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Sola Fide is not Biblical Either: Faith AND Works are Necessary

Posted by Tony Listi on September 18, 2007

The Catholic Church holds that true faith in Jesus Christ is not saving faith unless it bears fruit in good works. Good works are necessary for salvation, and sanctification (process of being made actually holy) is not separate from justification. Whatever good works we do are deserving of reward, not through any merit prior to grace; good works are due to the prior gift of grace to which we have no claim (mystery of free will and grace acting together).

The Bible teaches that God rewards good works, as we shall see, and they are not antithetical to saving grace. And the Catholic Church does not ignore human motivations as a factor in evaluating good works: mere external works without purity of heart and charity are of little worth (1 Cor 13:3).

Catholicism holds that a person cannot save himself (neither does the pope or Mary save anyone). Only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ saves. Catholicism actually condemned the “works salvation” of the Pelagian heresy centuries ago.

Catholicism also holds that man retains a small measure of free will to choose God and the good. God’s grace enables and precedes at every turn, and using one’s free will one may cooperate with that grace. Whoever rejects God and goes to Hell does so of his own free will (any Calvinists out there?).

Both sides agree that faith is absolutely necessary for salvation and that we are clearly commanded by God to do good works. C. S. Lewis (perhaps my favorite author) remarked that either faith or works to the exclusion of the other was like thinking one blade in a pair of scissors was more necessary than others. The tendency in practice is for Catholics to minimize the first aspect and Protestants the second. Thus the split comes over the precise nature of the relationship of faith and works to each other and to justification and salvation.

The Nature of Salvation
It is only natural to talk first about the nature of salvation before a discussion of faith and works because the two issues are directly related. Certain conclusions follow from the Protestant view of instantaneous and assured salvation at the moment that one first believes (has faith). If salvation is a one time event that one can know for certain when it happens and that cannot be revoked, then logically good works (whether before or after salvation) are of secondary importance if not altogether irrelevant. The flawed Protestant view of salvation is basis for Sola fide. It also crudely reduces faith to mere intellectual assent.

In Catholic theology, salvation is a lifelong process (Phil 2:12-13; 3:10-14) begun at Baptism, rather than a one-time event (“getting saved”). The Protestant “assurance” of instantaneous salvation and declaratory justification does not take into account the biblical data in its totality.

There is no assurance of instant salvation in this life. Salvation is a process: 1 Cor 9:27, 10:12, 15:2; Gal 5:1,4; Philippians 3:11-14; 1 Tim 4:1, 5:15; Heb 3:12-14, 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:15, 20-21. I would also refer one to the parable in Mk 4:3-20. The seeds sown among thorns hear and accept but do not persevere to salvation. They “bear no fruit” meaning they do no good works out of faith. 

Philippians 3:11-14 “…that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. NOT that I have ALREADY OBTAINED this or am already perfect; but I to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do NOT consider that I have made it my own… I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Protestants claim more for St. Paul than he claims for himself with regard to when and how his salvation was achieved!

2 Peter 1:10 “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to CONFIRM YOUR CALL AND ELECTION, for if you do this you will never fall.”
This passage demonstrates that salvation is a process that requires diligence and that human exertion and divine prerogative coexist.

The Possibility of Straying and Falling Away from Faith
If one can fall away from faith even after inital acceptance of Jesus, then how can one be saved by such initial acceptance? How can one lose a salvation once gained? Is it possible to stray away from real faith? If so, what kind of faith is this that the Protestant calls salvific? These questions demonstrate the incoherency of the Protestant perspective. The Bible does not speak of faith as if it were attained in an instant and then invincible; it speaks of those who do not persevere in faith and thus do not attain salvation:

1 Timothy 4:1 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times SOME WILL DEPART FROM THE FAITH by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”

1 Timothy 5:15 “For some have already strayed after Satan.”

Hebrews 3:12-14 “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to FALL AWAY from the living God. But exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, IF ONLY we HOLD our first confidence FIRM to the end.

Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy….”

2 Peter 2:15, 20-21 “Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam,…For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

(See also 1 Samuel 11:6, 18:11-12, Ezekiel 18:24, 33:12-13,18, Galatians 4:9, Colossians 1:23, Hebrews 6:11-12, 10:23,26,29,36,39, 12:15, Revelation 2:4-5)

Salvation and Sin
Jn 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Sins are obliterated, not merely “covered over.” Other passages confirm this: 2 Sam 12:13; 1 Chron 21:8; Psalm 51:2, 7, 9-10; Psalm 103:12; Isa 43:25; Isa 44:22; Ezk 37:23; Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9

In separating actual sanctification in principle, and abstractly, from justification and the “working out” of one’s salvation, Protestants have contructed yet another unnecessary dichotomy, the net result of which has been a lessening of the vital role of works, which thereby tend to be regarded as far less compulsory, to the detriment of holiness.

Protestants see justification, sanctification, and glorification as three successive phases. Catholics see them as three aspects of the same process. The Catholic understanding of justification is that it is the voice of the Lord declaring us to be righteous. But the word of the Lord is a creative word that is effective of what it says.

Salvation and Baptism
Baptism is not merely a symbol. It removes sin:
Acts 22:16 “‘And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”
Acts 2:38 “Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

According to Protestant soteriology (salvation theology), Paul would have been justified instantly (almost involuntarily) on the road to Damascus. His sins would have been “covered over” and righteousness imputed to him at that very point. If so, why would St. Paul use this terminology of washing away sins at Baptism in a merely symbolic sense (as Protestantism asserts), since it would be superfluous?

