Clarifying Faith and Works

praying faith and works

What is necessary for salvation?  Is it “faith and works” as Catholics teach?  Or is it “faith alone” as many Protestants teach?  Or do they mean the same thing?  They might.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.  Let’s try to clarify at the chance of a tiny ecumenical revival.

Here is the kind of belief in “faith alone” that is not consistent with Catholic teaching:

“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, so that thus he understands nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.” – Canon 9, Trent’s Decree on Justification

(FYI – Anathema is a solemn declaration declaring that something contradicts Catholic faith and doctrine)

The key here depends on what the person defines “faith alone” as.  Do they literally mean that no other cooperation on their part is required to receive the grace of justification other than faith?  Or do they include some other things inherent to that “faith?”

It they are talking about a kind of faith that is naturally accompanied by the other two theological virtues – hope and charity – then it can be reconciled with the Catholic view of justification.  If the person means by “faith alone” that hope and charity are not required, then it is not consistent with Catholic teaching.

Some protestants include in their definition of faith a natural overflowing of hope and charity that accompanies it.  They might call this a “justifying faith” or a “living faith.”  Catholics call it a “formed faith.”  We recognize that a real faith is naturally accompanied by hope and charity – and therefore good works.

(Go here for more on initial vs. ongoing justification and here for more on faith and works.)

Many protestants who insist on believing in “faith alone” seem to do so by saying that faith is all that is required, but of course works naturally flow from that.  But I think this is a bit confusing and I’ll tell you why.

First, their definition of faith here includes a natural outpouring of good works.  They say that if it doesn’t include good works, then it’s not a real, justifying faith.  In other words, what they are saying is that it is necessary for their faith to include good works in order to be justified.  So it’s the same exact thing as saying that the requirements for justification (i.e. what is necessary) is both faith and works.

“But no, no, no,” they protest, “faith is all that is necessary…but good works are a consequence of it.”

“But what if someone’s faith doesn’t result in good works?” I ask.

“Well then they aren’t justified,” they say.

“So good works are required and necessary then?” I ask.

“Uhm, yes.  No, wait,” they stumble, “if there are no works, then it’s not real faith,” they continue.

So we can see how the confusion comes about.  I believe they are saying that their definition of a justifying faith includes good works.  Because as soon as good works are taken away, they no longer believe that faith is justifying.  Perhaps they no longer believe it is faith?  I’m not sure.  Either way, for the protestant in this conversation it seems that good works are required and necessary to at least turn faith into a justifying faith.  Therefore, good works are required for justification.  You can’t separate it.

And it is not a one then the other kind of thing.  We can’t have justifying faith and then good works as a result.  Because unless you have good works then it is not a justifying faith.  You can’t say that justifying faith is all that is required (and good works are just a natural consequence) when good works are necessary for the justifying faith in the first place!  So a belief in “faith and works” is equivalent to a belief in some kind of “justifying faith” that includes good works.  Trying to separate them is just confusing.  This is why the Catholic Church insists on clarifying and recognizing that it is both “faith and works” not simply “faith alone.”  It’s not one then the other (faith and then works).  They are all caught up together by definition – faith and works.

The point here, however, is it’s worth recognizing that some protestants actually mean “faith, hope, and charity” when they say “faith alone.”  That belief is reconcilable with Catholic teaching because some types of faith are naturally accompanied by hope and charity.  That is biblical.  So if a protestant actually means that kind of faith, then we all agree.

But it is also biblical that some types of faith are not necessarily accompanied by hope and charity – like in James 2:24 where it says “that man is NOT justified by faith alone.”  For this reason, the Church avoids using language of simply “faith alone” because it is confusing and incomplete.

On the flip side, it is true that some also misunderstand the terms “faith and works” to mean that we can somehow earn heaven by the merit of our works.  And the Catholic Church condemns such beliefs outright (let them be anathema too!).  So please stop with the false accusations (I’m talking to all of you with the false accusations).  Yes, scripture says we are justified by faith and not by works of the Law (of Moses).  But, as I’ve explained above, this does not mean we are justified by faith alone.

If we want to use biblical language on the matter we certainly do not want to speak in terms of “faith alone” when the only place “faith alone” appears in scripture is to say that we are “not justified by faith alone.”  So it is entirely not the language of the Bible to speak in those terms.  And it’s confusing.  That’s why the Church doesn’t speak in those terms.

But at the very least, if someone insists on still speaking in terms of “faith alone,” we can at least agree that we might mean the same thing…which is the most important part.

Here is a statement from the German Conference of Bishops who work actively with the Lutherans for reconciliation:

“Catholic doctrine…says that only a faith alive in graciously bestowed love can justify. Having “mere” faith without love, merely considering something true, does not justify us.  But if one understands faith in the full and comprehensive biblical sense, then faith includes conversion, hope, and love – and the Lutheran [“faith alone”] formula can have a good Catholic sense.”

And here is a snippet from a Joint Declaration between the Lutherans and the Catholic Church for reconciliation on this issue:

According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened.  When Catholics affirm the “meritorious” character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works.  Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.

Protestants and Catholics…can we agree on that?

For more clarification and an outstanding read for both Protestants and Catholics, check out “The Salvation Controversy” by James Akin.

Further reading:
Justification vs. Sanctification vs. Salvation
Over-simplifying Salvation: Are You Saved?

51 comments Add comment

Jeffrey Pinyan August 28, 2009 at 8:34 am

St. Paul said it best in Galatians 5:6 – “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.”

Brock the Lutheran September 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Faith Alone is how we are saved, our faith compels us to do good works. Our faith in Jesus Christ is enough for our salvation. We can do nothing to earn it. Luther saw the flaw in faith plus works, because it is saying that Christ
Alone is not enough for salvation. Christ died for our sins, because we believe, we are called to do works, however our works are not capable of saving us. This is a Biblical stance that can be found in Ephesians 2:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Not by works, so that no one can boast.

Jeffrey Pinyan September 14, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Brock, St. Paul is speaking of the “works of the law”. He is not speaking of charity (love). St. Paul says plainly that it is “faith working through love” that avails.

Carlos September 26, 2009 at 2:09 am

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
Not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph 2:8-10).

First off, we are saved by the grace of God, not by faith and/or works. Faith is a gift from God. Paul is NOT comparing faith and works, but grace and works (notice how “by” is being used.)

The following passage by St. James clearly states that faith and works are essential for justification.

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? … Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead … You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? … Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his works were working together … You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (James 2:14-26).

The funny (or sad) thing is that Evangelicals simply choose to ignore this passage! And nowhere in scripture does it say that by faith alone we are justified.

Jeremy August 28, 2009 at 10:47 am

I sure I’m not the first on this, but the thought just occured to me that the Devil believes in (has faith in) God. The devil does not deny God. This is the best example of true “faith alone” because as I understand it, the Devil lacks all charity, and has hope but not a hope united to charity, a kind of “hope alone”. So by the offbase definition of “faith alone” the Devil meet the criteria for salvation. This should concern anyone holding to the “faith alone” mantra in this false way.

