How would you answer this Catholic?

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Puritan Board Junior
Recently, I've been discussing justification by grace through faith alone versus justification by grace through faith and works with a certain Catholic. It all started when he sent me this video on Youtube:


Now, I haven't bothered to watch the whole video throughout, but here and there I can see how passages are twisted and taken out of context. The below quote is the post that I received from this Catholic this morning, and I'd like you to help me answer his objections. Thank you in advance!

Much of what you've said has already been covered in the audio presentation below. I will only focus on some of the passages you brought up regarding "works of the law". In both Romans and Galatians when St. Paul speaks about "works of the law", if you look at the context, he is speaking about the Old Law.

Galatians 2:12-16- "... fearing them which were of the CIRCUMCISION... If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, WHY COMPELLEST THOU THE GENTILES TO LIVE AS DO THE JEWS? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, KNOWING THAT A MAN IS NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."

In Romans 3, the chapter where St. Paul talks about "works of the law", he begins the discussion with a reference to circumcision.

Romans 3:1- "What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what profit is there of circumcision?"

This proves that "works" is not a reference to all human actions, but the works of the Old Law, such as circumcision. That's what St. Paul is talking about. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:8-9, when St. Paul says that "we are saved by faith...not of works", he is not speaking about all human works. He is actually speaking about baptismal regeneration. We can see this when we compare it with a similar passage in Titus 3:5.

Titus 3:5- "NOT BY WORKS of righteousness WHICH WE HAVE DONE, but according to his mercy HE SAVED US, BY THE WASHING OF REGENERATION, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

No work which anyone can do could replace or substitute for water baptism and the grace it grants: the first justification and removal of original sin. This is what St. Paul is saying in these passages, he is not saying that all works are unecessary for salvation. That's why elsewhere and all over the Gospel, we see examples of how man will be justified or condemned according to his works. These passages Protestants ignore while they focus on the above qoutes from St. Paul which they distort and misunderstand. That is why in the epistle of St. Peter, he warns us thus:

2 Peter 3:16- "As also in all his [Paul's] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction."

Edit: I wonder if this thinking has to do with the "New Perspective on Paul" which I'm not at all acquainted with--expect for the little that I've read from Wikipedia.
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Puritan Board Doctor
If you read Calvin on Romans - as I recently did - you will see that some of the arguments of the New Perspective on Paul aren't so new, but are just warmed up from the Reformation period and before.

Such is the argument that "works of the law" just refers to "the Old Law" or "the ceremonial law".

The fact that the Judaisers that the Apostle is dealing with in Galatians thought that you also had to be circumcised in order to be saved showed that they didn't understand that justification was by faith alone, not faith plus circumcision nor anything else, including the keeping of the moral law, which no-one has kept perfectly before or after they had faith in Christ anyway.

Calvin's comment on Romans 3:20
20. Therefore by the works of the law, etc. It is a matter of doubt, even among the learned, what the works of the law mean. Some extend them to the observance of the whole law, while others confine them to the ceremonies alone. The addition of the word law induced Chrysostom, Origenn, and Jerome to assent to the latter opinion; 3 for they thought that there is a peculiar intimation in this appendage, that the expression should not be understood as including all works. But this difficulty may be very easily removed: for seeing works are so far just before God as we seek by them to render to him worship and obedience, in order expressly to take away the power of justifying from all works, he has mentioned those, if there be any, which can possibly justify; for the law hath promises, without which there would be no value in our works before God. You hence see the reason why Paul expressly mentioned the works of the law; for it is by the law that a reward is apportioned to works. Nor was this unknown to the schoolmen, who held it as an approved and common maxim, that works have no intrinsic worthiness, but become meritorious by covenant. And though they were mistaken, inasmuch as they saw not that works are ever polluted with vices, which deprive them of any merit, yet this principle is still true, that the reward for works depends on the free promise of the law. Wisely then and rightly does Paul speak here; for he speaks not of mere works, but distinctly and expressly refers to the keeping of the law, the subject which he is discussing. 4

