At the heart of the debate between Christians and Catholics rests the definition of justification. In other words, when are men in a right and reconciled relationship with the Lord?
Catholics believe in a progressive approach to justification where men - empowered by the grace of god - perform various deeds and sacraments which will eventually allow them to stand before the living God.
Baptism starts the journey, washing you of your sin. The sacraments give you a spiritual booster shot cleansing you of your minor sins. Confession redeems you from spiritually deadly mortal sins. And purgatory will finish the job so long as you stay on the straight and narrow. This view asserts that while Christ's death made it possible to enter heaven, faith alone is not sufficient. You need the church, the sacraments, and purgatory to be justified.
Yet, Scripture presents a radically different and simpler perspective. The Bible teaches that God declares the Christian to be righteous when they have genuine faith - no further work needed. This is the doctrine of Sola Fide - "by faith alone."
One of the clearest articulations of this doctrine can be found in:
Ephesians 2:8-9: "8For 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, so that no one may boast.
Being saved by grace through faith is a gift from God. Unlike Catholic teaching, we see that God does not impart saving grace through the sacraments but through simple faith.
Why faith? Because faith is an expression of humility and a renunciation of self dependence.
Why grace? Because grace gives maximum glory to God. For example, imagine for Christmas I gave you a brand new leather jacket. You fall in love with it the moment you slip it on. Then I tell you, "That will be two dollars." This is still a good deal but it's no longer a gift.
If you are like me, when your friends ask you where you got that jacket you will talk about the great deal you received. Such boasting will make them think that you are a shrewd and wise shopper. But let's say I gave you the jacket as a gift. When your friends inquire about how you procured the jacket, you will be forced to say it was a gift. And your friends will have new admiration for the gift giver. In the same way, salvation is given as a gift so that we will not be tempted to boast in ourselves, but in the giver of the gift.
This gift of salvation is perfect and complete in every way and it is available to all through faith. Christ is the all- sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Through Him we are completely forgiven. Through him we can approach the throne of God with confidence as we have no fear of condemnation. How glorious is it to realize that our salvation is not up to us, but that we can have peace and assurance that "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, not things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-9)!