Protestantism and Good Works

My question is:

Does the incorrect belief/intention behind an action negate the results of the action?

My question stems from sola fide belief of most, not all, Protestant denominations. Many Catholics on this forum are quick to point at Protestantism as heretical because of sola fide and sola scriptura. Ignoring sola scriptura for the moment, however, I’d like to question whether or not sola fide is a strong basis for the heretical label.

Ask 99% of all Protestants if they believe that works in the life of a Christian are important and you’ll get a resounding “Absolutely!” Granted, if the question was, “Are works necessary for salvation?” you’d likely get a different answer. But, the fact remains that the vast majority of Protestants ARE doing good works, not sitting on their bottoms.

So, back to my original question……if Catholics believe that faith produces works and works ARE necessary to confer more grace in their lives, does the average Protestant’s failure to believe this (but they are actually doing the good works) negate the grace that would be conferred to them? In other words, does it actually even matter what a Protestant’s motive for good works are as long as he is actually doing them? It seems to me that a Protestant doing good works for the sheer sake that they should be done is actually more honorable than doing them because you expect to gain something from doing them.

On the sacramental nature of baptism, which most Protestant’s do not believe actually confers anything, Catholic teaching seems to be that it doesn’t really matter what the Protestant thought beforehand, all that matters is that they were actually baptized.

Would not the same logic apply to works? And, if so, if the Protestant is being conferred grace because of his works, does not the grace he is conferred negate the incorrect belief?And if so, does the term “heretic” still apply to that individual Protestant?

to me, the argument is mute. we believe that Jesus died for our sins, and true faith produces good works. instead of aging about paul and james words, it’s easier to go to the source. ‘If you love me, keep my commands’. ‘blessed are those who hear my words and keep them’.

i think the problem for some christians in general is that they think that if they tell themselves that they believe in Jesus, that’s enough to save them. it’s like when they take those polls in the u.s. to see how many people identify themselves as christian. if there were really that many, living Jesus’ words, the kingdom of God would truly be upon us.

but when you have so many people right on these forums who say, 'i’m catholic, but i don’t agree with the church’s teaching on this that and the other, where’s the faith?:confused:

Failure to properly believe that which is true - no matter what it is - will act as an obstacle to the flow of grace.

It has been my experience that the vast majority of protestants actually believe the same as the Catholics Church on the matter of faith and works. The only difference is in the manner of expression. So - in answer to your question - Those who do the will and the work of God will receive grace, regardless of their faith tradition.

The bigger problem - is that the idea of “Sola Fide” is a larger issue than simply the relationship between faith and works. How can a bible believing Christian hold to the concept of Sola Fide when it this is not taught in Scripture? :shrug:


I’ll be curious to see other responses, but at least for me, I feel like Catholics & protestants might be closer than sometimes thought.

Obviously, Ephesians 2:8-9 is very important to most protestants, but I think James 2:14-26 is also equally important. I won’t touch the “more honorable” or the “expect to gain part,” but I do think motive matters in that in both cases it has to be Christian faith which drives behavior.

But this is a very interesting question: “Does the incorrect belief/intention behind an action negate the results of the action?” While I suspect not, I’m not sure if it is a complete question going back to the motivation part you mention. It isn’t quite the same question as “are works necessary or is faith sufficient” obviously, but I wonder if the ultimate endpoint isn’t the same regardless of the yes/no dichotomy of immediate theological answer based on James 2. Regardless of which building you go to on Sunday, if you have faith, you will do works.

