Are works necessary? And thief on the cross

Hi guys

I need your help. For the first time I feel that I might have a good opportunity to lead someone into the Catholic faith.

It’s a lady raised in a Baptist community.

Long story short:- We got to a point in the discussion where she asked are works necessary for salvation in the Catholic Church.

I’m thinking yes. So I said yes but that I would check with you guys.

Then she hit me with the thief on the cross.

I’m sorry I’m not very good at this. Leading someone into Catholicism is very difficult, can someone help please.

When Paul rails against ‘works’, he’s often talking about works of the law – that is, those observances of the Mosaic law to which Jews adhere. However, Paul also notes that “God will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works” (Romans 2:5-7). Moreover, when Jesus talks about the Final Judgment, His standard isn’t ‘faith’, per se, it’s works: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:34, 40)

So, clearly, works play a role in our salvation (and, by the same token, a lack of works seems to condemn a person – even a Christian who believes but only cries out “Lord, Lord!”). But, what’s that role?

Your Baptist friend is right – it is not an absolute prescription. The Church teaches that a person who is baptized but dies immediately thereafter, will go straight to heaven!

God doesn’t ask the impossible, nor is He held hostage by His own laws. We are called to cooperate with the saving grace that we receive at our baptism. Our cooperation with God’s grace, in works of supernatural virtue, are ascribed primarily to God’s merit, but also, secondarily to us, inasmuch as we are voluntarily cooperating with His grace. If we do not have the opportunity to do good works in this life, due to an untimely death, then God doesn’t hold that lack of opportunity against us. But, if we do have the opportunity to perform good works, but fail to do so… well, then, that puts us in the crowd of goats, not sheep, doesn’t it? :sad_yes:

Are good works necessary for salvation? Yes; but we don’t want to oversimplify in such a way that it misrepresents the teaching of Jesus… :wink:

What I would point out is that the command to do good works is a moral obligation, and, like all moral obligations, it only binds you to do it insofar as you are able. If you are physically unable to do what the Bible commands you to do, but you have the will to do it, God accepts that. That’s the position of the thief on the Cross. If he had gotten free from the Cross, and still refused to do good works, he would not have been saved. But he had the will to do what was right, and so that was acceptable to God.

What I would focus on is James 2:14-26. Read it with her and ask her if she can see that good works are commanded as a moral obligation. To me, that should settle it: the Bible says to do good works, therefore we have to do good works. That ought to be the end of the story.

I would also add to the above answers that the thief did indeed perform a “work” on the cross. He performed an act of faith when he said Lord remember me when you enter into your kingdom. An “act” is doing something. Doing something is a “work”. Making an act of faith is indeed a work.

Repentance is the work of mankind.

Works are “necessary” in the sense that it is impossible to repent and yet not change your manner. A good tree bears fruit. A bad tree does not bear fruit.

Strictly speaking, from a theological perspective, this is not accurate. If it were so, then our expression of the desire to be baptized would be a ‘work’, and therefore, our justification would be merited by our own work and not an unmerited gift of God’s grace. I see what you’re trying to say here – our desire for baptism is our response to God’s grace-filled invitation to us. However, expressing this as a ‘work’ would serve only to horrify non-Catholic Christians, who already are under the misconception that we teach salvation by works, not by faith… :wink:

Exactly! :thumbsup:

A work is not always an exterior, physical, or visible thing we do. Sometimes, it’s simply choosing in our hearts and minds what is right and good. Turning away impure and lustful thoughts, accepting God’s Will and choosing to trust Him even when we can’t see how it will work out, holding back harsh words or gossip, silently praying for someone who needs it… these are all acts or works, even though the act is interior and other people around us may never know we did them.

We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ not by our works.

Salvation is strictly from Christ and our faith in him.

Faith does have a works component in it. It is not truly faith to just say “I believe”. If you believe it show that you believe it. If you believe it it will manifest works in you.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB)

Paul later says in Galatians 5:6?

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6 NASB)

Faith working through love…this is exactly what the Catholic Church teaches.

Paul talks about how he finished the race, he has kept the faith… Such statements describe an active faith so foreign in baptist theology. (2 Tim 4:7)

One must look at 1 Cor 13 with a closer look, Paul tells us three things remain, Faith, Hope, andLove and the GREATEST is love. Shouldn’t Faith be greatest? No because there is no true faith without a working love for God and man. Love by definition is an action and love is what brings faith to fruition. This is the saving faith demonstrated by the thief on the cross.

