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The Gospel Journey


There is something that happens when a person begins to understand just how deeply profound God’s grace is toward His children.  Sarah Taras is on that journey like many of us, and has written about it over at her blog. Her journey has taken her away from her denomination and in search of the Church. In her searching, she has identified the longing of many hearts:

We’ve wandered far and wide, desperate to hear the one thing our entire faith is founded upon: “It is finished”.

For Taras, this has led her to the doorsteps of the Lutheran church. While I am not Lutheran, and have some significant theological differences with Lutheranism, I have a huge appreciation for their unabashed preaching of the Gospel. I have seen first hand how weary my brothers and sisters in Christ have become when the law is used to manipulate and control their behavior. I have heard their cries as they are crushed by those who use the law in an unlawful manner. I hear story after story about how their churches have discouraged them.

As a pastor, I am committed to holiness. It is vitally important for the church to reflect who our God is. God has indeed called us to be different from the world. However, I am also committed to allowing God to produce that holiness through His ordained means – the hearing of and believing in the gospel.

Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the law was powerless to produce holiness because it was weakened by the flesh. The law, he said, increases sin. But what the law was powerless to do, God did by sending Christ. In sending Christ He condemned sin in the flesh.

I often use Romans 6 as an example of how we are to grow in holiness. In verse 1, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “should we continue to sin so that grace may abound”?  This is (by the way) one of the chief objections of those who insist that we reign in our talk of grace. They insist that if we talk about grace too much (as if that is possible) then people will think they can sin all they want because grace covers it. I understand their concern. I really do. These are people who love God wholeheartedly and have a deep passion for holiness. This is a good thing. But in their zeal, they often resort to unbiblical means of achieving holiness. Notice first how Paul does not respond. He does not point them back to the law. To do so is a distinctively Roman Catholic response. “How do you overcome your sin? Here is a list of things to do”. This kind of thinking is precisely what the Reformation was all about. We cannot merit anything. Our law keeping is unable to make us holy. So how does Paul respond? He responds by reminding them of the gospel. “Don’t you know that …”

It is so important to grasp this because God is showing us the answer to the dilemma that our law oriented brothers and sisters fear. Through Paul, God tells us two things:

  1. Holiness matters to God. It is not His desire for His children to live in sin.

  2. The ordained mechanism for creating holiness within His children is not the law, but believing in the gospel. Or to put it another way, grasping our union with Christ. Or going deeper into our justification as the Lutherans say.

Back to Sarah Taras…

There are times when God uproots us from where He once led us to begin a new journey in life. I am not one who advocates leaving a church for petty reasons; but this is no petty thing. If God has stirred your heart to move on from your current church I would encourage you to move slowly as Taras has. Examine your heart. Are you wanting to find a new church because God is convicting you of sin and you want to avoid the Spirit’s conviction? If so, perhaps it is best to stay where God has placed you. Return to the gospel of Christ to overcome your sin!

However, there are countless who are not being pointed back to Christ to overcome sin. Instead, they are pointed to themselves and to their effort to their flesh. While we do exert significant effort in battling sin, we do not trust in our effort to sanctify us. In Galatians 3:3, Paul condemns this kind of thinking when he says, ” Are you so foolish? After beginning means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

So what do you do if you are in one of these congregations which Paul labeled as foolish in Galatians 3:3? I think in this case it is justified to leave your church after pleading with your elders to see the truth of God’s word. This is no small matter. It was important enough to receive a rebuke from Paul; a rebuke which (incidentally) was harsher than the rebuke he gave to those struggling with sin in the church.

If you are weary of being unlawfully crushed by the law in your church, then my heart goes out to you. I pray for people like you every day. I pray that like Sarah Taras, you will find comfort in the cross and will find a church that feeds you with the gospel. A church that encourages you to love Christ by living a life of grateful obedience rather than fearful obedience. May God be with you and lead you to the joy of His transforming grace.

Read: Encouragement For the Denominational Stray Dogs

26 thoughts on “The Gospel Journey

  1. Luke

    I didn’t get in on the discussion yesterday but I shared it on facebook. I thought I would get in early on the next one so I signed up for the email alerts and have been waiting for my email! This is an issue that is huge right now. I think you are right to point out a few times that obedience is not optional. It is the fruit that identifies God’s children.