Good Post!

gerald August 28, 2009 at 10:38 pm


[4] Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
[5] But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
[6] 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.

Matt 25, and John 15. [5] I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
[6] If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.

PLEASE EXPLAIN IN LIGHT OF THESE PASSAGES HOW ONE CAN DO NOTHING AND NOT BE THROWN IN TO THE FIRE!!!! I’ve asked this to so many protestants. Chris on another thread seemed to imply that the works were hypothetical. Correct me if I am wrong Chris.

Corran May 7, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Our good works are not good enough for God. If we commit one sin and never sin again, are we still a sinner? Yes. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are redeemed and we should do good works out of appreciation for God! This is dark water to be treading in so be careful. “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”— Romans 3:28 (NIV)

Patrick July 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm

My friends, what is having faith in Jesus? a moment you decide to believe in Jesus, you have two tasks to accomplish without which your faith is dead, which means no justification/salvation: 1. Love God with all your heat and soul, 2. Love your neighbor as you love your self. This is a command from Jesus himself (Luke 10:27). What is love of the neighbor? Even if you have faith that can move mountains, if you have no love, you are doomed….Our actions (works) done with love is required.The task of loving is the greatest challenge for Christians, unfortunately it is mandatory requirement. Can someone tell me how easy it is to give food to your enemy (may be a neighbor who is against you)? Faith is never alone, its entangled with Love (which actually is good deeds). So faith and works does not imply insufficiency of Jesus for salvation, but actually means the two are inseparable, you cannot have one minus the other. Jesus himself is love and so is faith in him! If you really believe in Jesus, then dance to his tune; LOVE (love your enemy!, help the helpless, welcome strangers……) you will be saved. You cannot dodge this by saying faith way. That is why a real Christian is an idiot in the eye many, because they accept a low status even if they are supposed to be high in a society, such people are not many! but that is the real faith in action. You can cast out demons in the name of Jesus and they obey..isn’t that faith in Jesus? you can preach the Gospel in tongues…isn’t this faith?, you can pray in the name of Jesus and heal the sick, the lame, blind… isn’t that strong faith? now tell me if you will be justified with such faith without love! even if you have professed Jesus as your savior, your salvation is not automatic then, for instance you must also forgive those who have wronged you, sort of that, no salvation! (Matthew 6,13-14). We are justified/saved/forgiven if we believe/trust/have faith and follow his commands of love. “what so ever you do to the least of your brothers you did unto me, when I was hungry you……” if you know this song, you know the real basis of justification, it integrates faith and works. The works is never meant to bribe Jesus but it is a command/requirement that must be obeyed, without it faith is floppy and that means no justification/salvation. The idea of faith alone is a twisted theological logic, it appears as if it is fundamentally different from faith and works and yet its advocates actually practice faith and works on the ground. Tell me any religious that does donate to the poor? why waste time and resources if this not required? would you sustain your justification without charity? if yes why are you wasting time doing it? why do you practice what you theologically claim is irrelevant to salvation? My dear friends the action is important when it is done with love not to receive praise from man but from the good Lord who sees every heart.
Thank you for your patience!

Jacob Stoehr August 8, 2012 at 8:05 pm

That bible verse is exactly what we’re saying. The way it’s been explained in the article breaks it down to two directions concerning faith vs. works:

Faith: Let’s say this signifies our relationship with God. This is between Him and you, and is the hinge of your (and my) salvation. This is the faith that acts not by the law, but by Love (charity).

Works (of the law): These are the earthly rules which were binding until Jesus came. These were the laws of Moses. The Jews became entrenched with needing to strictly follow these rules in order to attain favor with God. Jesus came and condemned these actions because it was misinterpreted as a ticket to heaven without ever needing to really live as we were meant to (the way Christ then taught them).

A prime example of what I’m saying is Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.”

This clearly states that by simply following some man-established rule, you have done and gained nothing in God’s eyes through merit of the action alone. You can’t sacrifice a thousand lambs and say you’re justified because you did something good. Your actions are only considered justifying if they are laid on a foundation of faith. It is said “faith working THROUGH Love”, which implies that you require a faith which compels you to act charitably (out of Love) in order to be justified. No, you cannot simply go around doing “good” things without faith and yet somehow achieve justification. On the same note though, you can’t say that your faith-alone is justifying unless it then results in its’ manifestation through the outpouring of charity (Love) in the form of action.

I’m no practiced theologian (yet) so forgive me if my passage contains erroneous statements….I’m working with the little I HAVE learned thus far.

God Bless and keep you,

Constance August 30, 2009 at 11:34 am

Thank you for this post. I’d discussed this issue of faith and works with an evangelical minister once, and I see exactly what you described in the imaginary dialogue and followup discussion. It clears it up for me – no wonder I thought we were saying same thing differently…

Rob October 31, 2009 at 10:08 pm

It is only through Christ’s faith and our belief in him that we can be saved, but what does it mean to have that faith and believe in Christ? No where in the bible does it say we are saved through faith, alone. No where. As the book of James clearly says, Faith without Works is dead. If through faith in Christ, we respond with Godly works, we are not saving ourselves, but responding to God’s grace. Contrary to the popular accusations of many Protestant denominations, this is NOT trying to earn your way to heaven.

I believe this essay sums it up very well:
Do Catholics Believe You Can Earn Your Way to Heaven?

