Some help for our Protestant friends


#1

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.

God bless.


#2

hi cyberjacques i would say that is a pretty good anology.if we are saved only by faith and works have nothing to do with anything then we can not be condenmed by works either than.


#3

Thanks!

You’re absolutely right, that’s one of the flaws with Sola Fide. The next step, which many have taken, is Once Saved Always Saved, which relies on one of two flawed views regarding works. Either nothing you do after being saved matters, or those who sin must not have really been saved in the first place. Of course, both rely on another flawed belief, which is that salvation is something that can happen during your lifetime. This is an excellent example of how one false doctrine can snowball into absurdity.


#4

Yes, Sola Fide is flawed. Many Protestants who have " crossed the Tiber " to Rome now understand that a kind of rampant individualism seems to infect Americans; and that flakes over into Theology. Maybe starting with the rugged individualism of pioneer life and the Puritan ethos of unadorned living.
The NT speaks of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church-- a Corporate understanding. Most Protestants understand all the verses of the NT as individualistic. Just me and Jesus walking down the road, Dude. ! I would say that Steve Wood gives an excellent apologetic for the Individualism of the American Protestant mentality in his Tape series on Marian Doctrines. Many other converts have touched on this phenomenon, also.
EWTN could do an entire program on individualistic interpretation vs the Body of Christ/ need for a Magisterium. Any good writers out there. ?


#5

The family relationship with God is key.

My wife likes the marriage analogy.

It is not enough for spouses to have the license, nor to say they love one another, if their actions do not reflect that love.

Likewise, it is not enough for us to say we love God, or that we have a “personal relationship with Jesus”, if we do not act as though that were the case.

Indeed, I don’t think anyone can read the Bible and not note how God rewards some actions while punishing others.

The emphasis on action over mere belief is rampant; consider Abraham and Isaac for one example. God clearly knew the mind of Abraham, and knew he was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Why then did God wait until Abraham laid the boy down, raised his knife, and began to bring it down? Wasn’t belief enough?

Clearly not. We are visceral creatures, and cannot know what we might do until we do it. What we do matters to God.


#6

I think thart when one knows the reality that mortal sin does in fact exist–that once one knows that–there is no way that the person can not know that the Catholic Church is true!


#7

Hi cyberjacques,
I completely agree that many noncatholics do not understand what value Catholics place on works. By the same token, Catholics seem to misunderstand faith alone.
The issue between Catholics and noncatholics is not justification. We are saved by grace through faith. We agree on that. The difference in belief is in the area of sanctification, how we grow in grace. As a Lutheran, while my works cannot in any way merit my salvation (Christ did that on the cross), my faith and justification compel me to respond to God’s love and command by doing the good works he expects of me. And while these good works do not save me (in fact they are His good works done through me), they are a sign of my justification. The lack of works indicates a dead faith, and a justification rejected by free will.
To deny the importance of good works is to deny scripture itself.
We are justified by grace alone through faith, and we give thanks to our Lord and Savior by doing the good works he calls us to do.

The following document indicates clearly that our differences on justification are far smaller than some threads in this forum would lead one to believe.

vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

Jon


#8

I think the misunderstanding is along the motives behind the works. If you have true faith, the fruits of them will be the works you perform. It is not enough to simply say, it’s more to actually do. The individual is revealing his faith by the actions he performs. Where there is division here is when we are fooled into thinking our faith is sufficient, clearly it is not, and if our faith is not sufficient, neither are our works. The grace factor is what compells both sides to draw the same conclusion. We also must keep in mind, there are plenty of individuals that place too much importance on the works, thinking that alone is adequet, and in some cases, the works are worthless because they do not come from a contrite sincere heart. On the other side of this coin, there are those that insist they have enough faith and are performing no works at all, in fact, when the tough get going, they flee rather then face up to the fact, that their faith lacks even the simplest levels so cannot even begin to understand the concept of works.

