Catholics are not saved by Works


Catholics dont teach salvation of works.

But how do I explain this in a beginer apologetic way.

How would you explain it in this way we are not saved by faith alone nore works alone. This is the base of my argument but how would YOU atact this argument from this particular point with a protestant?


Faith is the engine, which is a free gift. Works are the gasoline that make faith evident to those around us and brings forth good fruit. No works, the engine dies. We can’t apprehend that the vehicle has an engine (faith) unless it is in motion. That requires gas (works).

So, faith saves, but faith without works is not faith at all. It’s a neglected gift that gets us nowhere.


The Epistle of St. James makes it very clear that faith alone is not sufficient. At the same time, Catholic doctrine teaches that “works alone” do not win salvation for a person.

If the Protestant insists that the Catholic Church teaches “salvation by works”, I think a good challenge for that person would be to “show me where Catholic doctrine teaches that”.

Chances are, the person just heard it said that Catholicism is a “works based” religion, but there’s no evidence to support it.


There is a lot of misunderstanding out there of what Catholics believe about this subject. I think there are several reasons for this. For one thing, the Church’s teaching on this often isn’t taught clearly even to Catholics. Believe it or not, it isn’t a subject that is emphasized as much as it is in Protestant churches—it’s pretty much taken for granted that the average Catholic doesn’t need to know the subject that much in depth. As a person who is involved in apologetics and teaches Adult RE, I can see the fruits of this mistaken attitude in that many Catholics cannot articulate the Church’s teaching on salvation. Many, in fact, end up leaving the Church convinced that the Church teaches a form of crass works-righteousness or a semi-Pelagianism. This isn’t helped by the fact that some of the churches they end up in have an equally distorted view of what Catholics believe and their erroneous misconceptions are reinforced. I was listening to a local Christian radio show recently in which a man was giving his testimony, saying he used to be a Catholic “but was now a Christian” and was happy he now didn’t have to worry about being “good enough” and “didn’t have to work his way to heaven.” He mentioned a lot of other things he said the Church taught that clearly pointed to the fact he was, if nothing else, a victim of poor catechesis.

On another level, I think it is possible to show that Catholics and Protestants don’t differ on this topic as much as people think they do. In the centuries since the Reformation, however, the terminology and teaching emphasis of each group has become so particular to each group, that, essentially, we are talking about the same thing but in different words! This is bound to be confusing in any conversation between Catholics and Protestants on this (or any other) subject, but in recent years there have been attempts by various groups to try to iron out the language difference, without smoothing over or ignoring real differences. I have two real good book recommendations: The first is by a Catholic, Jimmy Akin, and it is called The Salvation Controversy. The other is by an Evangelical Protestant named Mark Noll and is called Is The Reformation Over? Both of these books make the same point: that Catholics and Protestants have more in common than they think they do.

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(Continued from previous post)

I think it’s also possible to make the argument that the original Reformers were not so much reacting against Church teaching on salvation, as they were against the poor catechesis and abuses of that particular time and place. If you look at what the Church really taught at that time (and not just the abuses) it essentially what the Church has always taught before then, and what it teaches now. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. (John 16:16; Jn 3:36; 6:40 et al). “Since “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.’” (Dei Filius 3:ds 3012; cf. Mt 10:22; 24:13 and Heb 11:6; Council of Trent: ds 1532.)

Basically, the Church’s teaching is this: We are saved by grace alone, through faith. The Catholic understanding of faith includes both placing our trust in Christ AND obeying him—what St. Paul calls the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1 and 16). The Church teaches that everything having to do with our salvation is God’s grace. Even our original conversion is God’s initiative and an entirely unmerited gift of his grace—we cannot even take the first step without him. It is indeed 100% God’s work, but, respecting our free will, he allows us to cooperate in our own salvation through faith and charity.

