Posts Tagged ‘Faith & Works’

 In 1521 Martin Luther declared at the Imperial Hearing of Worms to which he was called to answer questions on his controversial views on the fundamental Christian Doctrine of Salvation taught by the Catholic Church.

 “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

And thus was ‘officially’ created the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. Luther’s rejection of the authority of the Church as the Gardian and interpreter of the Divine Revelation created another series of problems, namely, misguided interpretations of the teachings in the Gospel of Christ, for instance the Doctrine of Faith Alone.

Luther supported his doctrine of Salvation mainly by the writings of St Paul. However, in order to justify his understanding, when translating the works of St Paul, Luther added  the word ‘alone’ in Romans 3:28 in his German translation of the Original – “For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone”. Therefore, we can affirm that he corrupted the text of the Scripture to support his views and interpretation, because in a clean translation from the original Greek, St Paul actually explains justification as:

“For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law”. (Rom 3:28)

Luther regarded the teachings of St Paul very highly, thus he once declared: “St Paul taught a simple gospel that relies on the Christian believing in the person and the works of Jesus Christ to be justified.” In simple terms, this affirmative institutes the doctrine of imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness that is imputed to the believer, which is held until today by most protestant denominations.

The Catholic Church teaches, as we will see in a moment, that men are justified by faith but not by faith alone. As Catholic we must receive the Sacrament of Baptism –  or Sacrament of Faith – through which the righteousness of Christ is infused in into the soul of the Christian, and becomes the righteousness of the believer AND believe in Christ Jesus as our Saviour. The Church also teaches that faith is a gift of God’s grace which is given to us only by God.  Therefore, we can say that salvation comes from grace alone.

The writings of St Paul demonstrate that he agrees with St James’ statement that a man is saved ‘not by faith alone’ (James 2: 24), and as we have seen, he writes that justification is  by ‘faith apart from the works of the Law’. But what does St Paul mean by works of the Law?


The debate within the Catholic & Apostolic Church on the definition of ‘Works of the Law’ goes all the way back to St Jerome, who defined it as being the “ceremonial precepts of the Old Testament’, which are the precepts that Moses gave to the people of Israel to distinct them from the Gentiles, such as prohibition of eating certain foods, circumcision or any other cultural law kept by Jews. St Jerome did not include in his view neither the Judicial Precepts or the Moral Precepts, or the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments – in his definition of works of the Law.

The Council of Trent of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, included the entire body of the Mosaic Law as ‘works of the Law’, which at a first glance seem to be in accordance with Luther, except for the fact that the Catholic Church does not exclude the role of works off the process of sanctification of the believer. Therefore, we come to God with faith, and faith prepares us to walk in works. These works integral of justification are not merely the fruits of faith, because they cooperate with the faith.

In the Book of James the Apostle cites Gen 22 where Abraham is justified as he attempts to sacrifice his son and is said to be justified because his faith is cooperating with the works. The book of Genesis demonstrates that justification is not a one time event process, but continues to be developed, as we see Abraham himself being justified at least in two other occasions (Gen 12, 15) additionally to the one mentioned above.

Therefore, when St Paul speaks of ‘works of the Law’ we know that he refers to the 613 precepts of the Jewish law, but he is equally condemning anyone who would seek to impress God by his works alone, or  that he taught that the 10 commandments no longer apply to Christians. In Romans 3:31 St Paul writes:

31 Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law.

Many Protestants wrongly believe that Catholics hold that we are justified by works. This is wrong, because Catholics know that works without faith is empty! Instead, Catholics believe that man is justified by faith working through love!  A view which is confirmed by St Paul, for instance, in his Epistle 1Corinthians 13: 1-3

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I HAVE ALL faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

St Paul is saying that faith must be formed with love and to love Jesus is to keep his commandments.(Jn 14:15). Therefore, a faith formed by love obeys the commandments and acts or works, and this has been the teaching of the Catholic Church. Justification does not occur by faith alone, but by faith through works of love. 

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Gal 5:6)

 This is ecchoed in the teachings of St Peter in Second letter:
 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtuewith knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1:3-10)

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Read also: Saved by Grace Alone! and Catholic Doctrine of Salvation Revealed: By Grace alone

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Catholic teaching regarding salvation is the notion that says Catholics believe that they can ‘earn’ their salvation through good works. This is inaccurate and must be addressed. Catholics believe that Salvation is a free gift of God to all mankind and that we receive it through the merits of Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Holy Cross, not by our own efforts. However, we do believe that we have to diligently strive to do God’s will so that we may appear before the Lord wearing wedding clothes (Matt 22:11). Our offenses or sins distance us from God, which can ultimately impact  on our salvation because nothing unclean shall enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27).  In other words, our good works are the fruits of the faith we have (James 2:15-18).

WORK out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

 “And I heard a voice from Heaven saying, ‘Write: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth. Yes, says the Spirit, let them rest from their labors, for their WORKS follow them.” (Rev 14:13)

We believe that through His Sacrifice, we were granted a hope  to attain eternal  life.  As opposed to the Protestant notion that Salvation is a certainty for all those who ‘believe’ in Jesus, in spite of one’s actions in life. This ’doctrine’ is called ‘Sola Fide’ or Faith alone.

