Saved by faith, AND NOT works?


To give a bit of background,

I came to the Catholic Church from atheism. As such, I have a very poor understanding of what some Protestants believe. I tried to find out at CARM, but was terribly unsuccessful. I will try more here.

What does this faith look like? How does one have it? What is it?

If this is a repeat of another thread, please let me know.


Actually, Catholics and Protestants believe exactly the same things here. It’s just that Protestants go to obsessive lengths to deny that they believe what Catholics believe. :eek:

What do both groups believe? That those who will be saved will have both faith and works (where they are able), and also repentance, and that those who will not be saved will not have those things.


What does it mean to have faith, and not works?

It was my understanding that Trent condemned “faith without works” as being logically inconsistant, or as being “faith by mere assent to Truth without change”, which was condemned by St. James as being possessed even by the demons.


It means to have “faith” without obedience.


I once read an Anonymous quote. "Faith without works is dead"
I try to go by that.


But faith without obedience isn’t really faith at all. It is assent. Belief maybe. But not faith.

There is little virtue in simply knowing something is true, and doing nothing about it.


At one extreme of Protestantism, that which avoids reference to works at all cost, it is “belief in Christ”. The spectrum seems to run as near as I have been able to tell through “gratitude toward Christ”, “trust in Christ”, up through “obedience to Christ.”

Prior to crossing the Tiber myself, I was of the “gratitude toward Christ” stripe while my Pentecostal wife was of the “trust in Christ” strain. When we both came around to “obedience to Christ” we joined his Church.


Protestants say faith alone but not faith that is alone. By this we mean that faith will inevitably lead to works which are the evidence of faith. The dead faith in James 2 is an intelectual belief, assenting to the truth but not relying on it. If you have true faith it involves accepting, repenting, trusting and relying on Jesus and His sacrifice. So faith will be accompanied by works, but Protestants don’t attribute merits to those works. This is to stress that it is by grace alone that we are saved. If our works play a part in meritting salvation then it is not be grace alone.
I don’t know if this is exactly the right way to look at it, but I liken it to works being a one way thing. We already owe God all the good works we can do. Therefore we must do the good works but not expect anything in return since we are only doing our duty. So while we must do the good works, God does not grant salvation because of them. I think Jesus sums it up in Luke 17.

9"He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?
10"So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’"


But justification is not the only, or even the major, difference, as far as I see it, between Protestant heresy and Catholic orthodoxy, especially since the Church Herself is not united as to a philosophy of justification.

When I’ve talked with former protestants, they typically cite “authority” or “role of Mary”. I am unclear as to why the doctrines on justification, and theology surrounding these, is such a big stumbling block.

It clearly was for John Calvin, so I’m not doubting you. I just am curious as to clarification.


But aren’t each of these “trusting” (implying perseverance in love), “repenting” (which is confession), “accepting” (which, if active, would be acceptance of the Eucharist), and “relying” (which would imply some authority upon which you must rely), all works?

Or do works mean something different? If so, what?


It must also be recognized that most Protestants give a different meaning to justification than Catholic. To Catholics salvation and justification are basically the same thing.
Protestants divide salvation into a number of stages. How they will work is dependent on whether the Protestant in question accepts once saved always saved.

The stages are:

Regeneration-this is where something is infused into us. It is the new spirit that allows us to accept God and try to please him.;

Justification-this is the declaration of the guilty because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. It is imputed since we are not actually made righteous. We still have a sin nature in us by which we do actually sin.

Sanctification-this is the process by which we work out our own salvation. We must try to be like Jesus and be holy. Because of our sinful nature this process will not be complete in this life.

Glorification-this is when we arise to live with Christ in Heaven.

This is just a brief summary.


One difficulty lies in the language: English

Faith can mean a faith that you believe what was said is true (assent or the virtue of faith)

Faith can mean all that that “assent” should imply, trust and good works (the virtues of hope and charity).

In some passages faith is “assent” and some “fides formata” a formed faith, a faith where all that is implied must be lived. So when James writes “faith without works is dead” he is using faith in the first form. When Paul writes “it is through faith that we are saved” he is using faith in the second form.

When one simply says “faith”, one has not given enough context to understand what is being said.


Remember the old trust exercise? One person would stand with their back to the other, unable to see them, and they would be instructed to fall back into their partner’s arms.

In my view, if you were to just stand there “believing” that your partner would catch you if you did it, that’s mere mental assent. What James called “faith without works”

If, on the other hand, you chose to actually fall back “believing” that they will catch you, that’s faith.


For purposes of salvation they are not considered works because in Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul indicates we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, even though we are saved for works as the following verses say. Since faith is differentiated from works here, the components of faith are not considered works.


Except it is (a) grace and works that are being differentiated, as the division is simple to identify, and (b) the works specifically mentioned indicate works of the Law, specifically circumcision.

But, if the above is not accepted, then the question still stands: You accept St. Paul divides faith and works, and that those that I called works truly aren’t. What about them qualifies them as non-works, and what system or definition are you using to set up these distinctions?


Christ declares us to be something that we are not? Is this just and honest?

As for the layout, it doesn’t sound like it takes any part in heresy. It, in fact, sounds like salvation is a process, and this is certainly the Catholic understanding of things.

We are made righteous by baptism, but still with a defective will that, with Christ’s grace, wills only good, but may (and shall) fail. And sanctification, the true purifying of my soul from all stains of sin, both from Adam, and from myself, since it is not complete in this lifetime, would likely take time to complete itself in purgatory before the beatific vision.

So except for some semantic disagreements, it sounds as though we are on the same page.


Ii recommend this thread:

It is long, but it represents many various perspectives on this topic. Apophasis presents a classic Calvanistic perspective emerging from the Protestant reformation.


And the falling is works. Both are necessary if someone is to catch you, so both assent and act are part of faith, it seems.

It is possible you intended something different by the analogy. Would you be willing to clarify?


This is true, and that is why some evangelicals accuse Catholics of trying to be saved by our works. They don’t consider these sacraments to be avenues of God’s grace, in which we choose to participate by faith. Instead, they perceive them as empty rituals by which we mistakenly think we can earn our way into heaven. they also don’t usually make a distinction between works of the law (adherance to the Mosaic law) and Sacred Works, or those proceeding from saving faith.

Eph 2:7-10
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 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.

Catholicism teaches that a saving faith will demonstrate itself in good works.

Most protestants have never heard of the temporal or corporate works of mercy. Although they would acknowledge taking care of the poor etc. as worthy Christian duties, they dont see this as part of salvation.

The biggest part of the problem is the language. When Catholics speak of salvation, we speak of a process (justification, sanctification, and glorification). Therefore, we see that we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Most protestants have been taught to separate these from each other, and refer to initial justification as being “saved”.


The thing that qualifies them as non-works is that Paul contrasts faith and works. I think that the works of the law argument is not particulairly helpful. First in Ephesians 2:8-10 Paul does not say works of the law as he does in some other places. In Romans 4 Paul says:

1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
4Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
6just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Here again Paul differeniates faith from works, so the compenents of faith cannot be considered as works, despite what our understanding of works means. While in much of Romans he may use “works of the law”, it cannot be those works that Paul is referring to as Abraham was justified before the law of Moses or even circumsion was given.

Secondly I think that there is really no practical difference between “works of the law” and works. Paul seems to use them as if they are the same thing through out his epistles.

Finally Jesus tells us what the true meaning of the law Matthew 22.

35One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,
36"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?“
38"This is the great and foremost commandment.
40"On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

This statement does not leave much room for anything that would be outside the true scope of the law as defined by Jesus.

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