Roman Catholics, the Gospel, and Salvation
Questioner to Dr. R. C. Sproul "How do you feel about the Vatican and its doctrine? Can you believe in this and still be saved?"
RC Sproul: "If they are asking 'Can you be a member of the Roman Catholic Church and be saved?' I would say 'without question, yes.' If you understand fully the doctrines of the Vatican and embrace them, then I would say 'No you can't' - because to embrace the teaching of Rome, clearly understood, you would have to repudiate the gospel - particularly the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which contrary to the press releases of the accord with the Lutherans and all of that, the Roman Catholic Church has not changed its teaching from the Council of Trent one bit. The Council of Trent (the middle of the 16th Century) was where they set forth their condemnation of the Reformation view of justification and set forth the expression of their own doctrine of justification.
Questioner: "which is?"
RC Sproul: "well its complicated.. but real quickly, the doctrine of justification in Rome involves several elements. It begins with baptism (sacramentally) where in the sacrament of baptism, justifying grace is infused into the soul of the recipient (its called the righteousness of Christ). It is infused ex opere operato (through the working of the sacrament). That infusion of grace places the infant in a state of grace and two things have to happen: one, they must cooperate with that grace and assent to that grace to be justified, (coopere et assentara are the exact words of Trent) to such a point that righteousness inheres in the soul for them to be saved. Now as long as righteousness inheres in the soul, you are in a state of justification (you are in a state of grace) until or unless you commit mortal sin. Mortal sin is called mortal sin because it kills the grace of justification in your soul. Now here's also what is spelled out at Trent - you can commit mortal sin while you still have authentic faith - so you can have faith and not have justification - so faith alone will never suffice. They are not saying that you will be justified without faith because they require that you have faith and faith performs three functions. Faith is determined at Trent to be the fundamentum (the foundation), the initium (the initiation), and the rodex, the root of justification - so you've got to have faith, but faith alone will not do it. Now if you commit mortal sin, you don't get re-baptized, even though you have lost the grace of justification, you go to the second plank of justification which is the sacrament of penance, defined by Trent as the sacrament for those who have made shipwreck of their souls. In the sacrament of penance you have to make confession, you have to get priestly absolution, and then you have to do your works of satisfaction which are necessary to gain meritum de congruo (or congruous merit) - merit that does not oblige God to redeem you but makes it fitting for God to restore you to a state of grace... and as long as you stay then in that state of grace and you have inherent righteousness (righteousness that is in you) then you will be saved.. but if you die with any impurity on your soul, you go to purgatory (the purging place) until the impurity is removed.
The Protestant and I believe Biblical view is that the moment you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ all that He is and all that He has becomes yours in the sight of God, and that the righteousness by which we are justified is not our inherent righteousness but strictly and solely the righteousness that Luther said is extra nos (outside of us) a iustisium alienum, an alien righteousness, somebody else's righteousness, that's the gospel, that what saves me is not my inherent righteousness but the righteousness of Christ that was performed in His life, not in my life, in His life, and the moment I put my faith and trust in Him, I am redeemed forever. I don't have to worry about purgatory, I don't have to worry about works of congrous merit, I don't have to worry about inherent righteousness - I mean God is going to make me inherently righteous in heaven, but my justification does not rely upon that. It is not the gospel to go tell people, here, the grace of God will help you become inherently righteous, why don't you come and join our church and we will give you the sacrament of grace to help you. That's not the gospel."
Transcript from a Conference Question and Answer Session with Dr. R. C. Sproul - Pittsburgh, 2000