1 Cor 6:11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
Protestant dogma attempts to separate washing (Baptism!), sanctification, justification, and even the Holy Spirit. St. Paul closely associates them all together.

2 Cor 5:17 “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
There is an actual transformation in the person now in Christ, whereas in Protestant justification only the individual’s “legal” standing before God is changed. In fact, justification and sanctification are intimately related aspects of our ultimate salvation.

Baptism and regeneration are often correlated in Scripture:
1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism…now saves you”
Titus 3:5 “He saved us…by the washing of regeneration.”

The Protestant must admit there is more to these verses than mere symbolism.

Citing Al Kresta, a former non-denominational pastor and current radio host, “Apostle Paul was not preoccupied with his acceptance as a sinner before a holy and righteous God. That was Luther’s crisis. Protestants have tended to read Paul through the lens of Luther’s experience…. He never pleads either with Jews or Gentiles to feel an anguished conscience and then receive release from that anguish in a message of forgiveness…. What is now set right in his life is not that he is no longer trying to work his way to Heaven, abandons self-exertion, and now trusts Christ; it is rather that he now sees that God has inexplicably chosen him to reveal this new and more inclusive covenant community made up of Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11-3:6)

Jesus Requires Action: Good Works
Mt 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” It is necessary not only to believe in Jesus but also to keep all the commandments. This is a very high standard, as the Pharisees were scrupulous in their observance of the law.

Mt 7:21-26 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who DOES the will of my Father in Heaven…. Depart from me, you evilDOERS. Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and DOES them will be like a wise man (secure)…. And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not DO them will be like a fool (ruined).”
Again, Jesus emphasizes acts of obedience in direct opposition to mere verbal proclamations or head knowledge.
A similar dynamic is present in Mt 25:31-46, in which the works of faith are the central criterion of judgment. In Lk 18:18-25, the young man does a lot of good stuff and asks what more he needs to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to go DO more! Why didn’t Jesus just say his faith had already saved him?? Surely Luther would have.

All Christians agree that anyone living unrighteously is in great danger. Catholics say such a person has lost the state of grace, whereas most Evangelicals contend that he was likely never saved at all in the first place.

Mt 16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has DONE.”
Cardinal Newman comments: “we must never forget that the more usual mode of doctrine both with Christ and His Apostles is to refer our acceptance to obedience to the commandments, not to faith…. [Some people] put obedience in second place in their religious scheme, as if it were a necessary consequence of faith [rather] than requiring a direct attention for its own sake; a something subordinate to it, rather than connatural and contemporaneous with it….”

Lk 14:13-14 echoes Mt 16:27 is saying there will be differential rewards in Heaven according to deeds done in his grace and with heartfelt devotion.

Jn 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not OBEY the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.”
Disobedience (not mere lack of faith) is said to be the basis of the loss of eternal life. Notice the parallelism by which belief and obedience are essentially identical. And why not?! For believing in Christ IS obeying him. This same parallelism occurs in 1 Peter 2:7. (Therefore, granted this equivalency, Jn 3:16; Jn 5-10; Rom 1:16, 4:24, 9:33, and 10:9 much better reflect the Catholic view of infused justification rather than imputed/declaratory justification.)

Jn 6:28-29 “Then said they to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.'” More proof of equivalency. Our works and God’s works are interwined if indeed we are doing his will. Catholicism sees an organic connection of both faith and works, and God’s unmerited grace coupled with our cooperation and obedience.

Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has DONE.”

 St. Paul Teaches the Necessity of Good Works
St. Paul in Acts 26:20 speaks of the process of repenting and turning to God AND DOING deeds worthy of repentance, namely proving repentance by one’s deeds.

St. Paul’s arguments against the works of the law are not fundamentally arguments against human participation in or human cooperation with the saving purposes of God, but arguments against Judaistic pride that would cut off Gentiles from the promises of God. 1st century Judaism did not believe in salvation be works. They believed that they were God’s elect people by grace; lawkeeping was their response to God’s grace. But most Protestant scholars since Luther have read Paul as saying that Judaism misunderstood the gracious nature of God’s covenant. “Works of the law” are not synonymous with human effort but as the activities by which the Jews maintained their distinct status from the Gentiles. The Jews were undermining their very purpose as the Chosen People: all nations were to be blessed by the offspring of Abraham.

Romans 2:5-13 “For he will render to every man according to his WORKS: To those who by patience in well-DOING seek for glory…. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who DOES evil…honor and peace for everyone who DOES good…. [T]he DOERS of the law who will be justified.”
This is shockingly dissimilar to Protestant thought (Do Protestants skip this verse?). Salvation according to (but not solely by) works is pretty explicit here and runs through St. Paul’s teaching (1 Cor 3:13, 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Gal 6:7-9; Col 3:23-25). The theme of obeying the gospel, or the obedience of faith, is also common (Rom 1:5, 6:17, 10:16, 15:18-19, 16:25-26; Thes 1:8; cf. Acts 6:7; Heb 11:8).

Rom 3:28 “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
Dave Armstrong cites Hartmann Grisar, a great Jesuit scholar and biographer of Luther: St. Paul merely excludes the works “of the law,” i.e. those works which do not rest on faith but precede faith, which are purely outward and merely ceremonial works done apart from or before Christ.
Luther, with no basis in the Greek text, arbitrarily added the word “alone” after the word faith in his German translation, in order to bolster his doctrine of sola fide. However, the notion of faith alone is explicitly mentioned twice in the Bible, James 2:17 and 2:24, where it is condemned. It is no wonder then that Luther regarded James as an “epistle of straw” and nearly threw it out of the NT.