    My own journey started like many others. I was in a church that beat people up with the law for every mistake and used it to control behavior. I wanted to change so badly but the harder I tried the more I failed. I was good at pretending. All law driven people are. Outwardly I had a perfect appearance. I made sure our kids behaved, we dressed modestly, I always had a smile on my face and I hugged my wife a lot. But inside I was a train wreck. My heart harbored anger, lust, pride and harshness. Then my wife called me out on it. She said she was tired of pretending and that she saw my anger. She saw the ocassional glance at a scantily clad pedestrian crossing in front of the car, she knew that my behavior had changed but my heart hadn’t. Our relationship began to change. We vowed to stay together but would attend different churches. I continued at the Baptist we had been going to and convinced the pastor and elders that the dispute was her problem. They quickly took my side. Meanwhile my wife fell into a small reformed church with an emphasis on grace. Her heart was slowly changing and I could tell that she found something real. Something with the power to change that I had been looking for. After two years I was completely crushed under the law. God used His law to do its work and I was ready for real change. But when I went to my elders they pushed me back to the law. The law became a burden once again but this time unlawfully. It had already done its work in me and now I needed the power of the gospel. I put up with this for another nine months before leaving and joining my family at the reformed church. I am grateful for God’s law but believe like you that it lacks the power to change the heart. Such a good work is now being done and it is all from God this time. The behavior is the same but this time my heart has been changed and my obedience is motivated by gratitude instead of pride.

    I liked the article. I can relate to her. I think a lot of people can.


      Luke my heart goes out to you and your experiences. Your testimony is another example of the kinds of stories I hear about often. Treasure God’s law- it is perfect! But thank God that we don’t stand condemned under it! Treasure even more the gospel of Christ which removed the curse of the law and enabled us to delight in the law.

  2. Yes! Biingo!!! Thanks Aaron and boy can that Sarah write! I just finished a few of her posts. Thank you for always introdusing new people!!


      Rena, you are welcome. Give Joseph a hug and a hearty handshake from me!

  3. Josh Lindley

    Two questions. Where do you find all these good blogs and can I write a guest post? Your discussion of the law hit home with me. Like Luke in the first comment I have been destroyed by the law but once coming to Christ have continued to be destroyed. I want to do what is right. I try! And I read Paul in chapter 7 talk about this too and you know what? His solution isn’t more law. It is thanksgiving to God in the very next verse! That is what helps us obey. Not kicking us when we are down.

    I’m looking for a new church too. One that will encourage me to be holy not beat me to be holy. Are you in Nevada?


      Josh, honestly I just can’t stop reading. I stumble upon so many and every now and then find a gem like this one. I am thinking of possibly changing some things which would allow for a better format for guest writers or regular writers. I’ll reach out to you at the email provided.

      Honestly I started doing this to get free books. I had to build a presence to convince a couple of my favorite publishers to let me review. Since then it has grown a little and I am starting to write more. Some of my very early posts were all written by me but as busy as I am these days I tend to link to other posts more than write my own. But if God can use this to bless others then I will take it where He leads.

      Regarding Romans 7… amen!

  4. Aaron,

    First of all let me say that you flat out humbled me with this. When I saw “response to my post” I immediately thought it was going to be negative! LOL! Who takes the time to write a positive response??!! You do! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. This was absolute encouragement to my soul. I needed to hear this.

    Many pastors are writing posts about why those who have left the church should get back quickly- because shame on ya’ll for leaving in the first place. I have felt the blows to my own heart that those posts leave and have heard the pain in others who read them. My heart is to love on those who have also been wounded- and now are just wandering, longing to find a place to call home. The pickin’s are slim for many. Those who have been left broken need to know that they are not alone.

    Thank you for hearing me- and for understanding that there are very good reasons to leave a church- all reasons are not petty or unfounded. People like me need to hear this. Thank you also for the way you handled the “holiness” argument. I whole heartedly agree with you and you made it very clear that it is through the gospel- NOT the law!!!!

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and responding with one of your own. My hope is that more people would be a voice for the broken and wandering….a breath of fresh air…encouragement to keep going…there is hope. Christ is our hope.

