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My faith has found a resting place,

Witnessing to Roman Catholics


By Massimo Lorenzini


The Biblical and Historical Precedent to Defend the Gospel

Early on in the history of the Christian Church, the Apostle Paul had to contend with those who would alter the Christian message. He boldly defended that there is only one way to understand the gospel and anyone who perverted it was an enemy of Christ and was to be vigilantly opposed. An example of this is how Paul defended the gospel message against the legalistic distortions of the Judaizers in the letter to the Galatians:


Gal 1:6-9,


6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.[1]


Gal 2:16-21,


16 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. 17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."


Why was there a Reformation in the 16th century? What was the driving force behind it? People not wanting to be oppressed anymore? NO! People wanted to be free from tyranny? NO! The driving force behind the Reformation was a wholehearted commitment to the Word of God as fully authoritative and the doctrine of salvation by faith alone as the only hope.


Many think Rome has changed and is now more biblical no need exists to evangelize Catholics. Not so. Her battle cry is “semper eadem!” – always the same. The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) may make some superficial changes now and then, but the basic dogmas of the Church can never change.


For some, it may seem unnecessary to learn about witnessing to Roman Catholics because they are thought of as Christians—even the “original” Christians out of which all the other groups were spawned.


Many today are accepting Roman Catholics as fellow believers. Many are also being converted to Catholicism from Protestantism. We need to know what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and evaluate it in light of God’s Word. By doing so, we will discover that Roman Catholics who believe what their Church teaches are not biblical Christians and are not saved. It is our love for Catholics that should cause us to seek to evangelize them.


In what follows, we will examine the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in light of the Bible in three areas: (1.) Roman Catholic theology in general; (2.) The Roman Catholic view of teaching authority and salvation in particular as the two most important issues with Roman Catholicism; and (3.) practical suggestions on how to witness to Roman Catholic people.


Roman Catholic Theology


The Doctrine of God

·        One Supreme Being

·        Creator of all things

·        Self-sufficient

·        Eternal

·        Trinitarian


The Doctrine of Scripture

·        OT & NT, including Apocrypha, are inspired by God and authoritative as the Word of God.

·        The Church is considered the source of Scripture and therefore has authority over Scripture and is the only authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

·        Sacred Tradition is considered an authoritative revelation equal to the Scriptures. Sacred Tradition is:

o       Oral Tradition handed down from the Apostles

o       Found in the doctrine and practice of the church.


The Doctrine of Sin

·        Two kinds of sin: Mortal Sin & Venial Sin


Mortal Sin

·        More serious sins

·        Done with sufficient reflection and full consent

·        Results in total alienation from God

·        Destroys sanctifying grace and makes one subject to everlasting punishment in Hell


Venial Sin

·        Less serious sins (“daily sins”)

·        Insufficient reflection and consent

·        Does not destroy sanctifying grace (makes one sick, but the life principle is still within the person to get “healed”)


The Doctrine of the Church

·        “Catholic” means universal

·        Catholics view the universal church as a physical, visible organization.

·        “Roman Catholic” indicates their belief that the Church of Rome with its Bishop (the Pope) is the central authority of the church universal (“catholic”).

·        One cannot legitimately be part of the universal church without being in communion with the Roman Church.


The 7 Sacraments of the Catholic Church

·        The sacraments are: “The instruments God uses in causing in us or communicating to us the graces of salvation” (Thomas Aquinas).

·        The sacraments are both a symbol and a reality.

·        “What they indicate, they also give. They actually accomplish what they signify. The Eucharist is nourishment through Jesus’ body” (A New Catechism).

o       Baptism is re-birth.

o       What is indicated symbolically is really given.

o       ex opera operato” means “by the working of the works.” The works themselves are efficacious to impart what they signify.


1. The Sacrament of Baptism

·        Baptism removes original sin and actual sin.

·        Imparts grace to the recipient and makes one a regenerated Christian.

o       The Catechism of the Catholic Church (hereafter, CCC) teaches the following on role of Baptism in regeneration: “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: ‘Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word’ ”(CCC, paragraph 1213).


2. The Sacrament of Confirmation

·        Confirmation imparts the Holy Spirit to the recipient.

o       “Through the sacrament of confirmation, those who have been born anew in baptism receive the inexpressible Gift, the Holy Spirit himself, by which ‘they are endowed . . . with special strength’ ” (The Catholic Encyclopedia).


3. The Sacrament of the Eucharist

·        An unbloody sacrifice (mass)

·        “Wherein the body and blood of Christ, the same offering that took place on the cross at the crucifixion of Christ, becomes the sacrifice of the Church because Christ unites the Church’s offering to His own” (The Catholic Encyclopedia).

