Grace & Sin in Catholic Theology


The following article began as part of an email discussion with a member of The Berean Call staff, which was then picked up and edited into an article which appears in this month’s issue of their monthly newsletter. My thanks go to the TBC team, and especially to the editor, Barb Romine, who always makes my writing look better than it does coming directly from me.


GRACE & SIN: Why the meanings of words matter
by David James

Note from TBC: Increasingly, we read of evangelical leaders dipping into the muddy waters of Catholicism for what they claim is a deeper or more meaningful experience in their Christian walk. For example, Rick Warren was recently interviewed on EWTN [Catholic TV], where he praised the religion highly for its history and claimed that he watches this program more than any other “Christian channel” [see TBC NewsWatch p. 6]. Author and Bible teacher Dave James of the Alliance for Biblical Integrity wrote the following in an exchange with a TBC staff member. We believe that it helps to shed light on the very real differences in the meaning of two words, “Grace” and “Sin,” that are used by both evangelicals and Catholics but have vastly different meanings.

Catholic doctrine has twisted the meaning of a number of concepts creating a paradoxically hopeful—yet hopeless—human condition. Let’s look at two: “Grace” and “Sin.”

GRACE – As believers, we understand that grace is not a physical thing but an abstract concept, which nevertheless exists. It is similar to “love” in this regard. Love is not a thing; it’s an abstract concept that can be manifested. Furthermore, it isn’t a “thing” that is transferred from one person to another but rather is an act that involves a particular way that one person behaves toward another. Biblical love includes the attitude and behavior that always has the best interests of the other person as the priority, even if it costs us something.

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another….Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:11,16).

Likewise, in biblical Christianity, grace is an act of God in which He bestows a blessing rather than what a person deserves.

But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many (Romans 5:15). Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (Romans 4:4).

In Roman Catholic theology, however, although grace is an abstract concept, it is also a thing—a thing that can be transferred from God to humans. For such a transfer to take place, there must be a means by which to accomplish this. In this case, grace is literally transferred through the mediation of Mary using primarily the conduit of the sacraments—they confer the grace that they represent. And as a thing, grace, i.e., sanctifying grace, gives and sustains spiritual life in a very literal way—much as food is the vehicle through which the vitamins and minerals needed to sustain physical life are transferred.

SIN – the Bible teaches that all humanity has a sin nature.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?  (Jeremiah 17:9 ).

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12).

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:23).

And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness (Romans 8:10).

But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe (Galatians 3:22).

Many Christians make the mistake of thinking that “original sin” in Roman Catholic theology equates to and is just a different way of describing the sin nature. This is an utter misconception with eternal consequences.

According to the RCC, Adam and Eve were created possessing “sanctifying grace”—which was “something” that was lost when they sinned against God. Likewise, their descendants inherit original sin—but they don’t believe it is something that people are born with. Rather, there is something that people are born without—namely, sanctifying grace. Therefore, the solution to the original sin problem is to transfer sanctifying grace back into the soul—which takes place through the vehicle of the sacraments, the first of which is the sacrament of baptism. This is why the baptism of infants makes perfect sense within Catholic theology.

Interestingly, this meshes perfectly with Augustine’s theology that we aren’t inherently evil; we simply lack sanctifying grace—a problem that is easily solved through receiving the sacraments. Unfortunately for the Catholic, over time sanctifying grace diminishes—and can be partially lost (through venial sin) or completely lost (through mortal sin). And it is this matter of venial and mortal sin that reveals one of the most tragic aspects of Catholic theology.

We understand that the Bible teaches that although sins have varying degrees of consequences, any and every sin makes us sinners before a holy God and unfit for heaven. Yet, the Bible also teaches that we are cleansed and forgiven of every sin the moment we trust in Christ for salvation.

In contrast, Catholic theology teaches that although Christ’s death made salvation possible, it is up to each individual to earn the right to enter heaven. Those who die with only venial sin on their soul must spend time in the fires of purgatory, literally paying the penalty for their own sins, after which they will eventually make it to heaven. However, if someone dies with a mortal sin on their soul, meaning they have lost all sanctifying grace, they will spend eternity in hell.

  1. The proper use of abbreviations is as follows: The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) . . . Then you can repeat the abbreviation RCC in the body of the article without spelling out all the words. Don’t assume people know TBC or EWTN without first spelling it out! Anyway I appreciate your ministry–just get the rules of writing right. Mail? You mean email (required)?

    • John,

      Yes, of course you are correct – so, I apologize for the oversights.

      On the other hand, if you read the preface to the article I noted that I had simply copied this from another website and had not given close attention to this because it had already been edited. And since it had started out as an email exchange between me and someone else, it wasn’t even originally written as an article.

      I think if one is going to write a rebuke of this nature – including exclamation points – which make a very strong statement in writing, it may have been better to simply write a personal note rather than make a public comment in this manner.

      As for “mail” versus “email” – I think that may because of a WordPress plugin. But, I will check on this, as well.

      Thank you for taking time to read and comment.

  2. Wow, thank you so much for writing this, I had a good friend who said that he became a Christian, but then his wife started pushing him to go to a catholic church with her. After a few weeks of this he started saying I hope I am good enough to make it into heaven, and he really began pushing the catholic doctrine of works. Your article has shed some light on what he is dealing with, and how he is approaching salvation. I was getting frustrated and continually telling him that works has nothing to do with salvation only faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. But no matter how often I said this he couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of what I was saying. Again thank you for your faithfulness in teaching God’s word.


    • Thanks so much for the encouragement.

  3. I have a long time friend who turned to Catholicism in order to meet her dead husband “in the garden” when she passes. She was nothing before she married him and had joined the Catholic Church because of her husband. Her father disowned her because of it. I’ve tried talking to her about the various misgivings of the Catholic church but has now disowned me as a friend because she feels being judged by me. I’m afraid she is lost. I no longer have contact with her as she has ended what I thought was a friendship but it actuality maybe we never were. I will keep praying for her salvation and for the Holy Spirit to intervene. Please pray for her. Her name is Carol.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your broken relationship. These kinds of things can get very emotional – and usually the emotion is a much bigger problem than the theology itself.

      Since your friend had no particular religious affiliation prior to embracing Catholicism, it is very possible – if not likely, that she is not saved.

      Because she mentioned meeting her husband “in the garden” it would seem that she doesn’t understand Catholicism very much at all.

      According to Catholic theology, almost all Catholics will go to purgatory when they die – for an unknown length of time in order to be purged of sin and to repay the debt owed to God for the sins they have committed. Furthermore, the sufferings of purgatory are worse than any suffering in this life – so it is a place of horrible torment that could last for a long, long time. Hardly a place for a nice reunion with her husband. You might be able to encourage her to study this more so that she understands that her thinking is completely against what the Catholic Church teaches.

      If I can be of any help, please let me know.

Hit Counter provided by orange county divorce attorney