What do we mean by "Works" and their relation to salvation

My protastant friends throw works in my face all the time when exlaining how silly I am for being Catholic. I try to explain how works do not earn our salvation but that we give them up to God.

If there a document or passage in the Cathecism or decree from a counsel that defines works and its relationship to salvation?

I’m trying to defend my faith correctly instead of just winging it or saying “what I think the Church says”.

First, the best single answer is that we do what scripture dictates and we recognize that James 2:24 means exactly what it says.

Next our protestant friends will try to frame this as an either/or issue, in other words they will want to claim we are saved by EITHER faith OR works but as Thomas Aquinas said its BOTH faith AND works. No catholic believes our works save us but our works done in love through faith has great merit.

Next we look we refer to Matthew 25:31-46 CLEARLY works or the lack thereof had a profound effect.

ding, ding, ding… that is more than enough for me.

Yeah I am not sure how to make it more clear to our protestant friends but they still resist.

In fact, a few years back this controversy was put to rest between the Lutherans and Catholics. Boy, talk about a long misunderstanding.

It would seem to me that the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy are kind of a charge also, which occurs in one form or another in the Old and New Testament.

Look at 1John 1:9
Isaiah I:18

This might help.d

In addition to the classic Matthew 25:31-46 which clearly states through the words of Our Lord himself that works are need you can also turn to Matthew 7:21-23 (not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom…) as another clear example.

Yes! An excellent passage. Thank you

"The only thing that counts is faith working through love". Gal 5:6
Faith, alone, is worthless. As St Paul said in 1 Cor 13:
"…if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing."
Love is what man’s justice consists of-and what faith must lead to, along with hope, and this is why the greatest commandments are what the are.
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1Cor 13:13
And love always, by it’s nature, acts, expressing itself in works. Matt 25:31-46 gives us a good idea of the kinds of works that love expresses itself in-and therefore the kinds of works we’ll be judged by.

The whole “Faith-Works” debate is of protestant manufacture.

The Economy of Salvation, according to Catholic DOGMA, is VERY simple: We are placed in a State of Grace upon valid Christian Baptism (which may be conferred even by protestants or pagans or atheists).

Once we are in a State of Grace, NOTHING on earth can remove us from our own salvation except we ourselves, through mortal sin. In this regard, it does not matter AT ALL if we were Baptized in the Catholic Church, or any protestant church.

Mortal sin is a very particular TYPE of sin. It requires full and complete knowledge of the mortal nature of our sin (at the time we commit it) and full and complete freewill consent to the act.

Ummm, waitaminute. Ummm. Lemme think about this.

[think … think … think]

I’m gonna end my response with this thought, because it led me to another thought. And I thought that ought to be its own question. Although I think it might be the biggest nuclear bomb that I ever dropped on Catholic Answers Forum.

(not a bomb in the sense of “destroy,” but in the sense of “stir up and get noticed,” although such “bombs” have a great propensity to “backfire” and get out of control really fast, like a nuclear reaction). I have tried to construct a “pre-ignition” chamber around this post, but I don’t know if it will contain a nuclear-like chain reaction).

The best place to start would be the Council of Trent. Even if you convinced them that the Catechism of the Catholic Church taught correctly, they would probably only acknowledge that the Church had capitulated from her errors of the Reformation era. The Council of Trent issued a document titled the “Decree on Justification.” Read this carefully, and I think it will give you some good material to keep in mind for your conversations.


As for the CCC, this is the section on Grace and Justification. Read the part on merit as well, which is not well explained by Trent.


It is important when entering these conversations to understand where the real disputes lie. David is right on the money when he says that “faith vs. works” is a debate of Protestant manufacture. Faith is not opposed to works and neither are works opposed to faith. Even the phrase “justification by faith alone” is acceptable to Catholics, only not in the false sense that Protestants ascribe to it.

Probably the most foundational difference is the way in which the application of Christ’s merits is taught. According to Catholic doctrine, God not only imputes Christ’s merits to believers, but actually renews them with the life of grace, making them pleasing in his sight. On the other hand, Protestants traditionally say that justification is solely due to the imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ. What this means is that justification consists in no interior change of man, but God overlooking man’s merit and instead considering Christ’s merits as if it were that man’s. In other words, nothing in man or that man does has any effect on his justification because God is so pleased that Christ kept the law perfectly and, therefore, is willing to pretend that we kept the law perfectly as well. It is important to remember though that Protestants do believe in a real interior change in the believer, only that it is at most a necessary consequence of justification and not actually necessary to be imputed just before God.