    Preach on Bro,

    – Sarah Taras


      Sarah, I know all too well that feeling when someone responds to a post and your stomach drops. I never mind disagreements but some people are flat out mean!

      Thanks again for the post. I am still going back and reading your older ones and am so encouraged by them.

      Hold fast to Christ and His cross!

  5. Oh sooo good! Why do people think if we talk about grace too much we will use it as an excuse to sin? Seriously? Is that for real or is that what Satan uses to silence us when we talk about the only thing that can save us? It’s like the churches in Sarah’s post. Silencing is the best way to keep the good news quiet and keep people in bondage to earning favor with God. Oh my husband is such a good writer and I bet he’ll love to write for you too! I’m starting a blog but am not so good at writing. Besides, mine is going to be more focussed on women issues like the abuse I have experienced and the healing we have in Christ

  6. Terry Greene

    I am one of those who fears grace to be honest. I can’t let go of it but I see that I need to. I am somewhere in between those of you who are celebrating the joy of the gospel and those who are laying the burden of the law on others. I have stopped doing that but continue to lay it upon myself. I want so badly to be able to say that I have done something but know full well that it is only God who has done it already. How did you all get over this hurdle? I already know it is self righteousness. I have come to grips with that so no need to hit me with that piece of news.

    • Terry,

      Grace is terrifying. It scares me daily. I am often left to question my sanity haha! Honestly, if it sounds too good to be true- it’s grace. The good news is- IT IS TRUE!

      To encourage you, I am about 5-6 years out from my first taste of grace. It is a long process that is all the work of the Lord. There is no formula to get over the hurdle. Continue to bask in the good news that Christ has finished it! Pray, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!!” Continue to saturate yourself in grace preaching and rest. Right where you are in your process is right where the Lord wants you. He is bringing you along. You will have lightbulb moments where everything becomes clear and moments where you doubt. That is 100% ok. Know that He has you in His hands and the gospel is true for us even when we don’t believe it! Know that Christ himself is at the right hand of the Father advocating for you- praying for you- even as you wrestle. The fact that you KNOW you are skeptical of grace is a beautiful and encouraging sign. 🙂


    I would only add an ‘Amen’ to what Sarah said. I’m praying with and for you Terry.

  8. Joseph

    Late to the conversation again but I like this post a lot. Rena was telling me about it as we went to bed last night. It really had an impact on her. This and the one from Sarah that you linked up to. Thanks again brother Aaron.

  9. John S

    Hey Aaron, I found your blog, I like it! Just curious, what are you basing your “distinctively Roman catholic response” on? You can email me privately if you want.


      Hello John! I keep meaning to get back together over coffee. It’s been too long!

      You can correct my understanding if I am wrong, but my understanding is that if I were to ask a RC friend how they become more holy.. or what is the means by which his growth in holiness is achieved, he would say that it is rooted in his baptism and sustained (by God) through participating in confession followed by penance in which he makes amends for… or makes satisfaction for his ongoing sin. This is overly simplified because I believe it would also involve mortification and ascesis.

      By contrast, most Protestants would say that we do not possess an inherent righteousness of our own so we must rely upon the righteousness of Christ given freely us by faith. As a result we would say that we are totally unable to make satisfaction for our sins because the standard is perfection- which is why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us (most Protestants don’t have purgatory to remedy the deficit as you know). So Protestants, our growth in holiness is rooted in our justification and empowered by our resulting union with Christ rather than by a “list” of things to do.

      That’s a sloppy response but at 4 AM may be the best I can do right now! I was simply making a distinction between that which is distinctively Protestant and that which is distinctively RC.

      • John S

        That’s why I was confused, because for catholics also our “growth in holiness is rooted in our justification and empowered by our resulting union with Christ”. Amen! The “list” would simply be those things that that person has experienced to be a means to that end. I have not found catholicism to be rigid and legalistic at all. I’m sure there exceptions but they are rare. The Catholic catechism has a good section on this, paragraphs 1920 to 2014.

        1972 The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity and, finally, lets us pass from the condition of a servant who “does not know what his master is doing” to that of a friend of Christ – “For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” – or even to the status of son and heir.

        This is an accurate description of what catholicism is like overall.