1 Cor 3:8-9 “Each shall receive his wages according to his LABOR. For we are God’s fellow WORKERS….”
1 Cor 15:10 “On the contrary, I WORKED harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.” (see also 1 Cor 15:58; Gal 5:6, 6:7-9)
Again, faith and human cooperation in works (labor) are two sides of the same coin, both preceding from grace. Elsewhere St. Paul speaks of the “works of faith” (1 Thes 1:3; 2 Thes 1:11; Titus 1:15-16). As we labor faithfully, we store up corresponding rewards (cf. 1 Tim 6:18-19).

1 Cor 9:14 “In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.” It is not merely enough to preach and believe; one must live the gospel, i.e. do good works in obedience. 

Eph 2:8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God− not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Jesus Christ for good WORKS, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Verse 10 clarifies the two preceding verses. Works are not antithetical to  true faith, but rather a necessary outworking of it. St. Paul teaches that good works are ordained by God, always proceeding from his grace, and equally part of salvation and justification. He condemns works that proceed from pride (boasting) rather than grace. The passage in more in accord with Catholic both-and thinking.

Philippians 2:12-13 “WORK out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to WORK for his good pleasure.”
Again works, through grace (God’s work through you), are held to be an essential part of achieving salvation.

Heb 5:9 “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
Obedience is an essential ingredient in salvation.

James 1:22 “But be DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Do Protestants reject the age old wisdom that “actions speak louder than words”?

The Proof Text Contra Sola Fide 
The coup de grace, my friends, the explicit and indisputable refutation of sola fide:
James 2:14-26 “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So FAITH BY ITSELF, IF IT HAS NO WORKS, IS DEAD. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I BY MY WORKS WILL SHOW YOU MY FAITH. You believe that God is one; you do well. EVEN THE DEMONS BELIEVE−and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was it not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that FATIH WAS ACTIVE ALONG WITH HIS WORKS, AND FAITH WAS COMPLETED BY WORKS, and scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God. You see that A MAN IS JUSTIFIED BY WORKS AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, FAITH APART FROM WORKS IS DEAD.” (see also Psalm 106:30-31 and James 1:23-27)
Does this really need any commentary? How many times is this passage read at Protestant services?? Who do you believe, James the brother of Christ or Luther???
When St. James says “faith alone,” he is referring to mere intellectual assent to Christianity.

St. Paul does not contradict St. James, as Luther thought, since he uses the word “faith” in the broader sense of a person’s complete allegiance to God with both mind and will. St. James speaks of the portion of justification that occurs after the initial manifestation. Faith and works are organically united. The real contradiction is the one devised by Luther, whereby things that are bound together in Scripture are arbitrarily separated.

The great Cardinal Newman drives this point home: “On the whole, then, salvation is both by faith and by works. St. James says, not dead faith, and St. Paul, not dead works. St. James, “not by faith only,” for that would be dead faith; St. Paul, “not works only,” for such would be dead works. Faith alone can make works living; works alone can make faith living. Take away either, and you take away both− he alone has faith who has works− he alone has works who has faith.”

St. Peter Concurs
Acts 10:35 “But in every nation anyone who fears him and DOES what is right is acceptable to him.” Both faith and allegiance must be present. 
1 Peter 1:2 “…chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for OBEDIENCE to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood….”
This passage demonstrates initial justification and the resulting sanctification and obedience. A Catholic motto for interpreting the Bible might be: “What therefore God [Scripture] has joined together, let no man [Luther] put asunder” (Mt 19:6).

1 Peter 1:17 “…who judges each one impartially according to his DEEDS….”
Again echoing the gospels and Pauline epistles concept of differential reward.

14 Responses to “Sola Fide is not Biblical Either: Faith AND Works are Necessary”

  1. To clarify a point, Catholics do not believe in Faith Alone. How did you arrive that Catholics believe in faith alone. I have never heard that Catholics believe that.

  2. solagratia82 said

    If a faith without works (as James says) is dead, then its not really faith at all.

    Some protestants see justification, sanctification, and glorification as “phases”, you are correct in saying that. But reformed (calvinistic) protestants like myself would argue that the 3 can never be divorced from one another. Sanctification and glorification flow FROM justification by faith and are always present when justification.

    The troubling thing for me about catholic theology, among many, is the idea that somehow you can “lose” your justification, and then actually earn it back through penance. If you werent able to earn it through works in the first place, then how are works of penance going to earn it back once you’ve lost it. But then again Justification by faith alone is a “legal fiction” according to Rome, and none of us Protestants are actually justified yet- we just think we are. Well Paul certainly thought he was justified and had assurance of thought. I’d love to see Rome declare anathema on him!

    C.S. Lewis was a great writer and thinker, but bless his heart he was not a theologian. The metaphor of scissors representing faith and works is inaccurate to say the least. Faith leads to works, but works will never lead to faith. They are both nessesary, but one is contigent on the other to excist at all. That being, works (as effect) depends on faith as the causation.

  3. foospro86 said

    Did you read the above post at all? I never said Catholics believe in faith alone. The whole post is about how we don’t believe that!

  4. foospro86 said

    Solagratia82, I think you misunderstand Catholic theology. I encourage you to go back and (re)read the section entitled “The Possibility of Straying and Falling Away from Faith.”

    The Catholic Church does not believe that one can lose one’s justification and regain it through penance. Those who are saved, the elect, cannot lose their salvation, for they will, by definition, persevere in their faith.

