Faith or Works?


Hi, I was just wondering what is the Catholic position on this issue. I am non-denominational, but some of my evangelical friends say that Catholics think they earn their way to heaven. I know that is not true, but my friend made a point. If you have to do good works with your faith, then you are earning you way to heaven which is against the Bible (Ephesians 2:8-9). What I am asking what is the diference between “earning” salvation and doing good works?


First I would like to affirm your notion that Catholics do not EARN their way to heaven, but I would like to ask your thoughts on a particular passage in Scripture, James 2:14-26?

14 What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith, but hath not works? Shall faith be able to save him? 15 And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food:

16 And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? 17 So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. 18 But some man will say: Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without works; and I will shew thee, by works, my faith. 19 Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, offering up Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God. 24 Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only? 25 And in like manner also Rahab the harlot, was not she justified by works, receiving the messengers, and sending them out another way? 26 For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.

How do you justify what James is saying here?


I am not Catholic and will let one of them reply as to their position. I do want to comment about your atatement that you don’t have to do good works. That is not true because good works are a necessary result of faith. You should read one verse farther in Ephesians to see that we are saved for good works. If you don’t do good works then you are not showing your faith and likely do not truly have it. Works is the evidence of faith and Jesus repeatedly says we are act according to our faith and so does Paul. Jesus tells us that a good tree produces good fruit and by their fruit you shall know them. The fruit doesn’t make the tree good, but if the tree is good the fruit will be there.


Catholics believe that faith and works go together. A true Christian both has faith and works. Protestants say the same as Catholics on this point. However, Protestants understand grace and faith differently. Protestants place much more emphasis on God’s initiative in salvation, moving a person to faith. This faith concerns an acknowledgement of who Christ is and what he did, with a special emphasis on the work of atonement–forgiveness of all sin on the Cross. Apprehension of this is justification. Once a person has been justified, he or she will want to do good works in love of God. Protestants emphasize that, before a man is justified, he or she has an utter hatred of God. The will is bound and the person only wills to do that which is against God, even if it appears good. Grace for Protestants usually means a change an attitude on God’s part. He no longer regards the man as sinner but as righteous, because that man is covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. A person who believes that works justify is believed to fall into the category of Law rather than Grace.

Catholics understandstand faith and works under the category of Grace. It is only because of the atoning death of Christ that works have any merit. And this is where it gets sticky. Works alone do not have merit, unless they proceed from faith. Love is worthless unless it is attached with faith. Yet, faith alone too is not sufficient for justification. Faith, Hope, Charity and obedience must be united. A faith that works – a faithfulness – is what Catholics understand to be justifying. Catholics too believe that no person can come to God unless called, that is, unless God takes the initiative in salvation. However, contrary to Protestantism, which emphasizes the saving work is all on God’s part – there is nothing a person *does * in response to God’s saving call – Catholicism emphasizes the need of the individual to respond to God’s call. Justification and salvation according to the Catholic understanding therefore concerns a lifelong dialogue – a call and response relationship – between God and man. In Catholicism, grace is infused; grace is the Holy Spirit that works within a person. God is free to internally change a person as he wills, but in Catholicism a great emphasis is placed on how a person reacts to infused grace. If a person follows the guiding grace that is the Holy Spirit, then grace follows upon grace, and the person grows in holiness. But the person has the free will to reject God’s grace, to resist it, and in such a case the person falls into greater and greater sin towards unrighteousness.


Paul speaks of faith as a life-long process, never as a one-time experience (Philippians 2:12). He never assumes he has nothing to worry about. If he did, his words in (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) would be nonsensical. He reiterates the same point again in his second letter to Corinth (2 Corinthians 13:5). He takes nothing for granted, yet all would agree if anyone was “born again” it certainly was Paul. Our Lord and Savior spoke of the same thing by “remaining in Him” (John 15:1-11).

