Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #175

Bible Christian Society

General Comments

2 things:

1) First, I will be speaking in Fort Walton Beach tomorrow night, at the Community Center, or maybe it’s called the Conference Center – can’t remember. Anyway, it will be at 7:00 PM. Two talks and a Q&A session afterwards. If you’re in the area, I hope you can make it.

2) Please pay close attention to this. This is a special offer for “Apologetics for the Masses” subscribers from the National Catholic Register. And, for full disclosure purposes, I will tell you that they are not paying me a penny for this. I’m doing it because I love their publication and I think everyone needs to subscribe to it. Anyway, here’s the offer:

John, thanks again for your help in promoting the Register to your e-mail list. Here is the link for our subscription flyer and the special offer announcement:


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The Register brings you news from the Church, the Vatican, the U.S., and the world from a truly Catholic perspective and if you are going to read something on a regular basis, outside of this newsletter, this is it. Right now I’m looking at the latest issue which contains the 2nd part of a series on the New Translation of the Mass, which is excellent. It has articles on Archbishop Chaput going to Philadelphia, the presidential candidates, a whole section on the Vatican and a lot more – it is a marvelous newspaper and, as you can tell, I highly recommend it.


This week I am looking at the Catholic teaching on merit. The idea for this came from an article by one James McCarthy, who is no fan of the Catholic Church, that was sent to me by someone asking me to respond to what Mr. McCarthy says. So, that’s what I did. This newsletter may be a bit longer than usual, but it’s because I use so much Scripture to show that what the Catholic Church teaches on merit isn’t just mentioned in the Bible, but all through it.

Mr. McCarthy’s comments are in italics and mine are interpersed between his.


Merit and the General Judgment

James McCarthy

According to the Roman Catholic Church, whenever a person who is in a state of grace does a good work, he earns a reward. The right to a reward is called merit.  Merit accumulates during a person’s life. If the Catholic commits a mortal sin, however, all merit is forfeited. But should the Catholic repent and receive the sacrament of penance, lost merit is once again restored. Merited reward takes three forms in Roman Catholicism: an increase of grace, eternal life, and an increase of glory in heaven.


When a Catholic does a good work, the Church teaches that he immediately receives the reward of an increase of grace. This grace further justifies the Catholic. He becomes holier and more pleasing to God. This is the first kind of merited reward in Catholicism.


The Church also teaches that upon death each person must face God in the particular judgment. If God determines that the individual has died in the state of grace, the person obtains "the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ." The Council of Trent stated:


    “To those who work well right to the end and keep their trust in God,

    eternal life should be held out, both as a grace promised in his

    mercy through Jesus Christ to the children of God, and as a reward

    to be faithfully bestowed, on the promise of God himself, for their

    good works and merits.” (Council of Trent)


Vatican II stated:


    “Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the

    advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single

    course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with

    him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed. . . .”

    (Second Vatican Council)


Thirdly, the Church teaches that merited reward also results in an increase of the degree of glory that an individual enjoys in heaven. God does not decide this reward until the end of the world. Christ will return to earth. The dead will rise with immortal bodies, and God will release all who are still suffering in purgatory. Then there will be a second evaluation of each person’s life. This is the universal or general judgment. According to Roman Catholic theology, Jesus described the general judgment in the Gospel of Matthew:


    “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with

    Him, then 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.”

    (Matthew 25:31-32)


The general judgment is the public proclamation of the results of the particular judgment and the determination of a person’s total reward. It occurs at the end of the world so that the complete effect of each person’s life upon all of society and history can be calculated and duly rewarded.  If the person died in a state of grace, Christ will reward the individual in proportion to his good works. This will decide the degree of his glory in heaven. Similarly, if the person died without grace in his soul, Christ will decide the degree of his punishment in hell.


John Martignoni:

Mr. McCarthy does a fairly decent job of presenting an overview of Catholic teaching on merit.  I would add a few minor “fixes” or clarifications to what he said, but it is good enough for now.  As he moves from presenting what the Church teaches, to his opinion of what the Church teaches, I will be able to clarify and refine a few of the things that he said above. 