I think both sides should agree the bottom line, you are not performing works out of duty, it is something that comes naturally without prompting. If it is not, I’d take a harder look at where your true faith lies.


#9

1 Corinthians 13:13 “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Ask a saved by faith alone Protestant why the greatest of these is not faith?


#10

Wow, great responses people! I like the other analogies, I’ll have to use those in the future.

JonNC, you’re absolutely right, and my father informed me just this morning that Catholics and Lutherans have already come to a common understanding of the relationship between faith and works. Your description is perfectly in line with that understanding. The problem with some other groups is that they completely discount the importance of works, even going as far as saying that nothing you do after being saved can affect your salvation.

I think part of the reason for this may be what Brian Millar pointed out, which is that there are some Catholics who really do think that they are earning their ticket into heaven. They obey God, but not out of love or faith. They simply think that if they do this and that, they will get into heaven. I can see how this could cause some people to recoil too far in the opposite direction. But both are equally flawed beliefs.

Once again, I thank everyone for their responses. This is good stuff, let’s keep it going!


#11

God willed and God initiated works do flow from faith but they don’t necessarily ALWAYS flow from faith.

Since God grants us free will we can raise an impediment to God’s grace and by mortal sin stop the flow of His grace so that God intended works that He wants us to do are not done.

Don’t tell me that if anyone mortally sins and dies unrepentent that they go to Heaven–they don’t–they go to Hell!

And don’t tell me that they didn’t have real faith to start with–they exercised their freedom of will and mortally sinned and they go to Hell by their own choice–God does not suspend our freedom of will when He gives us faith!

If one does evil and commits mortal sin God’s will is done in the sense that He allows us to do evil because He has given us freedom of will.

But our sin does not stop God from ultimately triumphing!

God lets evil run its course for awhile–but in the end God’s ultimate intention and will will be done and nothing can stop that!

Mortal sin HAS to exist because God who is love and does not demand His own way allows us to DO mortal sin if we choose.

God doesn’t brand us as justified–God justifies us and CONTINUES to justify and sanctify us with his CONTINUING grace!

There isn’t a magic ticket to be punched that results in
Heaven–we are saved by faith but not faith alone but faith and us not getting in the way of that continuing grace!

That is how we COOPERATE with God’s grace–by doing NOTHING to get in its way–that is a positive zero nothing thing that God LETS us do–God wants us to COOPERATE with our free will staying out of His way!

Catholics know that mortal sin unrepented of means Hell and they also know that Jesus BREATHED on the disciples and gave them the power to forgive and retain sin!

That is Jesus’ way of FIXING the harm of Mortal sin so that He can re-enter our souls and live in them so we can live in Heaven after death!

We are saved only by that faith that continues THROUGH GOD WILLED WORKS unto death!


#12

Cyberjacques,
You are right on about some of our other protestant brothers and sisters rejecting the importance of works outright. In fact, even the Lutheran confessions reject their notion of “Faith Alone” (see below).
And Brian touches on, at least to me, where this divide happened to begin with.

We also must keep in mind, there are plenty of individuals that place too much importance on the works, thinking that alone is adequet…

While the CC perhaps never approved of it, there were many people at the time of Luther that believed that they could find salvation through works. A misunderstanding, to be sure, but there nonetheless. And the reaction to that? The 95 theses. I think people of good will on both sides will recognize there was plenty of blame to go around. The job now, if we are intent on trying to comply with Christ’s commanding our unity, is that we all try to overcome our differences, real and semantic, in this very important issue of faith.

Finally, I invite you to view this part of the Lutheran Confession, which speaks well to this issue. As a warning, please be aware that there are a couple of what I consider polemics against the papacy, which I hope you will ignore as dated. Otherwise, let me know what you think.

bookofconcord.org/fc-sd/goodworks.html

Jon


#13

The problem here is that this analogy is not workable.

A better analogy would be your loving parents telling you that if you do not eat all your vegetables or pick up all your toys they will kill you.

