Faith and Works


#1

Hi everybody. If anyone could help explain a few things to me I’d appreciate it.

  It seems that evangelicals tend to criticize Catholics for believing that salvation, at least in part, is based on something *we do* since we believe in salvation through faith *and works*.  The argument goes that since we do not deserve salvation, all a person has to do is become born again through a personal conversion of the heart to Jesus and they're saved.  Since we didn't deserve this free gift of salvation in the first place, we can do nothing to either merit our salvation or negate it/throw it away.  

I think its easy enough to prove that we can throw it away through sin, but as for how our good works contribute to our salvation, that’s where I’m a little confused. Since James tells us that a man is justified through faith and works, not faith alone, if an evangelical accuses me of believing that my works contribute to my salvation, should I just respond, “My works do contribute to my salvation! Its in the Bible!,” or am I misunderstanding the whole Catholic teaching on faith, works, and salvation? Is it that our works don’t contribute to our salvation, but Jesus expects us to live lives of holiness anyway so that’s why its important to obey all of his commandments? Did Jesus essentially tell the apostles, “look, even if you do tons of good works everyday out of a sincere desire to serve Me and you barely ever sin, you still wouldn’t deserve salvation, but you have to obey my commandments anyway or you won’t get to Heaven.” ?


#2

This is the way I understand it… someone correct me if I’m wrong. We are saved 100% by our Faith & the grace of God. We prove we HAVE faith by our works. It’s not enough to say "I believe - and BAM! I’m saved - because the Bible says that even the demons “believe” in God. We say we love God - and we prove that by obeying Him.

Works alone don’t save us.
Faith alone doesn’t save us.
Faith as demonstated by our works is what saves us - by the Grace of God.


#3

You can’t deny James said it clearly: faith without works is dead.

The Catholic faith maintains that God offers you the free gift of faith through His grace. But it is our choice to accept or reject the offer. It is an act of free will.

In this view, we do nothing to merit our salvation, other than accept the gift of grace.

But James is apparently chastising or maybe motivating his congregation by pointing out that if there are no good works - feeding the poor, tending to orphans and widows - then any claim that you have faith is worthless.

Now, unlike protestants, we believe it is possible to lose sanctifying grace by committing moral sin. We can only regain it through absolution and penance in the sacrament of confession.

So you see, you can’t *earn *salvation through good works, but if you don’t show the works which are natural consequences of authentic faith, then your faith may not be genuine.

But you can lose salvation through disobedience.


#4

So when an evangelical gives me that oft-repeated line, “You can’t work your way into Heaven,” I should just respond, "Right, but you can work your way out."
Would it be fair to say that in a sense, our works do contribute to our salvation?


#5

My understanding is that faith without works is dead. However, if it is a death bed confession, then there is no time for the dieing person to perform works, hence the persons’ death is minutes away (ie the criminal on the cross. Although you can argue that his last minute appeal to Jesus was a “work”)

A person not in his death bed will be expected to perform works. (i,e, all of us here at this forum) Our Faith validates our Works, and our Works validates our Faith and brings glory to God. Works are acts that promote loving thy neighbor, and so on! If I love my neighbor without faith, does it please God? My answer is no. If I have faith, but don’t love my nieghbor, does it please God now? I don’t think so!

Likewise, Works without Faith is dead. An athiest my hate and reject Jesus and still may participate in feeding the poor and in doing other Works. Does it mean this person will be saved? Morelikely not, since he/she rejects Jesus!

I understand that Faith and Works go hand in hand, one without the other is useless, lest it is a deathbed confession, and only a deathbed conffession!

God bless!


#6

Good works are as stated earlier required proof of faith and love for God. They also increase your sanctification (thay make your soul more beutifull to God) sanctification may be increased or lost depending on what you do. Loss of sanctifying grace kills your soul confession brings it back to life. Without grace you wouldn’t go to confession though, you also wouldn’t be able to choose to believe in God or have faith in the first place. So its really grace that makes it possible for you to choose God, thus it is cooperation with grace that saves.


#7

As St. James points out in his epistle, not only is faith without works dead, but we are justified by our faith working actively with our works. I don’t like saying that “true faith necessarily produces true works” because it verges on being wrong, and I don’t like saying “works are simply a sign of true faith” because it’s flat out wrong (because people who use the word faith in that sentence usually equate true faith with true belief, and it is more than possible to have belief but to choose not to do any works).

