Catholicism is Frightening
June 30, 2007
"This means that we go down into the water full of sins and foulness, and we come up
bearing fruit in our hearts, fear and hope in Jesus and the Spirit." – Letter to Barnabas
Why do we come up from baptism bearing fear as a fruit? I want to explain this by
contrasting the Catholic position with my prior Reformed way of thinking.1 As a
Reformed Christian, I had no room for fear in my attitude toward God. Verses about
Christians fearing God or fearing future judgment seemed odd and unfitting. What did I
possibly have to fear? If God be for me, then who could be against me? Nothing could
separate me from the love of God.2 I was no longer under law, but under grace.3 I knew
the password that would guarantee that I was decretally elect4 and that Christ had already
paid for all my sins.5 I could just kick back and relax. I had absolutely no fear of
Judgment Day. This password would guarantee my entrance into heaven when God
would ask "Why should I let you into My heaven?" I knew the wrong answers: "Because
I tried to do my best?," "Because I'm a pretty good guy," "Because I did a lot of good
My reference to "Reformed" and "Reformed theology" here, and throughout is to the particular form of
Reformed theology represented by such persons as Jerry Bridges, Michael Horton, R.C. Sproul, etc. This
form of Reformed theology is presently the popular and predominant form of Reformed theology, even
though Calvin most probably would have rejected it. Horton's book from which I quote here, Putting
Amazing Back Into Grace, was endorsed by J.I. Packer and Robert Godfrey, both leading Reformed
figures. The other book I quote here, Transforming Grace, by Jerry Bridges, was endorsed by R.C. Sproul
and J.I. Packer.
The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that Christians have a "duty" to "give all diligence" to
obtain "infallible assurance" of our decretal election. (cf. WCf, XVIII.2-3) According to the Westminster
Confession we obtain this infallible assurance by the inward testimony of the Spirit and by the promises of
God in Scripture. (WCF XVIII.2) How does one discern the inward testimony of the Spirit? In my own
experience, I did so by asking myself whether I truly believed that Jesus died for my sins. (This is also the
means recommended by Michael Horton in Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, p. 106.) Since I knew by
introspection that I in fact believed that Jesus died for me, and that I was in fact trusting only in Christ's
work on the cross for my salvation, I knew that I couldn't have come to that epistemic state unless Christ
had in fact died for me and applied that salvation to me through regeneration by His Spirit. And then since I
knew that Christ had died for me, therefore, since (according to Reformed theology) Christ died only for
the decretally elect, I knew that I was decretally elect. Once we obtain "infallible assurance" that we are
decretally elect, then we know that we have nothing to fear from Final Judgment, because all our sins (past,
present, and future) are paid for.
Jerry Bridges writes, [N]ot only has the debt been fully paid, there is no possibility of going into debt
again. Jesus paid the debt of all our sins: past, present, and future.... We don't have to start all over again
and try to keep the slate clean. There is no more slate. As Stephen Brown wrote, "God took our slate and
He broke it in pieces and threw it away." This is true not only for our justification, but for our Christian
lives as well. God is not keeping score, granting or withholding blessings on the basis of our performance.
The score has already been permanently settled by Christ. (Transforming Grace, p. 21, emphasis original).
He says later, "When you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, God removes your record from the file. He
doesn't keep it there or daily add the long list of sins you continue to commit even as a Christian."
(Transforming Grace, p. 41)
works,"6 or "Because I went to church regularly, even Sunday evening services", etc. If I
were to mention my own works in response to God's question, I would be sent to hell
because I would be showing that I wasn't trusting in Christ alone for my salvation. Giving
Him any such answer other than the password would prompt this reply: "Depart from Me,
accursed one, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels."7
I learned the password from contemporary proponents of Reformed theology. Here is the
password: "Because I trust Jesus to have paid for all my sins." Of course it didn't have to
be in those exact words; the key was simply to believe that I am saved by nothing but
Jesus's blood and [His] righteousness. Jerry Bridges is a popular Reformed author and
Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He writes:
"One of the best kept secrets among Christians today is this: Jesus paid it
all. I mean all. He not only purchased your forgiveness of sins and your
ticket to Heaven, He purchased every blessing and every answer to prayer
you will ever receive. Every one of them – no exceptions."8
The "ticket" to heaven, in my view, was what Jesus did on the cross. I had to *have* the
ticket, though. If I did not have the ticket, the ticket would do me no good. Having the
ticket / password meant believing that Jesus died for me, and trusting only in Him, not
myself, for my salvation. I knew that answering the question with the password would
instantly bring His "Well done good and faithful servant"; "Come, you who are blessed of
My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." 9
Then the pearly gates would swing wide, and I would be ushered into heaven.