God is not offering ice cream. We are talking about salvation and damnation itself.

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.

Of course you do:

if you pick up your toys and eat all your vegetables”

Unless the parents are liars, then that is the means.

No work, no ice cream.

That is the whole reason the child is so enticed. The child does not do these things merely out of pure obedience, but for ice cream as well. There is no problem with that, in and of itself, but that is not the covenant offered by our Lord.

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.

Incorrect.

A wage can never be considered a gift.

I do not make my wife do chores for gifts, for example.

The love and obedience go hand in hand. They are incomplete without one another.

Agreed.

Simply loving and believing in God is not faith.

It is nothing less!

Unless one wants to redefine both “love” and “believing,” then that is faith, by definition.

I believe it was James who said, “you do well to believe, but the devils also believe, and tremble”.

Context is key.

And Jesus said that those who love Him will obey His commandments.

Yes.

Anytime we do not obey, we are not showing Jesus any love.

When Protestants talk about being saved through faith but deny the importance of works

I thought this thread was about clarification?

I have never, ever heard any single reputable Protestant teacher teach that works are not important.

it seems like what they’re actually saying is that you are saved through belief.

Exactly.

By grace, through faith.

Faith is synonymous with belief (Scripturally speaking).

Yes, salvation is a gift, pure and simple.

Then no amount of picking up toys or eating vegetables will ever merit it for you.

No, there is absolutely no way we could ever possibly even begin to earn it.

Except by picking up toys or eating vegetables as stated earlier…

And yes, we are saved by our faith. But faith without obedience simply isn’t faith at all.

Faith without how much obedience?

Some obedience or perfect obedience?


#14

Through faith comes works. If you don’t have faith you don’t care what you do. But if you have faith works come naturally. You dont do them to earn anything you do them because you are called to.


#15

That’s a very good description. Indeed, if one did good works for some perceived benefit (prosperity gospel, anyone?), you might well be guilty of the sin of greed, or of pride.

It is the unrepented sin which damns.


#16

Okay, I believe it was previously stated that the “ice cream” analogy was not perfect, but as humans, our perception of God is often best expressed as relationships and actions we can understand.

Quote:
A better analogy would be your loving parents telling you that if you do not eat all your vegetables or pick up all your toys they will kill you.

No, you are misinterpreting this. The ice cream is not so much a goal or reward, as it is a gift. It is not as though the parents would not offer any ice cream except for in this instance. Picking up the toys was just a way to get to the ice cream faster. Ice cream is not being withheld, nor is an alternative punishment presented for not picking up toys. Because the child yearns for this gift of ice cream (heaven), the child performs actions which are pleasing and display obedience for his parents (God).

Quote:
*A wage can never be considered a gift.

I do not make my wife do chores for gifts, for example.*

Correct, but as a sign of her marital obedience and love for you, she may offer the gift of ironing the slacks she knows you want to wear the next day, and in return, you may offer her the gift of a fun “date night”. This does not mean you would not treat her if she hadn’t ironed your pants, but because of the reflection of love between the two of you, you share in outward expressions and physical actions. At the same time, she may iron all your clothes everyday, and expect no offering in return. She has not “earned” your affection, but does such things simply to make you happy.

Quote:
* *Quote:
Simply loving and believing in God is not faith.

It is nothing less!*
Unless one wants to redefine both “love” and “believing,” then that is faith, by definition.*

I think it should be noted that both “love” and “believing” can be considered verbs, if taken in the context I think you’re intending, and that “faith” is a noun. Therefore, a verb cannot equal a noun. Faith is a state or condition, while love and believing are acts which are performed (i.e., “works”). How can you perform the actions of love and belief, if you are “doing” nothing at all? “Faith” is arguably a quality one must have in order to perform these actions, but is equal to neither.

Quote:

  •      Quote:
         I believe it was James who said, "you do well to believe, but the devils also believe, and tremble".  
    

