Catholic Bible 101

21st Century Catholic Apologetics for Mary's Spiritual Warriors

Faith and Works Are Both Necessary for Salvation



The battle between “faith alone” vs. “faith and works” for salvation has been going on ever since the Protestant Reformation in 1517.  The bible verses in question are when Paul says that we also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law  (Gal 2:16), and when James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:26).  Since the divinely inspired Word of God can't contradict itself, many people over the centuries have spent countless hours trying to account for this apparent dichotomy.



The simple answer is that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8), and not by works.  However, one has to remember that it is not enough to simply say "I believe", and then do nothing.  The bible says, "Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but rather he who does the will of my Father" (Matthew 7:21) Therefore, it must be assumed that works are indeed a necessary component of one's faith.  Too many people think that faith means giving God lip service only ("This generation honors me with their lips, while their heart is far from me", Matthew 15:18), rather than actually doing good deeds for others.  Another thing to remember is that the Jews of Paul's day had many observances of the law that they had to keep, like not eating pork, ritual hand-washing, not eating meat with blood in it, etc.  Paul may have been referring to these ritualistic works when he used the term "dead works" (Hebrews 9:14).  In fact, in Romans 3:20, Paul says, "Because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified before him. For by the law is the knowledge of sin", a very clear distinction between works of the law and doing good deeds as a result of your faith.


During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther took it upon himself to change the understanding of the Bible around to fit his own particular theology.  Not only did he throw out seven complete books of the Old Testament and parts of two other books, he also implied that Christians are saved by faith alone, because of Romans 3:28, which states "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law", rather than the way it was taught for over 1100 years.   He even inserted the word “alone” into Romans 3:28 when he translated it.  One has to wonder about the wisdom of changing the interpretation of the divinely inspired Word of God to fit your own theology, especially after 11 centuries.  The only time you actually do see the words faith and alone together in a sentence is in James 2:24, where James says, "See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”. (James 2:24)


Why is this important?  In the story about Judgment Day, (Matthew 25:31-46) where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, the only questions that Jesus asks the multitude concern works:


1.   Did you feed the hungry?

2 Did you clothe the naked?

3.   Did you give a drink to the thirsty, etc.


If they answered “no” to these works in Matthew 25, then Jesus said that they were going to hell.  Nowhere does Jesus ask, "Did you accept me as your personal Lord and Savior?"  So, you can infer from all of this that just confessing with your lips that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior is NOT ENOUGH (deathbed conversions are a different standard), although it is a great start on your salvation journey!!  The Book of James, in the Bible, says that your faith must be justified by works (James 2:24), which is much different from what Paul says in Galatians 2:16 about "We may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law (In the former, James refers to faith being justified by works; In the latter, Paul says that we are justified by faith. So, once you have the faith and are justified by it, then your faith in turn must then be justified by works)." 


Just as it's not enough to tell your wife that you love her, and never do anything for her, it's also true of your faith relationship with Jesus. Faith and performing good works for your fellow man go together like body and soul.  You simply aren't alive unless both body and soul are united (James 2:26).  It's the same for being alive in Christ - You need faith in Christ first, and then good works (not works of the law) to justify that faith.  Neither one on its own will get you into Heaven (once again, deathbed conversions are a different standard), but both in tandem have a symbiotic relationship that results in eternal salvation and heaven.  Remember, when all is said and done, we are nothing more that servants of God (Romans 6:22).  Any servant has a LOT of work to do.


Another important reminder is that when Jesus cured someone, he said, "Your faith has cured you" --  nothing else but the cured person's faith.  So, since we all want to be cured of something, how does one get more faith?  One great way is by performing good works as a result of your faith in Christ, in order to please God.  Just like a weightlifter can't get more muscles by merely saying that he believes in weightlifting, just so, a Christian doesn't get more faith by merely saying that he believes in Jesus.  He has to actually do something, like praying for more faith or by performing good works as a result of his faith, in order to please God. It's also hard to have impure thoughts and to do evil things if your primary goal in life is to perform good works in order to please God, so think of the reasons for doing good works for the glory of God in three ways:


  1. To prevent yourself from performing evil
  2. To build up your own faith
  3. To build up the Kingdom of God


The last one is the most important.  After all, if we are to imitate Jesus who performed many good works, then it is a natural thing to do good works as a true Christian.  There is one cautionary note about performing good works.  If our motive is for personal praise and not to build up the Kingdom of God, then Jesus says that we are already rewarded in this world and will not be rewarded in heaven (Matthew 6:1) Since the Bible warns against this, make sure that your motives are pure.


One very important passage in the Bible that specifically spells out the necessity of works as a result of the grace that God gives us all and the resultant faith in Jesus Christ  is Matthew 25:31-46:


"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,  and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.  Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?  And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?  And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'  And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'  Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'  Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.'  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 

In summary, Martin Luther was wrong to change the interpretation of Holy Scripture in the sixteenth century to imply that we are saved by “faith alone”.  In fact, James says that your faith must be justified by works (James 2:24), but your good works must not be motivated by selfish reasons.  True faith in Jesus Christ will naturally lead you to perform good works by imitating the life of Jesus.  In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God has prepared that we should walk in them.” Always keep in mind the two definitions of the word "work" as used in the Bible -- One meaning refers to a work of the Jewish law (does one no good), and the other definition refers to a good deed (VERY beneficial) which can make your faith come alive.

Sometimes Catholics are accused of trying to "work our way into heaven, by doing good deeds".  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  They have put the cart before the horse.  The grace one gets from the sacraments enables Catholics to do more good works.  We don't do good works to receive more grace.



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