Thursday, October 12, 2006

Eight Key Points: Part Eight (Works and Salvation)

Here is the final installment of my response to the Eight Key Points Against Catholicism:
8. Finally, the catholic church emphasizes strongly on works in order to be saved. 2 Timothy 1:9 clearly states that it is not by works but by grace that we are saved. That is not to say that we are not obligated to do works in the Lord's name for His glorification, but it is to say that our works don't determine our salvation, only our understanding and acceptance of His sacrifice for us on the cross can do that.
It will not be enough for me to simply do an exegesis on 2 Tim 1:9. It appears to me that you have some underlying presuppositions regarding the nature of works and of faith that must also be addressed. So, I will address them first.

Now, what do you believe about works? If the "works" you condemn are "good works" or works done by grace in faith, then you have a contradiction to resolve. Aferall, Paul attributes eternal implications to works of this kind:

Rom 2:6-10,13 For he will render to every man according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

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.

Gal 6:7-9 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.

1 Tim 6:18-19 They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, 19 thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

Other passages could be used as well (cf. 1 Cor 3:15; 2 Cor 9:6; Eph 6:8), and this doesn't even count the verses where Paul speaks of what will happen to those whose deeds are evil (cf. 2 Cor 11:15; Col 3:24-25; 2 Tim 4:14). The point is that some works do in fact effect our final destination.

However, like you say, there are some works that have no bearing on our salvation. What kind of works are these? Paul tells us that they are works of the law:

Rom 3:20,28 For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 28 For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law

Rom 9:16,31-32 So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. 31 but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone

Gal 2:15-16 We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.

Gal 3:2,5,10 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them."

What are these "works of the law"? At least one of them was circumcision. In the same letter to the Galatians, he says:

Gal 5:2,4,6,18 Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Gal 6:15-17 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. 17 Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

(cf. Acts 15:5,11; Rom 2:28-29; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Phil 3:2-3,9; Titus 1:10-16)

The old covenant was entered into through circumcision. But, Jesus instituted a new covenant, one that we enter into by grace through faith. So, what was effectual in the lives of men has now been rendered an empty work. Paul also refers to the ceremonial works of the law as being equally unnecessary (cf. 1 Cor 8:8; 10:25; Col 2:16,20-23). Jesus Christ will include as an empty work not just works of the law, but also any work that is not done in good faith, or in accordance with His commandments (cf. Mt 7:21-23; 12:1-13; 15:1-3,8-9,19-20).

The point is that whenever works are critized in the Bible, they are empty works--either works of the law or other types of work--that are not done in faith and motivated by grace. Paul told us to "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor 15:58). He cannot simultaneously affirm and reject the same thing.

The second concept that needs to be understood is the relationship between faith and works. To refresh our memory, you said this in your question:

That is not to say that we are not obligated to do works in the Lord's name for His glorification, but it is to say that our works don't determine our salvation, only our understanding and acceptance of His sacrifice for us on the cross can do that.
But, it is not simply for His glorification that we do works. As the passages I previously cited clearly reveal, our eternal reward depends on the works that we undertake in this life. Our faith must manifest itself in the work that we do, and if it doesn't then we have a dead faith that will not save us. This is the clear message of James in the second chapter of his letter (cf. 2:14,17,20,26). Also note that works don't simply point to a saving faith, as if the faith were such that it could do without them. Instead, works complete faith (James 2:22). A saving faith has the capacity to save because it is working.

With all this, it is simply not enough to understand and accept. Your faith must also be lived. I actually see "sola fide" protestants say that all the time, which makes me wonder where the disagreement is. If the "faith alone" that saves is a purely intellectual assent, then I do not accept it. But, if the faith in question is an obedient faith, a faith that is lived out, then the Church accepts this, and so do I. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
  • 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" (Dei Verbum, 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" (Rom 1:17; Gal 5:6).

    1815 The gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it (Council of Trent [1547]: Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 1545). But "faith apart from works is dead" (Jas 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.

