“Sacraments are outward signs of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification” (taken from the Catholic Encyclopedia). The Roman Catholic Church teaches that while God gives grace to man without outward symbols (sacraments), He has also chosen to give grace to man through visible symbols. Because God has done this, man is foolish to not make use of this God-provided means of gaining sanctification.
In order to qualify as a sacrament, the Roman Catholic Church states that it must meet the following three criteria: a) the external, that is, a sensibly perceptible sign of sanctifying grace, b) the conferring of sanctifying grace, c) the institution by God or, more accurately, by the God-Man Jesus Christ. Thus, sacraments are not merely a symbol, but are believed to actually confer sanctifying grace upon the recipient. The Roman Catholic Church believes that all of their seven sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself. There are seven Roman Catholic Sacraments, and they are as follows:
1) Baptism, which the Roman Catholic Church teaches removes original sin while infusing the act with sanctifying grace.
2) Penance, in which one confesses his/her sins to a priest.
3) The Eucharist, considered the reception and consumption of the actual body and blood of Christ.
4) Confirmation, a formal acceptance into the church along with special anointing of the Holy Spirit.
5) Anointing of the sick, performed by a priest using oil. The priest anoints the sick person´s forehead and hands with oil. This is associated not only with bodily healing but with forgiveness of sins. When performed on a dying person, it is called Extreme Unction (or last rites or final anointing).
6) Holy Orders, the process by which men are ordained to clergy.
7) Matrimony, which provides special grace to a couple.
The following are verses commonly cited to support the Roman Catholic belief concerning the sacraments: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (John 3:5). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “That He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23). “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:15). “Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:54-55).
It might seem by looking at these verses by themselves that, indeed, certain external actions do convey some benefit (such as eternal life, the forgiveness of sins, the presence or power of the Holy Spirit, etc.). However, when taken in the context of Scripture as a whole, there is no foundation for the belief that God ever intended these passages to be taken as support for rituals as a means of conveying grace. In other words, the whole idea of “sacraments” that convey saving grace upon people is unbiblical.
Two of the main sacraments specifically are said by the Roman Catholic Church to be necessary in order to gain eternal life: baptism and communion. Because of the Roman Catholic Church belief that baptism is required for salvation, Catholics maintain that it is important to baptize infants. But nowhere in Scripture can you find even a single example or command to do so. Some Roman Catholics use Acts 16:33 as a possible example, because it states that the Philippian jailor “and his family” were baptized. But, taking this verse in context, we note two things:
(1) When the jailor asked Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul did NOT say, “Believe on Jesus and be baptized and take communion.” Rather, Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). Thus, we see that it is faith that is the ingredient necessary for salvation. It was understood that one who believed would be baptized, but baptism was not necessary for salvation. If it were, Paul would have given it more weight in his missionary journeys (1 Corinthians 1:14-18).
(2) We see that the “family” could not have included infants or toddlers, as it states in verse 34 that the jailor had “believed in God with all his household.” Infants and toddlers cannot exercise faith in God in such a fashion.
Again and again throughout Scripture, faith, not faith PLUS baptism, is seen as the means through which one receives salvation (John 1:12; 3:14-16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:19-26; 4; 10:9-13; etc.).
Turning to communion, the Roman Catholic Church makes it clear that they take John 6:54 literally when Jesus says, “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” The problem is that their belief that Jesus is speaking literally here is not in keeping with the context of the passage in which Jesus repeatedly states the importance of faith in Him and His coming atoning death for their sins (see John 6:29,35,40,47 and consider the whole message of the gospel of John, as stated in John 20:31).
When one examines the remaining sacraments, one finds that the belief that they convey “sanctifying grace” is not in keeping with the context of the rest of the Bible. Yes, all Christians should be baptized, but baptism does not infuse us with grace. Yes, all Christians should partake of the Lord’s Supper, but doing so does not confer sanctifying grace. Yes, we should confess our sins, not to a priest, but rather to God (1 John 1:9). Having a formal training program and formal acceptance into the church is a good thing to do, but it does not convey saving grace. Being approved as a church leader is an honorable thing, but it does not result in grace. Marriage is a wonderful and blessed event in the life of a couple, but it is not the means of how God graces us. Praying for and with a person who is dying is a godly thing to do – but it does not add grace to our account.
All the grace we will ever need is received the moment we trust Jesus, by faith, as Savior (Ephesians 2:8-9). The saving grace that is granted at the moment of genuine faith is the only saving grace God’s Word calls on us to receive. This grace is received by faith, not by observing rituals. So, while the seven sacraments are “good things to do,” when they are understood in a biblical context, the concept of the seven sacraments as “conferring sanctifying grace” is completely unbiblical.