Why You Cannot Earn Grace

To understand the importance of the statement “faith alone,” we need to remember why the Reformers sought to recover the doctrine of God’s grace. They wanted to emphasize the fact that we are made right with God not through any merit of our own but rather through God’s own free grace. In Christ, we receive unmerited favor from God.

The Roman Catholics in the sixteenth century would have agreed with this to some extent. They indeed believed we needed God’s grace to get to heaven. But how do we get the grace? Here’s what they said at the Council of Trent in 1547 (which is still Roman Catholic doctrine today):

If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be accursed. (Sixth Session, Canon IX)

…Rome wanted to say that we are saved by God’s grace in cooperation with faith and works. In fact, it even saw faith itself as one of the works that earns us God’s grace. But you can’t earn grace—otherwise, it’s not grace, not a gift. Rome taught a theological contradiction, one that Paul warned against in Ephesians 2. Read More»

Jonathan Landry Cruse | “What Does ‘Faith Alone’ Mean?” | January 23, 2023


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  1. The Mennonite and Wesleyan Holiness brothers among whom I was brought up seemed content to agree with Rome on this–tragically, as if the Reformation had never happened at all.

  2. RCC is like bad Reformed churches. You are constantly striving and never arriving cause you are always falling short in duty and practice. Our grace feels conditional and performance based.

    Believe it or not, on my worst days, Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God feels like a relief. I get just as angry and frustrated with myself too. Myself and my efforts need to be burned up so I may begin again. It’s hard to get out of my own way sometimes. Lots of baggage when you are not raised rightly and all your instincts and tendencies are mired in sin.

    • I have found Richard Hooker to be a great comfort on this point in his Discourse on Justification. “The best things we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned…the meritorious dignity of well doing we utterly renounce.” And “…although in ourselves we be altogether sinful and unrighteous…being found in Christ…[God] accepteth him in Jesus Christ…more perfectly righteous than if himself had fulfilled the whole law”.

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