As to those things which have been adduced by learned men in defense of this opinion, they are weaker than they might have been. They think that by mentioning circumcision, an example is propounded, which belonged to ceremonies only: but why Paul mentioned circumcision, we have already explained; for none swell more with confidence in works than hypocrites, and we know that they glory only in external masks; and then circumcision, according to their view, was a sort of initiation into the righteousness of the law; and hence it seemed to them a work of primary excellence, and indeed the basis as it were of the righteousness of works. -- They also allege what is said in the Epistle to the Galatians, where Paul handles the same subject, and refers to ceremonies only; but that also is not sufficiently strong to support what they wish to defend. It is certain that Paul had a controversy with those who inspired the people with a false confidence in ceremonies; that he might cut of this confidence, he did not confine himself to ceremonies, nor did he speak specifically of what value they were; but he included the whole law, as it is evident from those passages which are derived from that source. Such also was the character of the disputation held at Jerusalem by the disciples.

But we contend, not without reason, that Paul speaks here of the whole law; for we are abundantly supported by the thread of reasoning which he has hitherto followed and continues to follow, and there are many other passages which will not allow us to think otherwise. It is therefore a truth, which deserves to be remembered as the first in importance, -- that by keeping the law no one can attain righteousness. He had before assigned the reason, and he will repeat it presently again, and that is, that all, being to a man guilty of transgression, are condemned for unrighteousness by the law. And these two things -- to be justified by works -- and to be guilty of transgressions, (as we shall show more at large as we proceed,) are wholly inconsistent the one with the other. -- The word flesh, without some particular specification, signifies men; 5 though it seems to convey a meaning somewhat more general, as it is more expressive to say, "All mortals," than to say, "All men," as you may see in Gallius.

For by the law, etc. He reasons from what is of an opposite character, -- that righteousness is not brought to us by the law, because it convinces us of sin and condemns us; for life and death proceed not from the same fountain. And as he reasons from the contrary effect of the law, that it cannot confer righteousness on us, let us know, that the argument does not otherwise hold good, except we hold this as an inseparable and unvarying circumstance, -- that by showing to man his sin, it cuts off the hope of salvation. It is indeed by itself, as it teaches us what righteousness is, the way to salvation: but our depravity and corruption prevent it from being in this respect of any advantage to us. It is also necessary in the second place to add this, -- that whosoever is found to be a sinner, is deprived of righteousness; for to devise with the sophisters a half kind of righteousness, so that works in part justify, is frivolous: but nothing is in this respect gained, on account of man's corruption.

What level of obedience - still tainted by sin - in addition to faith, does Mr Roman Catholic believe pleases God so much that He justifies the individual?


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Just a little aside about apologetics; be aware that it is easy to get drug into an endless, encylcopedic "read this, read that, watch this, watch that.." yellow brick road that never ends. Never be afraid to get personal with those you are trying to lead to the Lord. I think it was Michael Butler, of presuppositional apologetics fame, who said to be sure to ask a person what he believes and listen to him. You can ask twenty different Catholics or twenty different Catholic apologists about the doctrine of Justifcation and get twenty different answers.


Puritan Board Graduate
Samuel, when encountering a Roman Catholic you need to realize that there can be no progress unless, and until both of you agree to fixed definitions of essential words such as sin, salvation, regeneration, faith, grace and many others which are key to rightly understanding the Biblical Revelation on how a sinner becomes right with God. The Roman Catholic works with definitions that are incompatible with Biblical definitions.


Puritan Board Freshman
Also this sounds harsh but i feel the roman catholic church is a false church. When dealing with a roman catholic i dont think you should treat as talking to a fellow christian with differing doctrinal beliefs, but as a non believer in a false religion. So what
I am saying is i discount all roman catholic beliefs and would not argue one issue such as justification by faith. The person
needs to understand that they belong to a false pagan church and none of its doctrine is correct.

Pilgrim Standard

Puritan Board Sophomore
In the first minute and ten seconds the claim is made:
"this state of grace or state of justification is first obtained through water baptism see John 3:5..."

Simon Magus was baptized of water and yet not justified.

I would also (HIGHLY) recommend reading Buchanan on Justification to brush up on the major differences in the Doctrine as held and defined by orthodox Christianity vs. Roman Catholicism.

Here is a free copy
It is so old it is public domain in the US.