·        Transubstantiation

o       “A singular and wondrous conversion of the total substance of bread into the body and the total substance of wine into the blood of Christ, the external appearances only remaining unchanged” (The Council of Trent).

o       “The Church is so closely united with Jesus Christ . . . that Paul can call it his body, with all the inward and outward endowments which it has received from Jesus. And to remain the body of Christ and become so more truly, it eats and drinks every day, inwardly and outwardly, through our mouths and through our hearts, the Eucharist, the body of Jesus” (A New Catechism).

·        Refutation of Transubstantiation

o       The elements of the Lord’s Supper only symbolize the body and blood of Jesus

o       It is a memorial

·        “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).

·        Matt 26:26-28; John 6:35 were intended to be understood symbolically, not literally.

·        Matt 18:20; Acts 1:11

·        Transubstantiation contradicts the pattern found in biblical miracles.

o       The wedding feast in Cana (John 2:9-10). The water literally became wine.

·        Transubstantiation is not verifiable

o       In can be neither confirmed nor disproved by the use of the senses.


4. The Sacrament of Penance

·        Consists of remorse and sorrow for sin.

·        Confession of sins to a priest.

·        Priest grants absolution (to remove the guilt and eternal punishment) and prescribes works of penance (to mitigate the temporal punishment).

·        Works of penance provide a “satisfaction” for sin which removes the penalty.


The Doctrine of Indulgences

·        This is closely linked to the sacrament of penance.

·        “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints” (CCC, 1471).

·        Partial and plenary (full) indulgences.

·        There exists a “treasury of merit” which can be dispensed through indulgences to those living and those in purgatory for the remission of temporal punishment.

·        A 16th century Catholic monk named John Tetzel angered Martin Luther with his crass sale of indulgences which amounted to purchasing of salvation. He is quoted as saying,

o       “Come, and I will give you letters furnished with the seal by which the sins, even those you may have a mind to commit hereafter, shall be all forgiven you. I would not exchange my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven; for I have saved more souls by my indulgences, than the Apostle by his discourses. Indulgences not only save the living, but they save the dead too. Priest, noble, merchant, woman, young girl, young man, hearken to your parents and your friends who are dead, and who cry to you from the bottom of the abyss, ‘We are enduring tortures! A small alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not!’ The very instant the piece of money chinks at the bottom of the strong box, the soul is delivered out of purgatory, and flies up to heaven.”

·        Indulgences continue today.

·        For example, Pope John Paul II granted a plenary indulgence (full pardon) to all who did certain pious acts or pilgrimages during the Jubilee year of 2000.

o       With the indulgence, the repentant sinner receives a remission of the temporal punishment due for the sins already forgiven as regards the fault” (Pope John Paul II).

·        According to the Vatican’s web site (www.vatican.va), Pope John Paul II issued the following as ways to obtain a plenary indulgence. With regard to the required conditions, the faithful can gain the Jubilee indulgence:

o       (1) In Rome, if they make a pious pilgrimage to one of the Patriarchal Basilicas, namely, the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour at the Lateran, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and the Basilica of Saint Paul on the Ostian Way, and there take part devoutly in Holy Mass or another liturgical celebration such as Lauds or Vespers, or some pious exercise (e.g., the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, the recitation of the Akathistos Hymn in honour of the Mother of God); furthermore, if they visit, as a group or individually, one of the four Patriarchal Basilicas and there spend some time in Eucharistic adoration and pious mediations, ending with the “Our Father”, the profession of faith in any approved form, and prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. To the four Patriarchal Basilicas are added, on this special occasion of the Great Jubilee, the following further places, under the same conditions: the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Campo Verano, the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love, and the Christian Catacombs.(25)

o       (2) In the Holy Land, if, keeping the same conditions, they visit the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem or the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

o       (3) In other ecclesiastical territories, if they make a sacred pilgrimage to the Cathedral Church or to other Churches or places designated by the Ordinary, and there assist devoutly at a liturgical celebration or other pious exercise, such as those mentioned above for the City of Rome; in addition, if they visit, in a group or individually, the Cathedral Church or a Shrine designated by the Ordinary, and there spend some time in pious meditation, ending with the “Our Father”, the profession of faith in any approved form, and prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

o       (4) In any place, if they visit for a suitable time their brothers and sisters in need or in difficulty (the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly living alone, the handicapped, etc.), as if making a pilgrimage to Christ present in them (cf. Mt 25:34-36), and fulfilling the usual spiritual and sacramental conditions and saying the usual prayers. The faithful will certainly wish to repeat these visits throughout the Holy Year, since on each occasion they can gain the plenary indulgence, although obviously not more than once a day.