Paul tells us our faith is living and can go through many stages. It never stays permanently fixed after a single conversion experience no matter how genuine or sincere. Our faith can be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19), departed from (1 Timothy 4:1), disowned (1 Timothy 5:8) wandered from (1 Timothy 6:10), and missed (1 Timothy 6:21). Christians do not have a “waiver” that exempts them from these verses.

Do our works mean anything? According to Jesus they do (Matthew 25:31-46). The people rewarded and punished are done so by their actions. And our thoughts (Matthew 15:18-20) and words (James 3:6-12) are accountable as well. These verses are just as much part of the Bible as Romans 10:8-13 and John 3:3-5.
Matthew 25
41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. 46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

James 1
22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. 24 For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. 25 But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.


I don’t know that hatred is the proper word to use. In Romans Paul describes the Jews as being zealous for God but because they were relying on works they were not justified. Before you are justified you are incapable of doing things that please God. You may think that you love God and are doing what He wants but you will have the wrong attitude. Instead of relying on God, you are trying to rely on your own efforts. The things you do may be good but the reason you are doing them is wrong. The reason may be to earn your own forgiveness, to make yourself feel good about yourself or to gain approval from others. With the right attitude you are not doing works for your own purposes. You are doing them simply because you love God and want to please Him. I think that is one of the reasons for saying works do not merit salvation since if they do, your motive still has an element of gain for yourself along with the love of God.


Originally Posted by SyCarl:

I don’t know that hatred is the proper word to use.

Man is either a bondslave to the will of God or the will of Satan. Jesus accused the unjust Pharisees as having Satan (the “father of lies”) as their Father. They do not do the will of the heavenly Father, but as servants of Satan they do the will of their father by hating God through hating hating the Son. One who hates the Son hates the Father by whom He is sent.


Okay, the answer is you are not saved BY works.
However, good works, done in the power of the Holy Spirit, note, done in the power of the Holy Spirit, are necessary for salvation because Christ said it is not the hearers only of the word who are justified, but the DOERS of the Word.

Good deeds done by a person who does NOT have the Holy Spirit indwelling him cannot save him at all. They are nice, maybe, but not salvific. Though God may look kindly on such a person and decide to save and regenerate him.

Salvation is entirely by the Grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, merited for us by the shed blood of Christ the Godman, appropriated by us by God-given saving Faith and carried out in a life of Good Works. There is no avoiding the Good works, unless God grants you regeneration 2 seconds before you die. :slight_smile:

Now, good works done in the power of the Holy Spirit and freely chosen by us in obedience to God’s inspirations, are “meritorious” in the sense that they increase our reward.
This is why a saved person who has lived an exemplary holy life, such as Mary and Joseph, will have more glorious crowns in heaven than those who weren’t all that zealous for the Lord.

But salvation itself, and the Grace of regeneration, comes from God and we could never merit THAT. The only thing unregenerate sinners “merit” is eternal loss.



Ephesians 2:8&9, “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.”

“Knowing that a man is NOT JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and NOT BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW: for BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW SHALL NO FLESH BE JUSITIFIED”

Romans 11:6 clarifies this matter, “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But IF IT BE OF WORKS, THEN IT IS NO MORE GRACE: otherwise work is no more work.”

“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, THEN CHRIST IS DEAD IN VAIN” (Galatians 2:21).

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find GRACE TO HELP in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23)

“But not as the offence, so also is the FREE GIFT. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the FREE GIFT is of many offences unto justification” (Romans 5:15,16).

1st John 5:13, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye have eternal life…”


"Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the SIMPLITY that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth ANOTHER JESUS, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive ANOTHER SPIRIT, which ye have not received, or ANOTHER GOSPEL, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (2nd Corinthians 11:1-4).


If we choose to follow the example and instruction given to us by Jesus Christ, we cannot help but do many physical and spiritual things that, perhaps, we may not have otherwise done in our lives. We may have faith, but among the “proofs” of our faith is the way we live our lives. That’s just common sense. No one needs to tell us that, not really.