Where works come in is as a response to God’s grace (obedience) and as a means to grow in sanctification. God sends us the grace (and the opportunity) to perform a good work. By being responsive to God’s grace, we please him because of our obedience, and grow in holiness. The holier we become, the less likely we are to fall into sin. Failure to respond to God’s grace is a failure to grow in holiness. If we continually refuse to respond to God’s graces, we run the risk of falling into serious sin. And, as you know, the Church teaches that if one dies in serious, unrepented sin, he cannot be admitted to heaven. It is important to remember that good works that are not done in faith and by God’s grace—on human power— do not avail anything. You do not get into heaven just by “being good.”

This is basically the place that works has in salvation: obedience and sanctification. The Church does not teach that salvation is attained by being “good enough” to get into heaven; it isn’t a “scale” that if you do more good works than bad you get in; we cannot put God in our debt by what we do. Here’s just one excerpt from the Catechism:

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. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.

For a more in depth treatment of this, I’d highly recommend seeing the sections in the Catechism that addresses this subject (Sections 142—165; 1987—2029). Here is an article from Catholic Answers that may also be helpful:

Grace: What It Is and What It Does

Hope that helps. :slight_smile:


James 2:14-17 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James 2:26 For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

I think it would also be safe to say works without faith is dead.


Ryan :slight_smile:


While we’re at it, let me add this:

Extremely Short Explanation of How Are We Saved?: It’s All Grace

–>Christ did NOT die on the Cross in our place (NO “Substitutionary Atonement”)
–>Christ DID die on the Cross to take away the sin (in general) of the world = the Redemption.
· This made it possible for each of us to respond to God’s initiative (grace), place our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and his promises, and be baptized.

  1. Baptism
    · Initial justification where our sins are washed away. As a Sacrament, baptism is an efficacious sign that really accomplishes what it signifies. We are “born again” to new life; sanctified and made holy and fit for heaven (this is called sanctifying grace). If we were to die in this state, we would go to heaven.

2.** Sanctification**
· After baptism, we want to remain in sanctifying grace since if we die in any other state we will not go to heaven. We do this by relying on “prompting” graces (called actual graces) from God to do good (virtue) and avoid evil (sin). If we respond to God’s grace, we will remain in sanctifying grace. This is the sense in which we are “saved by our works”—it is entirely due to the grace of God with our cooperation. The more graces we respond to, the more we grow in holiness (sanctification), and the surer we are headed for heaven. In this, also, we are, by cooperating with God’s grace, being obedient to the commandments of Our Lord.
·If we fail to respond to God’s grace, especially if we fall into habitual venial sin, we run the risk of eventually falling into mortal sin. If we do, sanctifying grace dies in us and we are no longer “in a state of grace”—if we die in that state we cannot go to heaven.
·It is then that God sends us graces to urge us to repent and to confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are then restored to sanctifying grace. This is how our justification can be seen as ongoing.

  1. Final Perseverance
    · Finally, if through faith we remain faithful to God and respond to the graces he has given us through our lives and die in the state of sanctifying grace, we will be with God forever in heaven.

Thus, (1) We have been saved (through baptism), (2) we are being saved (through responding to God’s continual graces); (3) and we will be saved (by final perseverance).

Continued on next post…


Continued from above post…

Where do works fit in?

Protestants point out the following:

For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Catholics say: “Amen!” But what does Jesus mean here by believe? Go down further in this chapter, and you will find out:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.(John 3:36)

Disobeying God is not following his commandments. Both faith AND works (by God’s grace, not our own power) are necessary.

“Yeah, but what about…"

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8,9

You know, of course, Paul is speaking here, not about good works in the sense of fulfilling the ten commandments and avoiding evil, but is talking about the Levitical Law. Please read the entire chapter in context. Same for the other famous “faith alone” proof-text, Romans 3:28.

Consider this: If good works sprang up naturally out of faith, the whole New Testament (which was addressed to believers) would be almost be superfluous, since it constantly commands believers to do certain good actions and avoid certain evil ones.

Works are not the direct cause of salvation; we aren’t saved by the works themselves, even ones done as a response to and under the power of God’s grace.

