Question for Catholics and Protestants - Definition of "Works"?


#1

I hope this is in the right category. :o

It’s 3 a.m. here and I’m not sleeping because I’ve got this question knocking about in my head after some bedtime reading of Origen, which is: “what did I perceive to be “works” when I was an Evangelical and didn’t believe they had anything to do with salvation, and has that understanding/and or definition of “works” and their role in my salvation changed now that I am a Catholic?”

Because “works” and their role in salvation is such a point of sharp disagreement between the two sides of Christianity, I was wondering if I could get some input from each side as to what they have been taught pertaining to the definition of “works” to see if we even have a similar understanding of the basics of this argument/disagreement.

It seems to me that in all the debates I have heard, and all the sermons I have heard through the years, I don’t recall ever hearing a clear definition of this hot topic, **“works”, **but the idea behind them may be very different in each group and to be honest, I’m not even sure at this point if we think of the same things when we are discussing this. (Or, maybe I have just not been paying attention too well during the arguments! :wink: )

I’ll wait for some input before I tell you what my ideas are, historically and currently.

Thanks!
Jeanette


#2

A good starting place would be the words of our Savior, Himself, in Matthew 25, verses 31 to the end. He makes it very clear what He expects and equally clear what will happen to those who obey Him and those who don’t.


#3

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.


#4

Hi Jeanette, you should consider two phrases, “salvation by works” and “salvation by grace”

We protestants often think that when one pushes “works” that they are trying to reach heaven through their, our own works which are like rotten rags, thus salvation by works is trying to reach heaven by doing good works under our own power.

Salvation by grace is depending on God to get to heaven, and true faith is known by its good works done under the power, strenght of the Holy Spirit.

So, when you discuss works with us protestants, you should make it plain that you are talking about good works done under the power of the Holy Spirit, not works of our own, done under our own strength.

makes sense?


#5

BlestOne nailed it…I’m not sure why so many people struggle with the concept of good works…I know one thing…I don’t do enough of them but I’m working on it.

Iowa Mike


#6

Daniel, I think we all agree that one cannot work his way to heaven. However, I think it is erroneous to take man’s free will and effort totally out of the equation. The Bible, in both the old and new testaments, is filled with exhortations to care for the widows, the orphans, and the homeless (works, obedience, or whatever you want to call it). The Holy Spirit may make me aware of a need and may touch my heart to do something about it, but in the final analysis, it us still up to me to accept and act upon that grace or to ignore it. I know I should go downtown and help cook a meal for the homeless, but the last time I checked, the Holy Spirit didn’t roll my lazy self out of bed on Saturday morning and get me going. That part He left up to me. Yes, doing these works is a manifestation of my faith and, yes, the Spirit tells me what I should do, but still it is up to me whether to respond to His prodding or to ignore Him.

To consistently ignore the prodding of the Holy Spirit to engage in good works makes our faith a dead one, not one which leads to salvation. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of us respond as we should sometimes and don’t respond at other times. Each man will be judged according to his works by the Son. It’s in the Bible, plain and simple, and there’s no way you can get around it.


#7

You Protestants are correct. It’s a Protestant knee-jerk reaction that when someone emphasises the importance of works that they are denying the importance of grace and faith. Similarly, it is a Catholic knee-jerk reaction that when someone emphasises the importance of faith that they are somehow denying the importance of good deeds and living a moral life. And yes, salvation by works is condemned by the Bible and by the Church.

Salvation by grace is depending on God to get to heaven, and true faith is known by its good works done under the power, strenght of the Holy Spirit.

Uh huh

So, when you discuss works with us protestants, you should make it plain that you are talking about good works done under the power of the Holy Spirit, not works of our own, done under our own strength.

The Council of Trent at the time of the Protestant Reformation said:
If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema.

Of interest also is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

“Works” are generally understood to be “deeds” by both sides, I think.

My main point is that Protestants believe many different things on this matter, and that our own understanding isn’t as different from many Protestant positions as may initially appear.


#8

Works are done by Christians in order to glorify God, and to do God’s will. Too many people think they can get by on works alone, or in other words, earn their own salvation through their own actions. I think this is where the controversy come in.


#9

I think the controversy comes in when non-Catholics think that Catholics think that we can earn our salvation.

Earning our way to heaven through our own actions, done not by God’s grace but our own power, has not and never has been a teaching of the Catholic Church.

God Bless,
Maria


#10

Non-Christian cults teach this doctrine, however.


#11

I agree. We cannot buy our way into heaven. God doesn’t owe us anything. In my opinion as a Catholic, the Protestant impulse to emphasise faith is a good one, though unfortunately it can sometimes lead to some doctrinal distortions such as the belief that saying the “Sinner’s Prayer” is all that is required for salvation.

Regarding the OP, I would say that the disagreement on the role of works in many, but not all cases, is needlessly sharp.

“what did I perceive to be “works” when I was an Evangelical and didn’t believe they had anything to do with salvation, and has that understanding/and or definition of “works” and their role in my salvation changed now that I am a Catholic?”