One thing I want to point out here in the beginning of my comments, though, is that the word “merit” essentially means “reward,” in Catholic theology.  So, when it is said that a Catholic can merit something through his good works, it means that the Catholic can receive a reward for his good works.  Does the Bible back up the Catholic Church on this, or does it support Mr. McCarthy’s point of view?  Well, we’re going to find out…


James McCarthy:

Eternal Life Is a Free Gift, not a Merited Reward


Here we will focus on the second form of merited reward, eternal life, a Roman Catholic teaching that stands in direct contradiction to the Bible. For though the Bible teaches that God will reward faithful stewards in heaven, it never says that He will reward them with heaven.


John Martignoni:

First of all, please take note that Mr. McCarthy seems to have no problem with the general Catholic concept of merit…of receiving a reward…for one’s good works. He in fact essentially states that “faithful stewards” do indeed merit, or receive a reward, for their good works.  He has a problem, though, with the particular teaching of that reward being eternal life, but apparently not with that reward being an increase in grace or an increase of glory in Heaven. So, we apparently got 2 out of 3 according to McCarthy.  Wasn’t it Meatloaf who said, “2 outta 3 ain’t bad?” 


Now, on to his claim that this teaching of the Church, on meriting eternal life, is in “direct contradiction to the Bible?”  Really?!  Well, let’s not take Mr. McCarthy’s word for it, let’s see what the Bible says.  First, I would ask Mr. McCarthy to give me book, chapter, and verse in the Bible that says, “God will reward faithful stewards in heaven, but not with heaven?”  I can tell you exactly where it says that in the Bible…nowhere!  Let’s look at what the Bible actually does say:


Matthew 5:3-10, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Sounds like folks will be rewarded “with heaven” for being “poor in spirit,” being “merciful,” being “pure in heart,” and for being “persecuted,” or am I missing something here? They will be rewarded “with heaven” for how they live their lives.  At least, that’s what Jesus said.  Mr. McCarthy is certainly free to disagree with Jesus if he wants to.


Matthew 25:34-40, “Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”  It seems pretty clear, from the Bible, that the people at the Lord’s right hand are going to “inherit” the Kingdom of Heaven because of their good works.  This doesn’t say anything about being rewarded “in heaven,” rather it is saying that they will be rewarded “with heaven.”  At least, that’s what Jesus said.


Matthew 19:16-17, “What good deed must I do, to have eternal life?…[Jesus said] If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” This doesn’t say that after you enter Heaven you will be rewarded for keeping the commandments…no, no…Jesus says, very specifically and very clearly, “If you would ENTER life, keep the commandments.”  In order to get into Heaven, you must keep the commandments.  People will be rewarded “with heaven” for keeping the commandments.  At least, that’s what Jesus said.


Matthew 19:29, “And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life.” Again, as in the Sermon on the Mount, one “inherits” eternal life, according to the Bible, by doing the things mentioned here.  It does not say, “And every one who has left houses or brothers…will receive a reward in Heaven after they receive eternal life through faith alone.” 


Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.”  What do we see here?  Do we see a servant who receives a reward for his labor after entering into his master’s joy, or do we see a servant who is able to enter into his master’s joy because of his labor?  It’s the latter.  We see a servant who enters into his master’s joy (Heaven) as a reward for his labors.  And he receives this reward because he did something with what his master had freely given him.  We can be sure this is the case because look what happens to the “wicked and slothful servant” who did nothing with what his master had given him.  Does this servant, who simply held on to what the master had given him, enter into his master’s joy?  No!  But, according to Mr. McCarthy’s position, that servant should have entered into his master’s joy based solely on what his master gave him.  That servant, according to Mr. McCarthy, is not required to do anything in order to enter into his master’s joy.  Yet, the Bible states otherwise.  This servant is tossed “into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth,” (v. 30).  Why?  Because he did nothing with the gift he had been freely given by the master.


John 6:27, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you.”  This verse fits perfectly with Catholic teaching on merit and with the Parable of the Talents referenced in the paragraph above (Matthew 25:14-30) – Jesus does indeed "give" us the food which endures to eternal life – just as the master gave his three servants the talents – but He also very clearly says that we have to labor for that food.  Contradiction?  Absolutely not!  We have to be just like the “good and faithful servant,” who received a free gift from his master without doing a thing to “earn” it, but then had to do something with what his master gave him in order to enter into his master’s joy. 


John 6:54, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life…”  Whether you take that verse literally or metaphorically, it still says that if you do something – eat His flesh and drink His blood – you will receive eternal life. It does not say that if you do this thing you will receive rewards for doing so after you get to Heaven.  Heaven itself…eternal life itself…is the reward.  At least, that’s what Jesus says.