    What the Catholic Church objects to is the claim that one can KNOW WITH CERTAINTY whether oneself or another person is in fact a member of the saved elect. Therefore, when Baptists claim they know they are saved with 100% certainty, the Catholic can point out all the Baptists who abandoned their faith but declared with no less vigor that they knew they were saved. And thus the contradiction and confusion of their doctrine is revealed. Only God knows who will in fact persevere in their faith. He alone is omniscient and knows the future, for He stands outside of time.

    Catholics believe that sin causes a cosmic disturbance and is a direct insult to God, our Creator, and that it also perpetuates destructive tendencies and practices in the individual and disastrous results within the Church and the human community. Sin effects a breach in our ‘friendship’ with God, which requires some sort of reparation, i.e. penance. Penance is the imposition of (and, it is hoped, voluntary acceptance of) temporal punishment or penalties for sin. The doctrine of penance was indisputably believed and practiced by the early Church, as reputable Protestant Church history reference works admit.
    For biblical evidence, I refer you to Phil 3:10; Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 4:10; Col 1:24.

    St. Paul did not assert with certainty that he was saved. There is biblical evidence to the contrary:
    1 Cor 9:27 “No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

    Phil 3:10-14 “…to know him and the power of his resurrection and (the) sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ (Jesus). Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”

    To the extent that both faith and works are necessary for salvation, and both blades of a pair of scissors are necessary to cut something, his metaphor is quite accurate.
    Lewis always claimed to defer to professional theologians, but I don’t think there is very much about his writings that are unorthodox. Of course, he was an Anglican, and Anglicanism is probably one of the closest sects to Catholicism, besides the Eastern Orthodox churches.

    Moreover, I’m not all that convinced that good works can’t play a role in leading one to faith. I mean really, how can someone who has grown up committing horrible deeds and grown to enjoy them be led to faith? There is much truth in Aristotle’s insight that virtue is a habit, that it is best instilled early on, and that this facilitates an understanding of virtue when a person grows in their rational faculties later on. Good people doing good deeds are more likely to accept the Christian faith and persevere in it.

  5. Chuck said

    I think this comes down to understanding how God’s sovereignty in election meets human responsibility in which we will never understand.

    Let me say to my Catholic brother: justification is solely by Christ’s blood and mankind’s self-righteous acts that attempt to earn God’s favor will never amount. This is what separates us from all other world religions – motivation.

    And to my Protestant brother: sanctification and pursuit of holiness is our responsibility wrought in us by the Holy Spirit by all sorts of means. Paul’s assurance in his letters to Timothy was always looking back on his life having fought the good fight.

    And like my Calvinist brother explained, justification and sanctification are both under the head of salvation.

  6. foospro86 said

    Obedience will “amount”! It is very clear from Scripture, as demonstrated in the post above. Christ’s blood must be accepted by Christians, and it must be accepted over and over again because every sin that we commit throughout our lives is a rejection of that blood, a rejection of faith. And we do not cease to sin merely because we declare that Jesus is Lord and Savior. “The flesh is weak,” as St. Paul says, who clearly continues to sin even during his evangelical ministry.

    There is no assurance of salvation by Paul in the Timothy letters:
    1 Timothy 4:1 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times SOME WILL DEPART FROM THE FAITH by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”

    1 Timothy 5:15 “For some have already strayed after Satan.”

    It is only at the end of his very second letter to Timothy (4:7) that he feels confident that he will die soon and that he has truly kept the faith.

    Sure, justification and sanctification both come under salvation. But again, though we cannot doubt Christ’s blood, we can doubt our own will to freely accept it. And sanctification is a life long process because we do not cease to sin after an initial acceptance of faith (words of Paul like “keep the faith” or “run the race” or “persevere” are meaningless if salvation is not a process). And it is very clear from Scripture that the sin we commit and which corrupts the human heart is NOT covered over like some rug over a carpet stain. No, God destroys sin and purifies us. With each new sin, we must come to Christ and accept his forgiveness.

  7. Chuck said

    Eph. 1:13-14 The Holy Spirit is our guarantee, that is our down payment. If those who have received the Holy Spirit were to go to hell, God would send the Spirit to hell with them.

    …”and it must be accepted over and over again because every sin that we commit throughout our lives is a rejection of that blood…” First, I never said we ever cease to sin. This is clear from Romans 7. Second, please explain how someone is forgiven for any unconfessed sin at the end of his life (esp. sin unaware of). And third,

    “There is no assurance of salvation by Paul in the Timothy letters…It is only at the end of his very second letter to Timothy (4:7) that he feels confident that he will die soon and that he has truly kept the faith.” You may want to reword because you contradicted yourself.

    “And it is very clear from Scripture that the sin we commit and which corrupts the human heart is NOT covered over like some rug over a carpet stain.” I partially agree. First, it is not sin that corrupts the human heart. It is the human heart who loves sin. We are depraved and enemies of God only because we are children of Adam, not because we continue in our sin. Someone can keep the law and yet still be depraved. We must answer Jesus’ question to Peter “do you truly love me?” Second, yes, sins are not “cover over”, but it is very clear from Scripture that the sin we commit is punished in Jesus Christ (Isa. 53:4ff), past, present, and future.

    Overall, I agree with you to a degree: that we must have evidence that we are children of God (1 Pet. 1:10). I agree that only those who persevere to the end and “fight the good fight” are able to obtain that assurance that we all desperately want. Where I disagree is this: my only hope is in the finished work of Jesus Christ. None of my works can come close to his work on the cross. Through grace, God has given me faith along with the other fruits of the Spirit. You began the article “The Catholic Church holds that true faith in Jesus Christ is not saving faith unless it bears fruit in good works.” Faith is the first good work wrought in us by the Holy Spirit. No good work comes by your own means.

