Are works necessary? And thief on the cross

Fair enough. Yet, spiderweb was making the claim that the good thief’s act was a ‘work’ in the context of the good works that are necessary for salvation. I don’t think that his assertion or your explanation support that claim, for two reasons:

First off, the ‘works’ we talk about in this context – that is, the ‘good works’ that are necessary for salvation – are works of supernatural virtue, which proceed only in the process of sanctification as a result of the justification of baptism. (CCC 2010: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”

CCC 1273: "“The baptismal seal enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of holy lives and practical charity.”)

The ‘acts’ of the good thief are neither post-justification acts nor are the result of sanctifying grace; therefore, they are not the acts whose merit enables us to attain to eternal life.

Secondly, though, there’s the assertion about an ‘act of faith’. That doesn’t quite hold, either. Faith is a “human act” (cf CCC 154), but it’s a “gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him” (CCC 153). An act of faith, then, is a cooperation with divine grace (cf CCC 155).

Therefore, the act of faith of the good thief has the character of ‘gift’ and ‘grace’, not the character of a good work which merits salvation.

On both counts, then, I don’t think that we can claim that the “act of faith” of the good thief is the kind of “good work” that merits eternal life. :wink:

The fight between faith and works is not only overblown and tiring but it is dangerous on both sides and can easily lead to heresy. Too often we try to be too subtle and to distinguish between salvation and redemption. Too often we chose one side over the other to our detriment.

We are saved by Grace which is manifested in Faith and participated with by our action (or works). To separate any of the three (Grace, Faith, and Works) from the other is to risk great heresy in a manner that is similar to trying to dissect and to look too closely at the Trinity.

In the story of the repentant thief all three (Grace, Faith, and works) are present. To argue too much about which is more important is to risk heresy. The Catholic church allows any interpretation that does not deny any of the three. You are free to emphasize Grace, or Faith, or Works as long as you do not deny the importance of the other two. That knowledge (that the Catholic Church is both more flexible and less flexible may be useful in leading people to the Catholic Church. The Church does NOT deny neither the importance of faith nor grace. To accept the importance of works does not belittle the other two.

My advice to the original poster is to not over think it. Inform yourself through the Bible and the teachings of the Church, but above all pray. With prayer, God will give you the words to say, even if those words are simply to listen. But have patience and do not be overly proud; only God has the power to move a human heart.

Nice answer…well done!

From St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:8-10 (emphasis mine)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We are saved by grace

We are saved through faith

We are saved for good works.

Seems to cover it all.

Nice! Especially since you used the very quote that the arguers use to tell Catholics we are wrong for believing that works are part of the deal. They of course somehow omit the last part of it.

Did the thief on the cross do any good works?

Of course he did.

In Luke 23:40-42, we see that the good thief:

rebuked the bad thief who reviled Jesus (Lk 23:40)
feared the judgment of God and repented over his sins (Lk 23:40-41)
professed his faith in Jesus and expressed his desire to be with Jesus in heaven (Lk 23:42)

Thus, the good thief showed sorrow and repentence for his sins and desired salvation. In other words, the good thief persevered in both faith and works to his death, and Jesus rewarded him with eternal life (Lk 23:43).

And since she is a Baptist who believes that baptism is pure symbolic…

Luke 23:39-43 – The Good Thief

Q: Is the story of the good thief in Luke 23:39–43 proof that baptism isn’t necessary?
A: First, it isn’t clear that baptism had yet been mandated by Jesus before he met the thief. If it had been, we do not know for certain that the thief hadn’t already been baptized. In any case, the thief clearly underwent a conversion at some point during his crucifixion, and it seems evident that he would have desired baptism before his death had he known of its necessity. That would have been sufficient, because the Church recognizes that, in such a case, the desire for baptism brings about the fruits of baptism (CCC 1258).

Simply having water poured over one’s head with the Trinitarian formula does not mean a person is instantly saved forever. Baptism incorporates the individual into the Body of Christ, and within the whole life of the Church an individual’s baptism must be accompanied by faith. The developing faith of the individual is empowered by the grace of baptism, and nurtured by the whole Church, but if the Christian faith is rejected or never positively affirmed, the baptism is not magically effective.

For difficult cases such as the good thief, it should be explained that the Catholic Church has always taught that there is a “baptism of blood” and a “baptism of desire.” The baptism of blood refers to those who were not baptized but were martyred for Christ. They are incorporated, through their own death, into the mystical body of Christ through a mystical sharing in his sacrificial death.

The baptism of desire refers to those individuals with faith in Christ who would be baptized if they had the opportunity and if they truly understood what baptism means. It applies to those who, due to extraordinary circumstances, do not have access to water for baptism. But the New Testament indicates that what we call “baptism of desire” is the case for the Old Testament saints. Noah and his family were “saved through water” in the flood, (2 Pet. 2:5) and the Hebrew children were baptized “into Moses in the cloud and the Red Sea” (1 Cor. 10:2). This suggests that baptism of desire may also extend to those who have pre-Christian faith or to non-Christians who have faith according to the level of their knowledge, but have never heard the Christian gospel.