·        “The plenary indulgence of the Jubilee can also be gained through actions which express in a practical and generous way the penitential spirit which is, as it were, the heart of the Jubilee. This would include abstaining for at least one whole day from unnecessary consumption (e.g., from smoking or alcohol, or fasting or practising abstinence according to the general rules of the Church and the norms laid down by the Bishops' Conferences) and donating a proportionate sum of money to the poor; supporting by a significant contribution works of a religious or social nature (especially for the benefit of abandoned children, young people in trouble, the elderly in need, foreigners in various countries seeking better living conditions); devoting a suitable portion of personal free time to activities benefitting the community, or other similar forms of personal sacrifice.”


5. The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick (formerly known as Last Rites or Extreme Unction)

·        Given only by priests and bishops to those who are in danger of death because of illness or old age.


6. The Sacrament of Holy Orders

·        Bishops, priests, and deacons receive this sacrament for power for service.


7. The Sacrament of Marriage

·        Confers grace upon married people to love their spouses with the love with which Christ loved His Church (CCC, 1661).

·        Remarriage by a divorced Catholic is not allowed if the original spouse is alive (CCC, 1665).

·        The Church frequently grants annulments in which case remarriage is allowed.


The Doctrine of Salvation

·        Salvation is mediated through the Church:

o       “God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledge Him in truth and serve Him in holiness” (Instructions in the Catholic Faith).

·        Salvation is a process.

·        Salvation begins at baptism and only ends when one gets to Heaven.

·        No assurance of final salvation.


The Doctrine of Apostolic Succession

·        An unbroken chain of Bishops and Popes from Peter and the original twelve apostles to the present Pope and bishops.

·        They have the power of binding and loosing (Matt 16:19).

o       You want forgiveness? You want truth? You go to the Pope and His bishops.


The Doctrine of Mary

·        Immaculate conception (Born without original sin)

·        Bodily assumption

o       At the end of her days on earth, she was taken up, body and soul to Heaven (CCC, 975).

·        Perpetual virginity

o       She had no other children after Jesus because she remained a virgin for the rest of her life.

·        She is called “Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church” (CCC, 975).

·        “the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (CCC, 969).

o       For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5).

·        She is the “Queen of Heaven,” the “Mother of God.”

o       “…exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things…” (CCC, 996).

·        “At the command of Mary all obey, even God. She is omnipotent, for the queen, according to all laws, enjoys the same privileges as the king; and since the son’s power also belongs to the mother, this Mother is made omnipotent by an omnipotent Son. Therefore, . . . God has put the whole Church not only under the patronage, but even under the power and authority, of Mary” (The Glories of Mary [abridged version] by St. Alfonsus Liguori, p. 114.)

·        Three kinds of worship: (1) Latria – worship given to God alone; (2) Dulia – a secondary kind of veneration given to saints and angels; and, (3) Hyperdulia – a higher kind of veneration given to the Virgin Mary.

·        So technically, they don’t officially teach worship of Mary, but in practice this happens quite often. The slogan, “through Mary to Christ” doesn’t change the fact that for many the devotion stops with Mary.

·        Mary is given hyper-dulia worship. The following are actual prayers to Mary to illustrate the adoration or hyper-dulia worship given to Mary:

o       “O most pure heart of Mary, full of goodness, show your love towards us. Let the flame of your heart, O Mary, descend on all people. We love you immensely. Impress on our hearts true love so that we may long for you.


O Mary, gentle and humble of heart, remember us when we sin. You know that all people sin. Grant that through your most pure and motherly heart, we may be healed from every spiritual sickness. Grant that we may always experience the goodness of your motherly heart, and that through the flame of your heart we may be converted. Amen” (Taught by the Blessed Mother to Jelena Vasilj in Medurgorje on 18 November 1983).


o       “O Virgin Mary, My Mother. I give to your Immaculate Heart, my body and my soul, my thoughts and my actions.

I want to be what you want me to be, and do just what you want me to do.

I am not afraid because you are always with me. Help me to love your Son Jesus, with all my heart and above all things.

Take my hand in yours so I can always be with you” (A Child’s Prayer to the Immaculate Heart).


o       “Mary, Most Holy and Immaculate Mother of God, of Jesus, our Victim-High Priest, True Prophet, and Sovereign King, I come to you as the Mediatrix of All Grace, for that is truly what you are. O Fountain of all Grace! O Fairest of Roses! Most Pure Spring! Unsullied Channel of all of God's Grace! Receive me, Most Holy Mother! Present me and my every need to the Most Holy Trinity! That having been made pure and holy in His Sight through your hands, they may return to me, through you, as graces and blessing. I give and consecrate myself to you, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace, that Jesus, Our One True Mediator, Who is the King of All Nations, may Reign in every heart. Amen” (from a RCC web site).


·        The biblical Mary would be grieved to no end to see people “venerating” or praying to her. The only command she ever gave in the Bible is, “Whatever he says to you, do it (John 2:5).”