Romans 2:6-7, “For He will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give rewards after he gets to Heaven.”  Whoops…wait a minute!  That’s not what it says, is it?  Oh, no.  It says, “…to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life.”  I don’t know what book Mr. McCarthy has been reading, but I don’t think it was the Bible.  The reward for “patience in well-doing,” is not some reward given after you get to Heaven.  Heaven itself…eternal life itself…is the reward.  At least, that’s what Paul says.


1 Corinthians 3:8, “He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.”  You labor, you receive your wages.  Now, this doesn’t specifically say whether the reward is “in heaven” or if it is “of heaven,” but it nevertheless bolsters the Catholic claim of there being merit (reward) for one’s works.


Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”  Every Christian, including Mr. McCarthy, knows that the “inheritance” referred to here is eternal life.  This passage directly states that if you do the work the Lord has given you to do, whatever that may be, you will receive “the inheritance”…eternal life…as your reward. In other words, this passage directly contradicts Mr. McCarthy’s words.  So, one must ask themselves, “Who would I rather believe – Mr. McCarthy, or the Word of God?”


Hebrews 10:35-36, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.”  What is it that is promised?  For this verse to make sense in Mr. McCarthy’s theology, we must believe that what is promised is some sort of reward, exactly what no one knows, after one gets into Heaven.  But that makes no sense given the context.  Besides, I guarantee that if Mr. McCarthy was asked to read this verse and identify what the reward is and what the promise is, he would say, “Eternal life.”


Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him.  For whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”  How is it, do you think, that God “rewards” those who seek Him?  Maybe, with eternal life?  I’ll come back to this verse, and some of the others, in just a bit.


Mr. McCarthy’s argument appears to have a hole or two in it, and “I have not yet begun to fight,” (John Paul Jones).   


James McCarthy:

Eternal life is not a reward, but the unmerited gift of God. Jesus, speaking of His sheep, said, "I give eternal life to them" (John 10:28). He promised, "I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost" (Revelation 21:6, see also: John 4:14; 6:40; 6:47; 17:2; Romans 5:17; 6:23).


John Martignoni:

Nowhere can he give me a quote from the Bible that states what he just stated: “Eternal life is not a reward, but the unmerited gift of God.”  Actually, according to the Scripture verses I cited earlier, and according to Catholic teaching, it is both a gift and a reward.  Catholic theology has no problem with any of the verses McCarthy cites here from John, or Revelation, or Romans, or anywhere else for that matter. 


John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…”  “Amen, amen!” says the Catholic.  We believe that Jesus does indeed give us eternal life, just as the master “gave” the servants the talents and just as Jesus “gives” us the food that endures to eternal life, but which we still are told to “labor for.”


Revelation 21:6 and John 4:14 talk of Jesus “giving” us water from the fountain of the water of life.  “Amen, amen! says the Catholic.” Again, just as the master “gave” his servants the talents, Jesus “gives” us the water of life so that we will never thirst.  Nowhere do these passages say, however, that once we receive the gift we can just sit on it like the wicked and slothful servant did and still expect to enter our master’s joy.

John 6:40 and 6:47 say that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.  “Amen, amen!” says the Catholic.  But, nowhere does it say, “Believing alone,” or “Faith alone.”  And, for some reason, Mr. McCarthy fails to mention John 6:51, 53, 54, 56, 57, or 58 – all of which say you must “do” something – eat His flesh and drink His blood – in order to have eternal life.  It is only through the selective reading of Scripture that Mr. McCarthy can support his position. Believing and doing – as the Catholic Church and the Scriptures teach – and not just believing alone, as Mr. McCarthy teaches.

John 17:2 says that Jesus gives eternal life to all whom God has given Him.  “Amen, amen!” says the Catholic.  That is Catholic teaching.


Romans 5:17 speaks of the “free gift” of righteousness.  Romans 6:23 says that eternal life is the “free gift” of God.  Catholics agree that eternal life is a gift freely given by God.  But, again, just as the servants in the Parable of the Talents had to do something with the free gift given to them by their master, so we have to do something with the free gift of eternal life given to us by our master.  We have to provide a return on it.  In fact, Romans 6:22 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.”  It seems Mr. McCarthy ignored that verse.  Do we get a “return” on something if we have done absolutely nothing with it?  No, just ask the “wicked and slothful” servant in the Parable of the Talents. 


