Salvation by works vs Salvation by Grace alone

What really is the actual difference?

In the Southern Baptist Church, I was taught that salvation by works meant being nice to people, giving money to charity, etc. Of course, (I think) most Christians know that that is not enough. Belief in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice is the core of Christianity. So, I was told that there are 2 schools of thought: Salvation by professing belief in Jesus Christ or believing oneself saved b/c you are a nice person, etc.

But the Catholic Church’s salvation by works does not mean that- right? It means Believing in Jesus, receiving communion, and they other sacraments- right? In other words, to me, it means believing in Jesus and then striving to be a better Christian every God-granted day you live (by doing things such as receiving communion).

So, is the salvation by works touted by the Baptist church just “spin” on the actual meaning of it through the Catholic church? And, why? I mean, accepting God’s grace is the beginning of a Christian life- and you can fall from it too (right?). If a person professes faith in Jesus and then lives as a cruel, horrible person who never again prays, then is that person “saved by grace alone?” I mean, really…really? Hard to believe that.

I am having alot of difficulty understanding and dealing with all the, what seem to be, semantics that divide Christians. And this discussion about means of salvation has been in my head… hope it is understandable.

The Catholic Church does not teach works salvation. The teaching of the Catholic Church (see the Catechism of The Catholic Church) teaches that we are saved by God’s free gift of Grace, without which no one is saved.
This website is especially helpful when dealing with how we are saved by faith, grace, and works. Click around I like it.

Hope this is helpful

You are dealing with something that many struggle with.

As Ignatius said, the Catholic Church does not and has never taught a works salvation or works based salvation.

However, reading your post a couple of times, I suspect that this is not what you are saying, but rather trying to get a handle on how works fits into the teachings of the different communities. Baptist vs Catholic.

In truth, once one scratches the surface, there really is little difference between the two views. Each one teaches that we are saved by faith, that without faith our works avail us nothing. Likewise, each one teaches that a saving faith will produce works.

One place where there seems to be a difference is, as you mention, is the use of sacraments as a means of imparting Grace. The Catholic Church teaches that the Sacraments are instituted by God and adminsitered by The Church as a means of imparting grace for the strengthening of our faith.
“Faith alone by grace alone” churches see the sacraments as “works of the law” types of things that, according to them, were done away with in the New Covenant.

So to answer your question: “So, is the salvation by works touted by the Baptist church just “spin” on the actual meaning of it through the Catholic church?

Yes it is. I believe that this spin and emphasis on faith alone and grace alone traces back to the reformation when, unfortunately, some in The Church were placing too much emphasis on “works” (like buying indulgences and such). Unfortunately, in their zeal, they through the baby out with the bath water. In their desire to straighten out the abuses, the reformers and their successors got rid of, not only the abuses, but also many of the grace giving sacraments…

Yes I agree that there is some truth to what you say about semantics.
In fact one might say that swimming the River Tiber is nothing after one first swims the “Gulf of Semantics”…:smiley:

I’m sure you will get a lot more explanation and links to reading. What I have done above is try to give, as brief as possible, the underlying similarity - but differing emphasis - of the two viewpoints. I hope it helsp some


I think there is also a “once saved, always saved” belief that runs through some Protestant denominations, I believe including the Baptists. So if you are “saved,” you cannot return to your previous “unsaved” state because you have been forever changed by the Holy Spirit.

That to me, seems absurd. It would mean that a person could live a totally debauched life, as long as at some point along the way, he or she said the magic words, “Jesus, come into my heart.”

I mean, if the conversion were a TRUE conversion of heart and soul, of course we would not WANT to return to the previous sin state and live that debauched life, but there are addictions and temptations to consider…and Satan loves to throw everything he can at a committed believer.

I would love to be able to trust that my salvation is a lock, but um…no. I don’t think there are guarantees although I believe that from what Jesus told us, we have a good eternal future ahead of us, provided that we really do try to follow him. I don’t believe that we have to EARN our way to Heaven but neither can we just swear we love Jesus and then live like we never heard his name. In fact once we know his will for us, we are under a heavier obligation to live unlike the pagans.

Both works and faith are important. The Bible includes both, why is it so hard for us to do the same?

the notion of faith or works is an example of a false dichotomy. You can not have faith without works nor can you have true works without faith. Read the epistle of James, especially chapter 2. Pax Domini

I agree with the above, it was precisely over the Faith vs. Works controversy that I decided I could no longer be a Protestant in any shape or form. I too was brought up Baptist, and the hybrid Arminian-Calvinist theology just makes no sense what so ever. It’s Armianin because you aren’t predestined to be saved, you have to choose to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. It’s Calvinist because once you’re saved, it’s a done deal and you can’t become un-saved.

I actually learned that most of Baptist and Presbyterian theology, used to heavily rely on 5 Point Calvinism… which made me want to learn about it. After learning about it, I am convinced that Calvinism is one of the most unbiblical ideologies ever invented. Charles Wesley, and Jacob Arminius were actually closer to their Catholic and Anglican forefathers by stressing that we must all do “our part” and God will do the rest.

That’s how the Orthodox see it too, salvation is a process whereby your will cooperates with God’s Will on a daily basis. That’s why St. Paul said things like “I die daily”, etc. May Christ reveal all things to you and be with you on your journey.

I would say that the Catholic and Orthodox view point are nearly indistinguishable at this point.