    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" (Lumen Gentium, 42; cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 14). Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: "So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also 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" (Mt 10:32-33).
Finally, if you look closely at the verse you cited, 2 Tim 1:9, you'll notice that Paul is referring to the initial calling, or the first act of God to bring man into communion with Him. Here it is again:

2 Tim 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago

God called us with a holy calling "ages ago", and it is first by his grace and initiative. The Catholic Church does not deny this. Again, from the Catechism:
  • 2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God's wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.
So, there was really no point in bringing up that verse at all, and, as I hope this post has shown, no point in calling the Catholic to task at all for his "labor in the Lord" (1 Cor 15:58).

I hope that my answers to your eight key points have been helpful in some small way. I tried to give you the best answer I could possibly give, and I thank you for this opportunity to delve into the Scriptures and to share my faith with you. Thank you for your charity and your patience.

Pax Christi,


  1. This is an excellent resource. They are a very sound basis of approaching a discussion with someone.

  2. What a nice non-polemic discussion of faith and works!
    The distinction you make early on is key that seems to be missed. dead works and works of the law versus good works. Many folks can't or won't see the distinction. It's a similar issue to their claim that Jesus condemned "tradition." They don't seer that there are two types of tradition as there are more than one type of "Work,"
    I will pray that your words will be used by the Holy Spirit to help our separated brethren understand a bit better.
    Keep up the great work! (or is that good works)

  3. The only great works are those that are good! ;)

    Thank you for your comments, I always appreciate them.

    Pax Christi,

  4. If you repeatedly see Protestants, including the one you were responding to here, say that faith must be lived out, where exactly do you think the discrepancy is with these Protestants? I think the discrepancy might lie in what you said here:

    “Our eternal reward depends on the works that we undertake in this life.”

    Are you saying that the works we decide to do will determine our reward? In other words, if we decide to give to the poor because we believe doing so will earn us reward; is that what you mean by “works that we undertake”?

  5. Well, while I do believe that God rewards the good works that we do and that there's nothing wrong with desiring those rewards, I also believe that our primary motivation should be love of God and neighbor.

    As for our reward in heaven, Scripture is clear that this is based on our works. "For he will render to every man according to his works" (Rom 2:6). I don't really know what else to say as far as that goes. Scripture seems pretty clear on that point.

  6. By relying on the idea of doing good works to earn salvation, aren't we reducing the effect of the 'Amazing Grace' shown to us by our Beautiful God through His Marvelous Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ? If works are going to help us earn salvation, isn't it reasonable that God could have allowed that alone to be the category instead of or along with the Sacrifice of His Son? By promoting penance and ideas like purgatory, isn't the Catholic Church completely degrading the Sacrifice that Lord Jesus Christ did for us on the cross? By saying that you need works also to contribute to your salvation plan, aren't you saying that 'my faith' in Christ is alone not enough for my salvation, in which case it is not to be considered 'faith'?

    According to Christians: (F + L) = Infinity
    According to Catholicism: W + (F + L) = Infinity
    According to Hinduism, Islam and some other religions: W + (F + L) = Infinity

    *F = Faith, L = Love, W = Works, Infinity = Salvation

    There is no difference between the pagan religions and Catholicism. (F + L) alone amounts to Infinity because F and L are entities that tend to infinity (just like a mathematical equation). We have faith in a true almighty, infinite God (unlike pagans whose gods are finite, though they don't realize it because Satan has deceived them) and have love for a true almighty, infinite God and hence we need nothing more that is finite as it would be negligible.

    Do I believe we need to be good (though only God is good, the good I refer to is relative to the goodness among mankind)? Yes, both before and after our 'born-again' experience. Why? This is because, unless you have an inclination towards goodness (God), it is hard for God to reach out to you because then you are more a child of Satan than the others who at least try to ensure that they aren't evil (at least in their intentions). The best example is the Apostle Paul. One would argue that he was a murderer, but why was he murdering. He was murdering those who he thought were deceiving people from the true God. But God revealed Himself to him and guided him because his intentions were good or at least not vile such as dominion of one religion or ethnic-cleansing. These works are a test for God to understand if we really will fair well if grace is shown to us. And, so are the works that come after we accept Jesus into our hearts, it is to test if we truly will fair well in Heaven.

    Judgement 1: Those who have faith in Him VS those who don't
    Judgement 2 (Not exactly judgement, more of a hierarchy determination in Heaven): How faithful were we, in that faith


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