Context is key.*

I would really like to know how this has been taken out of context.

I have heard the verse quoted by many a Protestant that goes something like…“and whosoever believeth in me shall be saved…”, but very rarely hear any other Jesus-isms, such as His greatest commandment, to “love one another” (John, 15:17),

“If I do not perform my father’s works, do not believe in me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” (John, 10:37-38),

Our actions on earth are not only our gift to God, but also an example to others of the joy we receive in serving Him. Our love for our God means love for His children, and if we perform “His works”, perhaps others will see Him in us, and the lost will be found.

There are many, many circumstances in the gospels, in which Jesus’ focus is not individualistic, but worldly. Do unto others…when was I hungry and you did not feed me…whatever you do to the least of my people, so you do unto me…

Clearly, we are undeserving of God’s mercy, even the best of us. It is because of HIS LOVE we are redeemed…not because of OUR FAITH. Our faith is merely our recognition of His love, and our most humble attempt to reflect it upon Him. And how can we love without any action? We are joyous to have received it, and cannot help but be compelled to ACTS of faith. If we have no outward reaction to receiving His precious GIFT, then we are denying it! If we do not react to our brothers and sisters around us, then truly, OUR FAITH IS DEAD!!!


#17

In the Gospel according to Matthew it says…

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

This sounds like works to me. I don’t know about anyone else…but I AM PICKING UP MY TOYS AND EATING MY VEGETABLES. :slight_smile: To me, belief means belief in God’s Word, not just belief that there IS a God. We all know there is a God. Everything I know about Him, comes from the Bible. That’s where I got the above quote. So I will continue to do works as part of my faith in God.


#18

I don’t think most protestants would disagree with you (myself, as a Lutheran, included). In fact, there are really five solas for Lutherans

1 Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)

2 Sola fide (“by faith alone”)

3 Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)

4 Solus Christus (“Christ alone”)

5 Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

It isn’t just any faith that saves-- it is faith in the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended Christ, for Christ alone is the way and the truth and the life. I’ve yet to find someone who believes in that divine reality whose life and works have not also been transformed by Christ present in faith.

There’s actually been some very interesting Luther scholarship going in recent years in Finland, which interprets certain key passages of Luther a bit differently from some of the more radical sola fide crusaders. Tuomo Mannermaa and others have argued that for Luther, Christ is really and truly present in faith, so that Paul’s claim “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” refers to an actual ontological change that comes with the gift of faith. Those who believe are transformed and do good works because such a transformation is inevitable if Christ has given himself truly to the believer. And as a logical corollary, we might also assume that one could do something to make ourselves inhospitable to such a presence (sin without repentance). Mannermaa’s argument is appealing to those of us who desire deeper relationships with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

But really, I echo what others have said. I don’t believe that justification is really the issue that divides Lutherans and Catholics any more. Nor do I believe that it has anything to do with the Eucharist. We still have some differences, certainly, which ought to be taken seriously, but it is nothing short of miraculous to see how far we’ve come on these conversations over the years.


#19

Not at all.

The OP is specifically addressing justification, salvation and damnation as it relates to works.

The punishment for not “eating our vegetables” or not “picking up our toys” is not missing out on “ice cream,” but damnation to Hell forever.

For us to water these issues down to a tasty treat, when it is really all about life and death, is to do a great disservice to what is really at stake.

The ice cream is not so much a goal or reward, as it is a gift.

It is not a gift if it must first be earned. This is plain.

It is not as though the parents would not offer any ice cream except for in this instance.

Let us repeat the claim of the OP:

if you pick up your toys and eat all your vegetables, they will take you out for ice cream”

If this then that.

If the OP made an error, then they can correct it if they like, but we must accept the analogy as given.

Picking up the toys was just a way to get to the ice cream faster.

No.

It was a necessity.

IF

Ice cream is not being withheld, nor is an alternative punishment presented for not picking up toys.

But we do know the alternate punishment in Catholic theology. There is no need to pretend otherwise, no matter the analogy.

