Faith versus Good Works - Justification by faith alone
We received an email from a well-meaning Evangelical who asked:
"Can a person get into heaven by giving to charities?"
He felt that Catholics believe that we can buy our way into Heaven.
A couple of years ago the Pope and Lutheran World Federation cosigned a document entitled "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" (JDDJ) agreeing on the role of faith in salvation. St. Cyprian (d. 258) said, "No one is safe by his own strength, but he is safe by the Grace and mercy of God."
I could never in my lifetime do enough good works to get into heaven on my own strength. There are not enough little old ladies in the world that I could help walk across the street, to pay the price that Jesus paid for my salvation. We Catholics don't think we can work our way into heaven, honest! On the other hand we don't think we can sit on our butts and expect Jesus to be pleased.
Section 1996 of the Catechism says:
Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. (Jn 4:14; 7:38-39.)
Sections 161-162 of the Catechism says:
(161) "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation ...therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification...(162) Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man...
The Catechism also talks about our response to faith, (sections 161-162 and 1997-2000) which is to go out into the world and do as Jesus would have us do. Which is what we call Charity.
A couple of years ago almost every teenage Evangelical was wearing a bracelet that said WWJD, which was an acronym for "What Would Jesus Do?" This is basically what Catholics call Charity. When Catholics say that we must practice Charity, we are not saying you must give money to some benevolent organization (although that is a charitable action). We are basically saying "Ok, now that you have given your life to Jesus, do what Jesus would have you do and do this for the rest of your life, one day at a time." (Mk 13:13, Jam 1:2, Mt 10:22, Mt 24:13). Catholics believe we must "endure until the end" with our faith. (Heb 11:6) U
What about Romans 8:1 "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Once saved, always saved?
We got an email that said:
"...the catholic church teaches that you do not know you are going to heaven until you get there. That is not compatible with the scriptures in which Paul states "That we may know'.."
The great Evangelical minister Charles Stanley, the founder of "In Touch" Ministries (whose daily radio show is heard by millions) said:
You say you know you're saved, well that's not enough.
(CHRI Radio, broadcast July 24, 2007)
We don't think it is biblical to say, "once saved always saved." Catholics would say that God gave us free will and that even after we are authentically "born again," we can always choose to sin. An example of this is the number of "born again" Christian men who have struggled with pornography, including the great Evangelical gospel performer, Kirk Franklin (who is thankfully in recovery). We believe we can damage or break the bond with Christ even after we have had an authentic "born again" experience. If you are into porn, it doesn't matter whether you are a Born Again Evangelical, Catholic, or whatever type of Christian, your soul is in grave danger. Get help!
The Evangelical Chuck Swindoll criticized Catholicism pointing at Romans 8:1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." A big question about Romans 8:1 is this: What does it mean to be "in Christ Jesus"? If someone is sinning in a grave way we would question whether they are "in Jesus Christ." We'd say they have through free will left communion with Christ, and are therefore no longer "in Christ". That's why we want to refuse communion to pro-abortion politicians who try to get votes by claiming Catholicism.
Chuck Swindoll would say the word "NOW" in Romans 8:1 means that we can now be certain of our salvation from this moment forward. We don't think the text says that at all. The word "now" means exactly that, "now." He does not say "from now on..." It's important not to try to add meaning to clear sentences in the Bible.
Being in Christ Jesus is a moment to moment thing and after our born again experience, there are many times when a Christian has to look in the mirror and ask "where am I at with the Lord today?" Catholics believe that we must continue to be in the presence of God in order to remain free of condemnation. If we drift, we must come back. It is important to remember that the passage leading up to Romans 8:1 which says:
For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Rom 7:15-20)
He is speaking in the present tense. These are battles we each face even after our born again experience. Even the apostle Paul did. We must run the race until the finish line. (2 Tim 4:7)
More discussion of "once saved always saved" here.