Now, some may say that the Catholic Church’s position seems to be contradictory – saying on the one hand that eternal life is a free gift, but saying on the other that it is a “return” or “reward” for our works.  Well, again, our position is contradictory only if the Bible is contradictory.  As I just showed, the Bible mentions in Rom 6:22 about receiving eternal life as a “return,” but in Rom 6:23 eternal life is a “free gift.”  How can it be both?  I’ll expound on that momentarily…keep reading.


James McCarthy:

Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church insists that eternal life is a merited reward earned by doing good. Just as a Catholic can earn an increase of grace and an increase of glory, he can earn eternal life.

The Church denounces anyone who teaches otherwise:

    If anyone says that the good deeds of a justified person are the

    gifts of God, in the sense that they are not also the good merits of

    the one justified; or that the justified person, by the good deeds

    done by him through the grace of God and the merits of Jesus Christ

    (of whom he is a living member), does not truly merit an increase in

    grace, eternal life, and (so long as he dies in grace) the obtaining

    of his own eternal life, and even an increase of glory: let him be anathema. (Council of Trent)


When the Council states here that Catholics can truly merit eternal life, it means that there is an equality between the work performed and the reward received. Aquinas explains this relationship saying that, by the mercy of God, good works which proceed from the grace of the Holy Spirit merit everlasting life condignly. According to Aquinas, eternal life is "granted in accordance with a fair judgment."


Roman Catholic theologians contrast condign, or well-deserved merit, with congruous merit. This latter kind of merit applies to cases in which the reward "results from a certain graciousness in the light of God’s liberality."


Eternal life, according to the Church, is a truly merited reward. It is merited condignly, not congruously. It is not a free gift which God graciously gives apart from anything man has done to earn it. It is the result of a fair judgment.


John Martignoni:

When Mr. McCarthy states that, “according to the Church,” eternal life “is not a free gift which God gives apart from anything man has done to earn it,” he is either speaking out of woeful ignorance, or he is being shamefully dishonest. 


As the Council of Trent states, in a canon that for some reason Mr. McCarthy did not see fit to mention, “We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because ‘faith is the beginning of human salvation,’ the foundation and root of all justification, ‘without which it is impossible to please God,’ [Heb 11:6] and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and are, therefore, said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace itself of justification,” (Trent; Decree on Justification, ch. 8). 


The section of this quote I have bolded and underlined means that we are “justified” – or “saved” in Mr. McCarthy’s vernacular – freely, as a gift.  That’s what “gratuitously” means – without cost.  So, nothing we do before we are justified, or saved, whether faith or works, can merit salvation.  That is a dogmatic statement of the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church teaches, dogmatically, that justification, salvation, is a free gift of God.  Yet, Mr. McCarthy says the Catholic Church teaches that eternal life is “not a free gift which God graciously gives apart from anything man has done to earn it.”


The quote above was taken from the same section of the Council of Trent that Mr. McCarthy is quoting from, so I find it hard to believe that he did not see it.


What Mr. McCarthy fails to take note of, or deliberately refuses to understand, when he claims that the Church teaches salvation is not a free gift of God, is that in the passage he quoted from the Council of Trent, it is speaking of the good deeds of the “justified” person.  The word “justified,” or saved, is referring to a person who has already freely received the gift of eternal life. So, the passage which he quotes, and from which he draws the conclusion that the Church teaches salvation is not a free gift, is referring to an already saved person or, as a Catholic would put it, a person who is in a state of grace.  If one is not saved, not in a state of grace, than one’s good works merit nothing.  I think that is a pretty important point that Mr. McCarthy seems to have overlooked. 


So, the passage from the Council of Trent which McCarthy quotes from, and takes issue with, is talking about the good works of someone who is already saved as meriting eternal life.  It is not talking about the good works of someone who is not already justified.  How did that justified person become a justified person so that their good works could merit salvation?  By the free gift of God. 


But, one might ask, are we not contradicting ourselves by saying that we cannot merit our justification but that we can merit eternal life?  Well, we are if you believe the Bible contradicts itself, because as I’ve shown with the Scripture verses referenced above, the Bible absolutely supports Catholic teaching on this matter.  No, there is no contradiction in the Catholic Church’s teaching, or in the Bible’s teaching on this point.  The reason there is no contradiction, is because the person who has received the free gift of salvation, can lose it.  Any good works that are done are not done in order to be justified, but to keep from losing that justification. 