Finally James Chapter 2

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “A nd A braham believed G od, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26 NASB)

Thanks guys for your great input. I’ll try and summarize all your ideas. I’ve asked her at the minute to confirm that Paul’s works of the Law are different than James’s works of charity. So i’m waiting for a reply. All prayers are welcome, pray for that the Holy Spirit acts in her life and grants me the wisdom to show her the things that she needs.

At a minimum, our good works follow us into heaven.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" (Revelation 14:13)


I have to respectfully disagree. Works are the fulfillment of the faith within us. If faith is not fulfilled, it is dead. Works keep a living faith an are therefor necessary to salvation. In fact, through them we merit eternal life (see trent on justification Canon 30… or 32).

The thief expressed the truth he felt within him, in disregard of his pain. In addition, he admonished a sinner, the other thief. Clearly he was motivated by faith and expressed a fulfillment of the promptings of that faith.


I agree your life should reflect your faith in what you do but at the same time works without faith are done for your own glory not Gods in faith all should be done for the glory of God not ourselves.

Very good point.

Let us closely look at the actual passage from Luke 23:

*40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]”*

The Good Thief actually did some work…he accepted his punishment, as stated in v41, he made his suffering meritorious in that he accepted his crucifixion in the spirit of reparation for his sins. Also take not that after he asked for forgiveness and repented, and only then did Jesus say:

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Also, ask you friend what he understands by the “paradise” in the passage? I think he may think this is heaven.

But in the understanding of the times, paradise is not heaven but is something else:

According to the Jewish conceptions of that day, the souls of the dead were gathered into a general tarrying-place the Sheol of the Old Testament literature, and the Hades of the New Testament writings (cf. Luke 16:22; in the Greek 16:23). A local discrimination, however, existed among them, according to their deeds during their mortal life. In the unseen world of the dead the souls of the righteous occupied an abode or compartment of their own which was distinctly separated by a wall or a chasm from the abode or compartment to which the souls of the wicked were consigned. The latter was a place of torments usually spoken of as Gehenna (cf. Matthew 5:29, 30; 18:9; Mark 9:42 sqq. in the Latin Vulgate) — the other, a place of bliss and security known under the names of “Paradise” (cf. Luke 23:43) and “the Bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22-23).

Our good deeds are a manifestation of a Saving Grace through Faith; NOT the cause of it. It stands to reason that if you HAVE Faith; you will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give comfort to the imprisoned, etc…

As far as the Good Thief is concenrned; I believe he was repentant on his cross (I don’t have my Bible handy at the moment). So there’s REPENTANCE before God (Jesus is right next to him!) AND a restitution paid to the state (the thief’s crucifixion).

I hope you get some good answers here to bring back to your Baptist friend.

God bless you for defending the Faith.

OH!!! I forgot…

**REVELATION 22:12 ~ "Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. **

Don’t worry… there isn’t a Baptist alive (or anyone else, for that matter) that can find a way to shoot this one down.

Good hunting.


I don’t know if you meant it to be funny but I got a great laugh from your comment - I’m going to put your theory to the test - I have a Baptist friend and will pose the question.

A classic mistake made by many evangelicals/fundamentalists is to conflate the Redemption with Salvation.

The Redemption is what God has done in Christ in the New Covenant to make it possible for men to be saved.

Salvation is what we do to enter into the Redemption which Christ accomplished. The way we enter into the Redemption is by the New Covenant means by which Christ established. And we continue that covenant relationship by our participation through prayer and the sacramental life of His Body, the Church.

God’s grace builds upon and eventually perfects our nature.

You are absolutely correct. So few know that there is a difference, and what that difference is. If the Crucifixion was an automatic “Advance to Heaven ~ Collect $200.00”; what need would there be for any of us to keep the Commandments, go to church, etc…?

The Crucifixion unlocked the gate, but it’s up to us to enter of our own accord.

Sometimes I can be a little sarcastic, and I like to make my delivery with a little sumthin’-sumthin’ on it… Please let me know how that goes. Most of the people I know here in Massachusetts (Boston area) that are religious happen to be Catholic; so I haven’t had a chance to use that in person my own self. However, I have found Rev. 22:12 useful in some virtual online donnybrooks here at CAF.

As I said, please let me know what your friend has to say. You may PM me if you feel like.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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