We must act
"Paul was totally "born again," yet he said "Woeif I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16) When the Bible says "woe to ..." it means that there is grave danger, including hell. (Mat 11:21, 18:7, 23:13-16, 23-29, 24:19, 26:24, Mk 14:2, Lk 6:24-26, 10:13, 11:42-52, 17:1, 21:23, 22:22, Jud 1:11, Rev 8:13, 9:12, 11:14, 12:12)
Paul is saying that he must not only believe in the Lord Jesus but he must also do the will of Jesus, which was to preach the Gospel.
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mat 7:20)
I was recently playing music at a Pentecostal Assemblies Church. The good pastor gave an amazing sermon called, "if I was the devil." In it he said:
"If I was the devil I would teach Christians that
the Holy Spirit was sent to bless."
(Kingston Gospel Temple, Sun. Jun 4, 2006)
As the congregation reeled in confusion, he pointed to Acts 1:8 :
"And the Holy Spirit will come upon you...and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
This good Pentecostal minister was saying that the devil is happy that so many people of faith do not work for the kingdom. He said, "It's fine to go into your prayer closet and praise the Lord and get hit with the Holy Spirit. But then get off your knees, roll up your sleeves and get to work for the Kingdom!" I said "Amen!"
Catholics believe that works are not only a manifestation of faith, but we also believe that the Word of God is saying that works complete our faith.
The book of James says:
What good is it, my brothers if you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you. If a brother is naked and lacks daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill', and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:14-16)
Martin Luther moved the book of James out of the Bible into the appendix of his translation because of its focus on works. He said it was an "Epistle of Straw." Luckily, it didn't catch on.
What if a "born again" person falls into sin?
Most Evangelicals would say a "born again" Christian who does not do what Jesus would have him do, was never authentically "born again" in the first place (and that therefore, he'd would be in danger of hell). Catholics would say it a bit differently. We would say he broke the Grace that was bestowed on him at baptism.
Many Evangelical denominations (although not all), including the famous Evangelical Moody Institute in Chicago, preach that there are different sizes of "houses" in heaven, depending on how we respond to our faith. The Evangelical pastor, Rick Warren in his bestseller book, "The Purpose Driven Life" says:
One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity... he will ask us two crucial questions ...First, 'What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?' ...Second, 'What did you do with what I gave you' ... the second question will determine what you do in eternity...(The Purpose Driven Life, pg. 34)
At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do...has eternal consequences...you will receive a promotion and be given greater responsibility in eternity ..." (The Purpose Driven Life, pg. 45)
If you are rewarded and treated better in Heaven for the things you did in this life, then those who do not get those rewards are being "punished" for not doing the things on earth that would get them those rewards in Heaven. Catholics agree that there may be consequences in the afterlife. However, we believe if the sin is very serious, then we may have severed the bond with Christ completely, and as such our soul would be in danger of hell. If the sin is not too serious, we believe Jesus will clear it up in the interim between our death and entry into heaven, which we call Purgatory.
The famous Evangelical writer, Charles H. Spurgeon says:
"...if there be no vital change, no inward godliness; if there be no love to God, no prayer, no work of the Holy Spirit, then thy saying “I am saved” is but thine own assertion, and it may delude, but it will not deliver thee."
Catholics totally agree that faith is necessary for salvation. Without it we are lost. We would also say that the Bible has called us to respond to that faith by doing what Jesus would have us do, and that failure to do so is a serious sin, which could put our souls in jeopardy. (Mat 7:20, 1 Cor 9:16, James 2:14-16) We can lose this precious gift of faith as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith" (1 Tim 1:18-19)
Charity is the New Commandment (Jn 13:34). Catholics feel that charity is a reflection of our faith and it helps keep us true to the saving Grace that was bestowed on us at baptism. Charity reminds me not to be "self centred" which can cause a "backslide" into serious sin. It is also a form of penance which Catholics feel is valuable and it is a sign of our "yes" to God. Through his command to charity, God is saying something like "put your money where your mouth is!" (Mt 19:21, Mt 25:40-43, Rev 20:12, Lk 19:6)
How can I do good works if I am physically not able to work?