Dan February 10, 2010 at 6:56 am

What a genuine believer means by salvation through “faith (in Christ) alone” and what James means by “faith only” is NOT the same message. Don’t let the word “alone” fool you. Faith (the act of trusting) in Christ “alone” for salvation and faith that remains “alone” in producing good works are two separate alones in connection with two different things. Having faith alone in Jesus Christ for your salvation means that you are believing (trusting) only in Jesus Christ to save you. It means you are not placing your faith in anyone or anything else, not even in your own works, for your salvation. This does not mean that saving faith is alone in the sense that it never results in good works. Salvation through faith “apart from works” means “apart from the merit of works” and not “apart from the presence of works.” FAITH is not these works. SAVING FAITH is believing/trusting in Christ to save you through His finished work of redemption (Romans 1:16). The works which follow are the FRUIT of faith, not the essence of faith. In James 2:14, we read of one who “says he has faith” but has no works. This is not genuine faith, but a bare profession of faith. So when James asks, “Can that faith save him?” he is saying nothing against genuine faith, but only against an empty profession of faith. James gives us the test for genuine faith: like the faith of Abraham, it results in works. The faith that James is condemning is not the faith that Paul is commending. Works are the demonstrative evidence of genuine saving faith, not the actual cause of our salvation. James DOES NOT teach that we are saved “BY” works. His concern is to SHOW the reality of the faith “professed” by the individual (James 2:18) and demonstrate that the faith claimed (James 2:14) by the individual is genuine. We are saved by that kind of faith accompanied (confirmed, authenticated) by works. We are justified by faith but only by a true faith, a faith proved to be true if it is followed by good works. We are not doing good works to become saved, we are doing good works because we were already saved by an authentic faith in Jesus. Man is saved through faith and not by works (Romans 4:1-3; Ephesians 2:8-9); yet faith, if it is true, will be substantiated and confirmed by good works (James 2:14-26). The good works that James refers to are outward evidence of an inner faith. Such works flow from and give evidence of man’s right relationship to God but they do not establish it. Our relationship is established through faith, not works. To quote another phrase that James could have coined, the absence of evidence could be construed as evidence of absense. SHOW me your (alledged) faith without your works and I will SHOW you my (genuine) faith by my works (James 2:18). SHOW, not establish. In James 2:19, nobody is questioning the fact that the demons also “believe” that there is “one God” but where in this passage does it say that demons believe or trust in the Savior God sent for redemption? Scripture reveals that the only thing they trusted the Son of the most high God for when He was on earth dealing with them was their eventual sentence to the pit! The faith of demons is only “mental assent.” Their trust and reliance is in Satan, as demonstrated by their rebellion in heaven and continuous evil works. The word “believe” can describe “mere mental assent” (James 2:19) or also include “trust and reliance” (Acts 16:31). Saving belief is more than just an “intellectual acknowledgment” of Christ. Saving belief is a complete trust in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ as the ONLY means of salvation (Romans 1:16). In James 2:21, notice closely that James does not say that Abraham’s work of offering up Isaac resulted in God’s accounting Abraham as righteous. No! The accounting of Abraham’s faith as righteousness was made in Genesis 15:6, about 30 years before his work of offering up Isaac recorded in Genesis 22. The work of Abraham was essential, not because it had some kind of intrinsic merit to justify him in the (legal sense), but because it proved or manifested the genuineness of his faith. James says that Abraham was justified by his works, but this is ONLY IN THE DECLARATIVE SENSE Notice that the in James 2:21, the NIV reads: Abraham was “CONSIDERED” righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the alter. There is a difference between being ACCOUNTED as righteous on the basis of our faith (Romans 4:1-3) and being CONSIDERED righteous afterward on the basis of our works (James 2:21). You would be in great error here my friend to say that Abraham was justified by his works in the legal sense (Ephesians 2:8,9). Compare Romans 4:2 (For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God) NOT JUSTIFIED BY WORKS with James 2:21, (Was not Abraham our father justified by works or “considered righteous” – NIV when he offered his son Isaac on the alter?) Now do we have a CONTRADICTION? If Paul and James are using the word “justified” in the same legal sense, then yes we have a contradiction. Paul and James do not contradict each other, they are just explaining saving faith from two different perspectives. You may try and argue that Paul is referring to “works of the law” in Romans 4:2 and James is referring to “good works” (not of the law) in James 2:21, but that is in error because Abraham was BEFORE the law and sacrificing a human is not a work of the law. We must accept the truth that Paul is using the word “justified” in the LEGAL sense and James is using the word “justified” in the DECLARATIVE sense in order to properly HARMONIZE scripture. In James 2:22, the faith of Abraham was “perfected” (not with an absolute perfection), but the sense is, that hereby his faith was declared to be sincere, unfeigned, true, and genuine. Abraham’s faith was “working”, and therefore not “dead”. Likewise, the fruit of a tree perfects the tree by proving the genuineness of the tree and by evidencing that it is a “good tree” (Matthew 7:16-20). The word “perfect” does not speak of sinless perfection here. Nor does it speak of finally being “justified,” or declared “not guilty” of one’s sins after a long life of good works. It refers to a completion or end. The end of demonstrating or vindicating our faith is by good works. In James 2:23, the Scripture was fulfilled in vindicating or demonstrating that Abraham believed God and was accounted as righteous. Abraham was accounted as righteous because of his faith, not his works (Genesis 15:6) long before he offered up Isaac on the alter (Genesis 22).
In James 2:24, when you hear a genuine believer say that we are saved by “faith alone,” they are not saying that we are saved by the “kind” of faith that “is alone” barren of works (James 2:24). Saving faith results in good works, so it’s not alone in that sense but it’s the faith (belief, trust, reliance) in Christ part of the equation that “alone” saves you as the instrumental means. Good works are the fruit, by-product and demonstrative evidence of our faith, but they are not the instrumental means as well. The word “alone” in regards to salvation through faith in “Christ alone” conveys the message that Christ saves us through faith based on the merits of His finished workof redemption “alone,” not on the merits of our works. It is by faith alone (and not by the merits of our works) that we are justified on account of Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9); yet the faith that justifies is never alone (solitary, unfruitful, barren) if it is genuine (James 2:17,24). Simple! *The harmony of Ephesians 2:8,9 and James 2:24 with “faith alone” is seen in the differing ways that Paul and James use the term “justified.” Paul, when he uses the term, refers to the legal (judicial) act of God by which He declares the sinner righteous. James, however is using the term to describe those who would prove the genuineness of their faith by the works that they do. James 2:26, the source of the life in the faith is not the works; rather, the life in the faith is the source of the works. There is no single justification by faith and works. In the Bible the word “justified” is often used in the legal (judicial) sense. “To justify” denotes a judge declaring a person righteous; it is the opposite of “to condemn” which means to declare guilty (Deuteronomy 25:1; Job 13:18; Isaiah 50:7-8; Matthew 12:37; Luke 18:14; etc.). Paul often uses the word “justified” in this legal sense (Romans 3:20-28; 4:2; 5:1; 5:9; 8:30). “To justify” is also used in a declarative sense. A person who tries to show himself that he is in the right is said to be trying to “justify” himself (see Job 32:2; Luke 10:28,29; 16:14,15). James has this aspect of justification in mind. As we have seen, his concern is to SHOW the reality of the faith professed by the individual (James 2:18) and demonstrate that the faith CLAIMED by the individual is genuine (James 2:14). Jesus’ figurative use of justify: “Wisdom is justified of (KJV) vindicated (NAS) by her children.” Jesus is obviously not saying that wisdom is reconciled to God by having babies. He is saying that wisdom is made manifest, or demonstrated to be true wisdom, from the fruit that it yields. In Matthew 12:37, “For by your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned.” Jesus is telling us that a person’s words reveals what the person truly is inside. *God is said to have been “justified” (KJV) by those who were baptized by John the Baptist (Luke 7:29). This act pronounced or declared God to be righteous. It did not make him righteous. The basis or ground for the pronouncement was the fact that God is righteous. Praise God!

Dave July 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Dan, well said, and well defended! Furthermore, I would like to add that Paul even spoke about how while grace by faith saves you from the judgement at the great white throne of God the Father, all who are saved in Christ will have to account for the fruits of their labors at Christ’s judgement seat (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, it could be also said that the justification James speaks of may be in reference to the saved giving account of their actions at the judgement seat of Christ.

