How can I reconcile these apparent Scripture contradictions?

I’m so confused!

I’m a Protestant who left the Roman Catholic Church as a teenager. Since then I’ve gotten married to my wonderful wife, became the father of two wonderful sons, & wandered from one Protestant church to another. I’m familiar with much of the Bible, especially the New Testament.

I’ve just had a long discussion with a thoughtful Roman Catholic who brought two Scriptures to my attention:

" God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." (Romans 2:6)


“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7)

I’m having trouble reconciling these passages with the following.

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)


“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)


“… God … has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. …” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)


"… God our Savior … saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy… " (Titus 3:5)

The first two passages of Scripture seem to say that the good things we do somehow contribute to our salvation, while the last four passages seem to contradict this.

I’m a firm believer that “contradictions” in the Bible are not real but only apparent. However, i don’t know how the last four passages may be interpreted any other way than to mean that the good things we do do not contribute to our receiving eternal life.

Dear Socrates,

You are correct: Scripture does not contradict itself. Your Catholic friend gave you two examples of a great many such passages.

First of all, the passages you cite are correct. We are saved by grace through faith, which is our acceptance of that grace. There is no way that we could ever save ourselves. This is Catholic dogma, by the way!

But simply because God has done for us what we cannot do of ourselves, does not mean that He doesn’t expect us to do what we CAN do, i.e., live holy, unselfish lives. In fact, if we don’t live according to His requirements, we risk losing salvation. There are many passages that back this up. “If, after we have been given knowledge of the truth, we should deliberately commit any sins, then there is no longer any sacrifice for them. There will be left only the dreadful prospect of judgment and of the raging fire that is to burn rebels.” (Heb 110: 26-27) “It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mat. 7:21) “Your stubborn refusal to repent is only adding to the anger God will have towards you on that day of anger when his judgments will be made known. He will repay each one as his works deserve.” (Rom. 2:5-6) Something is expected of us!

There is no contradiction here. God alone saves us, but we can refuse such salvation by turning our backs on it. He still expects that we take Him seriously and live righteously. This is what Catholics believe.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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