Ephesians 2,8-9


Good morning, a friend of mine (who is not Catholic) quoted this two verses to me (Ephesians 2,8-9). How do I explain these verses in Catholic terms?

Ephesians 2,8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.

What does he mean by “works”?


The verse doesn’t mean what your non-Catholic friend no doubt thinks it does. It means that the works of the Mosiac Law cannot save us, which is why Jesus died on the cross to satisfy God’s justice. Under the Mosiac Law men had to do their best to please God by their own efforts without the benefits of the graces of the redemption. They were looking forward to their redemption in Christ, but they did not have access to it to keep the Law.

It doesn’t mean that the good works we do through God’s grace have no effect on our salvation. We must cooperate with God’s grace to be saved, but even that cooperation is through God’s grace, so it all comes from and goes back to God, not our own efforts. Your friend doesn’t understand this, but rather thinks that you, as a Catholic, are trying to “earn” your salvation through good works. The Church doesn’t teach salvation through good works, as if we can bribe God into accepting us. Your friend is reading into the verse what it doesn’t say.


Cross-compare to other places Paul uses the term ‘works’ in regards to faith.

Romans 3:28: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Galatians 2:16: yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.

In other places, Paul sets up faith as opposed to works of the old Jewish law. Same thing in Ephesians, although he doesn’t explicitly add ‘of the law’.

Also, faith without works would be a direct contradiction of James 2:14-26, where he says having faith but not having the works to back it up, is dead.

You might also ask your friend about Ephesians 2:10 (which he/she conveniently doesn’t quote): 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Faith and works here are actually unified in verse 10, just like they are in James Ch. 2. Also, remember here that he points out ‘not works, so that men don’t boast.’ It was common for the Pharisies to stand up and make a show of their piety in the synagogue or on the street. Again, a subtle reference here to the works referred to by Paul being those ‘of the law’.


As tvknight just said: don’t stop reading at verse 9!

This is the inherent problem with ‘verse plucking’ the scriptures…one can miss the entire point!

And the point here in these verses is that without Christ, any works are indeed fruitless; but WITH Christ, good works are essential. They are precisely why we are created. If we are His servants, we must do His work. How can we really be His if we don’t? This gets to the heart of why works can connected with salvation, and when we read verse 10, we see that St. Paul and St. James were never at odds with each other, but were in fact teaching the same things.

The (not so) subtle accusation when a non-Catholic pulls out Eph. 2:8-9 is that Catholics are trying to ‘earn’ their way to Heaven through works…which is of course lunacy. I know of no Catholic teaching that in any way teaches this idea. The Church has fought against ‘works based righteousness’ many times throughout Her history, and will continue to do so. Do we hope and pray that we can be ‘good enough’ servants? You bet. We want to please The Father. We desire to demonstrate our humility and thanks for all He has given us by ‘living good lives’. This is a far cry however from ever thinking that we can stand before Him in judgement and claiming ‘I did it on my own.’ We know that any good works we perform or accomplish are only because of Him. We give Christ all the credit. He gives us the desire to love Him. He gives us the desire to love our neighbor as ourself. And if we are to truly live those two commands from Jesus (and they are the summation of the 10 Commandments), they we must perform good works. Again, if we don’t, or if we deny this Truth, how can we truly claim to be His? And if we aren’t His, how can we ever hope to spend eternity with Him? Simply put, we can’t. Thus, works are essential to salvation.

Peace in Christ


Some non Catholics who quote this scripture are falsely stating we don’t believe faith is necessary to be saved.

Galatians 2:16: yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.

Is not taking into consideration that St. Paul is talking to the gentiles (the Galatians) who although may have done good things, did not realize that grace and salvation is gotten through faith in Jesus Christ. They were not the religious ones… St. Paul is speaking of one point of faith, not the whole of it, encouraging the Galatian gentiles to have faith. To show our faith we do good things, the things that Jesus teaches us to do in the scriptures. The opposite of what Paul is saying would be those like some of the pharisee who had faith but their actions were not always reflective of faith in God working in their lives. So Paul was working to form the church made up of the faithful Jews, and the Galatians who did good works so that the resulting efforts would be a unified people of One faith, the Body of Christ, who did good things for the Kingdom of God.

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Be well and keep the faith! Karen


You may want to find Paul’s comments on the faith of Abraham.

Abraham was justified before the Law was given and before circumcision by his faith.

In other words, Paul continually emphasizes the same point that Jesus made; we are not saved by reciting certain prayers, or wearing this or that special garment, or abstaining from particular foods, but by our belief in and reliance on God. This faith in God is demonstrated by our actions, loving God and loving our neighbor.


  1. Have him keep reading:

Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

  1. The Council of Trent, Session 6 is very specific as to works:

Canon 1.
If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his own natural powers or through the teaching of the law,[110] without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.

Canon 3.
If anyone says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost[111] and without His help, man can believe, hope, love or be repentant as he ought,[112] so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him, let him be anathema.

3) Have him read James:

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in 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 good* is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.***

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