The epistle of James is truly reminiscent of a Rabbi’s sermon in the sense of the “stringing beads” motif, as noted by Barclay. Once the beads are strung, one can see that this epistle was directed at the saved to clearly address an a commonly occurring issue of defining how faith is made manifest and to also defend against any notion that mere lipservice makes a Christian. Rather, as many believers can attest to, after you are saved and baptized as a believer, the Holy Spirit guides you to do work God puts upon your heart. This is showing faith by works, and this is what many believers refer to as a “working faith” or “genuine faith.”

Patrick July 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm

You are trying to make simple facts complicated for nothing, Jesus will save you if you believe in him and follow his commands, period. His commands are only 2; love of God and Love of neighbor, the good works are part of the Love of neighbor. Ignore this, follow your twisted theological logic and lose salvation!.

Alan March 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm

It would seem that both Protestants and Catholics believe that a Christian without works is no Christian at all. That point is well made. However, that does not mean that both necessarily agree on what makes a Christian.

There is a wide canyon between faith-then-works, and faith-with-works. The moment we entertain the thought that we can in any degree earn God’s grace, it is no longer grace. “If [election] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Romans 11:6) When God saves a man He does it without regard for the man’s merit. Paul, of all people, knew that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

Sorry if this dampens the ecumenical spirit a bit, but let’s not kid ourselves that this canyon of difference is mere hair splitting.

Matthew Warner March 23, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Alan – I’m not following you. The Catholic Church does not believe that we can earn or merit our salvation. And it doesn’t seem to be a belief that you yourself hold. So I’m not sure who is on the other side of the canyon here.

Both faith AND works are BOTH a result of God’s grace. Correct? Both are required for salvation. Both are by God’s grace. That is Catholic teaching.

Philip June 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

The catechism of the catholic church states that the a person can merit his own salvation.

2068 The Council of Trent teaches that the Ten Commandments are obligatory for Christians and that the justified man is still bound to keep them; the Second Vatican Council confirms: “The bishops, successors of the apostles, receive from the Lord . . . the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.

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.

Matthew Warner June 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Philip – you need to be more precise in both your statement and your reading of the catechism. And I should have been more precise as to my use of the word “salvation” above, however, it was used in the context and understanding of the comment above it that I was responding to.

First, yes, the justified man is “bound to keep the commandments.” Scripture confirms this.

Second, the catechism says that “we can then merit for ourselves and for others the GRACES needed for SANCTIFICATION, for the increase of grace and charity…”

Third, I further discuss with Alan, below in other comments, some of the nuances to this point that you might find helpful.

Also, you might find my “further reading” links at the end of the post of interest regarding this clarification (unless I’m misunderstanding your point. If I am, I’m very sorry).

I’ll post them again here:

Over Simplifying Salvation
Salvation vs. Justification vs. Sanctification

Philip June 21, 2011 at 10:53 am

Not sure you read the passages from the Catechism I posted.

“so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments.”

“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.”

Sure sounds to me like salvation is something to be merited (i.e. attained).

Matthew Warner June 21, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Philip – of course I read them. But, still, you need to be more precise in your language here.

That’s why I referred you to the other posts and the surrounding conversation – bc it addresses some of the misunderstanding.

First, “salvation” is a bit of a broad term that carries different meanings and applications. So you need to understand what is meant by it when the catechism uses it.

Second, scripture clearly confirms that we “attain salvation” through “faith, baptism and the observance of the commandments.” Please read this post here for references. So if you disagree with that, then you disagree with scripture.

Third, “merit” is a different word than “attain.” You seem to be using them interchangeably. They are two different words with entirely different meanings. Additionally, there are different kinds of “merit.”

When I said to Alan (above) that the “Catholic Church does not teach that we can earn or merit our salvation,” I am responding using the definition/type of merit that Alan was speaking about. So there wasn’t really a need to clarify. But if you’re going to bring things in from a different context, then we need to understand what the writer means by “merit.” If you’d like a little more reading on the kinds of merit and the importance of both Catholics and non-Catholics understanding the different ways we each use the same words, this is a good article on it.

All that said, the catechism still does not say what you are implying it says. Peace.

Philip June 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I used the word merit referring back to your original comment. It sounded like, and correct me if I’m wrong, you said that we cannot do works in order to attain salvation, but the catechism clearly states otherwise, and most Catholics (that I’ve talked with at least) agree with that stance.

The bible doesn’t say we can earn our salvation by good works. Many of the passages you quoted in your article were taken out of context or interpreted incorrectly. For example:

“One came up to him, saying, `Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?’ And Jesus replied ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments‘” (Matt. 19:16-17).

The point here is that the man asked, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus point was that you have to keep the entire law, every single point, in order to attain salvation through good works (which noone can do). Jesus then showed the man that he was an idolator and that there was nothing he could do to gain eternal life. The bigger point is that noone can keep the law perfectly, which is why we are saved by faith and faith alone.

“He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

This passage doesn’t have to do with salvation so not sure why you included it.

“But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by perseverance in good works seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:2-8).

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5:4-6).

This passage actually disproves your point. Paul is talking to the Galatians who believed they had to work for their salvation. Paul called them fools and said they were “severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law.” Yes, faith works through love, but this does not have to do w/salvation.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, 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” (Phil. 2:12-13).

Paul worded this sentence carefully when he said work out your salvation, not work for your salvation. There are many works that are required of us (love, prayer, worship, giving, etc.) and that the Lord commands us, but none of these works are the source of our salvation.

Consider the following verses. The point of us being saved by faith alone is hammered over and over and over.

Rom 3:28 – Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom 4:5 – But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

Eph 2:8 – For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Gal 3:6 – Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Rom 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Gal 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

Gal 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
Also, the entire book of Galatians deals with this point.

Gal 3:24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.

Phil 3:9 not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

The entire book of Galatians deals with this topic as well.

I truly don’t want people going to hell thinking they can work their way to heaven. Your other blog post as well as the catechism falsely claim that works are a part of salvation.

Matthew Warner June 21, 2011 at 11:13 pm


You’re still being imprecise and misunderstanding the terms. Justification is not the same as “salvation” in general (being “saved”), and it’s different than sanctification. If you refuse to recognize the different uses of these important terms and the distinction between them, then this conversation is just a confused mess.

Overall, for the most part, the Catholic interpretation of these scripture is very clear and plain (while recognizing the nuance of language). It is you who have to explain away and over-interpret in order to come up with an over-simplified doctrine of “faith ALONE” (which is not mentioned in the bible anywhere, nor was it believed by the first Christians or any Christians up until 1500 years after Christ founded his Church). That should be a red flag.

We can get very theologically deep and linguistically technical when discussing the nuances of such a profound subject. But anyone willing to be open to hear what the Church REALLY teaches on this, can easily “get it.”