·        S. E. Anderson wrote:

“Roman priests call Mary the ‘mother of God’, a name impossible, illogical and unscriptural. It is impossible, for God can have no mother. He is eternal and without beginning while Mary was born and died within a few short years. It is illogical, for God does not require a mother for His existence. Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ (John 8:58). IT is unscriptural, for the Bible gives Mary no such contradictory name. Mary was the honoured mother of the human body of Jesus – no more – as every Catholic must admit if he wishes to be reasonable and Scriptural. The divine nature of Christ existed from eternity past, long before Mary was born. Jesus never called her ‘mother’; He called her ‘woman’ ” (From the booklet “Is Rome the True Church?”).

·        The correct statement of the person of Christ in this regard is: “As His human nature had no father, so His divine nature had no mother” (Loraine Boettner in Roman Catholicism, p. 135.)


Two Crucial Issues Regarding Catholic Theology:

Authority and Salvation


The Protestant View of Authority: Sola Scriptura

In the words of reformer Martin Luther, the doctrine of sola Scriptura means that “what is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed.” Roman Catholicism flatly rejects this principle, adding a host of traditions and Church teachings and declaring them binding on all true believers—with the threat of eternal damnation to those who hold contradictory opinions.


John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Let this be a firm principle: No other word is to be held as the Word of God, and given place as such in the church, than what is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles; and the only authorized way of teaching in the church is by the prescription and standard of his Word.”


The living Word of God says:

·        15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:15-17).


Luther’s Rediscovery of Scripture. John Piper made the following observations about Martin Luther’s view of Scripture:


One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation -especially of Martin Luther- was that the Word of God comes to us in a form of a Book. In other words Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a Book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome. The Word of God comes to us in a Book. That rediscovery shaped Luther and the Reformation.


One of Luther's arch-opponents in the Roman Church, Sylvester Prierias, wrote in response to Luther's 95 theses: "He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic." In other words, the Church and the pope are the authoritative deposit of salvation and the Word of God; and the Book is derivative and secondary.


In 1539, commenting on Psalm 119, Luther wrote, "In this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night constantly-but about nothing else than God's Word and Commandments. For God wants to give you His Spirit only through the external Word." This phrase is extremely important. The "external Word" is the Book. And the saving, sanctifying, illuminating Spirit of God, he says, comes to us through this "external Word."


Luther calls it the "external Word" to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a Book. Neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is "external," like God. You can take or leave it. But you can't make it other than what it is. It is a book with fixed letters and words and sentences.


And Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, "Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture." The Word of God that saves and sanctifies, from generation to generation, is preserved in a Book. And therefore at the heart of every pastor's work is book-work. Call it reading, meditation, reflection, pondering, study, exegesis, exposition or whatever you will-a large and central part of a Christian pastor’s ministry is to wrestle God's meaning from a Book, and proclaim it in the power of the Holy Spirit.


The Catholic View of Authority

In Roman Catholicism, “the Word of God” encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church’s authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope’s infallible ex cathedra (lit., “from the chair”) pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.


The Bible, Tradition, and the Magisterium

·        The Bible and Tradition are equal:

o       “As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."[CCC, 82]

o       See Mark 7:6-9b regarding tradition.

o       Some of the traditions:





Proclamation that infant baptism regenerates the soul.


The Mass instituted as re-sacrifice of Jesus for the remission of sin


Declaration that sin need to be purged, established by Pope Gregory I


Prayers directed to Mary, dead saints, and angels.


Worship of cross, images, and relics authorized.


Canonization of dead people as saints initiated by Pope John XV.


Attendance at Mass made mandatory under the penalty of mortal sin.


Celibacy of priesthood, decreed by Pope Gregory VII.


Rosary, repetitious praying with beads, invented by Peter the Hermit.


The Inquisitions, instituted by the Council of Verona.


The sale of Indulgences established to reduce time in Purgatory.


Transubstantiation, proclaimed by Pope Innocent III.


Confession of sin to priests, instituted by Pope Innocent III.


Bible placed on Index of Forbidden Books in Toulouse.


Purgatory elevated from doctrine to dogma by Council of Florence.


Tradition claimed equal in authority with the Bible by the Council of Trent.


Apocryphal Books declared canon by Council of Trent.


Immaculate Conception of Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX.


Infallibility of the Pope, proclaimed by Vatican Council.


Virgin Mary proclaimed co-redeemer with Jesus by Pope Benedict XV.


Assumption of Virgin Mary into heaven, proclaimed by Pope Pius XII.