Michael Horton is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. His
book, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, was one that helped bring me into Reformed
theology. In that book he says something that I will quote in full:
The Reformation way of putting it was, simul iustus et peccator –
"simultaneously justified and sinful." This was the Reformation debate
more than anything else. Rome agreed that the sinner is saved by grace –
but by grace transforming the unrighteous into righteous, the unholy into
holy, the disobedient into the obedient. Depending on how one
appropriates and makes use of this grace, one could eventually be accepted
by God. Not so, said Luther and Calvin. Even on a good day, the average
Christian is wicked. The believer, however, does not await a verdict in the
future [at the Day of Judgment]; he reminds himself of the verdict already
declared: "not guilty." He lives each day as though he had fully satisfied
the requirements of the law. And to enjoy this promise, he does not have
to meet certain criteria for growth in grace. Before he can be confident in
All our good works, I believed, are like used toilet paper in God's sight. For that reason, I believed it best
not to mention them when He would ask me why He should let me into His heaven.
Transforming Grace, p. 19.
Matthew 25:21,23, 34.
this promise, he need not "clean up his act." More than this, he knows he
can't clean up his act to the degree that he can make enough progress to be
accepted or approved by sanctification."10
On that same page Horton has a cartoon of a man sweating and trembling, holding a sign
that says 'Sin!'. The man is standing in the shadow of the cross, with an arrow showing
that from "God's View", the man is hidden, because the man is standing behind the cross.
The idea communicated here is that when God looks at us, He does not see our
sinfulness, but only Christ's righteousness imputed to us.11
The cartoon sums up my Reformed conception of salvation, except that instead of
trembling and sweating, the man should be reclining in a beach chair sipping a martini
and smoking a cigar, thus showing true faith in the covering power of Christ's
righteousness. Horton writes approvingly, "Luther's greatest frustration was reading and
hearing calls to holy living."12 I agreed, and that is why fear had no room in my relation
Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, pp. 166-167.
Ibid, p. 166.
Ibid, p. 177.
A few years later I was teaching ethics at a local university. What exactly is salvation, I
wondered, and what does it have to do with ethics? Earlier I had conceived of heaven
primarily as a beautiful place, a place where all the people who trusted that Jesus had
died for them would enjoy God forever. Hell was the place for all the people who didn't
trust in Jesus's blood. But in my mind, heaven was primarily a place, and so was hell. I
started to realize that the goal of ethics, and the goal of Christianity, were the same goal:
But the way of achieving this goal seemed completely different from the point of view of
ethics, than it did from the point of view of contemporary Reformed theology. The two
seemed to have very little in common. From the point of view of ethics, we have to
practice the virtues in order to become virtuous. This requires the hard work of
disciplining and training one's mind and will to practice virtue, overcoming one's vices
and developing the virtues in one's character by living a virtuous life. The formation of
virtue requires our choosing and doing what is right; it requires the activity of our own
will. And being virtuous was intrinsically necessary for being truly happy. The vicious
person simply cannot be happy; he is internally disordered, lacking integrity.
But Reformed theology (in its present popular form) tends to treat salvation in a
monocausal and voluntaristic way, as something that occurs by divine fiat, quite apart
from the activity of our own will. It treats salvation as if it were in essence unrelated (in
this life at least) to becoming a virtuous person. Salvation, in this view, is fundamentally
legal, having all my sins paid for, so I can be allowed into a certain place (i.e. heaven)
and avoid being sent to a different place (i.e. hell). But "legal" and "place" are both
extrinsic to us. And what we need to be saved from is inside of us. I started to realize that
thinking of heaven and hell fundamentally as places, and thinking of Christ's work on the
cross and our justification in legal terms, fails to address fully what salvation and
damnation really are.
The doctrine of sanctification is not an insignificant part of Reformed theology; we are
supposed to do good works out of gratitude for our salvation.13 But in contemporary
Reformed theology, working at sanctification is not actually necessary for salvation (and
can even indicate that one has not understood the gospel).14 Working at sanctification is
not actually necessary because we are saved by "faith alone".15 Good deeds to some
degree or other will necessarily follow a genuine faith, brought about by the work of the
Spirit in us. But to strive for sanctification implies that faith is not enough, or that Christ's
In contemporary Reformed theology, however, we are not even under that law (i.e. the obligation to do
good works out of gratitude), but under grace alone.