We are saved “by grace through faith” and “not as a result of works” (Eph 2:8-9) but “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24). The works in the first passage are not the result of grace, whereas those in the second are. As I quoted previously from the Council of Trent, we believe that those works that do justify us are a result of grace. Those works done by our own natural powers avail nothing - they’re the filthy rags that Daniel Marsh mentioned. I don’t know what Evangelicals would think, but I think they expect good works automatically to flow out of a good faith. We might emphasise having to actively strive for good works in order to glorify God, but nevertheless attribute them and their capability to justify entirely to God’s grace.


#12

Hi,
From what I get out of reading the forums is that it is a definition problem

We have different definitions of Justification and sanctification.

Justification—to declare righteous or not guilty–biblically speaking Paul says in Romans over and over again we are justified by faith --which means once we believe in Christ we are justified–meaning found not guilty of sin, restored to a relationship with God----eternal salvation.
This gives us a position in heaven

Sanctification–to cleanse; to be separate

As a result of Christ’s death on the cross we are positionally cleansed before God( 1 Corinthians 6:11), progressively cleansed by the Holy Spirit by applying the Word of God to life(John 17:17), and will be perfectly cleansed in Glory when our progress will match our position(Phillippians 3:21, 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

This one is linked to receiving rewards in heaven. The bible doesnt say what they will be so I dont have a clue.

We did nothing for the first except to believe–accept the gift of salvation.

The second is God refining us to be more Christ-like----which is works.

Maybe someone with more knowledge then I will explain it better.:o


#13

The “sinner’s prayer” is only valid when the person praying it is in the appropriate frame of mind. (understands seriousness of their sins, honestly repentant…ect.)


#14

You might want to note that sometimes I’ve had non-Catholic Christians challenge me as a Catholic about the sacraments. Their issue is that they suspect that the sacraments are “works”, that is, the bad kind of works that meant that if you have certain beliefs about them, then you believe a false gospel. Note: I am talking about their belief, not mine. When I think about “works” myself, and not in response to a challenge, I think of things like:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. James

From a catechetical perspective, “works” most likely calls to mind the spiritual and corporal “works of mercy”, two lists that are memorized by Catholics. So I agree with the sheep and the goats quote the others are giving (lists the corporal works of mercy).


#15

I appreciate the great responses from all of you here. :slight_smile:

Let me explain why I wanted to start this discussion. My initial intent was to see if we as Catholics and Protestants, were even in agreement as to what we each considered “works” to be.

When I was an Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian (for 40 years :eek: , I have a few gray hairs :wink: ), I was always taught that Catholics thought they could work their way into heaven and didn’t believe in salvation by grace. Salvation by works, that’s what we were always taught about Catholicism.

And of course, once I started studying the Catholic faith, I found out this ascertion was absurdely false. Salvation by grace, through faith and works, is the Catholic teaching, a really big difference. Grace produces both faith and works, together, never independent of each other. This is the road of salvation.

And of course, what I was also led to believe, by many very misinformed teachers, was that these “works” were mainly the “rituals and man-made traditions” of Catholicism, which were completely void of the Life of the Holy Spirit and led to spiritual bondage. I also found this to be a false representation of Catholic teaching.

And to quote Pug from above as to what Catholics refer to as “works”:

From a catechetical perspective, “works” most likely calls to mind the spiritual and corporal “works of mercy”, two lists that are memorized by Catholics.

The Sacraments of the Church (which are refered to as “rituals and man-made traditions” in many Protestant/Evangelical circles) are in fact an avenue of grace through the Holy Spirit, which in turn produces both faith and works unto salvation. The Sacraments are not the works, but the avenues of spiritual grace, as established by Christ. So the works that are produced, along with faith, are by the grace of the Spirit, not of one’s own power. These are critical differences, also because the grace has to be freely received by every individual in order to be effectual.

I just wanted to make sure that the widespread misunderstanding of what constitutes “works” by Catholicism was not commonplace among the Protestants here. :slight_smile:


#16

Daniel,

It’s nice to see you Protestants using the phrase “salvation by grace”. We Catholics have been trying to get you guys away from the Faith Alone thing for years.

As you know, the Catholic Church has always taught that by grace alone are we saved. But in order to receive that grace, we must accept Jesus into our lives through our faith and follow his commandments.

And, we do have free will. We choose right or wrong. The source of good is of course God, but I will be judged by my decisions just like the Bible says.

So let’s stop fighting. Believe and do. It’s that simple.


#17

The Way of the Master Biblical Evangelism textbook defines grace as undeserved favor from God. We don’t deserve forgiveness, but he shows us undeserved mercy/favor by offering us this salvation. Not because we earned it (works).

Just paraphrasing.


#18

Yes, there are non-christian religions that teach this. But, usually those who think Catholics teach we can earn our way to heaven frequently erroneously include Catholics Christians in “Non-Christian cults”:rolleyes: We run into a few of those every few months here on these forums:(

God Bless,
Maria


#19

Maybe the role ‘penance’ plays in Catholicism gives people the false impression that Catholics are taught they need to earn thier own salvation in part by works and their own suffering? Not too many catholics are out evangelizing their faith, so these misconceptions have little rebuttal.


#20

Protestants I have come across believe that this part of scripture is only metaphorical if not just plain figurative…because they truely believe they ARE saved by Faith Alone…They also believe that any reference to “Works” is Solely a reference to “Works of Law”. The concept of “Works of God” is nearly foreign…


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