Why are the Protestants so misinformed with "works"?

I was chatting with long time friends. I’ve known them since before we all become closer to the faith we were baptized in (me RC). These friends are active in their presbyterian faith and hold bible study. I am equally as active my local parish if not more.

We started discussing “works” and how they feel (in their limited knowledge) that the RC faith has it wrong. I learned they actually thought Catholics can work and do “nice things” without Christ and we think we are saved. They truly thought that. Do their leaders believe that in divinity school? Was this not hashed out among church leaders? The confusion among smart Protestants still baffles me.

If you are faithful and Christlike — then you have to work! Then you are motivated to work to be like Him. You are simply trying to live out the virtues. Demonstrating your faith through ritual and traditional practice is just a product of your faith. Why shun that? They just gave me a blank stare when I replied to them and said they’ve never heard it put that way before. Of course this was after some protest on their part.


Protestants are misinformed about Catholic beliefs for the same reason non-Christians are misinformed about Christian belief.

Bishop Fulton Sheen is said to have said that there were not a thousand people in the United States who actually hate the Catholic Church.
But there are millions who hate what they mistakenly think the Church is.

Gospel of John 15: 18 (http://biblehub.com/john/15-18.htm)“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."


I see a lot of residue of the polemics of 16th century Germany and Switzerland. Christ was speaking of the works of the Mosaic Law, as was Saint Paul. And traditions? Those were the man-made Pharisaic traditions which ran counter to charity. Somehow, in all of the flying accusations, and a certain reformer’s opinion that faith without works somehow saves you, the necessary works of Christian charity got flushed.

One thing I have noted about many bible-based Christians: they know very little of their bibles! Each and every reference to our judgment is based on our works! Faith is inferred, it is required, but our works flowing from our faith are what we will be judged by. I truly wonder if they believe they will be judged, or just those who do not believe in faith alone.

Ah, but Europe invented an easy faith! No works! No charity. No good deeds. Just faith - which when you examine their doctrines/confessions, you find out that faith will save you because you have faith that faith will save you.

And they accuse Catholics of circular reasoning. :shrug:


As a non-believer I find neither the ‘general’ Protestant nor the Catholic positions to be stronger on this issue. Each may be argued from scripture and from early Christian tradition. Anything based on a literal reading of scripture is of course very weak as argument. The Catholic position based on tradition is of course stronger as an argument provided you accept the premise that Jesus founded a Church and the Church is the one of Catholic tradition and not of any other the other Christianities of the early years and later.

Generally I find religious arguments based on the strong points of the person arguing and addressing the weak points and opposing points of view more impressive than the picking of easy holes in the arguments of opponents.

The Reformers drew the Biblical distinction used by Paul between justification and sanctification when discussing the role of works. They upheld the conclusions of Paul in Romans 3 that we are saved by faith, not works. However, they also believed that works are necessary in the Christian life as the Holy Spirit sanctifies and conforms us to Christ. Works are not necessary for our justification, but are the fruit of our faith and walking by the Spirit, and are therefore necessary in the life of the Christian. In other words, a good tree produces good fruit. The redeemed man, produces fruit in keeping with repentance. Its just what we do. Paul describes the relationship between justification and works most succinctly in Ephesians 2 8-10.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

The Reformers recognized this distinction and insisted that preaching this distinction properly was necessary for the right proclamation of the gospel. In our confessions, you see this same distinction upheld. Articles IV and VI of the Augsburg Confession demonstrates this.

That being said, your friends may be poorly catechized in their own faith, and may also be misunderstanding what it is that you believe.


First, there is no one “Protestant” belief on works. There as many thousands of beliefs as there are denominations.

You can learn PCUSA’s official teachings here

This has been a debate since the early Church. Sit down and read the Epistle of James, chapter 2.


The works of the real argument is the sacraments the Church say they save and bring grace Protestants say they are works and do not save - the argument is not about good deeds.

Paul, when talking of works, almost always was talking about “works of the law” i.e. the mosaic law such as circumcism, exemplified in Romans especially in Romans 3:28 “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

James, on the other hand, from the context is clearly talking about “good” works" and not works of the law throughout chapter 2, and gives 3 examples of charity to others and obedience to God (as opposed to obedience to the law).

15 If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
17 So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
20 Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?
22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.
23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.
24 See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?
26 For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

In short, with Catholics, Faith and good works go together, one is not complete without the other.

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In the Protestant mind, Baptism and the other Sacraments are “works.” The idea of sacramentality is incompatible with the doctrine of sola fide because, by the Protestant interpretation of Paul, one’s salvation is accomplished by faith alone .

We would disagree on this considering Paul is using the law to universally disqualify both Jew and Gentiles as righteous in God’s sight in Romans 1-3. The Gentile, who didn’t have the law to include the ceremonial laws such as circumcision are upheld as examples to the Jews for being a law to themselves when they obey it (the moral law, rather than the ceremonial law) in Chapter 2. Both Jew and Gentile are then condemned universally in Chapter 3 before Paul discusses how we are justified by faith apart from works.

James’ entire treatise is in reference to the outward demonstration of faith for the benefit of one’s brother. Protestants have no issue harmonizing Paul and James.

Protestants also agree that one cannot separate faith and works. However, we do not deny Paul by saying that our works justify us before God. The two things are linked in the life of the believer, not for justification but in sanctification. We tend to define these terms using the distinctions Paul uses in his epistles.