        But it also seems that some protestant theologies don’t even make possible a growth in holiness, am I mistaken in that? If that’s true, the discussion would not be about the methodologies of becoming holy, but whether we could become holy at all. Of course catholicism affirms that we can but only through grace. But there are protestants who would agree with that.

        Yes, coffee! Soon!!

        Peace in Christ


          That clarifies a few things but also may deepen the differences between RC and Protestantism because the strength of grace to act is both by faith and the sacraments. I’m assuming not all of the seven sacraments that the RC has since not all receive holy orders and not all marry.

          Would you say that the RC Church teaches that holiness is possible apart from the sacraments? Are the sacraments optional or are they necessary to grow in holiness?

          The key difference here is merit as I see it. My understanding (again I can be wrong) is that the Catholic Church teaches that every good work we do merits (earns?) us an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life, and heavenly glory.

          If this is the case and that is what the RC teaches then there is a huge difference between the Catholic and Protestant view. The Anglican, Wesleyan, Baptist, Evangelical, and Reformed traditions all teach that our good works do not merit us anything- even after conversion. Rather, God looks upon our good works and is pleased to accept that which is sincere based upon the completed work of Christ. This makes good works the fruit of regeneration rather than something that is necessary in order to maintain our standing with God.

          Coffee…. yes. Absolutely.

  10. John Shaferly

    Aaron, I always love the way you think! So generous… thank you!

    “the strength of grace to act is both by faith and the sacraments”
    If I understand you correctly, you’re understanding of RC, is that grace is limited to act through the sacraments? This would go along with your question about the sacraments being necessary for growth in holiness. The answer would be no. The sacraments are considered an “external grace” along with things like revelation, Christ’s teaching and example, liturgy, preaching, and the exemplary holiness of others. The external graces dispose men towards the reception of “internal grace” which is God acting directly upon the soul. Dr Lugwig Ott’s, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, identifies six divisions of grace with two or three types of grace within each division, external grace being one of the sub-categories.

    But that being said, the sacraments are seen as being, in large part, the normative and best way to grow in holiness. They are seen as a divine gift flowing from God’s love and generosity to his children, the principle being the Eucharist, which is very costly to God himself. Catholic theology often takes a “unitive” or both/and approach, and this would be one of them. External and internal grace work together, and the idea of separating them is not considered. There are exceptions but we have to be careful not to make exceptions the norm. But God is not bound by the sacraments.

    This unitive approach applies to merit as well. The funny thing is that a Catholic can truly affirm both of these propositions:

    “the Catholic Church teaches that every good work we do merits (earns?) us an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life, and heavenly glory” (with a distinction in merit)


    “God looks upon our good works and is pleased to accept that which is sincere based upon the completed work of Christ.” (with one small clarification)

    Catholic teaching distinguishes two kinds of merit, condign and congruous, or strict and quasi. Condign is equivalent to wage earning while congruous is a reward based on a position (like a father rewarding his son). It is a complex topic, but very illuminating once understood. It helps to reconcile many apparently contradictory passages in scripture. While it is possible for a regenerate person to merit something in the strict sense, there are seven conditions that must be met, four involving the act itself, two involving the person, and one involving God. The more common form of merit is congruous where God rewards through a filial relationship. He asks us to do something, he then empowers us through grace to do it, he then rewards us spiritually (we store up treasure in heaven). We practice this with our own children to help them mature.

    This brings up two clarifications: 1) Initial justification can never be merited, it is a free gift from God. 2) All meritorious acts are salutary acts, that is done under the influence of grace and are meritorious b/c they draw from the infinite treasury of merit of Christ’s passion.

    No cross, no merit. No grace, no merit.

    This is how we can affirm both above statements. The meritorious works are always a result of union with Christ and the work of the Spirit. Now the distinction that I’d offer in your second statement is that while the work of Christ is completed in one sense, in that there is nothing more that God needs to do, in another sense it is not completely applied to us, and through our suffering united to Christ, or the “way of the cross”, we complete what is lacking. If we use the analogy of a tree and a seed, we can see in the seed that the tree is lacking, and yet the potential for “treehood” is there. With the proper conditions applied, the seed can become a tree.