It may also apply to those who have faith in Christ, but have not been baptized because they truly and sincerely (because of false teaching received in goodwill) do not believe that baptism is necessary. Even in these cases, however, it should be understood that the Church teaches that such individuals “may” be saved, not that they are saved.

I love the Good Thief. I’m sure we all do. He shows us that particular strain of grace that you often see in Jewish people – to ignore the dire situation at hand and instead, argue a point for truth and justice!

He also shows us that strain of grace sometimes seen among “hoods” and criminals on the wrong side of the law – to be outraged if somebody who didn’t do any crime or get any criminal benefits is getting punished just like he was a professional, or if some clueless newbie has to deal with the wrong side of the law.

Anyway, it could be argued that he did a couple other works: the corporal work of visiting the sick, and the spiritual work of comforting the afflicted. Jesus was wounded bodily and afflicted spiritually, and the thief talked with him and comforted him.

Yes works are necessary for salvation.

If you let Jesus’s life, become your life, the works of Christ, will become your works, and you are saved.


Greetings in Christ PNEUMA,

Salvation FIRST, then the works of Christ, will become our works.


Nihil obstate: Father Anton Cowan
Imprimatur: Monsignor John Crowley, VG Westminster, 28 May 1985

Quote: “There is ONE CENTRAL QUESTION here: how can we become righteous and be SAVED?

We are NOT justified by what we DO (works, observing law) but by FAITH IN CHRIST.

Salvation is NOT a matter of achieving but RECEIVING IT FREELY from God hands, in faith.” End quote. Emphasize mine.


The Catholic Church clearly teaches that one MUST be in a STATE OF GRACE, MUST be a member of the BODY OF CHRIST, MUST be SAVED, MUST be already JUSTIFIED before we do a SINGLE WORK that counts for anything.

Further conditions MUST BE PRESENT to make SUPERNATURAL merit possible:

“The meritorious work must be morally good, that is, in accordance with the moral law in its object, intent, and circumstances.


It MUST be SUPERNATURAL, that is, AROUSED and ACCOMPANIED by ACTUAL GRACE, and proceeding from a SUPERNATURAL motive.

Strictly speaking only a person in the STATE OF GRACE can merit, as defined by the Church.” (Denzinger 1576, 1582)


Quote: “The essence of supernatural love is unselfishness—doing something NOT BECAUSE IT WILL HELP US SOMEHOW, but because we want to do it out of SHEER LOVE for the other person, whether that person is God or one of our fellow human beings out of the love of God.

This is THE ONLY KIND of love that ultimately pleases God and therefore the ONLY KIND that ultimately gets us a reward IN heaven.” End quote. Emphasize mine.

If we believe: Work is condition of our salvation, then our works can NEVER BE UP TO THE ABOVE STANDARDS because we do it for ourselves to purchase salvation not for love and for the Glory of God, and ALL our work goes up in smoke at the judgment. In reference 1 Cor.3:11-15.

CANNOT BE OVER EMPHASIZE: This is THE KEY to do supernatural merit that God accepts and recognize!!! – There is NO other way to achieve supernatural merit which is the only good works.


“There is ONE CENTRAL QUESTION here: how can we become righteous and be SAVED?”

  1. We are NOT justified by what we DO (works, observing the law) but by FAITH in Christ.

  2. Whatever in the justified PRECEDES or FOLLOWS the free gift of faith is NEITHER THE BASIS of justification NOR MERITS it.

  3. Catholic teaching emphasizes the RENEWAL OF LIFE by justifying grace, this RENEWAL in FAITH, HOPE, LOVE is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and CONTRIBUTES NOTHING TO JUSTIFICATION.

  4. Justification/salvation ALWAYS remains the UNMERITED gift of grace.

These are above, the ORIGINAL doctrines of the salvation of the Catholic Church, the Church which Christ has founded. These doctrines are still in operation today, and will be in the future until Christ will return.

With love in Christ,

Greetings in Christ, to you to Lion Heart

I pray for all of you in Christ, see you at the Lord’s table



It’s all about what we do with what we’re given: our response to God’s overtures, to a His grace. Both thieves had the same opportunity but one responded rightly while the other didn’t. And had the “good thief” lived longer, more would’ve been demanded of him (refer to Luke 12:48 for this principle).

But probably the best teaching on this matter is the Parable of the Talents, where the servants are to invest what was given them, earning a return for the Master, with which even more would be given them and without which the loss of the Kingdom was at stake. With the time, opportunity, revelation and grace given, we’re to do the best we can. And Matt 25:31-46 gives some good examples of what the “best” is. The thief did the best he could all things considered. Here’s the mantra:
"The only thing that counts is faith working through love". Gal 5:6

I seem to remember Jesus saying something about two gates, one being wide and the other narrow. He EXPLICTLY teaches that our salvation depends on our decisions to follow Him.