Catholics never said “works are the source of our salvation.” If you’re intent on telling us what we believe when we insist differently, I find it hard to believe you’re really open to the truth here. Overall, Catholic teaching is not hard to grasp on this topic unless one insists on trying to find some convoluted and incorrect interpretation of the Church’s own words in order to prove that the Church is, indeed, wrong about something she doesn’t even teach.

Scripture clearly says that “works” of some kind (that is, something that we DO – not “works of the law” and all of the mis-applied scripture you quote above) play a role in our salvation. The source of those works (the something we DO) is 100% God’s Grace. And the salvation Christ offers is 100% free to us – we can’t earn it in the sense you are accusing us of trying to do (not sure how many ways the Catholic Church can say this for people to get it). But God does require that we “accept” the gift. And that requires DOING something. We have to put ourselves in a state to receive it. We have to open ourselves to it (all by God’s grace of course). Call it a work. Call it whatever you want. It’s something we have to do. It’s someone we have to love. That is absolutely NOT “faith alone” in the sense that you seem to be defending. Sorry.

Dan April 12, 2013 at 8:17 am

The Lord Jesus Christ has provided the only way for you to be at peace with God. Jesus was sacrificed so that you can be assured of a place in heaven and know you will never be condemned.
What he did for you is; perfect, complete, and finished. You cannot add to it, improve it: Nor ever deserve it. Salvation is a gift that you received by God’s grace, and everyone who asks receives.
That if you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and will believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you WILL BE SAVED. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall cal upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Roman 10:9-10, 13

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my work, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. John 5:24

Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me has everlasting life. John 6:47

People want to earn their salvation, but you cannot. Jesus said that the only “work” God requires is this: “This is the work of God, that you believe oh him whom he has sent” John 6:29
This is not hard work: it’s no work at all. Just trust that Christ did enough to make you blameless before God.

Cults, and the like, want to pervert the word of James and usually interject at this point: You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Jas. 2:24

They claim this proves that works are essential for salvation. If so that would contradict the gospel of God’s grace. NO! The Holy Spirit was simply contrasting real living faith with dead useless faith. You can see genuine saving faith by its fruit, the works done in gratitude to Christ. The works do not save, it is the source of the works, faith in Christ which saves, because it is genuine living faith. The works prove the faith is living. It is the root, not the fruit, that saves.

To be saved you must also believe in your heart that Christ was raised from the dead. His resurrection proves many vital Gospel facts: that He is God, and never sinned, that he paid your debt, conquered death, sin, and satan for you.

The instant you truly repent and believe these truths in your heart, proclaiming your faith that Jesus is LORD: God’s word says you are saved! That was the message Paul preached when asked: What must I do to be saved? They replied; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved”. Acts 16:30-31

Notice: there are no rituals, rites, or sacraments involved in scriptural salvation. No work to perform: Simply believe in Christ as Lord in your heart, and tell the world.

So is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus works? Am I saved just by believing in Jesus, or do I have to believe in Jesus and do certain things?

The question of faith alone or faith plus works is made difficult by some hard-to-reconcile Bible passages. Compare Romans 3:28, 5:1 and Galatians 3:24 with James 2:24. Some see a difference between Paul (salvation is by faith alone) and James (salvation is by faith plus works). Paul dogmatically says that justification is by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), while James appears to be saying that justification is by faith plus works. This apparent problem is answered by examining what exactly James is talking about. James is refuting the belief that a person can have faith without producing any good works (James 2:17-18). James is emphasizing the point that genuine faith in Christ will produce a changed life and good works (James 2:20-26). James is not saying that justification is by faith plus works, but rather that a person who is truly justified by faith will have good works in his/her life. If a person claims to be a believer, but has no good works in his/her life, then he/she likely does not have genuine faith in Christ (James 2:14, 17, 20, 26).

Paul says the same thing in his writings. The good fruit believers should have in their lives is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Immediately after telling us that we are saved by faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9), Paul informs us that we were created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). Paul expects just as much of a changed life as James does: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). James and Paul do not disagree in their teaching regarding salvation. They approach the same subject from different perspectives. Paul simply emphasized that justification is by faith alone while James put emphasis on the fact that genuine faith in Christ produces good works.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Matthew Warner March 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Also Alan, I think there are some different understandings and uses of the word “merit” that may cause some confusion as well. For a better understanding of how the Catholic Church understands it please read this here on Reward and Merit. That may help.

Alan March 24, 2010 at 11:04 am

Matthew, thanks for taking the time to reply thoughtfully. Your first statement – “Both faith AND works are BOTH a result of God’s grace” – is spot on. The desire of a Christian to honor God with the work of his hands has to be a gift from God, for we see in scripture that “none do good” in this sense.

The second statement is where we find the chasm between our thinking: “Both are required for salvation.” In the original post, you say, “So it’s the same exact thing as saying that the requirements for justification (i.e. what is necessary) is both faith and works.” Scripture is crystal clear that justification is a gift. If my good works are in any way involved in justification then it is no longer a gift, it becomes a wage: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,” (Romans 4:4-5)

Thanks for the link on Reward and Merit. I would agree with the top section of what was said (didn’t read the Church Fathers section.) Ironically, the only part I had difficulty with was the Lutheran statement! While eternal life is a promise from God, it is equally a gift. God is no man’s debtor, though He is completely faithful to His Word. I would have been a lot more carefuly in how I phrased that statement.

Matthew Warner March 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Alan – thanks for YOUR thoughtful response!

I think it is a little more nuanced than you are making it though. Your statement, “If my good works are in any way involved in justification then it is no longer a gift,” is a good example.

That is not exactly true. If my good works themselves come as a gift of God’s grace (in other words, my good works are a gift also), then the fact that they are also involved in justification does not make justification any less of a gift. They are all mysteriously wrapped up in the same gift.

Scripture is also crystal clear that our works – our acts of love – are involved and necessary in our salvation. I wrote more on that here if you are interested.

So we must reconcile all of this scripture and reason. I believe that’s where you’ll find the Catholic position.

Peace be with you.

Douglas Bonneville May 8, 2010 at 12:16 am

Hi Matthew: I’m a revert to Catholicism after 20 years of Protestant ministry starting in college. Glad to be home and rest. Just found your blog too!

I want to add that in my Protestant days, I developed and understanding of Paul from a Jewish perspective, which informed the age-old debate going on in this thread. On the one side of the canyon example from above, you have Protestants who are quick to pull out Eph 2:8. Someone already did that above.