    Catholics: FAITH + WORKS -> SALVATION
    Some Protestants: FAITH -> SALVATION
    Other Protestants (and me): FAITH -> SALVATION + WORKS

    The thief on the cross could do no good works because his hands and feet were nailed to the cross!

  8. foospro86 said

    Eph 1:14 The Holy Spirit “is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession.” First installment? That doesn’t sound like a guarantee to me. A person can reject the Holy Spirit even after an initial acceptance of faith: (see the Scripture verses)

    There is no contradiction. St. Paul believes that he has kept the faith up until that point in his life, which he believe will soon be over. It is not a declaration of absolute certainty. How could it be considering all his statements that some believers had strayed and all his admonitions to persevere in the faith? He is not claiming to declare a final judgment upon himself that belongs to Christ alone who will judge all men. See also:

    Yes, our fallen nature (aka the human heart) leads us to sin. But I would also say that sin grows like a cancer upon the soul. It is easy to see how one sin leads to another. If all the virtues are interconnected, then so are all the vices.
    Yes, Christ takes upon himself the ultimate punishment that all sin deserves: death. But recall that we are called to “share [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil 3:10) here and now in this world. History confirms the Catholic tradition of penance in the early Church.

    Each good work comes by our own means ONLY to the extent that our free will chooses it. Even God’s grace cannot overcome the free will of man. Why should God want it to anyway? A coerced love and acceptance is no love or acceptance at all.
    The obedience of faith, or the work of faith, must be constantly renewed.

    How can you ignore all the Scripture in the post that explicitly says obedience is required for salvation (often not mentioning faith at all)? Will you throw out the entire book of Matthew (as Luther yearned to do with James)? Will you reject our Lord’s own words in that gospel? I don’t think I have ever gotten a Protestant to sincerely and honestly confront these verses yet (the whole point of this post). Would you like to be the first?

    This thief on the cross seems to be a popular reference point for Protestants, haha. Use the term “obedience,” not “good works.” The thief on the cross was obedient and thus likely achieved salvation. God will not condemn us for what we are truly unable to do! Every moral philosopher knows an “ought” implies a “can.” Also, “paradise” is not the same as heaven. Is the extraordinary circumstance of this thief supposed to serve as the ordinary rule for the rest of us?
    For more details:

  9. Chuck said

    First installment. I don’t know what translation that is, but if you’ve ever bought a house or seen how it is done, you’ll understand what this means. When you are interested in a house, you put down earnest money to let the seller know you are serious. If you were to back out of the deal, you would lose that earnest money, but still not be obligated to buy the house.

    The same with salvation. God has given true believers the Holy Spirit as a guarantee, first installment, earnest money (whatever you want to call it). If he were to back out of the deal (not be faithful to his promise), he would lose the Holy Spirit, but then not be obligated to save you. This would entail losing the 3rd person of the Trinity.

    The next two paragraphs in your post…I think we can pretty much both agree…no need to argue over wording: those who have kept the faith will (1) have assurance (peace with God) and (2) be saved.

    Penance is a completely different argument. If you haven’t already, you should write another article on that topic. Before you do though, be thorough in both sides of the argument in which I direct you to John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers for my side of the argument.

    Your 4th paragraph I completely disagree with. “Even God’s grace cannot overcome the free will of man.” WHAT?? That’s what grace is! If we all possess a fallen nature, how would anybody out of their free will choose good (in God’s eyes)? Read Romans 9, especially v.15ff and v.19ff.

    Ok, on to Matthew and James. Considering they are 33 chapters between the two of the them, you’ll have to give me specific passages to comment on. And who said I was a Protestant?

    And the thief, obedient to what? His entire life he was disobedient. Abraham was disobedient, but God was faithful. Lot’s entire life was disobedient, but God was faithful. Isaac was disobedient, but God was faithful. Rebekah and Jacob were disobedient, but God was faithful. No need to continue (even though I’m not even half way through Genesis). You and I are disobedient, but God is faithful because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

    “God will not condemn us for what we are truly unable to do!” Again, turn to Romans 9. And no, the thief is a horrible example of how to live your life. We are all called to repent now! He is simply a picture that faith alone by Christ’s work alone (not ours) is what justifies us. BUT, it is also what produces good works in our lives:
    Phil. 2:13 – “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

  10. foospro86 said

    I don’t buy the analogy (no pun intended). The Holy Spirit is not like a down payment in the way you are trying to make it out to be. God will never go back on his promises. I think we can all agree with that. So it is not a matter of God being faithful; it is a matter of US being faithful to God! It is a matter of us accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives. For it is clear from Scripture that we can reject it at any time FREELY. And if we reject the Spirit, the Spirit does not go to hell with us! How absurd. God retains of Himself whatever man rejects. It is not like buying a house really. Remember, the Spirit is a helper, an advocate. It is not a thing of coercion, as money can be in a commercial transaction.

    It all depends on how fallen man really is.
    So you would liken God’s grace to a sword or a gun? Or to be even more precise, you would compare it to the pressing of a button to make a robot do something? Can you not see how perverse that is?
    Do you really believe that man has no free will at all?!

    Please see this other note on free will (it addresses your Romans 9 verses head on):

    You would do better to embrace the mystery of both grace and free will, God and man, working together rather than subscribe to a simplistic version of salvation that necessarily ignores much of Scripture.

    ::sigh:: You make my job more tedious. Here is some of what is written in the actual post:
    Mt 5:20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” It is necessary not only to believe in Jesus but also to keep all the commandments. This is a very high standard, as the Pharisees were scrupulous in their observance of the law.