I actually got into an argument at work with a few of my Protestant brethren just before I took off for the holidays on the very issue of sola fide. I believe we all agreed that Christians with true faith produced good works all the time. However, where we separated was on the issue of grace. They believed that Christians are saved no matter what they do in this life. For example, and I got them to admit this, had Adolf Hitler accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior sometime in the 1920s before doing what all he did in the 30s and 40s, he would have still gone to Heaven upon his death - even if he had not repented for his sins. That totally blew my mind. I got them to say it twice just to make sure I was coming in loud and clear.

that’s the problem with protestantism, there are as many teachings as there are pastors. ask them what their catechism says.:cool:

I feel like this is the crux of the issue because not all Protestant denominations subscribe to the OSAS view of salvation and in fact, many, many don’t. It is a very general and sweeping statement for Catholics to make about Protestants, and I feel that OSAS is actually a different (albeit related) issue than sola fide.

I’m curious to know what denomination(s) your co-workers belong to. OSAS, I believe, is purely heretical but Catholics and 99% of all Protestants DO believe that faith alone DOES save us, and both expressions of that faith (i.e., good works) look identical. I, personally, do not know of any Protestants who believe that they can go through life devoid of charity/love toward fellow man and still call himself a Christian.

“More honorable” and “expect to gain” were probably a poor choice of words but I do believe that there is something to be said about someone who goes and serves in a soup kitchen, donates to Christian charities, etc., simply because he loves God and that loves drives him to serve/love others versus someone who is simply going through the motions because he knows that good works will make his faith appear real. It seems that this is exactly what Jesus adamantly taught against in regards to the Pharisees.

Far too often, Catholics tend to sit on their side of the fence tearing down Protestants because they believe that all are heretics and many Protestants likewise categorically believe that a Catholic’s good works are simply done to merit something for himself, instead of done unselfishly. I have come to see that we are ALL far closer in belief and practice than we are apart.

You know, my question was NOT to get someone on their soap box. As a Protestant who has been trying to discern the fullness of the truth (notice, I did not say exclusively the truth because there is much shared truth between Catholicism and Protestantism), I find your comment deeply disheartening and prejudiced and simply not beneficial to the discussion.

This passage sure seems to contradict them.

**The True Disciple.

21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,* but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.n 22Many will say to me on that day,o ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’p 23Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.* Depart from me, you evildoers.’q **

Aren’t the people saying Lord, Lord, Christians?

Yes these types of things ARE frustrating and not really helpful to conversation.

However, if a protestant of whatever tradition wishes to know what the RC teaches on a given subject they can go to official and universally applied documents to find out - the Catechism for example.

We as Catholics cannot do this with the protestant world…even within groups with the same name there can be wide variations in belief.
Not all Baptist believe the same depends much on the individual pastor.
Same with Church of Christ and other more “locally independent” Church structures.
Even Protestant Churches with more structure, one cannot always tell…
Anglican - are you high church or low church?
Lutheran - are you ECLA or Lutheran Synod?

Their one universal document is the Bible, but there are multiple teachings drawn from it.

So - if we Catholics do tend to inaccurately generalize about what “protestants” believe…well…Why is that???

I don’t say the above to be snarky or to attack you. I know that it is a frustrating thing…but it is also frustrating for Catholics to try to learn and to discuss things that - well frankly - we don’t seem to be able to “pin down”.

Sorry if it seems we are getting off of your original subject…


I am so very pleased to hear a protestant correctly articulate Catholic doctrine regarding works. You understand this better than many Catholics.

So many Catholics (and, especially protestants) think the Catholic Church teaches that salvation comes from faith AND works (whereas, in Catholic doctrine, salvation actually comes from the Grace of Christian Baptism and from nothing else - without Baptism, faith and works are meaningless). For a person in a state of Grace, good works act in cooperation with our Baptismal Grace and help strengthen it, increasing our resistance to temptation and sin.

Do “good works” also have a similar effect on protestants? After all, as you point out, they (usually) have Baptismal Grace. Does a protestant who teaches Sunday school, works in a soup kitchen, build houses for Habitat for Humanity, donates to Ebola relief, or whatever - does this have an effect on his life? Is he more likely to be a godly man than a sinner? I think so. So we can actually observe - with our own eyes - that works act in cooperation with a protestant’s Baptismal Grace, the same as they do for a Catholic who has the SAME Baptismal Grace, regardless of his motive.