Bridges writes: "We have loaded down the gospel of the grace of God in Christ with a lot of
"oughts." "I ought to do this," and "I ought to do that." "I ought to be more committed, more
disciplined, more obedient." When we think or teach this way, we are substituting duty and
obligation for a loving response to God's grace." (Transforming Grace, p. 75) Michael Horton
writes: "When we try to add our own concoctions to God's already perfect remedy, we spoil the
whole thing and incur His wrath." (Putting Amazing Back into Grace, p. 64)
In contemporary Reformed theology, to be justified is to be saved. That is because if one is justified, then
one is decretally elect. Thus there is no possibility of being justified and not being saved. So if we are
justified by faith alone, then we are saved by faith alone.
blood wasn't enough. It implies that one is not trusting entirely in Christ for one's
salvation, that our own works contribute in some way. In contemporary Reformed
theology the essence of salvation is forensic (which is extrinsic); and that puts it in
tension with the goal in ethics of actually being a virtuous person (which is internal). The
tension is not one of contradiction, but a kind of incompleteness regarding the role of our
own will in our sanctification and the role of our sanctification in the goal of perfect
In contemporary Reformed theology, if one trusts Jesus one is going to heaven anyway
no matter what one's state of sanctification. And since contemporary Reformed theology
does not have a doctrine of purgatory, remaining sanctification takes place instantly.
When the elect die, God simply waves His 'glorification wand' over them, and they are
suddenly and perfectly sanctified. So there can be nothing at all to fear from Final
Judgment. Because of this guarantee that those who know the password will first face the
glorification wand, there is no real reason (other than some ad hoc stipulation) to pursue
sanctification. It is much easier and safer, lest by striving for holiness one gets drawn into
thinking that sanctification somehow contributes to one's salvation16 to let God take care
of that mess with His glorification wand when we die.
In contemporary Reformed theology in my experience, the glorification wand makes
pursuing sanctification unnecessary (or only accidental) to attaining salvation. As long as
we believe Christ died for us, and are trusting to get into heaven because of what He did
for us, then we get into heaven. That is entailed by the notion that we are saved "by faith
alone". Our state of sanctification is not more or less pleasing to God on Judgment Day,
simply because through the blood of Christ, God is just as pleased with us as He can
possibly be.17 What makes God the Father pleased with us is that when He looks at us,
we are standing 'behind' Christ, so-to-speak, so that He only 'sees' Christ.18 So unlike
those who don't know the Reformed password, we don't actually get judged at all on
Judgment Day; God is pleased by Christ's perfect obedience, and that perfect obedience
has been "credited to our account", so that our own obedience / disobedience is not
actually judged. In that way knowing contemporary Reformed theology's password
allows us to slip through the Judgment Day proceedings into heaven, by staying out of
Bridges writes, "If you are trusting to any degree in your own morality or religious attainments, or if you
believe God will somehow recognize any of your good works as merit toward your salvation, you need to
seriously consider if you are truly a Christian." (Transforming Grace, p. 34, emphasis original)
Bridges writes, "Living by grace instead of by works means you are free from the performance treadmill.
It means God has already given you an "A" when you deserved an "F," He has already given you a full
day's pay even though you may have worked only one hour. It means you don't have to perform certain
spiritual disciplines to earn God's approval. Jesus Christ has already done that for you. You are loved and
accepted by God through the merits of Jesus. Nothing you ever do will cause Him to love you any more or
any less. He loves you strictly by His grace given to you through Jesus." (Transforming Grace, p. 73)
Bridges writes, "...God no longer "sees" either our deliberate disobedience or our marred performances.
Instead He "sees" the righteousness of Christ, which He has already imputed to us." (Transforming Grace,
view of the Father, always hiding in Jesus's shadow, making sure He is always between
us and the Father's throne.19
God might decree that I do some good works (which nevertheless, being full of sin, are
putrid in His eyes) and then 'reward' me for His own gifts on account of Christ's perfect
obedience, by putting some more jewels in my crown. Since no one can boast (Eph 2:9),
therefore we cannot actually be *rewarded* for *our* actions. God 'rewards' His own
actions in us.20 We have not actually merited such 'rewards' by our free choices. And if
we don't want jewels in our crown (or any more jewels in our crown, as one person said
to me), then we can simply rest in Christ's finished work and come to God's throne with
no less confidence. As long as we trust in Christ, then our state of sanctification cannot
keep us out of heaven; Christ's righteousness has been imputed to us once and for all.