    Mt 7:21-26 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who DOES the will of my Father in Heaven…. Depart from me, you evilDOERS. Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and DOES them will be like a wise man (secure)…. And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not DO them will be like a fool (ruined).”

    Mt 16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has DONE.”

    Romans 2:5-13 “For he will render to every man according to his WORKS: To those who by patience in well-DOING seek for glory…. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who DOES evil…honor and peace for everyone who DOES good…. [T]he DOERS of the law who will be justified.”

    Rev 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has DONE.”

    The thief was obedient to the truth, to his own conscience. He recognized who Jesus was and accepted him. He was as obedient as he could be under his circumstances.
    You misunderstand my point: you are trying to create an ordinary rule for salvation (sola fide) based on an extraordinary example (someone affixed to a cross, necessarily limiting his freedom against his will). Are you physically bound to a cross? I’m not! All of us have more freedom than the thief, so he is a poor example on which to build a rule for us!

    Abraham? I’ll let James answer that: “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. 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.’ See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:20-24) Seems like Abraham’s obedience mattered, though he was not perfectly obedient all the time. Seems like “faith…along with…works” is the path to salvation. What God has joined together let no man rend asunder.

    You cut off an important part before that verse:
    “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.”
    BOTH God AND man must work. We are his “fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:8-9).
    God’s grace can kindle a desire that the human will can freely act on, but our own free will can douse that flame if we so choose.
    Can you not see that salvation is a cooperative process between man and God and NOT a coercive process? Love coerced is no love at all. What an insult it is to the living God, who is Love itself, to say that He coerces His children into heaven! (though I’m sure you intended no insult, because, of course, you have free will! intention=free will)

    2 Cor 6:1 “Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
    Tell me Chuck, if God’s grace can overcome all things, even human free will, then how can we “receive the grace of God in vain”?

  11. Chuck said

    These posts are getting pretty long and I can’t comment on everything:

    Mt. 5:20 Jesus just finished talking about how the Law is good (which I’m sure the scribes and Pharisees were nodding their heads). Then he finishes saying how our righteousness needs to exceed the scribes and Pharisees. This is to say that we must change our thinking and our entire life must be devoted to God’s will and love of Christ…not simply keeping rules and regulations. It was clear that the scribes and Pharisees (and Paul) could do this (through legalistic thinking) and yet were still outside of the kingdom of heaven (here and ch.23) but Christ said you must go beyond. His whole ministry was centered around this. “The rule is do not commit adultery which you all do, but if you love me you would realize that lust is the root of this sin. Don’t simply keep the rule, but love me by always persevering (in which case you wouldn’t lust either).”

    Ok, I can comment on all the above verses, but I think we can agree that those who do God’s will in love (not obligation) are saved. The question is when we are not faithful (sin) like Abraham, Sarah, Rebekah, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, etc. I could give you proof texts that it is faith alone and you could give me proof texts that it is faith and works. I think the only theology that fits this is (from my post above):


    This explains the thief, this explains those who fall away, this explains any professing Christian. If there are no works (James), there is no true faith. True faith would produce faithfulness (through works). Hence, “make your calling and election sure…” (2 Pet. 1:10; 1 Thess. 1:4; 1 Cor 3:8 AND 9) You are only working because God has chosen you and giving you the desire and the means to work through faith! But to say that somehow our works contribute to salvation is, I think, a huge slap in the face to God…like he is no longer the sole author and the death of Christ was not enough. Our works must come out of love and gratitude for what God has done, not fear and obligation for what God will hopefully do. That is what separates Christians from Muslims (and others). By what standard are you using to say you’ve done enough?

    Sola Fide is Biblical: Faith AND Works are necessary

  12. foospro86 said

    Your adultery example merely demonstrates how Jesus made the Law even stricter in some respects. The bar of obedience has been set higher.
    How can we have more righteousness by claiming that obedience to the Law is no longer important any more? How can that be a living faith?

    Look, these comments may be getting longer, but I beg you to show me that you are sincere and honest about this dialogue we are having by being thorough. Why won’t you respond to the Mt 7:21-26 as well? We have all the time in the world so take your time if you are unable to write up a response in one sitting. I’m very patient.

    The fact that I have proof texts and you have proof texts only supports my position because my position is a combination and more complex. If there are proof texts for obedience and proof texts for faith, then why not say that BOTH are necessary (the Catholic position)?! My theology accepts both proof texts. Your theology does not fit Scripture; it necessarily ignores parts of it, no?
    If you can “comment on all the above verses” then please do so. I can’t help but get the feeling you picked out one verse that you thought was the easiest to respond to and avoided the more challenging verses. Please prove my suspicions wrong.

    By the way, just read my actual post. I bet most of your proof texts are there and responded to already.

    ::sigh:: The requirement of works is not a slap in the face of God. God expects us to be obedient! Christ’s death was sufficient in a certain sense. But we must accept that sufficiency! Our free will must claim it. And it is not claimed once and for all in an instant because with every sin we deny our faith. With every sin, we must repent and accept Christ’s forgiveness that is right there waiting for us.
    The glass may indeed be full and able to satisfy every thirst, but we have to pick it up ourselves and drink it with every thirst and drink it to the last drop.

    That’s just it! We must be vigilant and not become slothful. We are called to work for God our entire lives! Only God knows the human heart and only he will judge us justly. He will decide ultimately whether we did (and avoided!) enough. We are called to both love and FEAR God. What do you think that means?
    Yes, even the New Testament tells us to fear God:
    Moreover, it is not merely about what we are supposed to do; it is also about what we are NOT supposed to do. That’s why I prefer the term “obedience,” since it refers to avoiding sins of commission AND omission.
    Moreover, what does it even mean to love God?! Love requires action. To love God is to obey him:
    John 14:23 “Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.'”
    Love and fear are really not polar opposites at all. The two go hand in hand. Surely this is obvious from any marital or family relationship.

