Is Grace buying a service?


I read They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24 NAB). Recently we seem to be are inundated in some circles with commemorations of Luther, and some of us Catholics may seem a bit Protestant. But I have a query.

If grace is a free gift of God, given without our merit (prevenient or antecedent grace) are we expected to do good actions in return? If so is grace not then the purchased of a service from us?

I would like to know. Thanks!


It depends entirely whether one is standing inside the system, or whether one is standing outside the system.

eg from inside the system, one begs God for mercy. From outside the system, one is trying to buy the appeasement of an angry God (this is where Luther went).

eg from inside the system, almsgiving. From outside the system, buying your way to heaven.

eg from inside the system indulgences. From outside the system, buying your way out of purgatory.


No, as you said, grace is a free gift of God. Grace always precedes all our good works and we can either follow or accept it or reject it. Grace is a supernatural gift from God which means it is beyond our natural powers to produce. We can’t be saved or merit heaven without grace so if we want to go to heaven and not hell then we need to accept God’s grace and do good works and keep God’s commandments with that grace. As St James said “faith without works is dead.” The CCC#2009 quotes St Augustine “Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due…Our merits are God’s gifts.”

We can’t buy grace as if we have some kind of right to it. In fact, before God we have no right to anything for all we have is from Him and the only thing we can claim for ourselves is our sins. God created us for heaven out of his sheer goodness and love.


The Christian life is about relationship not a contract.


No; it is grace that saves and makes us able to do good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

But then in verse 10:

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

A newly-fledged butterfly is not a caterpillar that is “expected” to fly; instead, flying comes naturally to it and is what the butterfly does as a matter of course. In the same way, we are a new creation, and it is in our nature to do good works.


Hi, Noel!
…consider a credit card–“x” company grants you 10K credit; you purchase without money and pay as you go… but you pay and you pay (principal, interest, fees…)–then somewhere someone comes up with the idea of Chapter 7, 11, and 13–yeah, gov. money to cover the irresponsible, er bad credit decisions… there are several degrees of obligations but none (as far as I’ve been able to determine) as serious as the actual incurred debt.

Grace is God’s “chapter” system… the difference is that with it we could purchase our way, through Jesus Christ, out of damnation–there is, as you’ve noticed, an obligation: we must become righteous and obedient to God… yeah, what a terrible price to pay; imagine Loving God above everything; then having to Love ourselves; finally being forced to Love others–Love, of course, is the absence of hate which in turn would turn the world into a true utopia… man hates so, of course, Grace places too much a demand on his psyche!

Maran atha!



That is really only a part of the story. You are making it sound like a one off single done and dusted event, and yes that one off single event is true, as Ephesians states, it is dependent on seeking mercy, that God extends mercy.

However it doesnt actually stop there it, carries on, every day anew to the same seeking mercy and grace. That is where sacraments are meaningful to a Catholic.


Christ calls us to perfection, “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). But, like the rich young man, Jesus does not expect us to achieve perfection in this life on our own merits, “If you wish to be perfect, . . . come, follow me . . . For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:21, 26).

The gospel tells me that I cannot save myself, but God can. The economy of salvation, God willing and working for my salvation, is God’s work, God’s free gift, and God’s grace in me. Grace is the power of God in me that enables me to express his goodness. My response to this grace within me is a free response. I can choose to negate the effect of grace, and this is sin.

The grace of Jesus Christ teaches me the way to salvation, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon, Jesus ratifies the Torah, but reinterprets it to emphasize interiority, the proper inward dispositions or attitudes. Indeed, sin is evil behavior—the adultery and the murder; but sin is also the evil attitude—the lust and the anger, that precedes and propels behavior. In the Beatitudes, Christ tells me that sanctity is also an attitude, and belongs to those who are poor in spirit, meek, merciful, or accepting of worldly misfortune.

Christ teaches me that salvation is primarily a transformation of my attitude, a change of heart. My attitude drives my affections, and my affections drive my behaviors. If I, through grace, can transform my attitude to be Christ-like, then my affections and behaviors will also be Christ-like. My transformation begins by denying the voice within that calls me to self-centeredness, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness" (Mark 7 20:22). Having quelled the voice that calls me to service of self, I am made ready to answer the call of grace, the call to charity. Grace calls me to know, and do the will of God.

Salvation requires more than just denying my self-centeredness, and becoming “other-oriented,” it requires I act accordingly. An intellectual faith is insufficient for salvation. Matthew tells me that professing Jesus is fairly easy; obeying Jesus is unutterably hard, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (7:21; emphasis mine). Matthew says to me that those who believe but do not act are not saved. Grace calls me to avoid evil, and also to do good. Saying “no” to either call of grace is sin.


Excellent post!

Maran atha!



Thanks for all the replies. I appreciate that so many took time to answer me, but some I consider have not addressed my specific concern.

A key problem is that many consider grace as actual grace, while sanctifying grace also exists. This makes us holy, acceptable to God, righteous, justified. It is a free gift that makes us holy.

I read in CCC:

*2000 Sanctifying grace is an habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love. *

Thus one sees sanctifying grace in itself perfects the soul. It differs from actual grace which enables us to do meritorious acts.
your detailed reply is sound. However what you consider salvation is not grace but repentance, conversion, change of mind (metanoia).