In Catholicism, by contrast, the viewpoint from ethics and the viewpoint from
Christianity fit perfectly together. We need grace to become virtuous. Christ, through His
work on the cross is given to us through the sacraments of the Church; He is joined to us
ontologically, and His divine life and divine goodness are infused into us (not just
forensically declared about us or extrinsic to us), making us (at the moment of baptism)
completely righteous. Moreover, through the sacraments He gives us the grace to
participate in becoming virtuous. By His grace we work out our salvation in fear and
trembling. Through prayer and the proper use of the sacraments we actually *become*
righteous in our character, our dispositions, our inclinations, and our motives. That is the
goal of salvation – perfect participation in God who is pure holiness, pure love, pure
righteousness, and pure divine life. Without sanctification, we cannot see God.21
What does this have to do with fear? The idea of a Final Judgment is found in many of
the ancient cultures. Plato writes about it, as do the Egyptians. And of course the Jews
knew about it.22 The gospel was built on this awareness of final judgment. We can see
this when Paul is talking to Felix. St. Luke writes, "As Paul discoursed on righteousness,
self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid."23 It is hard to see how Felix
would have been afraid if he had been talking to Jerry Bridges or Michael Horton. They
would have been telling Felix that all he had to do was believe that Jesus died to pay for
his sins, and then he would have nothing to worry about on the Day of Judgment.24 The
writer of the book of Hebrews shows that "eternal judgment" is one of the elementary
tenets of the faith.25 And both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed make Christ's
There is some similarity to Marcionism in this picture, where Jesus is as the fig leaf hiding us from the
Father. Both the 'glorification wand' concept and the Jesus-as-fig-leaf concept create a loophole for the
elect at the Final Judgment.
Notice the implicit monocausalism.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (St. Matthew 5:8) "Pursue peace with all men, and
the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)
Job 34:11; Prov 12:14; 24:11; Is 3:10-11; Jer 17:10; 32:19; Ez 7:3-4, 27; 18:19-31; 33:18-20; 39:24; Hos
4:9; Zech 1:6.
I have never heard the term "self-control" used in a summary of the contemporary Reformed gospel.
coming back "to judge the living and the dead" a fundamental part of the gospel
The gospel entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus and preserved within the Catholic Church
does not circumvent the Final Judgment by hiding people from the Father behind Jesus,
or by having Jesus wave a glorification wand over us when we die. The true gospel is that
God through Christ offers us the grace to become actually holy and righteous now,
through baptism and the sacraments, such that heaven (perfect union with God) is both a
complete gift and our rightful reward and inheritance. The gospel is not a "ticket" or
password that allows us to avoid having to give account on that day. In other words, the
gospel is not a means by which the elect bypass or skirt the Final Judgment; it is the
means by which they are able in this life to become actually righteous (intrinsically, not
merely extrinsically) such that at the Final Judgment God can truly say to them "Well
done, good and faithful servant".
The New Testament is very clear that we will be judged according to our deeds. Those
who have done evil, will be cast away from God's presence eternally. But those who have
practiced righteousness, will be welcomed into His eternal Kingdom. Consider the
"And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they
shall render account for it in the day of judgment." (Matthew 12:36)
"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His
angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds."
In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus describes that time when He will "sit on His
glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He
will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep
from the goats". (vs. 31-32) On what basis will He separate them?
According to their works toward the needy. (vss. 35-46)
In Romans 2:6-8 St. Paul says that on the day of final judgment, God "will
render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance
in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. But
to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey
unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and
distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of
the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to
the Jew first and also to the Greek."28
Evangelicals tend not to realize that the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are summaries of the gospel.
Consider also the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).
Notice that we can seek glory and honor from God by doing good, and this does not detract from God's
glory and honor.
"For we shall stand before the judgment seat of God.... So then each one
of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10,12)
"Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his
own reward according to his own labor." (1 Cor 3:8)
"Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until
the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the
darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's
praise will come to him from God." (1 Cor 4:5)29
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one
may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has
done, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10)30
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he
will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh
reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit
reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time
we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have
opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of
the household of the faith." (Gal 6:7-10)
"With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing
that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the
Lord, whether slave or free." (Eph 6:8-9)
"And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to
each man's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay
upon earth." (1 Peter 1:17)
"By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day
of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world." (1 John
Again, notice that God will disclose the motives of each man's heart, and if our motives are pure and
good, then God will praise us. Our goodness and purity is *in the very motives of our heart* (not just
covering us on the outside). Not only that, but God praises those whose motives are pure. God does not
view our getting praise as detracting from the praise and glory that He has and receives. Rather, our
goodness redounds to His glory all the more.