If good works meant nothing, why would CHRIST tell us we would be judged by what we did?

St Matthew 25:31-46

31 And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. 32 And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left. 34 Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in:

36 Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. 37 Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? 39 Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? 40 And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

41 Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. 44 Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? 45 Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

46 And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.


I was an hungered - The union between Christ and his people is the most tender and endearing of all connections. It is represented by the closest unions of which we have knowledge, (John 15:4-6; Ephesians 5:23-32; 1 Corinthians 6:15). This is a union - not physical, but moral; a union of feelings, interests, plans, destiny; or, in other words, he and his people have similar feelings, love the same objects, share the same trials, and inherit the same blessedness, (John 14:19; Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:21; Romans 8:17). Hence, he considers favors shown to his people as shown to himself, and will reward them accordingly, (Matthew 10:40, Matthew 10:42). They show attachment to him, and love to his cause. By showing kindness to the poor, the needy, and the sick, they show that they possess his spirit, for he did it when on earth; they evince attachment to him, for he was poor and needy; and they show that they have the proper spirit to outfit them for heaven, (1 John 3:14, 1 John 3:17; James 2:1-5; Mark 9:41).

Was a stranger - The word “stranger” means a foreigner or traveler; in our language, one unknown to us. To receive such to the rites of hospitality was, in Eastern countries, where there were few or no public houses, a great virtue. See Genesis 18:1-8; Hebrews 8:2.

Took me in - Into your house. Received me kindly.

Naked - Poorly clothed. Among the Jews they were called “naked” who were clad in poor raiment, or who had on only the “tunic” or inner garment, without any outer garment. See the Matthew 5:40 note; also Acts 19:16 note; Mark 14:51-52 notes; Job 22:6 note; Isaiah 58:7 note.


“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: BUT HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15


Ah yes the scripture passage addressing purgatory.:yup:


Really, the issue here can get lost in our different understandings of how one is saved. Just focusing on the faith or works issue does not satisfy the foundational difference of justification between Catholics and most Protestants.

This issue is more of a infused vs. imputed righteousness issue.

I believe this will be a more helpful approach at getting to the heart of the issue.

God Bless,



IN Matthew 5:20 Christ instructs his followers, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This is an important, though often misunderstood verse when employed in Protestant-Catholic discussions of justification.

Some Catholics cite the passage, but leave the impression the Catholic Church teaches we must attain righteousness by our own efforts: God gives us a certain amount of grace to make of it, by our own power, what we will. To Protestants, this sounds (understandably) like semi-Pelagianism.

Protestants misunderstand the passage because they try to rob it of its moral force. Jesus, they claim, is revealing the futility of trying to achieve righteousness through good deeds. He’s really contrasting the false righteousness of good works with the true, merely imputed, declaratory righteousness that comes through faith alone.

Both interpretations of the passage miss something. The pseudo- Catholic view is wrong because the Catholic Church rejects semi- Pelagianism–the belief God does half and we do half–as forcefully as any Protestant church.

The great Thomist Garrigou-Lagrange (quoted in Louis Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, p. 53) summarized the Catholic position when he observed that “in the work of salvation all is from God, including our own co-operation, in the sense that we cannot distinguish a part as exclusively ours, which does not come from the author of all good.”

From the Catholic point of view, God initiates our salvation by his grace, but he doesn’t stop there. Our works of obedience which follow the start of God’s salvific action in us are also the work of grace.

This is what Paul means in Philippians 2:12-13 when he says we’re to work out our salvation and yet reminds us that “it is God who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” Or as Augustine put it, when God rewards our merits or works, he crowns his own gifts to us.

The common Fundamentalist use of Matthew 5:20 also misses the mark. Jesus isn’t contrasting imputed righteousness with the righteousness of good works. He’s contrasting the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees with the interior righteousness that proceeds from the heart and which is to characterize his followers. Jesus is telling his disciples how to be righteous–not how to look righteous.