    Sorry for the length! I tried to keep it as short as I could…

    Your brother


    Hello John,

    Thanks for being so willing to engage. The last thing that I want to do is to misrepresent Catholicism. We both know that there are legitimate differences and to make up new differences that don’t exist wouldn’t serve the cause of truth. Likewise, to pretend that there are not any differences by saying that they are the same is unfair to both Protestantism and Catholicism.

    With that in mind, I think I still stand by my original statement at this point. However, I would probably word it differently so that it is clear that what I mean by it is that a distinctive of catholic teaching is that in order to grow in holiness we must do something. Both Catholicism and Protestantism teach that faith is necessary for growing in holiness. However, Catholicism teaches that it is “faith plus”. Protestantism rejects faith + anything. Not that good works are optional but they are the fruit of true conversion. God has prepared those good works that we do beforehand (Ephesians 2:10) rather than them being something which we do to earn anything.

    You quoted me as saying, “the strength of grace to act is both by faith and the sacraments” and then it appears that went on to say that demonstrates an incorrect understanding of Catholicism because by that I am saying that Catholicism teaches grace is limited to act through the sacraments. I think there is a misunderstanding here. When I said that, I was quoting the portion of the Catholic Catechism that you provided. So those aren’t my words by the Catholic church’s words. I was a little confused by this and thought perhaps you didn’t intend for the quote to be there and were addressing something else? If not then I’m really confused!

    Regardless, my understanding of the Catholic teaching is that faith plus sacraments lead to holiness. I think you clarified it well by saying no, the sacraments are not required but that is the normative means by which the Catholic Church teaches that holiness occurs. So in other words, for most people they are required but there are rare exceptions. Does that sound like a fair summary?

    The key issue here is merit. This is where we disagree in this particular discussion. You gave a helpful distinction between the two types of merit that the Catholic Church teaches. Incidentally I found a few places that distinguished between condign and strict merit making three types of merit, but I’m not sure they were credible. Unless I hear otherwise I’ll just address the two.

    I posed the following statement which you affirmed is something that Catholics affirm with the distinction in merit in mind:

    “…every good work we do merits (earns) us an increase in sanctifying grace, eternal life, and heavenly glory”

    The first kind of merit that you mentioned is condign and was compared to earning a wage. It is something earned based upon the work that the person does. You said that it is possible for a Christian to merit holiness in this manner. Since the Catholic Church teaches that it is possible for a Christian to merit in this manner I want to summarize that statement plugging in the definition of condign (earned) merit with the three clauses contained in it:

    1) Every good work we do earns us (like a wage) an increase in sanctifying grace (i.e. makes us holier).

    2) Every good work we do earns us (like a wage) an increase in eternal life.

    3) Every good work we do earns us (like a wage) an increase in heavenly glory.

    To these, a Protestant would say

    1) The good works we practice do not earn us anything but were created by god for us to walk in beforehand (Ephesians 2:10) which means they are not condign since condign merit is not based on what someone else has done. The same God who saved us will make us Holy (Philippians 1:6) and that saying we can begin in the flesh (our efforts) what God began in the Spirit is not possible (Galatians 3:3). Our holiness is not merited by us but by Christ.

    2) The only wage we have earned with regard to eternity is damnation but the gift of eternal life is not something we can merit or add to. (Romans 6:3)

    3) The hope of our heavenly glory is Christ in us- not works which we have done (Colossians 1:27).

    The other kind of merit which you described is congruous merit. Or merit we get from what someone else earned. If I understand this correctly I would say that all of this merit is congruous because it is based on Christ’s completed work credited to us because we are united to Him in our salvation. However, I would say that the merit is Christ’s not ours. He is the one who earned it. We simply get it credited to us. So we do not merit any of this congruously- but are the benefactors of what Christ merited.

    So if I do the exercise above for congruous merit we have the following:


    1) Every good work we do merits us (because of Christ) an increase in sanctifying grace (i.e. makes us holier).

    2) Every good work we do merits us (because of Christ) an increase in eternal life.

    3) Every good work we do merits us (because of Christ) an increase in heavenly glory.


    1) No good work we do merits us an increase in holiness. But because God credits us with what Christ merited we are counted as holy.