Your reply is uplifting and powerful, but does not really answer my query.


Thought I covered your questions:

Yes and yes.

Try rephrasing. The question as written does not make sense.

… However what you consider salvation is not grace but repentance, conversion, change of mind (metanoia).
??? My post does not claim that “salvation” is “grace.” Perhaps others can help you out.


This is from the Council of Trent, teachings which are echoed in our catechism:

In what manner it is to be understood, that the impious is justified by faith, and gratuitously.

And whereas the Apostle saith, that man is justified by faith and freely, those words are to be understood in that sense which the perpetual consent of the Catholic Church hath held and expressed; to wit, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all Justification; without which it is impossible to please God, and to come unto the fellowship of His sons: but we are therefore said to be justified freely, because that none of those things which precede justification-whether faith or works-merit the grace itself of justification. For, if it be a grace, it is not now by works, otherwise, as the same Apostle says, grace is no more grace.

Grace precedes everything. We can accept it, and become justified and continue to walk and grow in that justice, or we can reject it at any step along the way. Both faith and works are gifts of grace.


From the CCC:


You are glorified in the assembly of your Holy Ones, for in crowning their merits you are crowning your own gifts.59

2006 The term “merit” refers in general to the recompense owed by a community or a society for the action of one of its members, experienced either as beneficial or harmful, deserving reward or punishment. Merit is relative to the virtue of justice, in conformity with the principle of equality which governs it.

2007 With regard to God, there is no strict right to any merit on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immeasurable inequality, for we have received everything from him, our Creator.

2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.

2009 Filial adoption, in making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit on us as a result of God’s gratuitous justice. This is our right by grace, the full right of love, making us “co-heirs” with Christ and worthy of obtaining "the promised inheritance of eternal life."60 The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness.61 "Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God’s gifts."62

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.

2011 The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.63**

God determines, according to His wisdom, how man will be saved. Both faith and works, as responses to grace, play their roles, along with other dispositions and virtues, the central one being the virtue of love, which is the epitome of justice for man and the only valid source of his works, BTW.


I think the last two posts covered it. Grace precedes both faith and works. We can either accept and cooperate with that grace or reject it. It’s not forced.


Thanks for your reply.
I regret if I was not clear and misunderstood you. Sincerest apologies. I think your post was excellent, being inspiring and uplifting, but I felt it did not answer my query, possibly since I was not clear.

If God gives grace to us and expects us to give a return, it is not a free gift. God is purchasing with his giving our required response. I think this is as clear as I can make myself.

I regret if I misunderstood you. I felt you were discussing* salvation* while I was asking about grace.

I hope you will continue to contribute to this thread.


thank you so much for your post, which like all your posts is clear, courteous and knowledgeable.

However|I still think you have not answered my specific query. Actual grace is that gift which enables us to do good works, sanctifying grace makes us holy or justified. Thus we are made holy by grace not by our response to it.

The person after baptism is holy or justified, even before any good acts are done. Good acts do not make the person justified or holy, God’s grace does this. The grace of the sacrament of baptism makes the person holy and this grace is completely gratuitous.

So I would think that grace is unconditional and unconditioned.

But I am not sure, hence my query to CA.


God doesn’t send grace your way for anything you’ve done or anything you will do.

If a man on the street offers me twenty dollars, but doesn’t force it in my pocket against my will, he’s not “purchasing” my acceptance of the twenty dollars because my taking ownership of the twenty dollars depends on my acceptance.

We also can’t lose sight of the fact that our relationship to God is a familial one, not one of master and servant, or boss and employee.


But free gifts are not a purchase. Because while freely given, they can still be either accepted or refused.


fhansen # 13
after sending my last post I have now read your one on merit.

You have given me a very solid reply. I need to think, meditate and pray about your posts.

To me this is CAF at its best.
I had a problem, which confused me. I started a thread here, and got many replies. Some I felt did not answer my query, some I did not understand, and some, like yours, gave me insight.

I still feel my query was not answered fully, maybe it is impossible to do this, as I lack capacity to say exactly what my concern is and have not really expressed my difficulty.

The question remains:
If grace is a free gift of God, given without our merit (prevenient or antecedent grace) are we expected to do good actions in return?

I would say on balance ‘No’. Grace is a free gift.

But God expects us to know, love and serve him.

This is reflected in the Shema:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. (Deut. 6:4-5 NAB)


“Therefor you shall” is not a contractual requirement, it is the response of love ( at least in the fullest Christian understanding).

Spousal relationship is a good analogy.

When your wife loves you well, do you respond to her out of obligation?
Does she demand your reciprocation as payment for her love?
Do you respond to her thus
“I will respond and do this and that because I owe you _____this much”?

In my marriage, it would crush my wife to know that I do things out of obligation rather than out of complete good will for her. And delight, and joy.
"To love is to will the good of another, for the sake of the other:.

When the Shema talks about response, it speaks of wholeness. Right?
It doesn’t speak of proportionate response, or just due, it speaks of the complete and total gift of the whole self. Not minimalist response designed to fulfill an obligation.

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