There have been several threads recently dealing with the Sola Fide issue, and a lot of Protestants misunderstanding, and sometimes misrepresenting the Catholic position, accusing Catholics of believing in a works based salvation, trying to earn their way into heaven. And explaining our belief that faith without works is dead doesn’t seem to be doing any good. So I have an analogy that I hope will help our Protestant friends to understand our position, even if they don’t agree with it. As my favorite radio host Dennis Prager says, clarity is preferable to agreement.
The reason our Heavenly Father calls Himself that is because it’s the closest human analogy to His relationship with us. And He deals with us much the same way that our terrestrial parents do. We are as children to God. Keep this in mind as you ponder this analogy.
Pretend that you are once again a small child. Your parents tell you that if you pick up your toys and eat all your vegetables, they will take you out for ice cream. This seems like a pretty good deal, so you pick up all your toys, and you eat all your broccoli, and they take you out for ice cream.
Your parents know that you love them, but they desire your obedience, not for their sake but for yours. You didn’t earn the ice cream. You have no money, or the means to make any. It doesn’t hurt your parents when you don’t eat your vegetables, and the two minutes it would have taken them to pick up your toys for you doesn’t even compare to the 20 minutes and $5 it took to get you ice cream. The ice cream was a gift and a reward, for loving and obeying your parents. The love and obedience go hand in hand. They are incomplete without one another.
Simply loving and believing in God is not faith. I believe it was James who said, “you do well to believe, but the devils also believe, and tremble”. And Jesus said that those who love Him will obey His commandments. When Protestants talk about being saved through faith but deny the importance of works, it seems like what they’re actually saying is that you are saved through belief. This may not be the way Protestants understand their belief in Sola Fide, but that’s how it sounds to Catholics. Because without obedience, belief is just belief, and clearly that is not enough.
Yes, salvation is a gift, pure and simple. No, there is absolutely no way we could ever possibly even begin to earn it. And yes, we are saved by our faith. But faith without obedience simply isn’t faith at all.
This analogy is obviously flawed, as is every analogy that tries to explain God. But I hope it helps. And if anyone has suggestions on how to improve it, or has a better analogy altogether, I welcome them to share it with us.