An interesting corollary to this is that Protestants actually believe in justification by works and Catholics believe in justification by grace. Most Protestants say that we cannot be justified by works only in an accidental manner, i.e., that man just happens to be incapable of keeping the law perfectly due to original sin. However, Adam, if he had not sinned, would have been just Catholics, on the other hand, teach that even if man’s actions were blameless according to nature, his acts could in no way merit heaven without grace.

Why do Protestants say that Catholics believe in justification by works? The chief reason is that Catholics seek to uphold the Apostolic doctrines that salvation is by grace and that heaven is a reward. Although these seem to be contradictory they are not. Although heaven is a reward for our lives, everything meritorious of our lives is an undeserved gift from God. Although it would be wrong to say heaven is unmerited in every sense, in the strictest sense, heaven is totally undeserved because we could not attain it ourselves. That is why Catholics formulated the concepts of “condign merit” and “congruous merit.”

In contrast, according to my experience, there are basically three different Protestant teachings. The first is that once a man “accepts Jesus as his personal Savior,” he is objectively certain of his salvation and no sin he does, not even apostasy would have any bearing on his salvation. Another is that once justified, man cannot fall from grace, but he will necessarily show the fruits of his salvation, or else he was never really justified to begin with. The final one is that man can fall from grace, but only if he stops trusting in Christ as his Savior by faith alone.

Jmisk #1
My protastant friends throw works in my face all the time when exlaining how silly I am for being Catholic. I try to explain how works do not earn our salvation but that we give them up to God.

“Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.”
(Phil 2:12).

Jesus redeemed us (opened Heaven), now we have to play our part. If anyone was to be saved your way it would have been Paul! But he clearly showed the error of that: “But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (1Cor 9:27). And again: “Wherefore he who thinks that he stands, let him take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor 10:12). Yet again, “And we exhort you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2 Cor 6:1).

As stated by Paul, for our salvation, what is lacking is what only we can do, for the sake of His Body which is the Church; no one has said that there is anything lacking in Christ’s redemptive passion and crucifixion which has enabled the possibility of our salvation. How could there be? Christ was acting for the whole human race, not instead of, not as a substitute. “He bore our sins in His own Body on the Cross.” (1Pet. 2:29). What did Paul say must happen because Christ is the one mediator? “Supplication, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men” (1Tim 2:1-5). Thus we are all called to be co-redeemers. [See *Christ In Eclipse, Frank Sheed, Sheed & Ward, 1978, p 105-108).

Paul has restated the problem of suffering – how not to waste it but how to make use of it. Hebrews tells us that Jesus entered heaven on our behalf (9:24), and Paul explains (Rom 8:34) that He is at the right hand of the Father, “interceding for us,” pleading with God for us; and “He holds His priesthood permanently.” (Heb 7:24). That is precisely why His continuing priesthood breaks through to our altars at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – in the Mystical Body of Christ which is His Bride, His Church.

We are called to be coredeemers with Christ: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Tim 2:5). And because Christ is the one Mediator St Paul commands “supplication, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men.” (1 Tim 2:1). That’s the Mass. The Mass “is beyond compare the most important work Christ does through His Church: and it is our privilege to join the priest and so join Christ Himself in the offering He is making in heaven.” (Frank Sheed, Christ In Eclipse, Sheed and Ward, 1978, p 107).

St Paul is very clear: “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His Body which is the Church.” (Col. 1:24). What is lacking in Christ’s suffering is precisely what only we can do – take up our cross and suffer, repent and ask forgiveness, following the dictates of our conscience.

“It is not those who say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21). When asked “What must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Keep the commandments.” (Mt 19:16-17).

No one is “saved” until they have responded to the redemption of Jesus by cooperating with Him to supply what was lacking in His afflictions – when we walk in good works (Eph 2:10). As James teaches: “Faith without works is dead.” (See Jam 2:14-26).

The Ignatius RSV Study Bible has a good explanation of this issue.

I wasn’t able to open the link you provided about the next thought being it’s “own question”. But I don’t see how it’s as simple as all that. Christ tells us we will be judged according to our deeds (the separation of the goats/lambs, for example) and that we must keep the commands in order to have life (cf. Mt 7:21, 19:16-17, Jn 14:21). Paul, Peter and John echo this in Rom 2:2-8, 2Cor 5:10, 11:15, 1Pet1:17, Rev 20:12-13…). And summarizing paragraphs 1815-1816, we see in the CCC “Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation” (CCC 1816).

The “either/or” false dichotomy that results from a “faith alone” or a “works-based salvation” is certainly a Protestant invention. But faith AND works obviously play a role in salvation according to Christ and His Church.

This one is bothersome to me, because Catholics and Protestants essentially believe the same things about works.

I feel like when Protestants get worked up about this they’re usually unaware of what the CC actually teaches on this. Perhaps some Protestants believe that Catholics believe they are saved by works, which neither of us believe.

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