It is either the nice place or the hot place. That is why the analogy is not workable if discussing this issue.

Quote:
***A wage can never be considered a gift.

I do not make my wife do chores for gifts, for example.***

Correct, but as a sign of her marital obedience and love for you, she may offer the gift of ironing the slacks she knows you want to wear the next day, and in return, you may offer her the gift of a fun “date night”.

Not the same.

Now if she said “IF you give me a fun date night, I will iron your slacks”…then that would be the equivelant.

There is nothing wrong with this, in and of itself, but we cannot pretend that this is any kind of “gift.”

I know better…we all know better.

This does not mean you would not treat her if she hadn’t ironed your pants, but because of the reflection of love between the two of you, you share in outward expressions and physical actions.

No.

The OP is clear: “IF…”

I cannot ignore what the OP says so I then can turn around and agree with it.

Quote:
*** *Quote:
Simply loving and believing in God is not faith.

It is nothing less!****
Unless one wants to redefine both “love” and “believing,” then that is faith, by definition.

I think it should be noted that both “love” and “believing” can be considered verbs, if taken in the context I think you’re intending, and that “faith” is a noun.

Agreed.

But I was not quibbling about mere parts of speech, but the concept behind the terms employed. If others want to quibble about mere parts of speech, then they can do so.

Quote:
*** Quote:
I believe it was James who said, “you do well to believe, but the devils also believe, and tremble”.

Context is key.***

I would really like to know how this has been taken out of context.

I never said it was taken out of context. I merely said that the context is the key to understanding.

What do the devils believe?

If all you believe is what they believe, then you really profit nothing.

The devils believe there is one God. The devils believe Jesus is God. They believe that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. They believe He was born of the virgin Mary. They believe He rose after three days. They believe He is seated at the right hand of the Father.

They believe all this and more.

I have heard the verse quoted by many a Protestant that goes something like…“and whosoever believeth in me shall be saved…”, but very rarely hear any other Jesus-isms, such as His greatest commandment, to “love one another” (John, 15:17),

I hear that just about every time I am at church.

What you hear “rarely,” I hear regularly and unwaveringly.

There are many, many circumstances in the gospels, in which Jesus’ focus is not individualistic, but worldly. Do unto others…when was I hungry and you did not feed me…whatever you do to the least of my people, so you do unto me…

You are preaching to the choir here.

Clearly, we are undeserving of God’s mercy, even the best of us. It is because of HIS LOVE we are redeemed…not because of OUR FAITH.

I never learned anything less.

Again, you are preaching to the choir.

I am sorry you came to believe otherwise about non-Catholic Christian faith. Indeed this thread is for clarification, it seems.


#20

If I’m preaching to the choir, then why the big opposition of the “faith alone” mentality? If this is all so familiar to you, how can you so vehemently argue a technicality? This was a simple story, a parable, if you will…to relate the way God views our good works. Not so much an “if…and then” situation, as maybe this alteration… “We’re all going for ice cream later, so I’d like you to have your chores done before that.” Our blatant laziness of not doing our chores would be a direct violation of what we know God wants of us…however, He is not holding “ice cream” over our heads as a reward or lack thereof…the ultimate punishment. The bottom line is, that our obedience and humility before God lead us to want to please Him, and that His love for us makes Him want to give us a “treat”. I really just wanted to point out that you were reading WAAAYYY too much into the story.
It’s all about the correlation between the physical actions of love and the conscious state of “having” faith. The having is not enough. If you have, you will do. He who does not do, does not really have to begin with. This was my major argument, but it seems as though you’d rather talk technicalities and word placement. Try to see the beautiful comparison being made here. As I previously stated, nothing we could do could ever EARN us anything…our debt has been settled. It is our willingness and humility to accept this charity (or love, as oft referred) from God, which determines our salvation. And we express our joy and gratitude for such mercy by showering God’s creation with our happy works of love.


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