Question on cooperating with God's grace

How does the idea of cooperating with God’s grace works?
I haven’t heard many explanations of the idea, but what I have heard makes good works sound arbitrary and forced, devoid of joy and/or love. Something I don’t see in the Bible. If it works like Ephesians 2:10 (8-10 for some context), then that would be sola fide (at least traditionally speaking), and if that is the case, then can be appropriate to a good Catholic and believe in sola fide?


Seeing that you are a Lutheran, this might interest you, not to mention highly relevant to your question: Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church.

Let’s examine the full passage from Ephesians 2 in order to understand its full contextual meaning:

[quote=“Ephesians 2 4-10”] 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What does Paul mean when he says works in verse 9? Is he using the term to refer to an individuals actions in accordance with the moral law or is he using the term to refer specifically to the ritual requirements of Jewish law? Paul clarifies what he means by the term works immediately in the next several verses saying:

[quote="Ephesians 2:11-12]11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Immediately after saying that one is saved by grace through faith rather than works, Paul clarifies the meaning of works by identifying it with circumcision and the covenants of promise, referring to the covenant of Abraham which established circumcision.

Every time Paul makes a contrast between faith and works in his Epistles you will be able to find a reference to the Jewish covenantal law either just before it or just after it, so context always dictates that this ‘works’ that Paul is rejecting is specifically the Jewish covenant and not moral works.

Read the Parable of the Talents. God desires us to respond to His initiative, cooperating with His grace, in His work of transforming us. We’re to grow in justice in the process.

I’m not aware of a technical or mechanical explanation in Church doctrine. In Catholic predestination, we understand that God is sovereign and we have free will aided by His grace. We also understand that neither contradicts the other. How this “works” is a mystery. See Church doc references to this effect here: What does the Catholic Church teach on Predestination? :wink:

St. Paul is not teaching the Protestant theory of sola fide in Ephesians. Sola fide is a very specific doctrine, and its particulars are never stated by St. Paul. For example, Protestants say that justification is entirely “extra nos,” i.e. external to us, which is one of the principal reasons it was rejected by the (Catholic) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. However, that could not be the case since Paul says that before God, “faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). Other interpretive questions aside, we can all agree that faith, though a gift of God, is not something external to us. Faith is a virtue that we personally have, and the exercise of faith is a work that we perform (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:3). It would be nonsensical to claim that on one hand, justification is entirely external on the basis of the words of St. Paul, when St. Paul expressly says that the very basis of our justification with God is something internal.

More to the point here, God does not justify us apart from his work in us. Think Ephesians 2:10: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them. I think some Protestants take this as meaning, “we are not justified by works in any respect, nevertheless, we will still do good works.” On the other hand, the more natural interpretation is that our own works that proceed from ourselves have no part in our justification (cf. Rom. 4:1), but it is works done in grace through the Spirit that are what is meritorious before God. What hast thou that thou didst not receive? That seems to be more in line with Paul’s words in this passage and his thought elsewhere.

In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas bases his division of grace on St. Augustine.

Augustine says (De Gratia et Lib. Arbit. xvii): “God by cooperating with us, perfects what He began by operating in us, since He who perfects by cooperation with such as are willing, beings by operating that they may will.” But the operations of God whereby He moves us to good pertain to grace. Therefore grace is fittingly divided into operating and cooperating.

You can read his explanation here.

If you want to read further, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s commentary is hosted on the EWTN website. It deals with this specific question at “Article II.”

Justification is not merely election whereby God decides to justify us. It is also the process in which he actually justifies us, making us pleasing before him, and this of course pertains both to what is in us and what proceeds from us.

Great resource brother. Thank you.

The judgment-day warnings are true. That means we need God’s grace. God’s grace is there…we must cooperate with it…the question really boils down to whether we cooperate apart from God causing that to happen, or does God cause us to cooperate. The former is semi-pelagian, the latter is true. Salvation is entirely of grace…God chooses some to save and saves them (Rom 8:30, Rom 11:5-6).

