...must, in order to arrive at the state of justification, pass through a short or long process of justification, which may be likened to the gradual development of the child in its mother's womb.." Rome says that sinners must gain an "interior" righteousness of their own:

"The Catholic idea maintains that the formal cause of justification does not consist in an exterior imputation of the justice of Christ but in a real, interior sanctification..

"Although the sinner is justified by the justice of Christ, inasmuch as the Redeemer has merited for him the grace of justification, nevertheless he is formally justified and made holy by his own personal justice and holiness."2 Rome says that faith in Christ is not enough:

"The reason for the uncertainty of the state of grace lies in this, that without a special revelation nobody can with certainty of faith know whether or not he has fulfilled all the conditions that are necessary for achieving justification."3

".[O]ver and above faith other acts are necessary for justification, such as fear, and hope, charity, penance with contrition, almsgiving.. Faith alone does not justify.

"The 'justification by faith alone' theory was by Luther styled the article of the standing and falling [of the] church (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae), and by his followers was regarded as the material principle of Protestantism, just as the sufficiency of the Bible without tradition was considered its formal principle. Both of these principles are un-Biblical."4 Rome says that confession of sin to an earthly priest-judge, and works in payment for sin, are required:

"...the absolution given by the priest to a penitent who confesses his sins with the proper dispositions remits both the guilt and the eternal punishment (of mortal sin). There remains, however, some indebtedness to Divine justice which must be cancelled here or hereafter (see [Catholic Encyclopedia entry on] PURGATORY). In order to have it cancelled here, the penitent receives from his confessor what is usually called his 'penance', usually in the form of certain prayers which he is to say, or of certain actions which he is to perform, such as visits to a church, the Stations of the Cross, etc. Alms deeds, fasting, and prayer are the chief means of satisfaction, but other penitential works may also be enjoined.

The quality and extent of the penance is determined by the confessor [priest] according to the nature of the sins revealed, the special circumstances of the penitent, his liability to relapse, and the need of eradicating evil habits. Sometimes the penance is such that it may be performed at once; in other cases it may require a more or less considerable period, as, e.g., where it is prescribed for each day during a week or a month. But even then the penitent may receive another sacrament (e.g., Holy Communion) immediately after confession, since absolution restores him to the state of grace. He is nevertheless under obligation to continue the performance of his penance until it is completed."5

Biblical Christianity recognizes that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, apart from works. Scripture says that salvation is secure because of Christ:

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him (John 10:25-31).

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:29-39). Scripture says that believers are saved by a righteousness that is not their own:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin" (Romans 4:1-8).

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).

...and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith (Philippians 3:9).

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21). Scripture says that Christ has paid for salvation in full, once for all:

With His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12).

By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:10-23).

So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" [In the original, tetelestai, "It is paid in full!"] And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit" (John 19:30). Scripture says that reliance upon the Mass and confession to an earthly priest-judge is unnecessary, and an offense to Christ:

They crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:6).

Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29).

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).

I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," and You forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:5).

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Next - Mediators: Many vs. One


1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Justification" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at See also Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books, 1974), 261-263.

2. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Sanctifying Grace" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at See also Ott, 250-252.

3. Ott, 262.

4. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Sanctifying Grace." See also Ott, 5-6, 253-254, 272-291.

5. The Catholic Encyclopedia, entry on "Penance" as viewed on December 10, 2009 at


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