Today, I’d like to address another one of Catholic speaker/writer John Martignoni’s newsletter articles which is on faith, works, and assurance of salvation. This one is #319, titled “Matt Slick’s False Teachings,” and it can be found here:
In this particular newsletter, John Martignoni critiques a letter from (Protestant) Christian apologist Matt Slick of C.A.R.M. (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry).
I do enjoy many of Matt Slick’s articles, but I don’t agree with his Calvinism. For the record, I’m not associated with him, so I’m not one of his students trying to blindly defend him at all costs, or anything like that. I just think what he wrote in his letter is correct. But John Martignoni doesn’t agree.
First, John Martignoni deals with the issue of assurance of salvation. Matt Slick says that he knows he is going to Heaven. But John accuses Matt of being arrogant in saying this and John responds with two Bible passages:
1 Corinthians 10:12 – Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
In the context of this verse, the apostle Paul is warning us not to do as the Jews did in the Old Testament, not to fall away from the truth through unbelief and disobedience. Of course, this is great advice, but this verse is NOT saying that we can’t have the assurance of going to Heaven. In fact, it is implying just the opposite! Just as a coin has two sides, so does this promise in 1 Corinthians 10:12:
1) There is a warning if we don’t learn from the Old Testament Jews’ example, and
2) There is the promise of eternal life if we do continue to trust God. There’s the assurance.
Either way, the warning/promise stands. But John is wrong if he thinks that this verse denies us assurance. If we maintain our faith, our trust in Jesus, we will make it to Heaven. That is a promise from God.
The second passage John quotes is:
1 Corinthians 4:3 – But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
4) I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
5) 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.
This passage is speaking of passing judgment on someone concerning the stewardship of his ministry. It is about divisions and boasting in favor of one minister over another (v. 6). There is nothing at all here to indicate that we cannot have assurance of salvation. So John is trying to twist these passages and force them to say something they’re not saying. He seems to want them to say that we can’t have the assurance of making it to Heaven.
But the beloved apostle, John, says that we can know:
1 John 5:13 – These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (Emphasis added)
So, it is not arrogant to say you have assurance of your salvation if you maintain your trust in Christ. It is not wrong to say that you know you are going to Heaven.
Salvation by Works
In Matt Slick’s letter, another of his main points is that the Catholic Church offers a works-based salvation, which means “faith plus works equals salvation.” Matt quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church several times to prove his point:
“The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1257)
“Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation.” (CCC 846)
“This sacrament of Penance is necessary for salvation for those who have fallen after Baptism, just as Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who have not yet been reborn.” (CCC 980)
“The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (CCC 1129)
“Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation...” (CCC 1816)
“The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation.” (CCC 2036)
Notice how many times “necessary for salvation” occurs. This means that the Catholic Church believes these things are the MEANS and the CAUSE of salvation, at least indirectly; in the Catholic Church’s eyes, they are REQUIREMENTS to get to Heaven.
· To recap the Catholic Catechism above, sacraments (like baptism, penance, etc.) are necessary for one’s salvation. And these are works – no one can deny that. They are religious formalities and rituals that one performs, or at least allows the priest to perform on him.
· Also, the Church is mentioned as a means of salvation. That’s because it is the (Catholic) Church who supposedly dispenses the true sacraments. Again, works.
· The Catechism also mentions service and witnessing. These are also works.
· And lastly, Matt Slick brings out one part of the Catechism that requires a person to observe the Law (the Ten Commandments). The works of the Law are certainly considered good works. No one denies this.
So, Matt is correct in saying that the Catholic Church promotes a works-based salvation. This is clear by the Catechism quotes he used.
Strangely though, Catholics are often offended when Protestants point this out. If you’ll notice when you debate a Catholic on justification, that it is almost a guarantee that they will initially deny that they teach a works-based salvation (just as John Martignoni does in his newsletter). It is almost as if this concept would be embarrassing to them. Yet, in the end, they will forcefully proclaim that works are indeed necessary for salvation (again, just as John does) and will often wrongly appeal to passages like James 2:24. But the context of James 2 is NOT “how to be saved.” It is about the demonstration of your faith when you are truly saved.
But John Martignoni would say that Catholics do not believe that their works, in and of themselves, merit eternal life. He says that it is not by a person’s “own goodness and abilities.” He would say that only special works can merit salvation, those that he elsewhere calls “works empowered by God’s grace,” and he would therefore say that because of that, they contribute to your salvation.
But EVERYTHING we can possibly do is by God’s grace! You can’t speak or sing or even breathe, except by His grace. Just because we are given grace to do something, doesn’t mean that that particular “something” will save us. It is the work that Jesus did on the cross that saves us – but the way to enter into this eternal life is to believe, to trust in Him, accessing His benefits by faith, not works.
The Scriptures clearly teach that salvation is not by works of righteous (Titus 3:5) and that it is by faith apart from works (Romans 4:4-5). It is by grace through faith:
Ephesians 2:8 – For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9) not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Paul is saying about these works, to “walk in them,” meaning after salvation, not in order to be saved.
Question: Were these works that the apostle Paul speaks of here “grace-empowered” saving works?
If yes, then why does it say that we are NOT saved as a result of these works (v. 9)?
If someone says that the works in this context are merely “works of the Law” from the Old Testament, or some form of “lesser” works, we can ask, why then should we walk in them? Those same works that we should walk in are the ones that cannot save us. They cannot merit our salvation, but God does expect us to walk in them daily.
The Bible never makes a distinction between “works of righteousness that save” and “works of righteousness that don’t save.”
If these God-ordained, “grace-empowered” works that John Martignoni mentions can save, then Abraham should have been saved this way. But he was clearly not saved by his circumcision (Romans 4:9-13) – even though his circumcision was a God-ordained work! God specifically told him to do it. I don’t think that John, nor any other Catholic, can answer this dilemma. Again, no matter how great a work is done by mere humans (even if "grace-empowered"), it cannot save. Only the work of the Savior on the cross can.
Justification vs. Sanctification
In Matt’s letter, he states that Jesus cleanses us totally of our sin. But John asks him, “Oh, and one other thing: If Jesus has cleansed you from your sin ‘totally,’ then how come you still sin?”
The answer is, we still sin because we are not yet fully sanctified, even if we have already been justified through faith. Catholics conflate the two terms and it causes them trouble by muddying the water, like in this scenario. What Jesus did on the cross is to totally pay the penalty for sin. He paid it all and there is nothing left to pay. “It is finished!” (John 19:30). No more works or suffering are needed as a payment for sin.
In justification, Jesus paid the PENALTY for sin. The sanctification process helps us against the POWER of sin, and final glorification will deliver us from the very PRESENCE of sin.
Those passages in Scripture that link salvation with works need to be balanced with the passages that teach faith APART from works.
Question: If salvation is by faith plus works, what were the works of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43)? He had none! Yet, for centuries, the thief on the cross has been the great example of salvation by faith alone, i.e., by faith apart from works.
In the end, what does the Catholic do with passages like Romans chapters 3 and 4 (which actually deal with justification)? There is nothing Catholics can do to escape the plain meaning of these passages, as well as the book of Galatians. They either ignore them or misinterpret them by taking them out of their proper contexts.
And what about Romans 11:6:
But if it [salvation] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
It can’t be any plainer. It is telling us that grace and works are opposites! John Martignoni would have us believe that they are actually in the same category! It is not Matt Slick’s teachings in his letter that are unbiblical, but rather, John Martignoni’s.
I have previously seen John Martignoni accuse another Christian teacher of “linguistic trickery,” but, in this case, he is the one guilty of this.