Let me use Scripture to explain what I just said:


Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  We have been saved by grace, through faith – either our faith or the faith of our parents (infant baptism) – not by works.  Eternal life is a free gift of God.  But, this passage ends by saying that God has prepared a set of good works for us, that we “should” walk in them.  Well, what happens if the person who has received the free gift of eternal life from God, chooses not to do the good works that God has prepared for him?


Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven.”  So, in order to get into heaven, you can’t just cry, “Lord, Lord.”  You can’t just have faith alone.  You have to “do” the will of the Father.  Well, the will of the Father is that He has prepared some good works for you to do, as we saw in Eph 2:10.  So, let’s say you’ve been saved by grace as a gift from God, and then you don’t do the will of the Father by not doing the good works He has prepared beforehand for you to do.  Are you still saved?  Not according to Jesus.  But, if you do those good works, if you do the will of God, do those works allow you to receive salvation, or to keep the salvation that has already been given to you by God’s grace?  They allow you to keep what you have already been given.


Let’s look again at the Parable of the Talents.  First of all, was the third servant in his master’s good graces at the beginning of the parable?  Of course he was, or the master would have never entrusted him with the talents.  But, after the servant does nothing with what he was freely given, what does the Bible say?


Matthew 25: “You ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own WITH INTEREST.  So, take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents,” and then this servant is tossed into the outer darkness.  The two servants who return more than what they were given, not only enter into their master’s joy, but they are set over much by their master.  They kept what was given them.  The servant who did nothing with what was given to him, lost it. 


Moral of the story?  We cannot work to obtain salvation – since it is a free gift of God (received through Baptism), and since no work we do before we obtain our initial justification can merit anything anyway.  But, we must work to keep from losing salvation, to keep from losing what we have been freely given.  Now, after we have been justified, then our works can truly be said to merit because we are cooperating with God, “at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” (Phil 2:13) of our own free will.  As it says in John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”  We cannot produce fruit unless we first abide in Christ, the vine…unless we are first saved, or justified.  But, if we are a branch of the vine which is Christ, and choose not to produce fruit, choose not to do the good works that God has prepared for us beforehand, then we will be cut off from Christ and wither and be thrown into the fire to be burned (John 15:6).


James McCarthy:

Romans 2:6-8


To substantiate its claim that eternal life is a merited reward, the Roman Catholic Church cites Paul’s letter to the Romans:

    [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. (Romans 2:6-8)

The Roman Catholic Church interprets this passage to say that if a person dies with sanctifying grace in his soul, he deserves to go to heaven because of his good deeds:

    . . . it must be believed that nothing more is needed for the

    justified to be considered to have fully satisfied God’s law,

    according to this state of life, by the deeds they have wrought in

    him and to have truly deserved to gain eternal life in their time

    (provided they die in a state of grace). (Council of Trent)


John Martignoni:

Okay, he seems to be deliberately slanting what he says here to focus on good deeds, while leaving out of the equation all of what the Church teaches regarding faith and justification, which is right there in the Council of Trent, and which he must have read while doing his research for this article.  He is trying to make his readers think the Church puts all of her eggs in the “works” basket.  He is trying to slant the phrase, “to have fully satisfied God’s law,” as meaning the Catholic Church teaches that good deeds alone can fully satisfy God’s law.  He just glosses right over the fact that this passage is talking about “the justified,” or, as it mentions again, those “in a state of grace.”  Well, pray tell, Mr. McCarthy, how did those who are justified, come to be justified?  What does the Catholic Church teach on that?  What does the Council of Trent teach on that?  They came to be justified by the free gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ. Mr. McCarthy fails to mention that tiny little detail.


As I have cited above, Trent clearly states that without faith, one cannot please God.  So, faith is a part of what is required “to have fully satisfied God’s law,” as well.  But he ignores that.  He also leaves out all of what the Bible says, about the role of works in the process of salvation, some of which I have quoted above.  