·        The Magisterium is the authoritative interpreter of all revelation whether in the Bible or in tradition:

o       “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him” (CCC, 100).

o       Roman Catholic author John O’Brien in The Faith of Millions wrote: “Far from being hostile to the Bible, the Catholic Church is its true mother. She determined which are the books of religion from the many writings circulated as inspired in the early Christian ages and assembled them all within the covers of a single book…She is not the child of the Bible, as many non-Catholics imagine, but its mother. She derives neither her existence nor her teaching authority from the New Testament.”

o       In an earlier booklet entitled “Finding Christ’s Church,” O’Brien wrote: “Great as is our reverence for the Bible, reason and experience compel us to say that it alone is not a competent nor a safe guide as to what we are to believe.”


·        The Bible, Tradition, and the Magisterium are interconnected:

o       “It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (CCC, 95).


The Protestant View of Salvation (Justification)

According to Roman Catholicism, justification is a process in which God’s grace is poured forth into the sinner’s heart, making that person progressively more righteous. During this process, it is the sinner’s responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works. The means by which justification is initially obtained is not faith, but the sacrament of baptism. Furthermore, justification is forfeited whenever the believer commits a mortal sin, such as hatred or adultery. In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then, works are necessary both to begin and to continue the process of justification.

John MacArthur summarized the central aspects of the doctrine of justification as follows:


The error in the Catholic Church’s position on justification may be summed up in four biblical arguments. First, Scripture presents justification as instantaneous, not gradual. Contrasting the proud Pharisee with the broken, repentant tax-gatherer who smote his breast and prayed humbly for divine mercy, Jesus said that the tax-gatherer “went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14). His justification was instantaneous, complete before he performed any work, based solely on his repentant faith. Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Eternal life is the present possession of all who believe—and by definition eternal life cannot be lost. The one who believes immediately passes from spiritual death to eternal life, because that person is instantaneously justified (see Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1).

Second, justification means the sinner is declared righteous, not actually made righteous. This goes hand in hand with the fact that justification is instantaneous. There is no process to be performed—justification is purely a forensic reality, a declaration God makes about the sinner. Justification takes place in the court of God, not in the soul of the sinner. It is an objective fact, not a subjective phenomenon, and it changes the sinner’s status, not his nature. Justification is an immediate decree, a divine “not guilty” verdict on behalf of the believing sinner in which God declares him to be righteous in His sight.

Third, the Bible teaches that justification means righteousness is imputed, not infused. Righteousness is “reckoned,” or credited to the account of those who believe (Rom. 4:3–25). They stand justified before God not because of their own righteousness (Rom. 3:10), but because of a perfect righteousness outside themselves that is reckoned to them by faith (Phil. 3:9). Where does that perfect righteousness come from? It is God’s own righteousness (Rom 10:3), and it is the believer’s in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ’s own perfect righteousness is credited to the believer’s personal account (Rom. 5:17, 19), just as the full guilt of the believer’s sin was imputed to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). The only merit God accepts for salvation is that of Jesus Christ; nothing man can ever do could earn God’s favor or add anything to the merit of Christ.

Fourth and finally, Scripture clearly teaches that man is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works. According to the Apostle Paul, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). Elsewhere Paul testifies, “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, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9, emphasis added; see Acts 16:31 and Rom. 4:3–6). In fact, it is clearly taught throughout Scripture that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom. 3:28; see Gal. 2:16; Rom. 9:31–32; 10:3).

In contrast, Roman Catholicism places an undue stress on human works. Catholic doctrine denies that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) without first making them godly. Good works therefore become the ground of justification. As thousands of former Catholics will testify, Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy obscure the essential truth that the believer is saved by grace through faith and not by his own works (Eph. 2:8-9). In a simple sense, Catholics genuinely believe they are saved by doing good, confessing sin, and observing ceremonies.

Adding works to faith as the grounds of justification is precisely the teaching that Paul condemned as “a different gospel” (see 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6). It nullifies the grace of God, for if meritorious righteousness can be earned through the sacraments, “then Christ died needlessly” (Gal. 2:21). Any system that mingles works with grace, then, is “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6), a distorted message that is anathematized (Gal. 1:9), not by a council of medieval bishops, but by the very Word of God that cannot be broken. In fact, it does not overstate the case to say that the Roman Catholic view on justification sets it apart as a wholly different religion than the true Christian faith, for it is antithetical to the simple gospel of grace.


The Catholic View of Salvation

The RCC has an unbiblical understanding of justification. This can be seen in the following quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph numbers in parentheses), which assert (1) that justification is initially granted to an individual through baptism; (2) that justification is maintained through the sacraments of the church; and (3) that justification ultimately depends on the obedience of man by which he merits eternal life.

·        “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God…” (section 405).

·        “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of forgiveness of sins because it unites us with Christ…” (977).

·        “It is through the sacrament of Penance that the baptized can be reconciled with God and with the Church…. This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn” (980).

·        “In the forgiveness of sins, both priests and sacraments are instruments which our Lord Jesus Christ…wills to use in order to efface our sins and give us the grace of justification” (987).