It cannot get much clearer than that.
How can we be confident on the day of judgment? By abiding in love, so that in this world we are (in
our love) like God. Notice that he doesn't say: By believing that Jesus died for your sins. St. John writes,
"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not
burdensome." (1 John 5:2-3) Our assurance comes in part from keeping His commandments. Why are His
commandments not burdensome? Because we have been born from above, united to Christ, made alive
with Him, and filled with His Spirit. Because of grace!
Jesus, speaking to the church at Thyatira, says, "And I will kill her
children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who
searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you
according to your deeds." (Rev 2:23)
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne,
and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book
of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the
books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were
in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they
were judged, every one of them according to their deeds." (Rev 20:12-13)
"[L]et the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and let the one
who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My
reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done."
Why then do we come up out of baptismal water with fear? Because we truly have free
will and what we do and don't do *really* matters for eternity.32 On the day of judgment
we shall surely be judged according to what we have done by our own free choices. If we
fall into mortal sin,33 and die without confessing and repenting of it, then we cannot enter
into heaven.34 Why? Because our will is turned away from God, and therefore we cannot
enjoy God and be happy. If we die in a state of mortal sin, then knowing the password
doesn't help. In Catholic theology, we are not saved by knowledge; that's gnosticism.
In Catholic theology we are saved (i.e. sanctified, made perfect) by grace which we
receive through the sacraments, and by our works (made possible only by grace35) by
which we become virtuous. In contemporary Reformed theology Christ does it all, and
any notion of our efforts contributing to our salvation is viewed as detracting from
Christ's role, somehow competing with Christ's work. In Catholic theology, by contrast,
Christ's work and our work are not thought to be mutually exclusive. When Christ is
working in me, I do not become a zombie. When I work, Christ does not watch from the
sidelines. I work, but it is, at the same time, Christ working in me. In Catholic theology
sanctification is an intrinsic part of salvation, because without it we cannot see God, and
without our efforts (made possible by grace) we cannot become sanctified. In Catholic
doctrine, we do not find God wielding a glorification wand. If we die without mortal sin,
but are still impure, we have to go through a *process* of purification, a process that will
involve our will. That is why it is a process, and not a wand-waving event.
That is why it is called "eternal judgment". (Hebrews 6:2)
On the basis for the distinction between mortal and venial sin see 1 John 5:16-17. It is quite impossible to
harmonize a number of verses in 1 John without recognizing that John is assuming that his readers are
familiar with the distinction between mortal and venial sin.
Notice in Ezek. 18:19-31; 33:18-20, however, that a man's ultimate destiny is based on his state at death.
If he repents at the end of a wicked life, he will go to heaven, even though he has done few good deeds. If
he apostatizes after a life of holy living, he is lost. (cf. 1 Cor 9:27)
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation." (1
But where our will is involved, and there is accountability, there will be fear. Password
theology, like gnosticism, makes our existence on earth meaningless. Once we know the
password, what is the point of sticking around, especially when the glorification wand is
available? Similarly, password theology renders the Church irrelevant and unnecessary;
we could simply hire a marketing firm to get out the password.
The Catholic understanding of Judgment Day is in this way quite different from the
contemporary Reformed position. There is no hiding from the Father behind Jesus's
robes. We are judged by our works, whether they are good or evil. The contemporary
Reformed view makes a legal loophole through which we circumvent judgment by
'sneaking' into heaven, so to speak, hidden behind Jesus. According to Catholic doctrine,
Christ gives us grace here on earth to live righteously so that our hearts truly are
righteous when we come into His presence on the day of judgment. Christ gives us grace
here on earth, so that we can live righteously now, so that we can do the good works that
merit our eternal *reward*, so that we can "work out our salvation in fear and
trembling".36 On the day of Judgment, we are truly *rewarded* for all that *we*
[believers] have done in the body. But all our good works are done by the grace that
comes from Christ living and working in us. The popular Reformed view, by contrast,
treats grace and works as mutually exclusive grounds for our salvation. Michael Horton,
for example writes:
"Why do we insist on having something to do with God's gift? Why can't
we just say, "To God alone be glory" – and really mean it? Any reference
at all to "our part" immediately tends to make for a salvation by works, not
grace; hence, salvation would be a product of humans and God, rather than
Horton shows his monocausal way of thinking. He views any work on our part as
detracting from God's work, and therefore detracting from God's glory.38 He seems
unaware of the possibility that our good works accomplished by the grace of God could
contribute to our salvation, such that our being justly rewarded and honored (and even
glorified) for our righteous deeds done in the flesh (and praised by God for our pure
hearts and good motives) would in no wise detract from God's glory or grace. Horton is
not alone.39 Contemporary Reformed theology's commitment to sola scriptura seems to
Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, p. 158.
