The protestant view is that good works will flow automatically from faith, that they are manifestations of faith, and that faith without these good works isn’t really “faith” anyway, but they will contend that the ground of justification (i.e. the reason we can go to heaven) is faith alone. I think both Catholics and Protestants will certainly say that faith and works are both important.
Protestants will usually affirm that original sin has so destroyed our capacity to do good that we don’t really have a free will to choose the good in matters of salvation or damnation. Instead, because we are so inclined to evil, God does an act in us that operates independently of our free will to do good. Catholics maintain that our wills retain an ability to, with the help of God’s grace, to choose the good.
Protestants will often charge that Catholics think that we can work our way to salvation because we say that our good works merit salvation. Catholics have never affirmed that we can work our way to heaven based on our own efforts, this has been condemned at the Council of Orange and the Council of Trent. What we say is that God operates in us and we cooperate with His grace and with our wills to do good works.
There was an evangelical scholar, Alister McGrath, who has written a book on the history of the doctrine of justification who states that St. Augustine’s teaching on this, often held to be the protestant position, is more in line with the Catholic view:
For Augustine, the human liberum arbitrium captivatum is incapable of desiring or attaining justification. How, then, does faith, the fulcrum about which justification takes place, arise in the individual? According to Augustine, the act of faith is itself a divine gift, in which God acts upon the rational soul in such a way that it comes to believe. Whether this action on the will leads to its subsequent assent to justification is a matter for humanity, rather than for God. ‘The one who created you without you will not justify you without you’ (‘Qui fecit te sine te, non te iustificat sine te’). Although God is the origin of the gift which humans are able to receive and possess, the acts of receiving and possessing themselves can be said to be the humans’.
To meet what he regarded as Pelagian evasions, Augustine drew a distinction between operative and co-operative grace. God operates to initiate humanity’s justification, in that humans are given a will capable of desiring good, and subsequently co-operate with that good will to perform good works, to bring that justification to perfection. God operates upon the bad desires of the liberum arbitrium captivatum to allow it to will good, and subsequently co-operates with the liberum arbitrium liberatum to actualise that good will in a good action.
Most protestants will also say that salvation is a one time event, whereas Catholics believe that salvation is a lifelong process. Protestants believe in “imputed” righteous, that faith allows one’s sins to be covered via the sacrifice of Christ and his righteousness in justification, but Catholics believe in “infused” righteousness, that sin is really blotted out .
The early Protestant reformers logically separated justification and sanctification (and glorification, which happens after death in Protestant theology).
[sidebar: Historically I think this was crucial to the success of the protestant reformation, once people became convinced that they didn’t need the Church and her sacraments for their spiritual life (which came about through public debate on theology, allowing cities and towns to decide what beliefs they would have), charges of corruption against the church (which weren’t really anything new in Church history and had been made for centuries before 1517) became powerful enough to warrant a split from the Church.]
Catholics do not separate these three, for us they are three joined processes that begin at baptism. This is why we say that a person can lose her justification through mortal sin (which can then be regained through sacramental confession or a perfect act of contrition if confession is not available). Protestants contend that a person can “backslide” in sanctification but cannot lose her justification.
Some texts on the relationship between justification, sanctification and glorification
1 Corinthians 6:10-11
‘Not the effeminate nor the
impure nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor railers nor
extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God. And such some of
you were. But you are washed; but you are sanctified; but you are
justified; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of
And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Some on losing your salvation:
work out your own
salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at
work in you, both to will and to work for his good
Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore
again to repentance those who have once been
enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift,
and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and
have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and
the powers of the age to come, if they then commit
apostasy . . .
John 1:29 . . . Behold, the Lamb of God, who
takes away the sin of the world!
1 John 1:7 . . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses
us from all sin.
1 John 1:9 . . . He is faithful and just, and will
forgive our sins and cleanse us from all