What I found astonishing, even as a Protestant with sympathies for a more Jewish (and hence Catholic) view of works is that those who usually quote Eph 2:8,9 rarely, if ever, quote v10. A plain reading of the next verse, without straining to solve a theological problem which did not exist in Paul’s day, quite eloquently solves the whole dilema:

“For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”

The whole argument in 2:8,9 literally rests upon the reason for our creation stated in v10. If we are not doing good works as a result of our being saved by grace, we are not living in accordance with divine law. Otherwise we would continue in the “bad works” Paul outlines a few verses before, which are the various “bad works” we do by nature when we follow the impulses of the flesh. But good works are necessary not in the sense that we somehow have to bring them to the table, but rather, in the sense that they must be manifested by God’s power in our lives, as a testament to his “handiwork”.

In this sense, good works are necessary on the same condition that being made a new creation necessitates that something actually happens as a result of the newness. Otherwise, it is not new. Without good works, that would be the proof that we are not “created in Christ Jesus for … good works”? The newness is the good works! If the good works aren’t what is new as a result of being saved, then Paul isn’t saying anything coherent. No, Paul is quite coherent and is not straining to make a point. With a simple, light touch, Paul states we must have good works not be saved, but rather, as a result of being saved.

If we are a new creation, what is it exactly that is new about us, if not our “works”, our way of life, how we live? That is Paul’s point. Before we are saved by grace, we do bad works (Eph 2:3). After we are saved, we do good works. That’s what v1-10 are saying. That is the entire point.

Either way, we do “works” before and after “being saved by grace”, so splitting hairs over whether or not we need to bring them is moot. Paul isn’t asking a question about that. It’s like trying to infinitely divide a number like 33.3333. It just goes on forever like a mystery. We should be content with how Paul puts it. We do works before and after being saved, but after being saved the works are made good by God’s design.

However, many Protestants (that I know personally) think somehow the honor of the Lord is in the balance when Catholics say what they say about works. The stubbornly repeated accusations that Catholics teach you are saved by works is really a cantankerous falsehood. It’s not that hard to “unlearn” this as a Protestant if you are willing to learn, but for some, there is not enough humility in the tank to get them there.

But where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

grant May 18, 2010 at 4:35 am

It is true that no one with faith will be void of works. However I haven’t seen any protestants touch on the real issue here. Yes there is not one person that will be let into heaven without works. The point is that the faith, and the works are from God. Who cares what order they are in? First? Second? The Same time. The point is that man is dead. Our righteous acts are like filthy rags. We are blind, deaf, and dumb. No one seeks God, No one understands God, We have all rebelled against God and become worthless, Not one of us on this blog does good, not one. Our heart is the problem and it is pure evil. That is our state. We lie to ourselves. Our own heart decieves us. From within it comes evil and it defiles us. In fact, above all things, our heart is desperately wicked, no one can understand it, not even ourselves. We are not good “deep down.” There is no capability of good within us. Our bones our very dry. Both our minds and conscience are defiled. Seperate from God, ignorent, due to our hard hearts. Are understanding is dark. Every man is foolish and without knowledge. Every intention of the thoughts of our heart are only evil, continuously, from our youth. WHOEVER TRUSTS IN HIS OWN HEART IS A FOOL. that goes for everyone who thinks that our heart is capable of any sort of “work” that God will accept on judgement day. The works of these people will be burnt and will not last. Do you trust your own heart? That it is capable of working? In light of these scriptures?

Anyone who has commited a sin, has not just sinned, but is a SLAVE to sin and in bondage. Do slaves set themselves free? Do dead people will themselves to life? Do the blind have the ability to see?


Nothing good dwells in you apart from God. The entire heart is sick. A man can’t do any more good than a leopard can change his spots, according to Jeremiah. (Every sentence on this post, is scripturally inspired, i just decided to add the “jeremiah” here so you all knew i wasn’t simply giving my opinion, but solely quoting scripture.)
Out of the wicked comes wickedness. And we are wicked. How can you speak good when you are evil? THE MIND DOES NOT SUBMIT TO GODS LAW, INDEED, IT CANNOT. In the flesh, it is impossible to please God. The wicked does not seek God. And we are all wicked. There is no one who calls upon his name or who compels himself to take hold of him, he has hidden his face from us and made us melt at the hands of our sin. NO ONE SEEKS FOR GOD. THE NATURAL PERSON DOES NOT ACCEPT THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD, FOR THEY ARE FOLLY TO HIM AND HE IS UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED. The gospel is veiled from us, the perishing. Even to some of you here who have seen signs and wonders, the problem is, that the Lord has not given you a heart to understand, eyes to see, ears to hear. Unless he has removed your heart of stone, and given you a heart of flesh, you are doomed. You cannot perform open heart surgery on yourself. By grace, God gives you a new heart. For immediately after God worked on St. Pauls heart on the road to demascus, he DID understand things of God, which was impossible in his previous state….but made possible through the spirit, indwelling in his new heart.

NO ONE KNOWS THE SON EXCEPT THE FATHER, NO ONE KNOWS THE FATHER EXCEPT THE SON, AND TO ANYONE WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL IN HIM. You cannot receive one thing unless it is given to you from Heaven. That includes salvation, WHICH IS GIVEN TO YOU. Not on the merit of anything you have done, by your work or faith…those will follow…but solely on the grace of God. It is a gift. Those who are born are not born of blood, nor the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but of God. The world cannot receive the Spirit because it cannot see him or know him. No one can come to Christ unless granted by the father. It is the father who draws you. IT THEN DOES NOT DEPEND ON HUMAN WILL OR EXERTION, BUT ON GODS MERCY, SOLELY. BECAUSE OF HIM. BECAUSE OF HIM. BECAUSE OF HIM. YOU ARE IN CHRIST JESUS. It was the Lord who opened Lydias heart then she was able to pay attention to what St. Paul said. God is the one who grants repentence that leads to life. NO ONE CAN SAY JESUS IS LORD EXCEPT THE HOLY SPIRIT. What does this mean guys? Obviously anyone here can say it. The point is no one can say it and mean it, unless God has already worked to remove your heart of stone and the scales from your eyes, and marked you with the sprit. He has granted us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. What do you have that you did not receive? You were dead in your trespasses, but God in his mercy made you alive in Christ–by grace you have been saved.

And the only explanation, after reading all of that…to not understand that salvation is a gift of God. That it is grace. That nothing we do can save us. That only those whom God chooses to work in are saved…. the only explanation is that man is incapable of even understanding the plainest things in the Spirit. There is no argument I can put up that can convince you. I can only preach the words of God himself and hope that he works in whomever lacks spiritual discernment, so that they may receive the freedom that I have. I was the worst of sinners. I have no doubt in that. And you can search my name on yahoo to find that out for yourself, probably.

