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Good Works an Element of Salvation


Good works have NO part to play in our salvation.

[Blood of Christ saves] … and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

[Faith alone saves] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forbearance of God — to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus. What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:24-28).


Good works have a part to play in our salvation.

But what is it that fundamentalists think they understand? Fundamentalists tend to say that good works are the fruits which come from being saved. They would insist that they are not a means to salvation. If a person is one of the elect, it will be manifested by his good works as one filled with Christ’s spirit. Thus, in their estimation, it is not the works, but the blood of Christ which earns salvation.

Sometimes Catholics quote James 2:20 in their defense that “faith without works is useless”; however, what this means is that the type of faith which is saving is one which manifests the work of God. Note that James 2:19 has the demons believing and trembling. Theirs is not a saving faith. Many say they believe in Jesus and yet they refuse to follow him. Theirs is not a saving faith. A person of true faith experiences the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and good works will find expression in his life. Such works are a confirmation of true faith. Going even further, faith is professed by an act of will that uses words and works. The model of Abraham is recalled in James 2:21-23 in which he believed in God to the extent of being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God came first and he trusted that God could still keep his promises, no matter what.

This last Scripture text (Romans) might be a bit misleading. The works mentioned here are not those which constitute an element of our faith in Christ. The argument here is not entirely different from the circumcision debate at the council in Jerusalem. The tension is not between faith and good deeds but Christian faith and the Jewish law. This contrast becomes clear if we read further: “Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law” (Romans 3:29-31). The interpretation given by fundamentalists to James makes me cringe. James says quite bluntly, “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:20). Mentioning Abraham, it was not that his works were just a fruit of his faith; rather, they were a vital ingredient of it. “You see that faith was active ALONG WITH his works, and faith was COMPLETED by the works” (James 2:22). The reformer, Martin Luther admitted that the Letter of James could not be reconciled with his view that we were saved by faith alone. Consequently, he omitted this letter from his bible. Others readmitted this wonderful Catholic testimony back into the Protestant bible. The anti-Catholic’s stereotype of the Church’s view of justification is inexact and misleading. Regarding the need for a faith which ushers in saving grace, there would be concord. Further, it is obvious that a true faith will show itself with good fruits. Again, there is no argument here, except in the critic’s own mind. The citation from James here is not entirely as the fundamentalist describes. It appears that James is indeed offering a correction to an exaggeration of the Pauline view. The Catholic Church herself admits that good works cut off from faith and sanctifying grace would avail us nothing. The one extreme would contend that good deeds earn salvation; the other, that faith in the Lord (dedicating themselves to trust in God through Jesus) would suffice. Paul actually steers a middle course by speaking about the importance of faith lived out in love (Galatians 5). Dynamic faith is not only a profession in words but an interior disposition actuated by the grace of God and substantiated by the life of charity. The Catholic stress on the incarnation is crucial here. If Christ is alive inside of us, then the good deeds we perform are ultimately the works of Christ. Because they are the extension of the Lord’s saving activity, they have merit. Justification is intimately bound up with our entry into God’s community of faith, the Church. Baptism is the entry into this life and the sacraments are the essential means of our growth. Faith and works (in love) are two sides of the same coin; there may be some tension between these elements, but no strict division.


[CCC #1814] Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God” (DV 5). For this reason the believer seeks to know and do God’s will. “The righteous shall live by faith.” Living faith “work[s] through charity” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 5:6).

[CCC #1815] The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it (Trent). But “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26): when it is deprived of hope and love, faith does not fully unite the believer to Christ and does not make him a living member of his Body.

[CCC #1816] The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks” (LG 42). Service and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So every one who acknowledges me before men, Ia lso will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

[Blood of Christ saves if we walk in God’s ways (good works with faith) in the community of the Church] But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7)

[Faith (in Jesus), charity (in caring for injuries and feeding the hungry) and the certain hope of salvation (in baptism) comes to us as a Christian family] And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God (Acts 16:31-34).

[Remarking about Abraham] See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:24-26).

[Faith, Hope, and Love] For through the Spirit, by faith, we await the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

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