Hebrews 10:23 – Let us hold unswervingly to the HOPE we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Titus 3: 6-7 – “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the HOPE of eternal life”.

Now, if the scriptures assure us in many instances that there is no condemnation for those who are ‘in Christ’ (Rom 8:1) and that those who are ‘in Christ’ shall enter heaven, why can’t Catholics be certain? The definition of being ‘in Christ’ is certainly more complex that just saying the ‘sinners prayer’ and proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour. To be truly ‘in Christ’ one needs to abide in His teachings.

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will KEEP my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)

Above Jesus talks about the importance of KEEPING His teachings as the key to being loved by the Father, not merely ‘confessing faith’ in Him. Obviously, keeping His teachings is a consequence of having faith in Him, and both are clearly interconnected, but in saying this Jesus signals that we have to live our faith, which opposes the faith alone belief.

James 2: 24 “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”.

Although Jesus’ Sacrifice on the cross meant the forgiveness of sins, it didn’t mean sins were covered up. The Catholic understanding is that faith in Christ is necessary for Salvation,  but His death did not take away our free will to do evil or good. 

Do the Scriptures Support good works?

Mt 16: 27 – For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, & then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (has done = deeds)

Matt. 25: 40,45 – Jesus says “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to Me”. We are judged and our eternal destiny is determined in accordance with our works.

Luke 14:14-13 – But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus says we are repaid for the works we have done at the resurrection of the just.

A oppositor wrote me this:

There are other verses that make it impossible to believe our salvation would be judged by our works.

Rom 9:16 – It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. And John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

So I’m guessing you believe this verse to be a lie since you disagree with it. Our salvation is not up to us or by what we do. You are a liar. Catholics DO NOT believe we are saved by God’s grace. They believe we have to earn salvation through works also.

As stated, Catholics do not deny that Salvation is received by Grace. The official teaching of the Church is that we can be saved only by God’s grace.  With this said, for an accurate understanding of the Scriptures  above – John 6:37 and Rom 9:16 –  these verses must  be read in the light of what the Scriptures convey as a whole, and not through selected excerpts.

“Behold, I come quickly! And My reward is with Me, to render to each one according to his WORKS.” (Rev 22:12)

For instance, the same way St Paul talks about the role of Faith for salvation in Galatians 2:15–16, he also asserts on the value of our works in 1 Cor 3:12-15 and explains that even if our works are burned, we are ultimately saved, but only through purification or ‘fire’.

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and he fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Cor 3:12-15

I asked an objector of  faith & works: Why would God judge our works?  And if He is not interested in our deeds, why did Jesus promise to reward our good actions, can you explain this?

This is the answer I received:

Of course good works matter, I can’t imagine anyone going through sanctification of the Holy Spirit and not becoming a new creature resulting in Good works, but like the Bible says We are elected by God, called by God, Justified by God, Glorified by God. Salvation comes from him not us or anything we do to try to achieve it.

The  Catholic teachings do not contradict the above statement in anyways. I’d only add that we must take into account the fact that there is no sanctification without justification. No-one is sanctified – made holy – before they are justified – made just. The Catechism of the RCC says:

The Holy Spirit is the master of the interior life. By giving birth to the “inner man,” justification entails the sanctification of his whole being: Just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification…. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.

It is relevant to also consider that the importance of good works is also  implicitly taught in the Scriptures in passages such as this:

Matthew 7: 14 – For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

In saying ‘the way is hard’, Jesus is signalling to us that we have to ‘stick’ to His teachings, even the hard ones, in order to be true followers. It is easier for some-one to declare he believes, than to faithfully live his life to Jesus’ standard!

But why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say? (Lk 6:46)

Did Jesus clearly tell us that we have to do good works?

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10: 33-37

“Go and do likewise” is a command for us to act in our faith by good deeds and not only have a passive faith.

Furthermore, Jesus said that if we keep the commandments we will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Keeping the commandments incurs in not offending God by evildoing against our neighbours or directly against God. We can understand with this that if we do no good works or evil, we will enter Heaven, simply by keeping God’s Word. But Jesus goes on to say:

Mark 10:21, Mathew 19:21 & Luke 18:22 – “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Finally, I’d like to address a common objection made by some Protestants who base their ‘faith alone’ belief on Romans 3:28. The original Greek text differs from Luther’s translation because the word faith – pistei in Greek – is not accompanied by the word alone, rather it literally translates as ‘apart from work’. In fact, the only place where faith alone appears in the New Testament, is in James 2: 24 quoted above.

In order to understand Paul’s definition of ‘apart from work’ in Romans 3:28, we need to look at what he means by works elsewhere, otherwise, he would be contradicting James, who is definitely saying that we are justified by works, not faith alone.  In other Scriptures, Paul specifies what kind of works he is referring to: works of the law of circumcision, which he strongly opposes (Galatians 5:2). 

Furthermore, Paul  explains that we must show the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:16–26), which are our good deeds – and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:5), again our good actions towards our neighbours – as a way of fulfilling the “law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which means abiding in His teachings.

Therefore, the Scriptures do  confirm the Catholic understanding for Faith & works regarding salvation. This doctrine, does not imply, however, that a soul can never go straight to heaven, because for Catholics  certainty of eternal life is a reality for those who follow Jesus with strict and unconditional obedience throughout life.


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