So this makes it clear that we are seperated by God by our own evil nature that comes from the very core of our being? So how do we get to God? Your all missing the point. To the catholic, would you answer that we get to God through our actions? Through our hope and charity? Is there anything that we can do that is not evil, if our very core is evil?
To the protestent… Do we have faith, and then “Jesus comes into our heart?” How do we have faith or perform works, when we are incapable of doing so. The only explanation for any of this is that God must act for us. We are saved by grace. God saves us. God says that he has predestined and elected us before time. The entire problem here is that you all believe this is all about us. How selfish. This has nothing to do with us. How could you read the Bible and possibly get that idea? God simply uses us to reflect his glory, and it is made known in the the contrast to other who have chosen evil on their own will, and are used as vessels of destruction. Romans 9. We are incapable of saving ourselves. So God acts through regeneration. The result of regeneration is faith and works, but neither saves. Every man who is judged and deemed worthy WILL have faith and works. But we are saved only because God saves us. If you say this isnt fair, too bad. The wisdom of man is folly and we don’t know Gods motives. Perhaps since he isnt constrained by time, he simply chooses those who he knows will choose him. St. Paul says to you “who are you oh man to question God. has the potter no right to the clay?” Clinging to your free will as if theres actually a verse that protects it. Actually there is. The Bible makes it clear man does have free will and we only use that free will, every one of us, to choose evil over God. In order to be saved, knowing the condition of our heart and our inability, God must act against our free will and if thats what it takes to save a wretch like me…. take my free will, baby….i never did anything good with it anyway. If you say Gods election is not fair, you simply dont believe we all deserve hell. And dont believe we really are that bad. If we all deserve hell and God would be just to send us all there, why do you complain? Is he not merciful to save some and manifest his glory and power through them?

He who endures to the end will be saved. Absolutely true. The only catch is that God promises to grant that endurance to those who he has started to work in. Those who don’t endure to the end, have not had an encounter with the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely: and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass (1 Thess 5:23-24).

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19).

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen (Jude 24-25, KJV, emphasis added in all citations).

Christians still alive have already received part of that inheritance. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “[Having] believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (cf. 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5). “Pledge” in v. 14 comes from the Greek word rrabn (arrabn), which means “down payment.” When a person first believes, the Holy Spirit Himself moves into that person’s heart. He is the security deposit on eternal salvation for Christians. He is an advance on the Christian’s inheritance. He is the guarantee that God will finish the work He has started. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30, emphasis added).

“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you”

He who began a good work will finish it.

“[He] is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

So who is it who keeps us from stumbling? Is it ourselves? NO! It is God, who uses his power to save us, and the same power to keep us. If you study the language, consistently it always speaks of God doing the work in us. Thats why david asks for GOD TO create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit. And he goes on to say God do this, God do that. It is God, God, God, God, God. God keeps us through instilling a fear of himself in us. Those who are truly saved cannot continue in the practice of sin (habitual sin, a job of sin, a profession of sin) because his seed is in them. Not because of themselves. But because of his seed, the spirit. So how could they stray away. Those he loves, he disciplines and he brings back when they wonder.

If you want more verses on that, you can go to and the first post is a post to my friend about christians enduring. It is a letter to him who i didnt expect anyone else to read so it is completely spuradic and lacking grammar and spelling.

God saves us, God keeps us, God glorifies us.

The end.

In love,
Grant Hooper

Catholic Pro-lifer June 18, 2010 at 12:06 am

I disagree with your premise-that humans by nature are wretched and all we do worthless. Didn’t God himself call us good at Creation?

grant June 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm

u are correct. i would not disagree. it was all good…. until the fall. and man was good. until he ate the tree. now sin is inherited. its in the word, in black in white. doesnt need roman interpretation. its clear as day. and it was good, because a holy, righteous, all mighty creator made it. its good because of him, not because of us. its a god centered goodness not man centered. since adam and eve, we are sinful to the core. we have a heart of stone, that God must replace with a heart of flesh, the word says. even our righteous acts apart from God, our filthy rags, it says. Our heart is wickedly deceitful, who can know it? it says. as if anticipating that future peoples would attempt to separate the sin from the sinner and say we are inherently good people who do bad things, he describes the pieces of the sinner, to which he, God, hates, because of its sin…. this is a righteous hate, not like our hate. if you love babies, you hate abortion, type of hate….he says feet that run to evil… hands quick to bloodshed, hawty eyes, lying tongue….and so as to leave no excuse, he get to the very core of a person, describing their very heart, apart from himself and his regenerating power, as something that he hates because of its continual evil. and if our heart is not our essence, certainly our soul is, which “the lord hateth,” on several occasions, and in the psalms. not a specific person…. speaking to an audience of humanity in general. the greek and hebrew affirm this further. you cant separate the heart and soul of a man from a man. it is not a good core that chooses bad thing. we are sinful to the core, and from our core, heart and soul, there is only selfish, evil, produced….. sin is spread throughout our entire body. our good, comes from Christ alone, if he is our salvation. no work of my own will get me into heaven on that day. it will be burnt on the altar, an unworthy sacrifice. all my pennies are in Christ. when i am asked why should i be let in? I’ll say “no reason sir. im wicked. i have rebelled. Christ alone is my hope to get in. and this is a great hope because your son is perfect and accomplished the feat of my salvation on the cross.” all other religions our salvations based upon human merit. religious institutes are worried that we will live like devils if the truth is that we are “made perfect” by Christ only, and nothing we do. But paul has responded to all of you, saying you have no understanding! “By no means!!!!!!” shall the sinner continue in it so grace may abound. The sinner has been let out of prison!!!! and rejoices, he does not go back into his cell!!!! Those who try to earn Gods favor, are constantly inconsistent. They have good days and bad days because their pleasure is attained by their own righteousness, their own performance….not realizing that the Gospel has made their performance 100% every day and have no reason to rejoice for the things they do. they have no reason to hang their heads over daily shortcomings, because in Christ, he is faithful and just, to forgive our sins and continue to purify us, when we repent. So it is simply gospel centered living. The catch 22 is that once a christian realizes that his merit with God isnt based on what he does, but on what Christ did….that love, that truth, the attributes of God become so immersing, addicting, and beautiful, that they cause the sinner to rejoice, and in turn, his performance and righteousness finally actually do improve. thats a catch 22. once we realize our performance doesnt matter, the depth of what Christ did, causes us to peform for him, in worship, and loving obedience, rather than buckling down and following the rules of our religion, to gain Gods favor.

man i wrote that post a long time ago. ive learned a lot since then. i see some fallacies. i would have wrote it different now.i apologize to all who have read these posts, for any mistakes made and for being unable, apparently, to put on the breaks, when writing.

Brett Salkeld September 21, 2010 at 8:38 am

I apologize that I am writing this without having read everything above. I have always liked C.S. Lewis’ suggestion that arguing about faith and works is like arguing which blade in a pair of scissors does the cutting.

Beyond that, I would add two things. First, it is difficult to employ St. Paul to win an argument he could not have dreamed of. “Works” in Paul usually refers to works of the Law. He was writing against Judaizers who thought one must be circumcized etc. to be a Christian. And the “works” rejected by Luther included religious practices that took on a magical or mechanical dynamic in the mind of the believer so that God could be manipulated into granting salvation if one pushed all the right buttons.

