Will Moral Goodness Alone Save? Mother Theresa and the Grace of God

By Marc W. Gibson

Ever since the recent death of the Roman Catholic nun known as Mother Theresa, I have heard numerous comments on television and other places to the effect that if there ever was a person of whom there could be no doubt that she would be in heaven, Mother Theresa was the one. It could make one stop and wonder if, in spite of some errors, the grace of God would allow someone like her to be judged righteous in the end. I am aware that this topic may be found controversial and troubling to some, but I believe it to be important. When discussing such matters, too many rely on their gut-instinct or inner feelings rather than the clear teaching of God’s word. This can be spiritually fatal. The Lord will judge all souls by the standard of his word (John 12:48). I am not at-tacking any person living or dead, but only desire that we examine our beliefs in light of God’s revealed word.

It is not within the realm of this article to fully argue the fact that the Roman Catholic church is an apostate religion. Suffice it to say there is no scriptural authority for its existence, organization (hierarchy), and most of its practices and beliefs. The orders of monks and nuns are unauthorized in Scripture, as is calling someone on earth “Father” or “Mother” in a spiritual context (Matt. 23:9; I use the name “Mother Theresa” accommodatively because that was the name she was best known as, mwg). Whatever else may be said about Mother Theresa, she was still a lifelong practicing member of a human denomination that was devoid of the teaching and practice of truth. She was not a member of the body of Christ, wherein the saved dwell (Eph. 5:23).

The main argument concerns moral goodness and the grace of God. Mother Theresa was a person of high moral character and work. Her labor among the poor and dying in Calcutta, India, is legendary and worthy of honor. But will this alone place her in the good graces of God and his salvation? Will the grace of God cover other faults, though unrepented of? Consider the case of Cornelius, “a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always ” (Acts 10:1-2; see also v. 22). Here is a good, upright, moral man. If he would have died in this condition, many would argue that the grace of God would save him regardless. But is this how God saw his condition? Cornelius was visited by an angel of God who told him that, while God had taken note of his good character and deeds, he needed to send for a man named Peter who “will tell you what yet must do” and “tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved ” (vv. 3-6; 11:13-14). As good and as moral as Cornelius was, obviously something was lacking in his life. Later, when Peter arrived, Cornelius told him, “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (v. 33). Peter taught him that “in every nation whoever fears [God] and works righteousness is accepted by Him ” (v. 35). This included being baptized for the remission of sins (vv. 47-48; Acts 2:38) and all other works commanded in God’s word. We may do good, moral works here on earth yet not be in a right condition with God. The case of Cornelius proves that moral goodness alone will not save. One must be saved from sin by the blood of Christ and then live by God’s moral and doctrinal will.

Jesus will render final judgment at the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). In teaching his truth today, righteous judgment is rendered on our present condition (John 7:24). If I could have talked to Mother Theresa, I would have told her what I tell others  leave the denominations of men and put on Christ in baptism, being added by him to his one church. Still, she had full access to the truth in God’s word. On the other hand, you or I must never presume to say what God will do separate from what he has already revealed (1 Pet. 4:11). To say that God will judge differently than what he has revealed is to speak where God has not spoken. Be careful! To assume and teach that God will make exceptions to his revealed way will lead to a disregard for the authority of his revealed word. Maybe we should be busier teaching and obeying the truth instead of trying to figure out ways to get people into the kingdom of heaven without them doing “the will of the Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). God’s grace is accessed by faith (Rom. 5:1-2), and true faith is a faith that obeys God’s will (Jas. 2:17-26). Fear God and work his righteousness today for your salvation!

Guardian of Truth XLI: 21 p. 1
November 6, 1997