Keep in mind also that the “reform” introduced new definitions and new usages of terms, so oftentimes we are arguing about the same thing, but in differing terminology.

Why the new lexicon? Well, the desire to separate and justify that separation requires apparent differences and where there are none, at least a difference in terminology.

The huge error was salvation by 'faith alone". Absolutely non-scriptural. 100% of references to our judgment (unless the reformers rejected the concept of a judgment, that is) relate to the fruits of our faith: good works.

The argument was never about doing daily good deeds the argument is directly aimed at the sacraments of the catholic church that they are works and do not save faith alone is all that is required.

When the protestant church says the Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of works they mean the sacriments

It’s a very divisive topic-obviously, since it was a main reason for the Reformers splitting from the Church to begin with in the 16th century. But it was all worked out in the early centuries of the Church, with the Church having a very balanced and biblical teaching that was later laid out quite explicitly at the Council of Trent, session 6, also in the 16th century. Works done, for the right reason, are motivated by love, but faith doesn’t necessarily lead to love. And as the Church teaches, quoting another 16th century source, St John of the Cross, “At the evening of life we shall be judged out our love.” And as Paul explains in 1 Cor 13, “…if i have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing.” And Augustine would put it this way, "Without love faith may indeed exist, but avails nothing."

But if, as in the Parable of the Talents, we “invest” the gift of faith and other virtues given at justification, if we “exercise” them by following Christ, doing God’s will and persisting in this, then we ‘work out our salvation with He who works in us’ as per Phil 2. And our gifts of justice/righteousness grow.

"To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." Rom 2:7

Anyway, love is the measure of man’s justice, which is why the Greatest Commandments are what they are. And love moves us to do the works prepared for us in Christ Jesus as per Eph 2:10 or those done “for the least of these” in Matt 25, works that served as the criteria for separating the sheep from the goats. Anyway, at the end of the day justification is not merely imputed to us but truly given-and justification and sanctification cannot be separated from each other. And it’s all a work of grace, impossible for man but not so with God. “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5


Indeed, the “reform” was the rejection of the Sacraments. No? Well, it re-defined the Eucharist into “not-Eucharist” and thus began the creeping rejection of most - then all of the Sacraments by various of the denominations. This loss of the richness of the Christian faith required - desperately needed - something like “faith alone” as an ersatz channel of grace. Yet, faith is a WORK! Talk about confusion.

For those who do not know, the Sacraments are not works. They are channels of God’s grace, instituted by Christ for our salvation. We receive them, we do not “do them”; we do not “take” them. God’s grace is never taken, it is received, and even then, only when asked for or prepared for by a contrite and willing heart.

Strange that 100% of such “works” arguments that I have seen never seem to include the Orthodox - who also rejected the “reform” - as their beliefs regarding justification, salvation and the Sacraments accord with the Catholic.

Only the Catholic Church is singled out for hostile fire. Hmmm…

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That’s one of the other areas which separate us:

Rom 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

I think its better to be clear on those differences. Catholics also believe we are infused with grace into our souls. He fills us with grace i.e. As with Stephen:

Acts 6:8 And Stephen, full of grace (plenes charitos) and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

Vs. Imputed in which one is justified legally by faith in Jesus who is who is righteous in your place. In other words God takes Jesus righteousness and applies it to the sinner. Basically righteousness through proxy. Calvin was a lawyer and saw things through a lawyers eyes. One also finds Sanctification and Justification delineated in a legal manner.

As other denominations have stated Jesus did the works for you.

While Justification holds great theological significance, my personal opinion, (while I obviously believe the Catholic understanding) is that on the day one is judged Jesus isn’t going to ask someone how they believe someone is justified but whether they followed him…“What you did for the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”

Peace and God Bless


As I usually point out in these topics, the theological differences boil down to what we believe about the role of a man or woman in responding to God’s grace, of monergism vs synergism. In the protestant world there are three major views: Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Arminianism. For comparison, the Arminians are pretty close to the Catholic position in this regard. If this isn’t recognized people tend to just talk past one another.

I always find it interesting when someone’s prooftext stops short of reading the whole passage. You forgot this part that Paul is building up to: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

The problem with you quote is that it is actually intended as a ding on the Jews who have the law but are lawbreakers. The point Paul is making in chapters 1 and 2 is that all people, Jew and Gentile, are condemned by the law as lawbreakers because all of them equally break it. The law doesn’t justify you, it condemns you. This leads us to Paul’s beginning of the gospel:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Not sure what this has to do with the subject. Yes, by God’s grace, Stephen was given the power to perform signs and wonders to testify to the gospel. This does not speak to the topic of justification, but to the topic of the means by which the gospel was spread. Notice that justification is not even mentioned in this verse or passage in general.

Thank you for distinguishing between your personal interpretation and actual doctrine. Many here are not so charitable. I respect that.

And hold it in tension with Galatians, chapter 3.

The Catholic Church teaching on ‘works’ is not in relation to the works of the law . Its in reference to our work in Christ, to abide in His love. As St. Paul says …we must ‘‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’’. James - ‘‘Faith without works is dead’’.

Works such as the observing and keeping of the commandments of God, the partaking of the sacraments of the Church to preserve ones state of Grace (friendship with God), and the performing of works of Mercy (Corporal /spiritual) as Jesus commanded of us in the Gospel of Matthew, and in John 15:4 He said … ‘’ Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

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