James McCarthy:

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that what every man and woman truly deserves is eternal punishment. The good news of Jesus Christ, however, is that God is willing to graciously give those who trust Christ eternal life, a gift that no one deserves! In order that these two truths would not be confused, the Holy Spirit included both of them in one verse:


    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal

    life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)


With such a clear statement here that eternal life is a free gift, Romans 2:6-8 cannot possibly be interpreted as teaching the direct opposite—that eternal life is a merited reward. A closer look at Romans 2:6-8 reveals the source of the Church’s misinterpretation.


John Martignoni:

I think he just made an infallible pronouncement here – “Romans 2:6-8 cannot possibly be interpreted as teaching…that eternal life is a merited reward.”  Oh, it can’t be interpreted that way even though that’s what it actually says?  Regarding Rom 6:23, as I’ve explained above, the Catholic Church agrees 100% that eternal life is the free gift of God.  But, as Scripture very clearly shows, once we’ve got it, we can’t bury it in the ground, we have to do something with it or it can be taken away from us.


James McCarthy:

In Romans 2:6-8, Paul is addressing the kind of person who considers himself morally superior to others in character and conduct. This moralist, however, is himself practicing the very sins he condemns in others. Paul warns this hypocrite that he will not escape the judgment of God. A day is coming when God "will render to every man according to His deeds" (Romans 2:6). Those who do good—the biblical evidence of new life (John 15:8)—will receive honor and eternal life. Those who do evil—the biblical evidence of an unregenerated heart (1 John 3:7-10)—will receive wrath and indignation.


Note that Paul does not say that God will render to every man honor or wrath because of his deeds. That would make good works the cause of eternal life, as taught in Roman Catholicism. Rather, Paul says that God will render judgment according to how a man has lived. This means that there will be a relationship of correspondence between how a person lives and the outcome of his judgment. Those who practice good—evidence of true spiritual life—will receive good from the Lord. Those who practice evil—such as the hypocritical moralist Paul is addressing—will receive wrath and indignation.


John Martignoni:

This sentence above is a masterful piece of double-speak.  I think George Orwell would be left spellbound by this paragraph.  It truly is amazing.  McCarthy says, speaking of Romans 2:6-8, “Note that Paul does not say that God will render to every man honor or wrath because of his deeds.” 


Yet, he earlier correctly quoted Romans 2:6-8 as saying: “For He, [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…”  Uhmm…I don’t know about you, but it sure seems to me that Paul said God will render honor to every man – eternal life…BECAUSE OF HIS DEEDS. 


“…but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”  Uhmm…I don’t know about you, but it sure seems to me that Paul said God will render wrath to every man BECAUSE OF HIS DEEDS.


Notice in this paragraph how he takes the reward of “eternal life” which is specifically mentioned in the verse, and turns it into, “will receive good from the Lord.”  His substitution of “good” for “eternal life” allows him to avoid the truth of Catholic teaching regarding a person meriting eternal life. Here is Romans 2:6-8, according to Mr. McCarthy:


“For He [God], will show that there is a relationship of correspondence between how a person lives and their judgment.  Those who practice good, which thereby demonstrates that they have been saved by faith alone, will receive good from the Lord.  Those who practice evil, which thereby demonstrates that they have not been saved by faith alone, will receive bad stuff – wrath and indignation – from the Lord.”


Uhh…yeah, sure. 


James McCarthy:

Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, teaches that God gives eternal life to people because of their good works, to those who deserve it:


    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. . . . we can actually merit heaven as our reward. . . .

    Heaven must be fought for; we have to earn heaven. (Dogmatic

    Theology for the Laity)


John Martignoni:

Again, he focuses on works alone when neither the Council of Trent, nor the overall teaching of the Catholic Church, does any such thing. 

James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.”

Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay every man for what he has done.”1 Cor 3:8, “He who plants and who he waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor.”Rev 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.”

The concept of merit, whether meriting an increase in grace here in this life, or an increase in glory in the next life, or in meriting eternal life itself, is based not on some debt that God owes us because of what we do, but on the fact that God promised us that He would give us all of these things if we love Him and do what He told us to do.  That, and the fact that all merit ultimately derives from the merit Christ earned for us on the Cross, and that we can apply that merit to our lives by virtue of being members of His Body, is why the Catholic Church can teach what it teaches, that eternal life is both a gift and a reward.  Which is exactly what the Bible teaches.



In Conclusion

I know this one has been a little long, but I hope it has helped you to better understand the Catholic teaching on merit. I’ll be back either next week or the week after with another newsletter. Until then, be holy!

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Apologetics for the Masses