I’ve always been surprised at the remarks some protestants make when they say that all we need is faith to get into heaven and that works don’t matter. I always wondered if they skip over verses likes these :
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have
works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your[a] works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that
faith was working together with his works, and by works
faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was
fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was
accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was
called the friend of God. You see then that a man is
justified by works, and not by faith only.”
The way some Protestants say it, there is no contradiction to Catholic’s understanding too. Faith without work is a dead faith. Protestants would say, faith entails good work. Sometimes we just like to misunderstand each other’s belief.
I think the biggest misconception that protestants have is that works cannot gain us merit (graces) in the eyes of God, and therefore with faith improve our chances of reaching heaven. I am not sure of the exact verse, but Christ says in the Gospel of Luke that unless we do pennace, we will not get to heaven. Sounds like works are pretty important to me!
Perhaps Martin Luthers own words can help clarify this. Notice the last sentence.
“Faith is a living, unshakable confidence in God’s grace; it is so
certain that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind
of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful,
confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures.This is
what the Holy Spirit does by faith.Through faith, a person will do
good to everyonewithout coercion, willinglyand happily; he will
serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise
of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate
works from faith as burning and shining from fire.”
There is a difference between faith and credulity. James makes the distinction and so does Martin Luther.
The standard Protestant position (insofar as there is one) is that works are the fruit of faith. So true faith will always produce works, but faith does not “need” works. “Made perfect” is then understood as something like “made manifest.” I agree that this is somewhat awkward, though I think 1 Corinthians 13 is a more serious challenge to the Protestant understanding of faith.
One thing to get clear is that Protestants traditionally believe in sola fide, not sola fides. (As Koineman put it, “we are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”) But here’s what many people don’t seem to notice: Catholics believe in sola fides, not sola fide. In other words, Protestants don’t think that faith can exist alone. If it does, then it isn’t the supernatural virtue of faith but a human opinion to which we apply the word “faith” only in an equivocal sense. Catholics do think that you can have the supernatural virtue of faith without having love and thus without being in a state of grace.
At least from my perspective as a Wesleyan by theological tradition, this is the key difference–at least, it’s the only major issue *I *have with Catholic soteriology on this point. The irony is that I think in some ways Catholics have the better case Biblically (not just James, as I said, but even more 1 Corinthians 13, which seems to envision supernatural faith existing without charity). But the practical consequences of the Catholic position really disturb me on a number of levels. It makes it very hard to proclaim the Gospel to the baptized, since one presumes that baptized, professing Christians already have the supernatural virtue of faith and just need to add charity to their faith. Indeed, it makes the Gospel proclamation to anyone seem a bit weaker and less pungent and transformative. By understanding faith and love to be essentially inseparable, Protestants add a huge “punch” to the NT proclamation “repent and believe in the Good News.” In the Catholic understanding, “believe in the Good News” does not itself transform you. And even though, as I said, I think Catholics can defend their view well with respect to specific NT passages dealing with faith and charity, I think the Protestant view makes better sense of the NT “kerygma” as a whole. Furthermore, the “Catholic passages” can be explained–maybe Paul was speaking “per impossibile” in 1 Cor. 13 when he spoke of having faith without charity, just as he was in Romans 9 when he spoke of being damned for the sake of his fellow Jews.
However, I certainly don’t think this issue is a valid reason to reject Catholicism. Quite likely there is some way, eventually, that what is valuable in the Protestant view can be reconciled with Catholicism. Certainly Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, among many others, seems committed to this.
An article well worth reading can be found on the Called to Communion blog here: calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/. It has helped me actually begin to consider that sola fide has come up short all along. In particular I found this comment in the post to be compelling (particularly the boldfaced parts):
In other words, in Catholic soteriology we are already justified by faith alone (i.e. without works) if that faith is accompanied by love for God.4 Without love for God, we cannot be in friendship with God, even though God loves us, because mutual love is necessary for friendship. And no one who is not a friend of God is justified before God.5
So when considering the relevant passages from Scripture, the pertinent questions are these: Do these passages teach that persons are justified prior to receiving love for God or through a faith devoid of love for God? Does any passage teach that justification precedes friendship with God? If no passage of Scripture teaches that we are justified prior to receiving love for God, then Scripture does not support the Protestant claim over the teaching of the Catholic Church.6
If this argument is sound (and it looks to be), then true, justifying faith must be accompanied by love of God at the very moment it begins to exist. This is made all too clear by the well-known statements in James 2:
“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (v. 17)
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (v. 26)
Therefore, there can never be a time–not even a moment–when true, justifying faith is without works.
I don’t see any divergence between the Catholic view on faith and works and the Evangelical view. I just see it explained differently.
Evangelicals tend to regards faith and works as one thing, while Catholics seem to separate faith and works. But again, I think looking closely, one can conclude that they really believe the same thing.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Justification is by faith alone not by works.
Sanctification is not by faith alone but also by works.