    2) No good work we do merits us an increase in eternal life. But because God credits us with what Christ merited we receive eternal life.

    3) No good work we do merits us an increase in heavenly glory. But because God credits us with what Christ merited we have a hope of heavenly glory.

    Again, I don’t want to misrepresent the Catholic teaching but it seems that no matter which definition of merit we use we find some significant disagreements between Catholicism and Protestantism. The difference is in merit. To get back to my original statement in the post, a distinctive teaching of Catholicism is that our growth in holiness is based (in part) on what we do. My point was to emphasize that “doing” as a way to holiness is not what our tradition teaches. Rather it teaches “done”. As in Christ has done it. It is finished. Holiness is produced in us not by trying to add to what was already accomplished, but by digging deeper into our union with Christ. It is the hearing of the word, specifically the gospel, which empowers us to obey.

    The second statement is one which you also affirmed and is a paraphrase of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF 16.6). However, the distinction that you made in that statement is precisely what differentiates the Catholic and Protestant positions. You said that the work that Christ did was completed but we still have work to do. This changes Christ’s death cry of “It is finished” to “I did my part now you do yours”. This again is what I meant by law (us having to “do”) as a means of holiness is a distinctively Catholic teaching.

    Goodness… did I really just type all that out??!! Again, I think it is important and honorable to acknowledge the differences between the two sides- but if I misrepresent the Catholic positions let me know!

  12. Ryan

    Don’t mind me. I’m just lurking here for the most part but I have been taking an interest in this discussion as an ex-catholic. John I think Aaron hit on something important amd that is merit. As he said the differences are very real and not minor. So why try to make catholicism and protestantism sound the same? Sure they both agree on the creed and so much more but in the area here of achieving holiness the gulf is huge. The truth is as a catholic I was taught that in order to continue to be saved I had to do things. You both touched on it earlier. In catholicism justification and sanctification are not separate. So our works or our holiness here on earth according to catholicism is a part of the process that saves us. I was taught whether right or wrong but taught by catholics that I my eventual salvation depended on my holiness. I was taught that baptism washed my sins away but because I am a sinner it was up to me to keep myself free from sin or I would either burn in hell or spend a lot of time burning in purgatory until I was pure enough to get into heaven. When I heard the gospel finally it was when I worked for Aaron in 2003 and 2004. No one ever told me in the 30 years I had been going to mass that what Jesus did for me on the cross was enough to not only save me but keep me saved. Whether it is the official teaching of the church or not the message of catholicism was that Jesus saved me and I have to keep myself saved. God was not pleased with me unless I was good. I never knew the pleasure of my heavenly Father until I came to see that I am accepted and he is pleased with me because Jesus paid the entire penalty for my sins and took on Himself the entire punishment for all my past present and future sins. I was fed lies that because Protestants didn’t believe this that they all lived in sin and justified living in sin by saying that Jesus already paid for it. In the nine years that I have been saved now I have never met a protestant who teaches or lives like they can sin all they want. Every protestant I know believes sin is wrong and strives to live an obedient life of gratitude rather than bondage.

    This is a huge difference. We don’t have to dread the punishment for our sins. I wish I could say my story is unique but it is not. Now you said you don’t find catholicism to be legalistic at all and if it is it is a rare exception. But doesn’t the catholic church teach that to some degree whether we make it to heaven depends on our holiness? Based on what we do here on earth? That seems to be the very definition of legalism. I don’t know your story but obviously you are new to catholicism because you know what they teach more than moat cradle catholics would. Keep searching for truth my friend. I think even in the catholic church you can find salvation if you ultimately trust Christ alone to save you but you need to come to a point first where you see that you can’t contribute anything and that is hard to let go of. We really want to believe that we can add something to our salvation or that we are working together with God to save us. I was there.

  13. John Shaferly

    Hey Aaron, sorry I missed that you were quoting my original quote. That’ll teach me to read my own quotes better! That line from the catechism doesn’t say that grace is limited to coming through the sacraments. As I mentioned there are many different types of grace, and they do not all come through sacraments (prev. That said, the issue of growth in holiness would require the sacraments of initiation since no growth in Christian holiness is possible without sanctifying grace which is infused at baptism.