Puritan Board Junior
First, thank you all for the responses!

Richard, thank you for clarifying the context of Romans.

Zach, thank you for your concern regarding my apologetics. Usually, I do get personal, when I see fit.

Bob, thank you for the note on definitions! That is a vital thing in any debate. I've already noted in my previous post to this Roman Catholic that part of the confusion and misunderstanding is due to the way each of us define the terms we are using. I've defined "good works," not as human effort plus God's grace, but anything that will further the cause of the Kingdom of God. And I've made it clear that rather than we working through God, God works through us--we are the channel of His grace. I've touched on God's holiness and our total depravity, showing that even the best of our good works are tainted by sin and as "filthy rags" before a holy God. Also, I've defined regeneration as God giving us a new heart with new desires that are in favor of God and hostile to sin, but still tainted by our sinful nature.

yourjewishbrother, I did write to this Roman Catholic something in the lines of the following: "I'm sorry to say this, but Roman Catholism has no part in Christianity, it is a religion of its own." But still, I've called him my Brother in Christ, and I don't think that is wrong in the sense that we are to call anyone Christian who professes to be such. There are even Roman Catholics, who are true believers, who don't lean on their own performance to be justified before God. I've read on this board of one such case.

Benjamin, thank you for pointing out Buchanan's book on justification, though, I'm already aware of it. I didn't know there is a free copy available though, so thank you for sharing!


Puritan Board Post-Graduate
none of its doctrine is correct.

That is a false statement. There are many doctrines we hold in common. It is just what we differ on that matters also for eternity. That is why you must find out what a particular believer holds to.

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
What level of obedience - still tainted by sin - in addition to faith, does Mr Roman Catholic believe pleases God so much that He justifies the individual?

Excellent point! What they really reject is the doctrine of imputation alone for righteousness. They count the clothes of Christ as foolishness to wear, and instead weave together a different garment. However, even a garment made of our sanctified works is insufficient for justification (Phil.3:9).

Hebrew Student

Puritan Board Freshman

This proves that "works" is not a reference to all human actions, but the works of the Old Law, such as circumcision. That's what St. Paul is talking about. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:8-9, when St. Paul says that "we are saved by faith...not of works", he is not speaking about all human works. He is actually speaking about baptismal regeneration. We can see this when we compare it with a similar passage in Titus 3:5.

Titus 3:5- "NOT BY WORKS of righteousness WHICH WE HAVE DONE, but according to his mercy HE SAVED US, BY THE WASHING OF REGENERATION, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."

Wow, how many errors can you crowd into one paragraph. First, the idea that the "works" here are simply reference to the Old Testament law is a position that has been around for a while. I do believe I remember someone saying that Jonathan Edwards actually dealt with that argument. The biggest problem that I see with it is that it assumes that there is another law of works that is more complete and perfect than the law of God which can justify. Such is utter contempt for the law of God.

Not only that, it is the way Paul argues against the works of the law that is so problematic for the Roman Catholic system. For example, in this same passage, Galatians 2:20, you have a discussion of the exchange of our life for Christ's life, and now, because we have been crucified with Christ, we live our lives by faith in him. This kind of exchange and substitution is inconsistent with the notion of salvation by works at all, because it deals with the exchange of our life for Christ's life.

Also, take, for example, Romans 4:4-5 where Paul argues against justification by law-keeping by saying that it is not something that it is credited as righteousness, but as what is due. However, in any system of works, it would, indeed, be what is due, and not something credited as righteousness.

Thus, I would agree that Paul is dealing with people who seek to be justified by the OT law, but the problem is the *way* in which Paul argues against it. The way in which he argues against it would rule out any kind of works righteousness at all.

Also, I would argue that it is a gross abuse of Titus 3:5 to use the text in such a fashion. The "washing of regeneration" isn't Baptism. I would argue that this is an appositional genitive. In other words, it would be something like, "by the washing [which is] regeneration. This is a common phenomenon in language [see "the temple of his body" in John 2:21 for another example of this in the NT]. This is made all of the stronger by the final phrase "and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." The washing language of regeneration is common in the NT, even in instances where it would be impossible to refer to Baptism [John 7:38-39].

God Bless,
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