But we ARE saved by works in the sense that if we don’t do the good works that God has set before us to do, or do evil works (mortal sins) in defiance of God’s clear prescription, this is disobedience and, as Jesus said in the passage above, the disobedient cannot be saved.

[God] will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. (Romans 2:6-8)

Another, secondary, way doing good works saves you is that when you occupy yourself with walking in God’s ways, you leave less room to fall into sins. When you head off even venial sin, it is harder for it to become habitual and lead you into serious sin:

No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be. -St. Thomas More

Hope that helps as well…:slight_smile:


Good answers above. If in discussion with a Protestant who believes in faith alone… the passage from James is very inconvenient for them. I usually just use the analogy about faith and works being two sides of the same coin. Trying to separate them is really kind of a false dichotomy. They’re really not separable.


amazing Fidelis. :thumbsup:


Did Jesus tell us to believe? Yes (That’s faith) Did he tell us to love God, others, and umpteen thousand other things? Yes (That’s Works) THe Bible is very clear about this. Does it say anywhere in the Bible that we must do one or the other only to be saved? No (That’s Sola Fide- Faith Alone).

No one knows if they are saved, no matter what they think. Jesus and the inspired authors of the bible tell us what we must do. The Catholic church is right in saying that one must have faith and works in order to be living by God’s will for us.

God is the one who saves us. Not us by ourselves, but how we respond to his grace. He will be the judge. He gave us a set of rules to follow, and that’s all we as humans can do.


Check out Matthew 25:31-46. I’m amazed at how often this is overlooked. Here, Christ clearly lays out exactly how important works are to salvation.


Thank you. :tiphat:


Just agree with them. Salvation is by grace, through faith!


thanks guys these are really good


Fidelis, you need to write all of that up in a word document and send it to all of us. That is a great article. You should publish that in your diocesan newspaper, or something like that.


Thanks, Mommyof4. That would actually give me an excuse to refine it a bit and put it all on one page. :blush: I’d be happy to send it as Word document to anyone who e-mails me and requests it.




It seems that much of the confusion is in the way “salvation by works” is defined. The phrase, “salvation by works” could be understood in a variety of ways. It could, for some people, mean that salvation is by works alone (no faith required), or for others, it could mean that some combination of faith plus our works saves us.

The biblical teaching on what saves us leaves no room for boasting, since justification (righteousness) is credited on the basis of faith, and the faith that justifies is given by God to those whom He chooses as a free gift (by grace). So, the whole point James makes is not that faith alone is insufficient, but rather that dead faith is insufficient. Some people insist that because living faith is active (it is made evident by our deeds), then we are saved by faith plus our good deeds. However, such a view clashes with Paul’s teachings on justification.


Amen! As I pointed out above, this is what Catholics believe.**So, the whole point James makes is not that faith alone is insufficient, but rather that dead faith is insufficient. **Some people insist that because living faith is active (it is made evident by our deeds), then we are saved by faith plus our good deeds. However, such a view clashes with Paul’s teachings on justification.This line of thinking fails on two important points. The first is that nowhere in the Bible does it say we are saved by “faith alone”. The only place where the words “faith” and “alone” appear together is James 2:24 where it says "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The second failure point is that James never refers to “dead faith.” He speaks about faith period. No distinction is ever made between “dead faith” and so-called “saving faith”-- the same unmodified word for “faith” is used from beginning to end. The readers of his letter (as are all the first target audience of all the New Testament) are presumably saved Christians (James 2:1). They all have faith. The whole point that James is actually making, then, is that even for those who have faith (i.e. Christians), without works it is dead.

Read the whole chapter and see how that makes sense:

1 My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while you say to the poor man, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name which was invoked over you?

8 If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” said also, “Do not kill.” If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.

**14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? **15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? **17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. **18 But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. *19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder. ***20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? **21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, 23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? **26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead. **

Hope that helps. :slight_smile:

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