How Do the Sacraments Function in the Life of a Catholic Believer?-Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
What does the Catholic church teach concerning baptism? Catholic apologist Karl Keating teaches, “The Catholic Church has always taught that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism.” What else does baptism do for the individual Catholic?

As noted previously, the sacraments are believed to work ex opere operato—merely by virtue of the performance of the act. This explains why in some pagan countries overzeal­ous Catholic priests have, apparently, actually thrown buckets of water on natives—hoping to infuse the graces of baptism merely by the act itself.

Nevertheless, if we look at the sacraments collectively, we can see that each one is intended to perform a special function at a special time. Thus, just as baptism, confirmation and marriage are pivotal points in a person’s life, the function of penance, the Mass, and anointing the sick also relate to crucial moments in life.

Space does not permit discussing each sacrament in detail; however, to illustrate the sacraments we will discuss baptism, Holy Eucharist (in Part 3), and penance (in Part 4). These and other sacraments will briefly be discussed again when we look at the Catholic view of salvation.



The Catholic Church teaches that baptism remits original sin, actual guilt and all punish­ment due to sin.[1] The Catholic Church also teaches that baptism confers (1) justification, (2) spiritual rebirth or regeneration and (3) sanctification. Catholic apologist Karl Keating teaches, “The Catholic Church has always taught that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism” and “baptism is the justifying act.”[2] Thus, “the justification that occurs at baptism effects a real change in the soul….”[3]

The Catholic Encyclopedia also explains the importance of baptism in the scheme of salvation:

The effects of this sacrament are: (1) it cleanses us from original sin; (2) it makes us Christians through grace by sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection and setting up an initial program of living… (3) it makes us children of God as the life of Christ is brought forth within us…. Vatican II declared: “…baptism constitutes a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it. But baptism, of itself, is only a beginning.
[But]… baptism is necessary for salvation….[4]

Baptism, however, is only the beginning of justification because in Catholic teaching subsequent good works increase grace (spiritual power) and help perfect justification. Baptism does not save automatically, for Catholicism holds that salvation can be lost through mortal (“deadly”) sin or other means. But salvation cannot be had without it. Be­cause baptism produces regeneration, a person is made capable of faith. Once he exer­cises faith, he grows in sanctification which is then followed by his further justification, since baptism makes it possible for a person to cooperate with divine grace, allowing for further growth in righteousness.

In Outlines of the Catholic Faith we read the following about baptism:

The Sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin. In those who have the use ofreason Baptism also removes actual sin and the temporal punishment due to sin. In Baptism we are reborn as children of God, made members of his Church, and heirs to the kingdom of heaven. Baptism permanently relates us to God and is necessary for salvation…. The theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity are infused with grace into the soul by Baptism. Baptism imprints an indelible character on the soul and can be received only once.[5]

Because Catholicism teaches baptism places “an indelible mark…. on your soul”[6] the Church of Rome holds that once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Again, of course, to always be a Catholic does not necessarily mean one cannot end up in eternal judgment.

Nevertheless, the fact that Catholicism teaches baptism is an essential requirement for salvation underscores a system of works salvation. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma declares, “Baptism by water is, since the promulgation of the gospel, necessary for all men without exception, for salvation.”[7]

But nowhere in all the Bible can this teaching be justified. It would be strange indeed—if baptism conferred all the above upon the believer—that the Apostle Paul himself would even think of saying that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to undercut the basic biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone.


  1. John Hardon, The Catholic Catechism: The Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), pp. 506-507.
  2. Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 254.
  3. Rod Rosenblad and Karl Keating, “The Salvation Debate,” conducted at Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, CA (March 11, 1989), cassette tape.
  4. Broderick, ed., p. 65, emphasis added.
  5. Leaflet Missal Company, Outlines of the Catholic Faith (St. Paul, MN: 1978), p. 18.
  6. Karl Keating, What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record Straight (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1992), p. 19.
  7. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1974), p. 356, emphasis added.

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