Justification is the very first time we are enabled by God to assent to our belief in Jesus.
This cannot be earned by anything we do or by works, but rather is a pure gift and invite from God.
Santification is an ongoing process after justification has been established.
Faith then enables us to continue our life in Jesus thru good works.
For example, baptism. “Unless you are born again with water and the Holy Spirit, you cannot enter the kindom of heaven” he said to Nichodemous. It is faith that enables our understanding and acceptance in these words of Jesus. Without faith, we would not be baptised because faith is the foundation of these holy things Jesus taught us to do.
“unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot have life in you.” Faith again is that by which we assent to this holy food which then changes us into Jesus more and more.
We do not live by faith alone, but with a faith which enables us to live a life in all that Jesus taught us to carry out.
Since you are Weslyan in your viewpoint, here is a piece from Weslys sermon Almost a Christian dealiing with the issue of faith vs works.
"But here let no man deceive his own soul. "It is diligently to be noted, the faith
which bringeth not forth repentance, and love, and all good works, is not that right
living faith, but a dead and devilish one. For, even the devils believe that Christ
was born of a virgin: that he wrought all kinds of miracles, declaring himself very
God: that, for our sakes, he suffered a most painful death, to redeem us from death
everlasting; that he rose again the third day: that he ascended into heaven, and
sitteth at the right hand of the Father and at the end of the world shall come again
to judge both the quick and dead. These articles of our faith the devils believe, and
so they believe all that is written in the Old and New Testament. And yet for all this
faith, they be but devils. They remain still in their damnable estate lacking the very
true Christian faith.
The right and true Christian faith is" (to go on m the words of our own Church),
“not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the Articles of our Faith are true, but
also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by
Christ. It is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, that, by the merits
of Christ, his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favour of God; whereof doth
follow a loving heart, to obey his commandments.”
From Wesleys sermon Almost a Christian"
The entire sermon, An Almost Christian, can be found on the web. I read it occasionly for inspiration.
This past Sunday, Trinity Sunday, Lutherans typically confess the Athanasian Creed, which ends with the following:
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works.** And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. **
This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.
One member of our parish asked how this can be true if one is saved by grace through faith. Luther seems to best answer this question when he says that: " There is no justification without sanctification, no forgiveness without renewal of life, no real faith from which the fruits of new obedience do not grow."
What good is faith if there are no good fruits? If one claims to have faith, but there is no evidence of it in the way one acts, the things one does to and for others, then, as James says, your faith is dead, and is not a saving faith. Christ said, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Found the below quote after googling the topic. I like how it points out the parody we make of each others position
Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw up the sponge. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come.
There are two parodies of the truth which different sets of Christians have, in the past, been accused by other Christians of believing: perhaps they may make the truth clearer. One set were accused of saying, “Good actions are all that matters. The best good action is charity. The best kind of charity is giving money. The best thing to give money to is the Church. So hand us over Ј10,000 and we will see you through.” The answer to that nonsense, of course, would be that good actions done for that motive, done with the idea that Heaven can be bought, would not be good actions at all, but only commercial speculations. The other set were accused of saying, “Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn’t matter what you do. Sin away, my lad, and have a good time and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end.” The answer to that nonsense is that, if what you call your “faith” in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not Faith at all-not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.
Yes, love for God will accompany those whom the Lord justifies, there is nothing in this that somehow goes against Sola Fide.
And indeed, works will follow the one justified, Calvin goes to great lengths to demonstrate this in his section on Justification and sanctification in the Institutes, here; m.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xii.html
You may wish to follow it on till the end of chapter 18.
I’ve actually changed my opinion of this quite recently. The final two nails in the coffin of sola fide was 1) actually reading Luther and Melancthon (and Cajetan, for that matter) and how they understood the doctrine and 2) reading through Revelation and keeping tally of how often judgment or reward is directly dependent on actions (the number is quite high). I am even comfortable using the terms “merit” and “salvation” in the same sentence now.
Though many of us don’t consider ourselves Christian, the members of my congregation would are very much practitioners or “good works.”
Because we are non-creedal, it is one of the things that binds us together as a faith community.
But while many of us feel that it is our duty to better our community, and our world, that belief is not tied to salvation for most of us. One part of our faith tradition is Universalism, a belief in universal salvation.
But, be that as it may, I would find it difficult to belong to a solely faith-based doctrine absent the presence of actions or good works.
It’s a misrepresentation of what works are and what they accomplish in the Christian faith by the Roman church. James is speaking to a crowd who clearly are not progressed in their faith. He is showing them that faith is much more than just merely belief. St. Paul however shows us very clearly in many of his preachings that it is by grace through faith in Christ that we are saved and not by what we do. It’s not penance, not Mary, not trying to be perfect and surely not putting other gods before God himself that saves us. If we could work our way, Jesus’ sacrifice would have been unnecessary. C.S. Lewis once said that in the end, it’s only going to matter who we are with, not what we did.