    I made a mistake in what I wrote about merit. I said, “While it is possible for a regenerate person to merit something in the strict sense”, but this is incorrect. I was reading from an encyclopedia and either I was misunderstanding what they were saying, or they are incorrect. The catechism (a magisterial document, though not dogma) says, in paragraph 2007 “With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.” 2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. the fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

    So the first list you compiled is definitely not Catholic teaching.

    You said,
    Catholic: Every good work we do merits us (because of Christ) an increase in sanctifying grace (i.e. makes us holier).
    Protestant:No good work we do merits us an increase in holiness. But because God credits us with what Christ merited we are counted as holy.

    I would agree with this, although the good work should be understood to be a salutary act which is made possible only by grace.

    Circling back to what started this discussion.. I of course can’t tell you what to think of Catholicism, I can only tell you what Catholicism says of itself. And Catholicism does not teach that growth in holiness is simply a list of things to do. We never “do” the sacraments, we always receive the sacraments. And the sacraments are a participation in the mysteries of God. We also would not see the dichotomy between law and grace that Protestants do. We see a distinction between the “old law” and the “new law”. The “new law” is the law written on our hearts which is Christ and the Spirit of Christ. So we would say we grow in holiness by “doing things” (namely take up the cross) AND by digging deeper into our union with Christ; the two are inseparable.

    As for the last words of Christ, there are several ways to interpret that text; the one you mentioned, or the standard Catholic understanding; he was referring to his passion. His love-offering to the Father was complete. Or the very interesting “fourth cup” theory from Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre.

    Peace in Christ

  14. Ryan

    So I was kind of mean yesterday and part of that was intentional and I think that was wrong of me. I hope you can forgive me John. I felt bad and emailed Aaron laat night and as usual he pointed me to the gospel of Christ to help me with my temper. I am a work in progress.

    A lot of my frustration comes from my own experiences in the catholic church which was not good at all. Aaron knows my history there and I don’t talk about it much but part of my frustration comes from sexual abuse from the church that I experienced. While God has removed much of my anger there still remains a lot of hurt. I had a good discussion with him this morning and was reminded that sexual abuse is not a catholic problem it is a sin problem. Mine just happened to be in a catholic church. Others have had this happen in protestant churches and others still in their own families.

    John, you know the differences and even though Aaron has told me otherwise I always get the feeling when reading your posts that you are being dishonest about the differences by trying to minimize them. He didn’t share much other than you used to be protestant but are now catholic and that you are very smart. This tells me that you know the differences very well but when you write you skip over the very big issues and seem to brush them under the carpet. I trust Aaron that you are not being dishonest but I also want to let you know that it really does come across that way and that is a disservice to any attempts at reconciliation because the first step in reconciliation is being dead honest about what separates two people or groups. I’m trying not to say this as an accusation but just as a new friend who wants to let you know how it comes across. When I met my wife I knew there were some things that we did not have in common but I had to force myself to expose them to her full scrutiny if our relationship was ever going to work. If I had softened our differences she would have figured it out anyway but I would have come across as a jerk.

    Aaron suggested to me that we move thus discussion to another post so the comments here can stay focused onew Sarah’s excellent points. I think that’s fair. He mentioned posting a video on the differences and having the comments be a discussion of the video.

    • John S

      Hi Ryan, absolutely no worries, I didn’t perceive any of ill will on your part, in fact I appreciated your concern for me. I’m so sorry that you have had to face what you’ve faced, truly sorry. I will keep your healing in my prayers.

      I’m certainly not trying to equivocate, I do my best to accurately represent catholic church teaching, and protestant doctrines as well. If I have been ambiguous, I’m not sure where, so if we continue this discussion, maybe we can look at something specific.

      In Christ

  15. ajcerda

    I’m going to toss something else into this conversation. Does the distinction between sola fide formata and sola fide informi change the anything with respect to the RC rejection of sola fide? Of course, this is all dealing with justification and the discussion here centers around sanctification. However, since there isn’t a clear distinction between the two in RC doctrine I think it still may apply.

  16. Ryan

    As far as I know this distinction is not made in any official teaching. Their theologians can talk about it all they want but until they make a binding doctrine saying that salvation is by faith alone then the distinction is only talk.

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