From the council of II Orange against the semi-pelagians,

From the Second Council of Orange, 529 A.D.

CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10).

CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

Is this ex-cathedra? [a matter of faith and morals to be followed by all]
I’d say yes!

From the introduction…

St. Felix III (526-530)
Council of Orange II (529)
Confirmed by Boniface II (against the Semipelagians)

Original Sin, Grace, Predestination

To us, according to the admonition and authority of the Apostolic See, it has seemed just and reasonable that we should set forth to be observed by all, and that we should sign with our own hands, a few chapters transmitted to us by the Apostolic See, which were collected by the ancient fathers from the volumes of the Sacred Scripture especially in this cause, to teach those who think otherwise than they ought…

  • Can. 1. …*

God gives each one of us the Grace to live in accord with His perfect will for us. If we cooperate with this free gift of Grace, we will be in the perfect center of His will, if we do not cooperate, we stray.

Ive been doing a lot of reading on this - and it does seem that Catholics fall into two camps - those who are almost calvinist/Thomist in thinking (we have no free will as to whether we cooperate, God chooses) and those who are more molinist (God foresees who will not reject him - and to those He grants saving grace…those who don’t get the saving grace in essence chose not to, because God foresaw they would not cooperate with His will…)

I fall into the molinist camp, because I think grace and free will both exist, beautifully, in a mystery. And it makes the most sense, and reconciles God’s love in the most complete way. JMHO!

If we want to think about what cooperating with the grace of God looks like then we should look towards Mary, full of grace. Her cooperation was joyful and loving. Every infusion of grace in us, be it ever so slight, is so much towards restoring us to our true nature, it makes us more completely human. The openness we have to sin is not an addition to our nature but a subtraction from it. Grace provides with with the energy to restore ourselves but we will only be restored if we assent to its work within us. Mary is the model of what we could be if all the sin is absent and only grace reigns. She is full of the energy of God, that is the love of God and that energy overflows into the world as an abundance of loving service, of endurance amidst sorrow and grateful joy when receiving the good things which He sends.

good works aren’t arbitrary. we are created by God to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do [Eph 2:10]. Therefore, what happens to the one who doesn’t do what they are created to do by God …which is to do good works…
Matthew 3:10[/FONT] , Luke 3:9[/FONT] , Luke 13:7-9[/FONT] , Matthew 25:44-46[/FONT].


tom25. You asked (in the context of Ephesians 2:8-10) . . .

How does the idea of cooperating with God’s grace works?

Presumably this means:

How does the idea of cooperating with God’s grace works concerning our justification?

We have free will.

When we obtain grace, we MUST by that free will respond to God’s grace that Jesus earned on our behalf and gives to us.

As steve b said in post 12

Therefore, what happens to the one who doesn’t do what they are created to do by God …which is to do good works…
Matthew 3:10 , Luke 3:9 , Luke 13:7-9 , Matthew 25:44-46.

And as St. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians 6:1

2nd CORINTHIANS 6:1 1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

Notice God’s grace can be accepted in vain for those who . . . . do NOT work on their own? No!

God’s grace can be accepted in vain for those who . . . . .do NOT work “together with him.”

Even our works are aided by grace. (which is WHY we are not saving ourselves but we MUST work—assuming we can—i.e. an adult will be held to a different standard than an infant).

You asked about all this in the context of Ephesians 2:8-10 (and wouldn’t this suggest sola fide).

Jesus warns these same Ephesians of avoiding just this kind of complacency in the book of Revelation.

REVELATION 2:1-5 1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 "'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

John Martignoni does a nice job (here) of expounding on Ephesians 2:8-10 while incorporating some of the Council of Trent’s relevant statements on this subject too.

I hope this helped.

God bless.


Thanks everyone. I think I am working with a better understanding.

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