    It is simple logic. Faith saves. Faith without works is not faith. So works must contribute to salvation in some way because otherwise faith would not really be faith. It is a false dichotomy to separate faith from works as Luther and Calvin did. So unless you mean “faith and works” when you say “faith,” we are still in disagreement and this is not merely a semantics game.
    It is as if the Protestant says that “a car drives” and admits that a car is not a car without an engine, but then condemns the Catholic for saying that “both a car and a car’s engine are necessary to drive” or merely that “an engine is necessary for driving.”

    Why didn’t you respond to the 2 Cor 6:1? It is just as inspired by God as any other verse, no? I beg you take the time to think about it and respond.

  13. Chuck said

    I don’t have my copy of the Institutes with me, but I guarantee Calvin never “separated faith from works.” I’ll throw in quotes when I get home tonight. I haven’t read much of Luther so maybe so.

    To use your car analogy: our engine before is broken in which case we cannot drive in the first place. God takes the old engine out (old heart) and puts a new one in (Ez. 37). The only reason you are driving in the first place is because he has done that. To Him be all glory, honor, power and praise! To say that your works contribute to salvation would be like giving your parent a birthday present that you bought with their money.

    What do I think fear God means? I don’t believe that it is fear him because I don’t want punishment, but rather a fear of a child who wants desperately to be like his Father – reverence. “Hopefully I work hard enough to earn God’s favor because if I don’t, he’ll send me to hell.” No. I can never do enough. I can never come close to Christ’s righteousness. However, until I humbly come to the Cross with nothing, no works, no righteousness, a glimpse at the infinite gulf between me and God is he able to begin His work.

    The whole “Protestant vs. Catholic” debate is really creating more divisions in the church. Your stance is “I’m Catholic, come to my side to unify the church.” Protestants say “I’m right, come to my side.” If we simply realize we are all under the same head of Christ – all Christians – we can finally unify under the true Holy Catholic Church. So in your argument, don’t lump all Protestants together “they say this…” because I guarantee half of them don’t. Just like you wouldn’t want me to say “all Catholics say this…” because it simply isn’t true. I stop 100 Catholics on the street and I’ll get 20 different answers to a certain question.

    And the reason I want to keep this short is because you obviously have your stance and I have mine. I don’t see much benefit sitting in front of a computer for an hour trying to comment on passages that we can both agree tell us the same thing: “go out and DO.” Whether you think that God gives you a gold star for it or whether I think they should only come from a humble response to His work, we are still called to do it, live it. Because I guarantee you, we’ll never figure this out (1 Cor. 13:12).

    On to the commentary. By the way, all these verses jive with my little formula. Works do not contribute with Christ’s death, but simply give evidence to your faith. BUT, I’ll throw my two cents in:

    Mt. 7:21-26 First, it is clear that Jesus is presenting himself as the one who decides who enters the kingdom of heaven and who does not, based on personal relationship: whether he knew them or not. I should have commented above, but we should not simply look at “kingdom of heaven” as a place, but simply a metaphor. To “enter the kingdom of heaven” does not mean go to heaven as we think of it (“we” as in modern day Americans), but to simply come under God’s rule – to establish him as King, to be his true people. This fits 5:20 as well.

    “the one who does the will of my Father…” describes those who truly belong to him. This makes sense in light of the parable of the two sons (ch.21). Profession of obedience is not the same as obedience. And obedience will only come from those who “believe” as they did John.

    v.22 only supports my view even more. prophesy (ref. v.15-16) – “you will recognize them by their fruits” – evidence, not contribution. cast out demons (see. 12:27ff) and mighty works “in your name” is seen throughout Mark as actions that can be done by nonbelievers. They are not to be viewed as contribution since Jesus still “does not know them.”

    and the climax in v.23 “lawlessness” is not referring to simply “breaking the laws,” but behavior displeasing to God. Professing Christians who do not realize their relationship (or lack of) are probably worse off.

    Can I skip 24-26?

    Mt 16:27 I’d rather comment on Mt. 25:31-46 since this spells out the same concept in more detail:
    Mt. 25:31-46 I won’t go verse by verse, but rather the whole theme. Throughout Matthew, Jesus refers to his “brothers and sisters” or “these little ones” as his disciples, his family. I would say that the same is true here. Whenever we “do” for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are doing for Christ himself, in a way acknowledging Jesus and his ministry.

    Personally, I think it is interesting in both vv.37-38 and 44, both parties are surprised. This leads me to think that we won’t know our brothers and sisters, but that we are simply displaying an act of kindness to our fellow human being. I think the point is that unless we take part in Jesus’ ministry of humiliation, service, stripping self-righteousness, judging, etc. we have no part in him. John 13:8 – if Peter does not understand what Jesus is doing, he will not understand what he is asking him to do.

    Romans 2:5-13 This is an interesting passage and I’m not entirely concluded on it. I am reading N.T. Wright’s “Paul, in Fresh Perspective” as well as John Piper’s response “The Future of Justification” both of which deal with this passage. Interestingly, I think N.T. Wright would agree with you above that 1st century Judaism was a sola gratia religion. But I’ll give you my take so far:

    We have to take this passage as an argument that, to me, started in v.1 and doesn’t end until the end of ch.3: Jews are no exception; salvation is open to all those who believe. Only one man deserves favor and he is Christ.