·        “Celebrated worthily in faith, the sacraments confer the grace that they signify. They are efficacious because in them Christ himself is at work: it is he who baptizes, he who acts in his sacraments in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies” (1127).

·        “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation” (1129).

·        “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation…. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit.’ God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments” (1257).

·        “By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin” (1263).

·        “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him,’ and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1265).

·        “Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ” (1272).

·        “Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace’” (1446).

·        “One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience” (1493).

·        “With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us” (1991).

·        “Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith” (1992).

·        “By giving birth to the ‘inner man,’ justification entails the sanctification of his whole being: Just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (1995).

·        “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life” (2010; emphasis added).

·        “Justification has been merited for us by the Person of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us” (2020).


According to the RCC, Christ’s death on the cross purchased vast spiritual riches. Christ is said to have given the Church the sacraments as the way to have access to these riches of grace. The sacraments are channels by which the grace of God flows to the individual.


The merits of Christ’s atonement for sin are primarily applied in baptism to forgive original sin and any sins committed prior to baptism. Baptism is also equated with regeneration and is the instrumental cause of justification. Baptism is equated with the “sacrament of faith.” Protestants believe that faith alone (not baptism) is the instrumental cause of justification.


The RCC denies justification by faith alone:


“If anyone saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).


For the RCC, justification is conditional. Sins committed after baptism are not covered by the initial justification at baptism. Mortal sins committed after baptism cause a person to fall from a state of grace and become liable to eternal punishment in hell. The sacrament of confession can remove the guilt of those sins, but not the temporal punishment for them. Therefore penance is required to remove the temporal punishment for sin. This is done through making satisfaction for sin by certain acts of penance which expiate the punishments required by God (e.g., suffering, tears, prayers, pilgrimages, acts of charity, etc.). Any sins that are not expiated in this way are then expiated through suffering in purgatory.


The Council of Trent said it this way:


“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification [i.e., baptism] the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 30).


Salvation comes down to something earned by good works:


“It is a universally accepted dogma of the Catholic Church that man, in union with the grace of the Holy Spirit must merit heaven by his good works. These works are meritorious only when they are performed in the state of grace and with a good intention . . . . We have shown that according to Holy Scripture the Christian can actually merit heaven for himself by his good works” (Matthias Premm, Dogmatic Theology for the Laity (Rockford: TAN Book Publishers), 262-63.


Salvation is the reward for a life of good works:


“In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere ‘to the end’ and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ” (CCC, 1821).


We believe the Bible, in Eph 2:8-10 and elsewhere, teaches that good works are the result of justification but do not cause it. This too is condemned in the Council of Trent (Canon 24).


Catholicism Teaches

Scripture Teaches

Justification is God's act of making man righteous by good works and obedience

Justification is God's act of declaring a sinner righteous by faith

Infused sanctifying grace through the sacraments makes the believer acceptable to God

Christ's imputed righteousness makes the believer acceptable to God

Justification is achieved by faith plus good works

Justification is received by faith alone

Justification is granted the sinner when he is actually made just

Justification enables God to see the sinner as if he were just

Justification can be increased by receiving more sacraments

Justification cannot increase since the ground is the perfect rightousness of Christ

Justification is affected by sin

Justification is a permanent verdict and is not affected by sin

Final justification is not determined until death

Justification comes at the moment of faith in Jesus Christ

The ground of justification is the righteousness of the person

The ground of justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ

Sanctification and justification are similar

Justification precedes sanctification

Emphasis is on the sacraments

Emphasis is on God's verdict


The Doctrine and Practice of the Catholic Mass

On the offering of the Eucharist in the mass as being a real sacrifice of Christ:


John O’Brien has written this in his book The Faith of Millions:


“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration at the mass, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from his throne, and places him upon our altar to be offered up again as the victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.


“Indeed, it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man—not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows His head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.


“Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest, who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-regent of Christ on earth. He continues the essential ministry of Christ; he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ; he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ; and he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For a priest is and should be another Christ.”


Does that bring a verse to mind? If anybody comes and preaches another Christ, let him be anathema (Gal 1:8).


Is the Catholic Mass Biblical?

The Passover:

·        1500 before Jesus

·        Descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob we to Egypt and in 400 years grew to nearly 3 million.

·        They were subjected to slavery to prevent the possibility of revolt.

·        God remembered them and sent Moses to deliver them.

·        The tenth plague—the death of the firstborn.

·        Angel of Death would “pass over” the homes that had the blood on the doorposts (Exod 12:21-23).

·        This deliverance was to be commemorated each year in the Feast of Passover (Exod 12:14, 25-27).

·        Even the food had significance—the lamb recalled how God’s judgment was diverted by the blood of the lamb; the bitter herbs spoke of the bitterness of slavery; the unleavened bread was called the bread of affliction (Deut 16:3).