This is illustrated in Matthew 5 in Christ’s teaching about anger and murder (Matt. 5:21-26), lust and adultery (Matt. 5:27-32), oaths and truth telling (Matt. 5:33-37), retaliation (Matt. 5:38-42), and the love of enemies (Matt. 5:43-48). In each of these areas, the concern is for internal righteousness and sanctity surpassing external performance.

The same principle applies to Christ’s treatment of the three characteristic forms of Jewish piety in Matthew 6:1-18: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Jesus doesn’t deny these are righteous deeds or good works. His concern is that such acts be done authentically–that is, because of the love of God, not merely “that people may see them” (Matt. 6:1).

Although Christ is interested in heartfelt obedience rather than mere external performance, nowhere does he say external performance is unimportant or that genuine works of obedience shouldn’t be considered righteous deeds before God.

In fact, his warning to “take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see” suggests just the opposite, as do his admonition in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and his teaching that we must do the will of the Father to enter the kingdom (Matt. 7:21).

How, then, does Jesus teach his followers to surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? By obeying God from the heart, not simply with the lips.

This is not some sort of imputed, extrinsic, “looking-at-the-believer-through-Jesus-colored-glasses” righteousness. No, it’s the result of a grace-created interior transformation in which believers can grow through authentic obedience (1 John 3:7) as true children of God (Matt. 5:45).


truthnlight, I’m puzzled. In post #14, you quoted DixiesFinest, who quoted Matthew 25:31-46.

In this gospel passage, Jesus himself speaks of the last judgment and how we will be judged. Going by his words, we are judged by how we treat others. Works, apparently. Yet, you did not address that passage. You simply quoted another passage which addresses the issue of purgatory, and makes a case for it.

Why do you ignore the account of the last judgement given by Jesus? Did Jesus get it wrong?


I myself have a question for protestants similiar to this topic.

Do you believe that God favors someone who has faith and never nor have any desire to do works?

I have met christians who do infact have faith but do not have any desire to do any works

the way I see this as a Catholic is that Christ himself promoted works and Faith just as the Catholic Church, Christ was the best example of works and the best at parables for instances the good samaratin, Reading the good samaratin, I can even see how the priest who simply passed the man who was beaten and robbed having soo much faith himself.


Apparently so according to some protestants.


I wish I had one of those little smileys of that guy thumping on his Bible. Catholics read the Bible too, t&l.

The law that Paul is talking about in “works of the law” are works of the levitical law: ceremonial acts, such as circumcision. Romans and Ephesians are both addressing the influence of the Judaizers, who were teaching that circumcision was necessary to salvation.

As many of our Protestant friends would doubtless point out to you, Paul assures us in Ephesians 2:10 that we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

When James addresses the matter of salvation “not by faith alone,” he is talking about the works for which we are “created in Christ:” works of love.

Serious Protestants and Catholics are not really far apart on this at all. Both believe that by the grace of God, we accept salvation, that God initiates the action, that God initiates our desire to “walk in good works.”

The major difference is in the anthropology. In the desire to give God the honor due his Name, our more Calvinist brethren construct a view of human nature that sees humanity as absolutely and utterly incapable of ANY good thing. Catholics, on the other hand, see the fall as a fatal wound, which we could never survivie and from which we certainly could not recover. Yet God created man, and declared him “good.” Catholics believe that at bottom, a spark of free will remains by which we can respond in hope to the outstretched hand of the Lord as he reaches out to us from the cross.

So when we believe Christ, when we are born in him, we do walk in good works. Catholics tend to think it an insult to God to believe that even in his grace we can do nothing. In him we can “do all things.” Catholics do not believe that a non-working (i.e., non-living) faith honors God by depreciating the crowning piece of his handiwork: man.

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