Maintaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism

by Matt Slick

Salvation, in Roman Catholicism, is a process with many steps:  Actual Grace, Faith, Good Works, Baptism, Participation in the Sacraments, Penance, Indulgences, and Keeping the Commandments.  Basically, salvation is attained through baptism and good works.  It is maintained by good works and participation in the sacraments.  If lost, it is regained through the sacrament of Penance which only a Roman Catholic priest can administer.  Add to this purgatorial cleansing after a person dies, and you can see that salvation is an arduous process.

In Catholicism, a person can gain salvation and lose it many times depending on the number of sins committed, their severity, and how much of the sacraments they participate in--in order to regain grace which enables them to do good works by which they are justified. Furthermore, justifying grace is infused into the Catholic upon baptism and via the sacraments.  This grace can be gradually lost through venial sins or forfeited all together with mortal sins. 

In light of all of this, I've written three interrelated articles: 


Maintaining Salvation, Part 2 of 3

According to Roman Catholicism, after receiving initial justification in baptism, which removes original sin, grace is also infused into a person (Catechism of the Catholic Church, herein referred to as CCC, par. 1999).  However, with each sin a person commits after baptism, there is a loss of justifying grace.  The more a person sins, the more grace he loses.  Venial sins (lesser sins) result in incremental losses of this grace, but mortal sins (greater sins) bring an instantaneous loss of all grace--if a person dies after committing mortal sin, he goes to hell.  In order to replace the grace that was lost, he must participate in the sacraments (mainly penance) administered by a properly ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church.  This regaining of grace enables him to do good works and keep himself in a state of justification before God.  This is how the Roman Catholic maintains his salvation.

The infused grace must be maintained through a series of sacraments.

  • Infused grace: “The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it. It is the sanctifying or deifying grace received in Baptism,” (CCC 1999)
  • Infused grace: "Sanctifying grace is the gratuitous gift of his life that God makes to us; it is infused by the Holy Spirit into the soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it," (CCC 2023)
  • Sacraments necessary for salvation: “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation,” (CCC, par. 1129).
  • Obtaining grace: "The principal ways of obtaining grace are prayer and the sacraments, especially the holy Eucharist," (The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, No. 2, Answer to Question 117).

As you can see, grace is infused into a person via the sacraments.  This is necessary in order to regain the justifying grace if lost so that a sufficient level of justifying grace can be maintained which enables the person to remain justified.  Penance is one of the main sacraments used to maintain a person's salvation.  What is important is that being right with God is not by faith alone but by faith and penance.

  • Penance necessary for salvation: "And this sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation," (Council of Trent, Session 14, Chapter 2).
  • Regain justification through penance:  "As regards those who, by sin, have fallen from the received grace of Justification, they may be again justified, when, God exciting them, through the sacrament of Penance they shall have attained to the recovery, by the merit of Christ, of the grace lost: for this manner of Justification is of the fallen the reparation: which the holy Fathers have aptly called a second plank after the shipwreck of grace lost," (Council of Trent, Session 6, Decree on Justification, Chapter 14).
  • Regaining justification is not by faith alone"If any one saith, that he, who has fallen after baptism, is not able by the grace of God to rise again; or, that he is able indeed to recover the justice which he has lost, but by faith alone without the sacrament of Penance, contrary to what the holy Roman and universal Church-instructed by Christ and his Apostles-has hitherto professed, observed, and taught; let him be anathema," (Council of Trent, On Justification, Canon 29).

Penance is necessary for salvation--for the regaining of justifying grace which cannot be regained by faith alone in Christ's work alone.  Because of this, Catholicism teaches that good works are necessary in order to persevere so as to maintain sufficient grace so as to remain saved.

  • Grace of final perseverance: “The children of our holy mother the Church rightly hope for the grace of final perseverance and the recompense of God their Father for the good works accomplished with his grace in communion with Jesus,” (CCC 2016).

Persevering in the faith, keeping commandments, and participating in the sacraments are all part of the salvation process.  This is why salvation is never guaranteed in Catholicism for the average Catholic.  It can't be because it depends on a person's faithfulness and effort.  In Romanism, infused grace is necessary because it produces good works which in turn are necessary for maintaining one's salvation.

  • "The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 2010).
  • The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law. It is made known to us by divine revelation and by human reason,” (CCC 2080).
  • " . . . the Second Vatican Council confirms: 'The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments,'" (CCC, par 2068).  

Two Kinds of Sin:  Venial and Mortal

There are two main kinds of sin in Roman Catholicism:  Venial and Mortal.  Since venial sins don't forfeit salvation but mortal sins do, we'll discuss venial sins in this article and mortal sins in the article Regaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism

Venial Sins are such sins as drunkenness, lying about something trivial, etc. Venial sin is a lesser sin against the Law of God, committed accidentally and/or without full consent of the will.  Venial sins do not damn a person.  But, they result in the loss of some justifying grace.  If enough venial sin is committed it can lead to mortal sin and the loss of sanctifying grace (salvation).  So, venial sins can be repaired and grace can be regained through the sacraments--mentioned above.  Let's take a look.

  • Venial sin is sin without complete knowledge:  “One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent," (CCC, par. 1862).
  • Venial sin does not remove sanctifying grace: “However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God's grace it is humanly reparable. "Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness," (CCC, par. 1863).
  • The Eucharist forgives venial sins:  "Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant's union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ," (CCC 1416).
  • Perfect contrition remits venial sins:  "When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible," (CCC 1452).
  • Penance restores to us God's grace: "The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God's grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship." Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament," (CCC 1468).
  • Regain justification through penance:  "The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are: reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace," (CCC 1496).

We can see that in the process of maintaining one's salvation, participation in the Eucharist (CCC 1416), having proper contrition (CCC 1452), and participating in penance (CCC 1468, 1496) are means by which the proper level of sanctifying grace is maintained, so that salvation is not lost.

Biblical Response

As is the case in the first of the three related articles (Attaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism), the response is the same.  Therefore, I've reproduced the biblical response here.  But, we must again make it clear that salvation is a free gift of God (Eph. 2:8), that is by faith (Rom. 5:1), and is apart from our works (Rom. 3:28, 4:5; Gal. 2:16). 

  • "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one," (Rom. 3:28-30).
  • "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness," (Rom. 4:1-5).
  • "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified," (Gal. 2:16).

So we can see that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.  Did you also know that adding works to salvation is condemned in scripture?

  • "You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:1-3).
  • "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace," (Gal. 5:2-4).
  • “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness,’" (Matt. 7:22-23).

In Gal. 3:1-3 above, Paul is clearly teaching that the Galatians were fools.  Why?  They were adding works to the work of the Holy Spirit.  In Gal. 5:2-4, Paul tells them that if they received circumcision, that they would not be under grace.  Circumcision represented the works of the Law, and Paul clearly tells them that just getting circumcised (not doing good works) would damn them.  Why?  Because it was a symbol of keeping the Law.  That is why Paul had previously said in Gal. 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”  Finally, in Matt. 7:22-23 we see an account where Jesus condemns people on the day of judgment. Why would they be condemned? They were appealing to their faith in Christ and their works for their salvation on "bad day." By adding any works into the active salvation, it means that the work of God is not sufficient; but that it needs to be perfected--completed by human effort. This is why salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It cannot be by faith and any of our works.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.