·        This is the meal Jesus celebrated with His disciples in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion.


The Lord’s Supper:

·        Freedom from bondage was the theme of the Passover meal as they recalled the slavery of Israel in Egypt.

·        Jesus used the bread and the wine to speak of another deliverance—not from slavery in Egypt from the bondage of sin.

·        This freedom would come about by the sacrifice of a Lamb, the Lamb of God whose death would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

·        Read Mark 14:22-25.

·        As succeeding generations of Israelites commemorated their freedom by observing Passover, so Christians in succeeding generations would recall their spiritual freedom by commemorating the death of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.

·        The Passover meal looked back…in the same way the Lord’s Supper looks back to when our Passover Lamb shed His blood and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.


The Catholic Mass:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph numbers in bold) says the following about the Mass:

·        1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch [lit., Passover]."

·        1357 We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice.

·        1362 The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial.

·        1364 In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out."

·        1365 Because it is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice.

·        1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross,

·        1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory."

·        1371 The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who "have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified," so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ:

·        1393 Holy Communion separates us from sin. The body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion is "given up for us," and the blood we drink "shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins." For this reason the Eucharist cannot unite us to Christ without at the same time cleansing us from past sins and preserving us from future sins:

·        Council of Trent: “If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God…let him be anathema (Canon 1).

·        Council of Trent: “In anyone says that by those words “Don this for a commemoration of me,” Christ did not institute the Apostles priests, or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer his own body and blood, let him be anathema (Canon 2).

·        Council of Trent: “If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is one only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one, let him be anathema (Canon 3).



·        The RCC says the Mass is a real sacrifice that is offered daily.

·        The RCC says the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice that renders satisfaction to the divine justice of God for sin.


What the Bible Teaches About Jesus Sacrifice

Jesus was offered once for all time. Jesus died once (hapax) for sins. See John 19:30; Heb 7:26-28; 9:12, 24-28; 10:10-18; Gal 3:10-13.


With Jesus’ “once for all” sacrifice completed we have no need of on-going priesthood to offer sacrifices for sins.


The concept of a priesthood offering daily sacrifices belongs to the Old Covenant shadows and types that looked forward to the one sacrifice that Christ would make.


The Mass distorts Christ’s intention of a commemoration of His sacrificial death and resurrection. Masses can be said for a variety of situations as a way to continue storing up favor with God to hopefully be accepted by Him one day.


What About Transubstantiation?

·        Read Matt 26:26-29 (The saw Jesus there physically, not in the bread. He called the wine “the fruit of the vine” not His blood.

·        The bread and wine represent the body and blood much like a flag represents the nation.

·        Jesus promised His presence with His disciples by the Holy Spirit, not by the bread and wine (John 14:16-18).

·        Jesus indwells His people, nothing else (John 14:23).

·        The disciples had no reason to believe Jesus had performed a miracle of transubstantiation at the Last Supper and give no indication that they had just witness a miracle.

·        When Jesus turned water into wine, it looked, smelled, and tasted like wine. When Jesus healed lepers, they were physically and visibly changed. No such physical change occurs with transubstantiation. There is no evidence to believe in transubstantiation.


How to Witness to Roman Catholics


It’s important to be conscientious in how we approach Roman Catholics with the gospel. We must not take for granted common knowledge of biblical concepts and common definitions for biblical words and ideas.


For example, consider the following examples of differences of terms.



RCC Teaching

Evangelical Doctrine

Born Again

Water Baptism

Impartation of a new nature

Receive Christ

At weekly mass

Once at time of conversion

Saved by grace

Meriting favor with God via the sacraments

Reception of unmerited favor via faith in Christ


Believing in God and the RCC teaches

Believing and trusting the Word of God

Good Works

Activities meriting salvation

Activities done in the power of God’s Spirit that result from salvation

Why Christ died

Establish the RCC and the sacraments as the channel to receive grace

Penal substitutionary atonement for all believers

Deity of Christ

Son of Mary, Mother of God

Son of God

Forgiveness of sins

After partaking of all the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, regularly receiving the eucharist, confession and penance) and spending sufficient time in Purgatory

At moment of exercising saving faith in Christ


Gradual infusion of righteousness through participation in the sacraments

Point in time declaration of righteousness


Recognize the Psychological Dependence on the RCC

Challenge a RC on his personal responsibility for the truthfulness of what he puts his faith in, you might get this response: “That’s the Church’s responsibility. If the priest taught me wrong, he’ll go to hell, not me.” From the sacrament of baptism at birth to the sacrament of last rites at death, the RC is dependent upon the priest.


This may be why so many RCs don’t believe many of the doctrines of the RCC, yet are unwilling to look elsewhere for spiritual answers—there is a psychological bondage to the system. They might reason thus: “If this huge world-wide Church of one billion with the Pope and centuries of tradition and teaching cannot solve my spiritual problems, then there is no solution anywhere else.” This thinking produces fear and increases their dependence on the system.