The relationship between the two is a little complicated but interesting. The way I describe it is:

Through God’s Grace, he offers us faith. What is faith? Faith is belief and obedience. Once we have belief in Christ and accept Him as Lord, He asks us to do works in obedience. Some of those works are works of ommission, for instance, the work of not commiting a sin. Some of them are works of commission, for instance the work of giving food to a hungry man.

Now, we may have belief that Christ is our Lord and salvation, but as St. James points out this is the same sort of faith the demons have: simple belief. To raise that belief to the level of faith, we need to be obedient to Christ. If we are not obedient, our belief is not enough to save us. If we are obedient, then our belief working together with our obedience is enough to save us. Nevertheless, it’s not the actual works we’re doing that work together with our faith (belief) to save us, but the fact that they are works of obedience to God.

The person that said we can’t work our way into Heaven but we can work our way out of it said it quite well.


#8

[quote=CollegeKid]So when an evangelical gives me that oft-repeated line, “You can’t work your way into Heaven,” I should just respond, "Right, but you can work your way out."
Would it be fair to say that in a sense, our works do
[/quote]

contribute to our salvation?
Reward & Merit and Salvation should supply you with some of the answers that you need.


#9

This is an excellent question. As a Wesleyan, I have never believed in OSAS and have absolutely no problem with the idea that deliberate sin makes us lose grace. But merit is a more difficult idea for me to accept. The great Catholic quote on this (from Augustine) is “When God rewards our merits, He is crowning His own gifts.” But that leaves a lot of room for explanation.

As I see it–and I think this is compatible with Catholic teaching, but check with real Catholics–the basic issue is whether we separate justification from sanctification. If they are inseparable–if salvation simply *is *our transformation into God’s likeness through grace–then “merit” simply means that by our actions we allow God to work in us and transform us. Every time we choose love and humility over greed and pride and lust, we are opening more room for God to make us like Himself. And this simply *is *salvation. There is no other salvation to be had. Saving faith is the empty hand we stretch out to allow God to do this transforming work in us. Saving faith and the works of charity are inseparable.

As for “merit” itself–well, I prefer not to use that language, but as a Catholic you’re stuck with it! I think a helpful distinction is one the medieval theologians made, between *meritum de condigno *and *meritum de congruo *or (in quasi-English!) “condign merit” and “congruous merit.” The example my advisor uses (an eminent Methodist professor of church history who specializes in the medieval background of the Reformation) is a child helping a parent do a job. If your parents say to you, “if you mow the lawn I’ll pay you X dollars,” then your reward is *de condigno. *You as a college student are quite capable of mowing the lawn properly and earning the money fairly, and probably have been for years now!

But suppose back when you were two or three your dad was painting a room and you desperately wanted to help. So your dad put you in a corner and gave you a paintbrush, and you made a terrible mess. After your dad finished painting the rest of the room, he came and finished painting your corner. Then he cleaned up all the mess you made. And then, instead of saying: “what a horrible mess,” he said: “Aren’t you a great little helper? Come have a cookie.” The cookie is earned *de congruo. *The two-year-old’s “help” did not in fact deserve a reward intrinsically. But it is fitting for a good parent to reward the child’s effort even though the effort has no intrinsic value.

As I understand the Catholic position (at least the mainstream position affirmed at Trent–there were other theologies in the late Middle Ages, and unfortunately Luther was trained in one of these more problematic traditions), human action in and of itself can never be other than congruously meritorious. We deserve nothing from God, but God “rewards” us out of sheer goodness.

But here’s where it gets tricky. Suppose your dad, instead of just leaving you in your corner to make a mess, came over and put his hand over yours and guided the brush where it needed to go. So while you didn’t paint much of the room, the little corner you did paint was still pretty good. Your own actions are still only congruously meritorious, but because it was fully your father’s action as well as yours it is *also *condignly meritorious, depending on which agent we are talking about–you or your father.

In Catholic teaching, our good actions are also condignly meritorious, because they are done by the Holy Spirit in them. Our own contribution is no more than congruously meritorious, but the Holy Spirit’s work obviously *does *have real merit.

Please correct me, Catholics, if I’m messing this up. But grant me some congruous merit anyway!

Edwin


#10

[quote=CollegeKid]So when an evangelical gives me that oft-repeated line, “You can’t work your way into Heaven,” I should just respond, "Right, but you can work your way out."
Would it be fair to say that in a sense, our works do contribute to our salvation?
[/quote]

Yes indeedy it would be fair to say. Let’s count, for fun, how many times in the NT we are said to be judged based on works vs. by Faith, and then of those found that say by faith, let’s see how many would remain if we took the word or concept of “deeds” away from the verses. The result would be: 0.