    So to take 2:5-13 along with 3:21-31 we must conclude Paul is either (1) speaking hypothetically, (2) he’s inconsistent, (3) “works” mean faith itself or (4) works mean a conduct expressed because of faith. I can only see the (4) is consistent with the rest of Scripture, whether it be a gospel according to Matthew or Pauline theology.

    2 Cor 6:1 ‘Grace of God’ can be ‘gifts of grace’ as in Rom. 1:5; 12:6; Eph. 3:8; 1 Cor. 15:10 where they can be received in ‘kenon’ (without result). This makes sense in context of the end of 2 Cor. 5 and 2 Cor. 6:3-10.

    Like I said above, all these verses tell us to DO. And I feel that these posts are creating divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10; 3:1; 11:18; Gal. 5:20). So whatever works do, don’t do, half-way do, we’re still called to do them. Feel free to write back with you counter-counter-counter-argument, but needless to say, this will be my last post. But if you want to meet up sometime and work side by side…I’m all for it. 🙂

  14. foospro86 said

    Hope you will at least read this comment, if you do not wish to continue the dialogue.

    Grace guides and shapes the entire process of salvation. Lucky for us, God knows each and every choice that we will ever make.
    I wouldn’t say that the engine is broken entirely, such that the car won’t even move at all (even the non-Christian can do good, however imperfectly, because the image and likeness of God is not totally erased). It is just a crappy engine, but it certainly can’t get to its destination until its fixed. Moreover, the soul is a car that requires routine maintenance (Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?). And like with cars for most people, we can’t fix our own souls. But again, only we can choose to reach out to the Great Mechanic each time that we “break down” and sin. The Mechanic can fix anything, but we have to bring it into the shop ourselves.
    But even the son/daughter has to freely decide to get the parent a gift, whether it is with the parent’s money or not.

    A son’s fear of his father is what I would liken it to as well. But even a father must punish and chasten his son for the son’s own good. And even the Father cannot force a stubborn son to come into heaven (cf. the older son of the Prodigal Son parable). We should fear that we will disappoint the Father and fear His chastenings. Fear of God means we should not presume we will achieve salvation regardless of what we do or do not do. We should fear ourselves: fear that we will fall away from the faith over time through our evil deeds, that we will fall so far that we reject him. If Lucifer, a lead angel of heaven, could fall, then so can we while we still draw breath. Perhaps it is a blessing that some die early.

    The divisions within the Church have already been created. The only way to heal them is for dialogue like this to take place. The divisions will not be healed by ignoring divisions that were already made long before we were born! Scripture says there is one Body, one Church. It says to avoid schism. It also says that some will fall away into false doctrines. Only one of us is right. Whoever is right should plead with the other to rejoin the Body, for we were meant to be one.
    There is only one Catholic position, no matter who you ask on the street. The fact that there are so many Protestant opinions only shows how far we have fallen. It is a demonstration of the inherent theological/moral relativism of Protestantism that comes from sola Scriptura and the supremacy of private judgment. 1 Cor 13:12 should not be used as an excuse to cease efforts to unify or as reason to embrace relativism.
    The mere recognition that “we are all Christians” is not unity. Doctrine matters and has seriously consequences. At the very least, Luther and Calvin deserve credit for taking that truth seriously.

    So the “kingdom of Heaven” is not really heaven? Is that really a reasonable interpretation? It can’t be sustained throughout all of Scripture at the very least. Surely, you can see how I think you’re straining heavily.

    I agree: profession of obedience or of the desire to be obedient is not the same as actual obedience. Obedience will come from those who truly believe. That is all consistent with the Catholic view that faith and obedience cannot be separated. One cannot have faith without obedience.

    v. 22 seems to me to be saying that one can believe one is serving God when one really isn’t! People can think they are doing good while not actually doing so. In actuality, they are “evildoers.” They recognized Jesus as Lord and yet their doings prevented Jesus from knowing them!

    v. 23 reads this way in the King James Version: “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
    This fits my translation of “evildoers.” It is clearly the evil WORKS that make us unknown to Christ, according to these verses.

    Why would you want to skip 24-26? They again emphasize the importance of actually DOING what Jesus says so that one is not swept away from faith by the rains and floods of sinfulness.

    Even the Mt 25 excerpt you cite is about Jesus judging everyone according to their works, just like Mt 16:27. I’m not sure what you are getting at….
    Or the surprise could just be a narrative device that allows Jesus to explain himself, to explain the significance of our good deeds. Surely all of us know NOW that in serving others we are also serving Jesus. There will be no surprise for us now that the parable has been told.

    I’m happy to hear there are non-Catholics who recognize the Judaism was not a “salvation by works alone” religion.

    What exactly is your reasoning for rejecting (3)? Here is what my post says:
    Rom 3:28 “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
    Dave Armstrong cites Hartmann Grisar, a great Jesuit scholar and biographer of Luther: St. Paul merely excludes the works “of the law,” i.e. those works which do not rest on faith but precede faith, which are purely outward and merely ceremonial works done apart from or before Christ.
    Luther, with no basis in the Greek text, arbitrarily added the word “alone” after the word faith in his German translation, in order to bolster his doctrine of sola fide. However, the notion of faith alone is explicitly mentioned twice in the Bible, James 2:17 and 2:24, where it is condemned. It is no wonder then that Luther regarded James as an “epistle of straw” and nearly threw it out of the NT.

    So you agree that the “grace of God” or the “gifts of grace” or w/e can be rejected “without result”? Are you conceding that grace cannot overcome a rejection by free will?

    Which state do you live in? I am from TX.

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