Witnessing Tips

·        Witnessing to Roman Catholics involves a threefold strategy. They must be persuaded to:

o       trust God and His Word over the priest and the Catholic Church;

o       repent from trusting good works for their salvation, and;

o       believe the Gospel, that Jesus Christ did what no one and nothing else could do - save sinners from eternal condemnation.

·        Avoid direct confrontation or blasting the RCC. This will make them defensive.

·        Share your personal testimony of your life without Christ versus your new life in Christ.

·        Clarify the gospel slowly over time. Repeat this without calling for a decision.

·        Use the Bible liberally, but avoid books and tracts that appear to be decidedly Protestant or anti-Catholic (unless you know they are searching for answers and are open to reading literature).

·        Seek to develop a genuine, intimate friendship. They must trust that you care about them.

·        Look for opportunities to share God’s Word. Listen well. Listen for comments like, “You seem to handle your problems well.” Or, “Your children are so well-behaved.” Or, “Sometimes I just wonder why life has to be so hard.”

·        Test the soil by asking probing questions like, “Have you ever wondered about your eternal destiny?” Or, “Are you prepared to stand before God if you died today?” Or, “Do you know what the Bible says about that subject?”

·        Other probing questions you can use are things like, “Did you know the Bible gives us principles for making wise decisions in life?” “Do you know what the Bible says the world will be like after Jesus returns?”

·        Show the person how you have found satisfying answers in the Bible.

·        Show that the Scriptures are sufficient for understanding how to be saved (2 Tim. 3:15).

·        Encourage them to read the Bible. Tell them the Catholic Cathechism says “The Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn the ‘surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,’ by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ’ ” (CCC, 133).

·        They actually get a plenary indulgence if they read with veneration for at least one hour!

·        Stick to the main issues when talking about doctrine—authority of God’s Word and salvation by faith alone.

·        Scriptures on authority—Matt 5:18; Luke 24:44; John 5:45-47; 12:44-50.

·        When the RC person decides the Bible is right and the Church is wrong, a key milestone in the conversion process has been reached.

·        Avoid lengthy discussions about transubstantiation, Purgatory, or Mary, etc.

·        Until the issue of authority is settled, these secondary issues will not be resolved.

·        Discuss the total depravity of man and his desperate need of a Savior.

·        Along with the authority of God’s Word, focus on the complete sufficiency of Christ’s atonement for all sin, past, present, and future. Jesus didn’t just die to open the door or to give you access to the sacraments so you can save yourself, He died to save you completely and directly by grace through faith alone.

·        Recognize the mini-decisions in the conversion process:

o       Has positive attitude toward the Bible.

o       Chooses to investigate the Bible.

o       Chooses to believe the Bible and accept it as final authority.

o       Decides the RCC is wrong in some doctrines.

o       Decides the RCC is not the way or only way to heaven.

o       Understands and accepts the biblical teaching of gospel, particularly the sufficiency of Christ.

o       Understands the concepts of works and grace from a biblical view.

o       Decides to break with the RCC and join a biblical body of believers.



Roman Catholic Theology is clearly a works-based system as opposed the grace-based gospel the Bible teaches. The following contrasts help distinguish the two views of salvation.


Man’s Traditions

God’s Word

Salvation is by attainment

Salvation is by atonement

Salvation is through human merit

Salvation is through divine mercy

Salvation is based on what you DO

Salvation is based on what Christ has DONE!


Do vs. Done

You DO a job until it is DONE.

While you are DOING, it’s not DONE.

When you are DONE, you’re not DOING.

You can’t be DOING and DONE at the same time.

Someday you will die.

Before then, is there anything you must DO to be sure of Heaven?

Man tries to achieve righteousness (Rom 10:3).

Christ has completed righteousness (Rom 10:4)

Jesus said, “It is finished.”

Ask yourself, “Am I DOING or is it DONE?”


Romans 10:1-4:


1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel [and Roman Catholics] is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear witness that they have a zeal for Go, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.


The Amplified Bible reads: “For Christ is the end of the Law . . . as the means of righteousness (right relationship to God) for everyone who trusts in . . . Him.”


As John MacArthur succinctly puts it: the difference between man’s religion and Christianity is the difference between Human Achievement and Divine Accomplishment.


Biblical faith rests on the finished work of Christ and nothing else. This is precisely what is meant by the Reformation principles of the five “sola’s” that on the authority of Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) we are saved by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus) to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria).


My faith has found a resting place,

Not in device or creed;

I trust the ever living One,

His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,

I need no other plea,

It is enough that Jesus died,

And that He died for me.


(Lidie H. Edmunds, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place)


[1] All Scriptures taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

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