Only by taking the “way of penance and renewal,” the “narrow way of the cross,” can the People of God extend Christ’s reign.

For “just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men.”

I agree, I see no difference in Catholic of Orthodox teaching in this aspect.

Thank you, James! That is exactly what I am trying to understand.

Yes, this is where I believe that the denounced “works” should be encouraged and not seen as a dirty word. Being saved should cause a person to want to be a good Christian. I completely agree.

Read the Epistles of St. Paul. He explains this perfectly. “By their works, ye shall know them”, as it is stated in the King James Version of the Bible.

One can NOT be a believer, without showing/doing works. One can by a hypocrite, of the kind that Christ specifically condemned if one does not show by works their beliefs, but one can NOT be a true believer in Christ Jesus without them.

Those works may be large, or they may be small. But they must also be there.

Of course, you could believe that Paul didn’t really know what he was talking about, or that his words REALLY didn’t mean what they say (as some Protestants believe).

There is no “salvation by works alone”. But, if you truly have salvation by grace, there will be works.

Thank you, Old Medic, that makes perfect sense. Maybe my issue is that it was suggested in a baptist church that other Christian religions (and it was understood we were talking about Catholics) taught salvation through works alone. Which is just not right. Perhaps I am a bit bitter that there was such a strong need to make sure parishioners did not know actual Catholic theology and trying to understand where it all went wrong.:shrug:

Yes it is frustrating.

A while back I was involved in a long drawn out discussion on another board over the supposed “works based salvation” of the Catholic Church.

I kept preaching and demonstrating by official catholic documents that the Church did not teach a works based salvation. That our salvation is based on faith, not works, but that works are necessary parts of a saving faith.

One fellow said that even if you acknowledge that faith is required, if you add works to faith, then it automatically becomes works based…:shrug:

To which I responded that what he was saying was that if I am building a house and pour a foundation of concrete, as soon as I add the wooden structure over the concrete foundation, the concrete changes to wood…:hmmm:

Both the foundation and the structure are needed for the house. A foundation alone is no good, it’s not even a house. And a structure with no foundation will quickly crumble.


I would recommend to read Epistle of James, especially chapter 1and 2.

Here is my favorite quote from Chap 1:

26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

You asked where it all went wrong?

I was listening to a former Calvinist scholar, who is now a Catholic say something about this. He said (paraphrasing) that when the protestants at the time of Luther started veering away from what the core of Christianity was, meaning the Real presence in the Eucharist, the sacraments-baptism, penance, holy orders…that succeeding generations would get much farther and farther away form the core teachings as handed down from Christ to the Apostles and their successors. And this is evident in the countless protestant denominations today, and still growing. I would suggest, that you read up the writings of the early church fathers or ECFs, who were the apostles’ immediate successors, and find out what they learned from the Apostles themselves and understood it.

For a start, I would suggest the “Didache” a very early church document, if you have not yet.

Yes, good works should be encouraged, but it is wrong to think that we can “earn” our way to heaven by doing them. They are the fruit of God’s grace living in us, the natural outcome of being born again.

We are saved by faith, but saving faith is faith that works. It has the quality of demonstrating itself in love.

Agreed -
However we must not forget that works, which spring from faith by grace, and most importantly spring from the Love of God and neighbor, do “earn” something. They earn additional graces which can make us stronger in our faith.

Like the person who commits to losing weight and excersizing, and finds that as they advance the stronger they become, the more we act, in love, on our faith, the more we advance in holiness.


Yes, I have to confess I am always amazed when some of our separated brethren claim that “all of our works are like filthy rags”. I can see how this is applied to a person who is not working out of grace, but how can God NOT be pleased with our obedient service?

I was also thinking about the false dichotomy reflected in this thread topic

Salvation by works vs Salvation by Grace alone

Saving grace is never “alone” - that theory is one of the great heresies of Calvanism

Saving grace is always together with faith, and the works that they produce in a person.

Eph 2:8-10
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 the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Many of our separated brethren stop reading here at v. 9, and lose sight of the fact that living the good works He has prepared before hand for us is to be our way of life. Thus, saving grace is ALWAYS accompanied by the good works it produces.

Originally Posted by JRKH
Agreed -
However we must not forget that works, which spring from faith by grace, and most importantly spring from the Love of God and neighbor, do “earn” something. They earn additional graces which can make us stronger in our faith.

Like the person who commits to losing weight and excersizing, and finds that as they advance the stronger they become, the more we act, in love, on our faith, the more we advance in holiness.


Guano and James,
I think there are two dangers that we face regarding works. One is the danger of believing that we, somehow can earn justification through our own efforts, or that faith is a competition - “see? I do more works that he does”.
The second danger is that of “cheap grace”, the belief that God did it all and I have no requirement to do anything.

I occasionally reference Luther’s preface to Galations 5:6 in these discussions, due to his use of the phrase: “Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides”
He says:

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, “In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing,” i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, “If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing,” is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.


I do believe that the only religion that teaches Salvation by Works alone is the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although there may be others. Many Protestants accuse Catholics of believing and teaching that, but they are mistaken.

Many, if not all, Protestants do teach Salvation by Grace ALONE. Didn’t Martin Luther, the first Protestant, say that the book of James is an “Epistle of Straw” because it completely contradicted his new belief and teaching in Salvation by Grace ALONE?

We Catholics have always believed and taught Salvation by Grace through our Works as explained in the New Testament, especially the book of Romans and the book of James.

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