What I think is the problem between us, the sentence that the Evangelicals say to you needs to end with “by your own effort”. They would agree with that, and so would we. But, alas, it is not that easy. I am afraid they think, and many I know do, feel that any worry about “what you do” is wasted time! Don’t act like a JEW UNDER THE LAW!! We are judged on faith!! But, not we’re not. We are judged by works. We are saved by Grace, through Faith. Meaning, without Grace, not a lot of good deeds would be happnin on most people, and Faith is the things that keeps that grace flowin’.

And ask them to explain these verses to you as well:

John 5: 28-29
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

2nd Coming…after it all is said and done. So, we are obviously talking about Christians here. And if they start at that point saying that well, all the Christians are gone at that point, because of the Rapture…walk away. Save yourself the time!! No seriously, at that point, you have bigger fish to fry.

Matt 25: 31-46
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Con’t


#11

RSV Hebrews 3:1 Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.
2 He was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in God’s house.
3 Yet Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house.
4 (For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God.)
5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later,
6 but Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope.
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, when you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.' 11 As I swore in my wrath,They shall never enter my rest.’"
12 Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end,
15 while it is said, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
16 Who were they that heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?
17 And with whom was he provoked forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?
18 And to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?
19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

These that were unable to enter, were unable on the basis of their deeds, and the Author explains to us in the last line that this is seen as a lack of Faith. Our deeds show our faith, and our faith produces our deeds. They are one-in-the-same. Great Faith =great deeds. This is Divine grace working through us based on our faith, which produces the deeds that will lead to a righteous judgment, like in Matthew, i.e. we will be called a seep, not a goat, based on what we DID, by Grace, through faith. (Eph. 2:8)

This might be a little late to be doing this, I hope I didn’t mess up. :sleep:


#12

I’d have to say that you did a GREAT job on the explanation:thumbsup:


#13

I am a school age mommy, so I have to speak simply and I find it very effective. One unchurched 8yr old friend of my daughter’s was having a discussion with my daughter when my girl asked her WHY she didn’t go to church. She siad, “We don’t believe if you don’t go somplace on Sunday to pray that you will go to hell”. I told her, “Do you practice reading? The more you practice, don’t you get better? When you go to school, your teach teaches you lessons that make you learn more and read even better, right? That’s what we do when we learn and practice our religion. We learn more about God and how to serve even better.” We can’t help but ‘practice’ our faith.


#14

This is a good thread, and I’m learning a lot from it.

It’s a good reminder that, no matter how many times a topic comes up on Catholic Answers Forums, we shouldn’t always say “that’s already been discussed a thousands times.” We should revisit, renew, and continually hone our understanding of what it is we as Catholics believe.

Remember, one of the purposes (I hope) of this forum is to provide a vehicle whereby budding apologists can practice articulating the faith. I know that’s how I use the forums. So even if a question has been asked, let’s not just throw out links to other threads. This should instead be like a Catholic boot camp: don’t go throwing out links, give me 100 push-ups on faith and works now, soldier!

Anyway - I really love the answers on this thread. Nice work to everyone.


#15

It’s important for all Catholics to understand what “Works” means in Catholicism. Works is very much the catholic terminology for “sanctification” when used in conjunction with Faith in the “formula” for justification.

“Faith without works is dead.”

What does this mean? It’s easy. Let me say it in a way that can explained to protestants everywhere and they can’t really argue in return…

Someone cannot just say they believe and then live a life of un-christian sin and wrecklessness and expect to go to heaven. This sin is empty, or without works – which means without sanctification (in simple terms, the process by which we leave our pathetic sinful nature and are filled with the holy spirit as to do good deeds and be better people for God).

Like a clock without a motor cannot tell time, so can a faith without fruit not receive grace.

“We are saved by Grace through faith [alone].”

I add in [alone] because it is accurate, but not in the way most protestants believe it to be. We are saved through grace alone (Sola Gratia). And we are saved also alone by our faith, but it is what makes that faith true faith that makes us justified.

This faith must be a living, breathing, working faith to be one worthy of saving us. This is what Catholics describe as “Works.” If we truly do have faith, then we will undergo sanctification, by which the Holy Spirit will fill us and we will begin to perform truly good works which God has “pre-planned” for us.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Our good works are in effect proof of our faith (and sanctification). Without such proof, without the want to go to Mass and the need to give to the poor, and the pull towards prayer, we are living a life simply of an empty faith. Our want, love, and need of such deeds are what God prepared for us to do in advance once we discovered true faith in him.