Scripture tells us that

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. [Gen 15:6]

Belief is a “good work” (meaning it is something meritorious we do without compulsion). This was before Abram became Abraham - before he knew the Lord in any meaningful sense, and before the Lord made Abraham the Father of the Jewish nation and made many promises to him. Abram’s belief was not some scheme to profit from his belief in the Lord - he had no idea what good things God had planned for him.

And that was good enough for the Lord.

On the sacramental nature of baptism, which most Protestant’s do not believe actually confers anything, Catholic teaching seems to be that it doesn’t really matter what the Protestant thought beforehand, all that matters is that they were actually baptized.

And that is also a very thoughtful insight, which I incorporated in my reply above.

You sound more Catholic than many Catholics. You know, the door is always open.

One was an Episcopalian, another was a Calvinist, and I’m not sure what the other was.

There is an interesting article on this website.

I have posted a small portion of it.

** Necessity of Baptism:*
Christ lays out two conditions for salvation: faith and baptism (Mark 16:16). 1 Peter 3:21 explicitly says that baptism saves.

Sacraments and Sacrifice:*
St. Paul compares the Eucharist to the Jewish sacrifices and pagan sacrifices (1 Corinthians 10:14-21), and says that in the same way, we participate in the Body and Blood of Christ when we “partake of the table of the Lord” (“table” being the term he uses to describe altars, as his comparison with the “table of demons” shows). He explains this by asking rhetorically, “are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?

”Merits of the good:*
When Christ describes the separation of the saved from the damned at the Last Judgment, He explicitly looks at their works (Matthew 25:31-46). James says that such good works are necessary for justification, which he expressly tells us isn’t by faith alone (James 2:24). And in his epistle to the Romans (in which he allegedly rejects the merits of the good), Paul says that God “will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8).**

Yes, I’m starting to realize this myself :smiley:

I have friends who ascribe to Calvanistic beliefs such as predestination, etc. Blows my mind :rolleyes:

I wouldn’t be too tough on “going through the motions” myself. A great piece of advice that comes out in a lot of varied circumstances is the whole “fake it 'til you make it” thing, whether it is leading people or attitude changes. They might be trying to get it right and doing things out of guilt or obligation more than their heart’s true desire, but hoping to change that. Maybe like a Mark 9:24 sort of thing? :shrug:

I agree with your last point as well, but come from a protestant background myself. Pretty recently converted. :slight_smile:

100% fair and accurate. As you note, some do have more structure, some have a governing body of sorts, some have a catechism, but some are more free-for-all.

In my humble opinion, it is probably better to not generalize or try to pin down. :shrug: It is all so different. Ask the individual, themselves. Just as noted here, it is frustrating when protestants misrepresent the Catholic faith, it is equally unproductive to misrepresent what they might believe, and you’re more likely to get it wrong with a protestant because there is so much more difference!

Understood, but you need to recognize that to, “not generalize or try to pin down”, conflicting teachings is kind of “anathema” to a Catholic.
We WANT it pinned down.
We want to know which teachings are true and which are not.
If there are variations we want to know what is OK and what is not.

That is why we have so many volumes of things written out. :smiley:

The whole idea of not trying to pin something down - of not trying to resolve the differences and conflicts in teachings just goes completely against NT Scripture and it’s call to unity.

Just as noted here, it is frustrating when protestants misrepresent the Catholic faith, it is equally unproductive to misrepresent what they might believe, and you’re more likely to get it wrong with a protestant because there is so much more difference!

Agreed, yet it seems that we cannot express anything that (some) “protestants” believe without misrepresenting what (other) “protestants” believe. :shrug:


if you read my post #2, you would probably see where i am coming from. this post was responding to the post before it. i apologize if i came across as sarcastic, that was not my intent.

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