Reformation: Can the Roman Catholic Gospel Get You into Heaven? by Eric Davis

Tomorrow marks one of the most important dates in church history. October 31st commemorates that titanic movement of God whereby he unleashed the Bible and gospel of Jesus Christ upon a world in which they had been largely hidden under Roman Catholicism for centuries. This year is the 502nd anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Among other things, the Reformation occurred as people discovered the true way of salvation from the Scriptures. The Bible had been obscured for centuries in Latin. Most then could not read Latin, thus, few understood the free gift of God’s salvation to sinners in Jesus Christ. But that changed quickly. As the Bible was translated, preached, and unleashed, so was the power of God. Contrary to Roman Catholicism, Protestants observed that salvation is a gift granted by faith alone in Christ alone through grace alone.

This Reformation season, let’s look objectively at a critical question. Can anyone get to heaven through the Roman Catholic gospel? If so, how? If not, why not?

We will allow for Roman Catholic doctrine to speak for itself:

From the Council of Trent, 6th session, Canon 30:

If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporary punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.

In other words, you are damned if you believe that God’s grace in justification renders a repentant sinner righteous, with no remaining punishment or condemnation.

Canon 12 on Justification from Trent reads similarly:

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

In other words, you are damned if you believe that trusting alone in God’s mercy through Jesus Christ puts a sinner in right standing with God.

One more in case we are not convinced:

If anyone says that the justice [or justification] received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema (Council of Trent, 24).

Put another way, if you believe that, by faith alone in Christ alone, all of your sin—past, present, future—is completely forgiven, with no guilt or punishment from God remaining, with the result that you stand satisfactorily righteous before God, then you are damned. And if you believe that works are not efficacious towards justification, you are damned.

However, the gospel of God’s word teaches the very thing that Rome condemns:

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).

[A]nd may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil. 3:9).

Our gracious God could not be more clear: justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. Right standing with God is a gift of his grace granted by means of faith alone. Standing permanently and perfectly righteous before God is a gift granted in God’s grace on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Hallelujah and glory to God! In our natural state, we stand before God as moral mendicants, filthy in sin, condemned, and justly heading to an eternity of conscious torment (Rom. 3:10-12, Gal. 3:10). More than committing sin, our nature is sin (Eph. 2:1-3). Thus, we can no more do meritorious good works than a snake can jump to the moon (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 3:11). However, God the Father was moved by his own glory to shower wretches with mercy (Eph. 1:3-6). Consequently, he sent his impeccable Son; his only Son to rescue us (John 3:16-17). God the Son took on human nature to himself. Being truly God and truly man, he lived in the weakness of human flesh, facing every temptation as us (Phil. 2:6-7, Heb. 4:15). However, in the glory of his Person, he responded to unholiness with holiness; to hate with love; to frustration with compassion; to temptation with submission; to the cross with obedience (Phil. 2:8, Heb. 4:15); and to death with victory (1 Cor. 15:4). At the cross, God the Father unleashed the full, unhindered fury of his just wrath due us (Matt. 27:46, 1 Pet. 2:24, 1 John 4:10). Every drop of punishment was quenched in Christ at the cross for all who put faith in him alone. Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Guilt is remitted. There remains no temporary punishment; no purgatory; no outstanding divine penalty for any sin ever (Rom. 8:1). All who simply cast their confidence and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone are forgiven of all sin and instantaneously declared in permanent and unchanging right standing with God. That is the good news of God’s gospel.

Tragically, however, Rome’s gospel could not be more different than God’s. The Roman Catholic gospel is the photo-negative of the true gospel. What does God say about such things?

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:8-9)

Rome’s requirement of works for justification is of catastrophic consequences. The difference between the gospel of Christ and that of Roman Catholicism is eternal. Rome pronounces a curse on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture pronounces a curse on any gospel that differs from that of the Bible. Therefore, the Roman Catholic gospel cannot save anyone. No one can be made right with God through Rome’s gospel. Not one individual will be reconciled to God by trusting in Rome’s way of salvation. Because it teaches a gospel by faith plus works, nobody will ever get to heaven by embracing the Roman Catholic gospel (“…a man is not justified by the works if the law…”, Gal. 2:16). Today, at this moment, there is not one person in heaven due to having embraced Rome’s gospel, and there never will be. This is not to say that no person who professed to be Roman Catholic will be in heaven. If they read the Bible and embraced the biblical gospel, they would. However, such an individual’s entrance into heaven would be in spite of Rome’s blasphemous gospel, not because of it.

Much more could be said regarding the erroneous nature of Rome’s gospel. The word “gospel” means “good news.” But in Rome’s case, it’s only bad news; bad news of a damning, unsavable system emptied of grace. Thus, Rome must repent of her heretical gospel and embrace the biblical gospel of God’s grace in justification attained by faith alone in Christ alone. This Reformation season, let us pray to that end.

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