Charity (good works) can come in many forms and does not necessarily mean physical work. Some old people are bed-ridden, but after becoming born again they decided to become prayer warriors. They spend the rest of their lives in prayer for world leaders, famine-filled countries, babies that are about to be aborted, the youth, and unconverted peoples. This most certainly qualifies as "good works" and Jesus will say to them, "well done good and faithful servant." (Mt 25:21, Lk 19:17)
I heard an Evangelical radio minister say, "the prisoner on the cross beside Jesus did nothing to get into heaven and could do nothing because he was dying on a cross." (Lk 23:43) However, this prisoner turned to the other prisoner on the cross and proclaimed that Jesus was the blameless one. (Lk. 23:41) This was an act of evangelization. At that moment he preached the Gospel. When the thief publicly asked Jesus to save him, he evangelized the crowd that was watching. His words are part of the Bible and this thief helped alter the course of humanity for all time. These all seem like good works to me, better than anything I'll ever do.
In my opinion, a lot of the dialogue between Catholics and Protestants about the role of "works" is mostly semantic because both camps work hard for the Lord after having experienced Him. I've never seen a person who has been touched by the Lord refuse to respond with love and charity to the less fortunate. So c'mon you Evangelical folks who are born again, stop sitting on the sidelines of the pro-life movement, join us to help save the unborn.
Martin Luther adds the word "alone" after the word "faith" in the Bible
Something that most Evangelicals aren't aware of is that when Luther left the church and wrote his own Bible, he added the word "alone" to Romans 3:28.
Luther added an extra word to his Bible:
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith [ALONE] apart from observing the law."
When challenged about this Martin Luther responded:
If your Papist annoys you with the word ('alone'), tell him straightway, Dr. Martin Luther will have it so: Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil's thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor above all the doctors in Popedom. (Amic. Discussion, 1, 127,'The Facts About Luther,' O'Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p. 201.)
What does the Bible say about "works" and its role in salvation?
Mat 7:16-20 Not everyone who says"Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evil doers.' Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock"
Matt: 19:21 Then someone came to him and said "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life...[Jesus said] go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven...When the young man heard this word he went away grieving, for he had many possessions...
Mat 25:40 When you have done this to the least of my brothers you did it unto me
Mat 25:40-43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Mt 25:15-28 Check out the parable of the 10 talents.
2 Cor 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.
Lk 19:6 "So he (Zacchaeus) hurried down and was happy to welcome him (Jesus) ... 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house"
Many Evangelicals point to Rom 3:28 "...We are justified by faith apart from the works prescribed by the law." Catholics think it important to look at the entire passage in context. Paul did not only say "...apart from works." He said "...apart from the works prescribed by the law." The word prescribed infers that it was written down. If you asked a Jew back then what the law was, he would say "the Torah" which was the written law (1st five books of the Bible). These "works prescribed in the law" such as circumcision seem quite distinct from Christian works of Charity. This is made clearer in the next verse "or is God the God of the Jews only is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also" (Rom 3:29) The next two verses drives this home. "Since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised (Jews) on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through their faith" (Rom 3:30)." It seems that Paul is talking on this circumcision issue and the other trappings of the old Jewish law that were barriers to Gentiles. It seems to have nothing to do with works of Christian Charity.
Gal 6:2 "Bear one another's burdens and this way you fulfill the law of Christ."
Gal 6:4 "For all must test their own work."
1 Cor 9:16 "Woeif I do not preach the gospel"
James 5:20 "you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinners soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins"
James 2:14-16 "What good is it, my brothers if you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you. If a brother is naked and lacks daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill', and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."
James goes on to hammer this home in the next few verses. Most of my protestant friends intuitively know this and they work hard to serve the Lord.
1 Cor 9:16 "for an obligation is laid on me, and woeif I do not proclaim the Gospel" To proclaim the Gospel is an action. This is a work.
Jer. 17:10; 32:19 God will evaluate every man according to his deeds.
See also "Are Catholics 'Born Again'?"
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.