As others have noted in this thread, the Good Thief DID do works. He:

  1. publicly proclaimed his belief in Jesus. He did so while being crucified, which means he had to make the painful decision to push up on his nailed feet to be able to breath enough to speak. He also did so at such an immense time. He proclaimed his belief in Jesus while Jesus was at His lowest, when He was being executed on a cross. It’s easier to believe in Jesus while He’s feeding 5,000, it’s another thing entirely to believe in Him while He’s dying.

  2. He admonished a sinner. This is a spiritual work or mercy. He rebuked the other thief for his unbelief and vile words towards Jesus.

  3. He asked forgiveness of Jesus.

  4. He publicly proclaimed his sinfulness and the justice of his punishment.

  5. He consoled our Lord in the worst moment of His life. He gave our Lord an example during His toughest time of one of His lambs coming home to Him.

If only all of us could perform the works that the Good Thief did!

Others have shown scripturally, the positive side of doing good works. Here’s the negative side scripturally speaking, if we do NOT do good works.

Just as [/FONT]Ephesians 2:10 says (emphasis mine)

“we are created by God to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do”. Therefore, one has to ask what happens to the one who doesn’t do what they are created by God to do …i.e. to do good works…what happens to THEM? (assuming they have no physical or mental impediments etc etc etc preventing them from doing good works…) then

[/FONT]Matthew 3:10 , [/FONT]Luke 13:7-9 , [/FONT]Matthew 25:44-46

As for the good thief, he did pleanty

· The “good” thief rebuked the other criminal’s insults of Jesus in front of everyone present, while experiencing death by crucifixion himself.
· He witnesses to the thief and all who are present to the crucifixion as well as to all humanity who read this passage of scripture that he acknowledges that Jesus is God
· He admits he has done wrong, and Jesus is innocent
· He Asks Jesus for mercy and to take him to His kingdom, and Jesus honors that.
There is a whole theology course of instruction in that brief exchange the thief had with Jesus and the other thief.

As an aside, ever notice when Protestants quote Ephesians, they quote Eph 2:8-9 and try and make their case with that, and leave off vs 10? Verse 10 packs a wallop.

You are so right! Thanks for pointing it out…

Well played.

I just don’t get Protestant theology. Maybe I’m over-simplifying it by seeing it as “believe in Jesus and you’ll get to heaven.” Of course, too many Catholics believe “I’m a good person, so I’ll get to heaven.” Each one individually are equally deficient, in my opinion. You need both, don’t you?

Faith is a must, so the Protestants have THAT right; but it doesn’t end there, does it? Can I get to heaven if I believe, yet lead a scandalous life? No. To think so is absurd.

As I have said before; our good deeds are the evidence of our faith - not the key to salvation in and of itself. An atheist may lead a saintly life, but we know from scripture that he will still have some serious explaining to do when he meets Christ.


I agree. And I don’t understand the theology either.
Perhaps it has its roots in some of Luther’s objections to things like indulgences, which were valid objections to practices that had got out of hand, and have since been righted.
As with many things, some will take things to extremes.

I am quite sure it is NOT a mainstream protestant teaching…I think most mainstream protestants beliefs are closer to ours.
However…there are some very fundamental sects who do claim they are pure of sin and heaven-bound because of Christ’s Cross…they don’t explain fully how they deal with their sins since.

I have found these folks to be critical of Catholics “trying to work our way into heaven”, and equally critical of catholic confession…well pretty much critical of anything catholic.
They seem uninterested in explanations or corrections of misconceptions. If you post an explanation to one thing, they come back with a different one (we pray to beads!)
Conversing with some of them (online), it almost appears that their religion is fully made up of being anti-catholic. (The ones I have encountered don’t like Jews or Muslims either, and seem very invested in the idea that only some people will ever get to heaven. Hoping everyone will is a profound abhorrence to them.
They cut and past scripture alot.
Interesting folks.

Since baptism is burial with Christ into His death (Romans 6:4), the thief on the cross - along with the OT saints waiting in “paradise” (Heb 11:13; 39-40) - were fully baptised into Christ’s death during Christ’s three days of death. Therefore, the thief did not require any other “works” or sacraments, going directly into Heaven upon Christ’s resurrection as does a newly baptised infant or adult who immediately dies.

Just my theory.


Sorry so late to the thread.
Nobody can deal with their own sins. That is the reason why Jesus Christ came. He came to live the perfect life we couldn’t and pay for the sins we couldn’t pay for. That is to seek and save the lost. No bible believing Christian believes he can deal with his sins. Bible believing Christians simply believe Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We believe that Jesus Christ paid for our sin because we can not. There is nothing xenophobic about our belief. There are simply two kinds of people that exist, those who are children of God by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ to His glory, and those who are children of wrath that believe in a god that tells them they can undo their own sin by some kind of ritual thereby robbing Christ of His glory and giving it to themselves.

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