And in reward we are filled with the Holy Spirit and justified by Grace through our new living, breathing faith, which is filled with the works the Holy Spirit drives us to do.

Pax Christi


#16

I think we have to be very careful when we start calling good works proof of true faith. We have to remember that faith as it is used today generally is taken to mean “belief.” So, when people say that true faith will produce works, they take it to mean that if you really believe in Christ, if you really trust Him, that you’re going to do works. Well that’s not true. As St. James points out, even the demons have faith in the sense that they believe in Christ, and I’m sure they trust Him to keep to His word too. Similarly, I can really believe and trust Christ and then be lazy and not do anything.

The point we always have to keep in mind is that the word faith as it is used in the Bible and as it is used when we talk about this sortof thing means a combination of belief and obedience. It doesn’t simply mean we believe or trust Christ so much that we obey Him, it literally means that we both believe and obey Him.

Another key point is that faith is not just belief in Christ, but belief in what Christ says. So when He tells us we need to do works, we believe what He says.

So, when we say that works are a proof of a true faith, it’s true, because works are a necessary part of true faith, and without them we don’t have faith we simply have belief. The problem with the phrase is that people interperet it to mean that works prove, or are a sign, that a person truly believes in and trusts Christ. This is the fine line between the Protestant understanding and the Catholic one.


#17

to me, the simplest way to put it is like this…

we are saved by grace, a free gift, but once saved ( or converted )
we are going to want to do good works… if we don’t want to do
good works, then we’d better re-examine our salvation…

basically what st. curious and Lazerlike said… lol

:slight_smile:


#18

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” - St. Matthew 19:21

Jesus did ask for works to be done on the behalf of his teachings and the obediance of his Father’s commandments.

Works are essential to a living, breathing faith.


#19

**Why so many people are afraid to say Faith includes works, of course it does, why does the whole NT give us consequences if we dont produce good fruits out of this great faith of ours.?

Faith is a work, regardless if one does not believe it.

Faith is a belief, but also an action. We are saved by Grace but we are judged by our actions.

Again we need to define what Faith means in Christ.

Does God expect us to do good works or produce good fruit if we have faith in him.?

What happens to one who has faith but dont produce these good fruits.? Do they still have faith and walk with Christ.

How do we show our love for Christ since he does not force us to LOVE HIM BACK.?

Believe and thou shalt be saved." What does that mean to most, Love and have Faith does this include our requirement to keep the commandments if we have Faith and Love for Christ.?

If Christ just asked us Christians to believe , then why would he have hundreds of pages of request and requirements for those who have Faith in him.

The whole NT is based upon consequences for BELIEVERS. What is Matt, Mark, Luke , John telling us about a person who has Faith in CHrist and what is required on our part.?

Sara**


#20

[quote=sara888]**Why so many people are afraid to say Faith includes works, of course it does, why does the whole NT give us consequences if we dont produce good fruits out of this great faith of ours.?

Faith is a work, regardless if one does not believe it.

Faith is a belief, but also an action. We are saved by Grace but we are judged by our actions.

Again we need to define what Faith means in Christ.

Does God expect us to do good works or produce good fruit if we have faith in him.?

What happens to one who has faith but dont produce these good fruits.? Do they still have faith and walk with Christ.

How do we show our love for Christ since he does not force us to LOVE HIM BACK.?

Believe and thou shalt be saved." What does that mean to most, Love and have Faith does this include our requirement to keep the commandments if we have Faith and Love for Christ.?

If Christ just asked us Christians to believe , then why would he have hundreds of pages of request and requirements for those who have Faith in him.

The whole NT is based upon consequences for BELIEVERS. What is Matt, Mark, Luke , John telling us about a person who has Faith in CHrist and what is required on our part.?

Sara**
[/quote]

these aren’t the works that are the issue with most protestants…
protestants believe that once you are saved, you aren’t gonna
want to break the laws either, and you are gonna want to do
the right thing…

the problems are of old, and it is the way the term works are
perceived… i believe it stems from the very beginning of protestant
reformation. the belief that ‘works’ could buy indulgences, was
one of the principal issues driving the reformation… Luther wrote,

“**the unhappy souls believe that if they have purchased letters of indulgence they are sure of their salvation; again, that so soon as they cast their contributions into the money-box, souls fly out of purgatory; furthermore, that these graces * are so great that there is no sin too great to be absolved, even, as they say – though the thing is impossible – if one had violated the Mother of God; again, that a man is free, through these indulgences, from all penalty and guilt.*”

believe me, protestants believe you have to live a christian life,
and ask for forgiveness, just as we do…

:-)**


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.