It was this same way of thinking that produced the philosophical position called occasionalism during
the early modern period. See Etienne Gilson's discussion of the development of occasionalism in his book
titled The Unity of Philosophical Experience.
Jerry Bridges writes: "Grace and works are mutually exclusive.... Our relationship with God is based on
either works or grace. There is never a works-plus-grace relationship with Him." (Transforming Grace, p.
22). Bridges apparently does not see the third option, that we could have a grace-plus-works relationship
with God. Bridges later quotes from C. Samuel Storms: "[Grace] is treating a person without the slightest
reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of
God." (C. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God, p. 125, quoted in Transforming Grace, p. 33.)
have led it away from the Church's philosophical heritage in which the tools for
understanding the concurrency of God and secondary causes were kept.
The differences between the Catholic and Reformed views of justification can be seen in
this comparison of Luther and St. Augustine on justification, written by Cardinal
"The main point in dispute is this; whether or not the Moral Law can in its
substance be obeyed and kept by the regenerate. Augustine says, that
whereas we are by nature condemned by the Law, we are enabled by the
grace of God to perform it unto our justification; Luther, that whereas we
are condemned by the Law, Christ has Himself performed it unto our
justification;—Augustine, that our righteousness is active; Luther, that it is
passive;—Augustine, that it is imparted; Luther, that it is only imputed;—
Augustine that it consists in a change of heart; Luther, in a change of state.
Luther maintains that God's commandments are impossible to man;
Augustine adds, impossible without his grace; —Luther, that the gospel
consists of promises only; Augustine that is also a Law;—Luther, that our
highest wisdom is, not to know the Law; Augustine says instead, to know
and keep it;—Luther says, that the Law and Christ cannot dwell together
in the heart; Augustine says, that the Law is Christ;—Luther denies, and
Augustine maintains that obedience is a matter of conscience;—Luther
says, that a man is made a Christian not by working but by hearing;
Augustine excludes those works only which are done before grace
given;—Luther, that our best deeds are sins; Augustine, that they are
really pleasing to God. Luther says, that faith is taken instead of
righteousness; Augustine, in earnest of righteousness;—Luther, that faith
is essential, because it is a substitute for holiness; Augustine, because it is
the commencement of holiness;—Luther says, that faith, as such, renews
the heart; Augustine says, a loving faith;—Luther would call faith the tree,
and works the fruit; Augustine, rather, the inward life, or grace of God, or
love, the tree, and renewal the fruit. The school of Luther accuse their
opponents of self-righteousness; and they retort on them the charge of
self-indulgence: the one say that directly aiming at good works fosters
pride; the other that not doing so sanctions licentiousness." -- Cardinal
Newman, Lectures on Justification.
Jerry Bridges, by contrast, writes: "Under God's grace, the extent or quality of our law-
keeping is not an issue."40 Luther takes obedience and law-keeping out of the gospel, but
St. Paul tells us that on the day of judgment:
"[T]he Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels
in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and
to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay
Transforming Grace, p. 36.
the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and
from the glory of His power".41
The gospel of our Lord Jesus is something to be obeyed, not merely something to be
In Lutheran and [contemporary] Reformed theology we are simul justus et peccator, not
actually righteous but because of Christ we are treated by God as if we are righteous. In
Catholic doctrine, by contrast, we are, after the sacrament of baptism and after the
sacrament of reconciliation, actually and truly righteous. We retain concupiscence (i.e.
the inclination to sin) and the temporal consequences of sin (physical death, illness, etc.),
but we are truly and actually righteous, not merely declared to be righteous, but truly
righteous. This is a righteousness we can throw away through our own evil choices. If we
do so, then on Judgment Day we will be cast into hell. That is why we come up from the
water with "fear".
But we also come up from the water with "hope". Our hope comes from knowing that
through the grace of Christ, we can run the race that is laid out before us, and receive our
just reward. Through the grace of Christ we can live our life in such a way that we can
say at the end of it, along with St. Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the
course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of
righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day."42
2 Thess 1:7-9.
2 Tim 4:7-8.