Neither Paul nor Luther would have identified “works” strictly with moral living. There were other issues at play.

It is my experience that Protestant concern about Catholic insistence on the presence of works is really concerned about the sufficiency of Christ. In other words, are Catholics teaching that something beyond Christ is necessary for salvation?

I think we can all agree that both faith and works are gifts of grace, and that each implies the other. Furthermore, I don’t think it is difficult for Catholics to give priority to faith over works, if what is meant by such a priority is the highlighting of Christ’s initiating role over our responsive role.

Many have warned that an overemphasis on faith without attending to its relationship to grace on the one hand and works on the other can turn faith itself into a kind of work. Grace is primary and affirming it as such insists on the biblical primacy and sufficiency of Christ. Faith is the beginning of our response. It is the recognition of our need and the profession of our willingness to accept and respond to grace but, as it comes from the human side of the equation, it is already half way to works. Works are just the outworking of that recognition and profession, always done with the help of grace.

Protestants highlight for us that it is God alone who saves. That is a salutary warning. It is unfortunate that some Protestants won’t believe us when we say that we agree and that some Catholics convolute their language so that Protestants can hardly be expected to see that we do agree.

Mark November 24, 2010 at 5:11 am


Thanks for writing the article. I am Catholic and have been reading articles on this topic and trying to understand this better.

Tell me if the following sounds like a correct explanation of Catholic teaching of justification.

Justification is by ‘faith’ alone (if ‘faith’ means ‘formed faith’), without merits on the part of man (though, I think it’s correct to say it involves the merits of Christ), and apart from works(though works necessarily follow justification).

Formed faith would be a faith which is informed by Charity. Or, to put it another way- faith only justifies if it is a living faith. It is a living faith ONLY IF there is also agape. Agape is a virtue infused into the soul. A virtue is a disposition of the soul, and is not the same as acts. It necessarily leads to acts, but it is not the same as acts. This is why It is possible for one to have the disposition while also not having done the acts, i.e. baptized infants who have done no works but nevertheless have had faith, hope, and love infused into their souls by God.

Of course, the Bible never uses ‘faith alone’ to describe justification (except when it says that we are NOT justified by mere intellectual faith). And ‘faith alone’ is a correct description only if we define ‘faith’ in a particular way.

Does this sound right? Correct any mistakes I may have made. I am a Roman Catholic, so I believe everything the Catholic Church teaches. If anything in here is not in line with Catholic Church teaching, then I said it mistakenly and I repeal it.


grant June 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

im protestant. i like your fervor, man. you sound passionate.

i want to critique on small thing. baptizing an infant…. That is not God infusing…. It is a work on the part of the parents. Who does the work? The parents. The child cannot make the decision. And it is not God making the decision. Whether or not a child gets baptized is squarely on the shoulder of the parents, so they are the intercessor. Yes, you can say God infuses grace through it…. but if their is some sort of salvation or lack there-of or really anything at stake for the child, based upon baptism, then logically, we must both conclude that their fate is in the hands of the parents choice to baptize or not baptize….

this cant be argued…

In regards to salvation, only Christ is our intercessor and can attain righteousness for us. His “will” and “purpose” for doing the good work on our behalf is not affected by sin, like our parents, the parents of a child, is affected by sin. Therefore their sacrifice on the childs behalf is unworthy and will be burnt at the altar. This is unscriptural. not questionably…. but in black and white. Yet somehow it becomes true because catholic teaching is infallible. supposedly. excuse my tone. i realize i am sounding hostile and full of satire and that is not my intention. i apologize. this comes from love. i am sorry for not knowing exactly how to say these things kindly. i wouldnt have a huge problem with catholic tradition and extra-biblical teaching if they were just that…. EXTRA biblical. not counter biblical. we both believe the bible is the word of God, and nothing they teach can go against it. who will you trust. Gods word? or rome?
God bless.

Matthew Warner June 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Grant – thanks for the thoughts. But I find your logic confusing and inconsistent. Whether something comes directly through us or through others, it is still by God’s grace. And whether a sacrifice comes from others on our behalf, or from us directly, it is still unworthy.

So your logic proves nothing. Further, your teaching that baptism should be withheld from infants is entirely unscriptural. Infant baptism has been practiced from the very first Christians on. Do you really think that the students of the apostles got it that wrong?

Here are a few articles you may like that explain all of this more with plenty of references:

Infant Baptism
Early Teachings of Infant Baptism

Homesower December 15, 2010 at 5:42 am

An excellent article of how the semantics of an argument has obfuscated the truth both sides are trying to communicate. While words have meaning, its a fallen language we are compelled to use and will inevitably fall short of what we will one day understand. I suspect most of us will feel a little bit silly then, realizing we spent so many hours arguing against people who were trying to say the same thing.

Corran May 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Somewhat true. I believe that no man (or men) have the whole bible interpreted perfectly. Perfect is impossible for men. Ironic when you think about it… As long as you live your life with a love for God then you will want to and try to keep his commandments. I encourage you guys to get in a strand of three accountability group. God in us conquers all sin. See those of you who live for God in heaven and i encourage those who are on the edge of a life-decision, choose the Saviour! God bless!

Sean January 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Something to think about…Maybe in James 2:14-26, its a REAL faith! that does NOT save! SOOOO…FAITH WITHOUT WORKS DOES NOT SAVE…Alright, now I have raised some hairs? Now check out the word saved in your Bible, use the context and greek, and tell me what saved means. Heres a hint, not always justification.

Alfredo Barrera June 27, 2011 at 6:36 pm

We are saved by faith but only by the kind of faith that works though love. We cannot have true faith and not have hope and charity. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. We find the truth trough faith; we stay on the path trough hope; we obtain life through love.

stern June 24, 2012 at 3:01 pm

i think that Protestants believe that faith alone can save in such a way that once they have faith, they are saved by God’s grace and it cannot be taken away from them no matter what kind of evil they do. they believe that even if you believe in Jesus you will still commit sin. but you are still saved. it is the joy of salvation that is gone but not salvation.

as a Catholic I believe that faith saves through God’s grace but I will lose salvation when I commit a grave sin such as murder

so i guess Catholics and Protestants will not agree on this subject

Patrick July 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I agree with you Stern, the belief in ONCE SAVED IS SAVED FOR EVER to me promotes/encourages sinfulness, an act which is increasingly corrupting the world. How different then is a Christian from a pagan? even a pagan would be better off than us if we follow this concept. The church’s teaching at least tries to restrain the Christian from sining, encourages Christians to pray for Gods grace to attain holiness and constant acknowledgment and confession of sins. But if we teach that you are saved once and for all, it is dangerous! Imagine this, we know that sin is a very nice thing to do, why should we restrain from it after all we are saved forever by faith alone in Christ?? As I commit it daily, it just automatically goes to the cross, so sweet and easy!!!! Even your conscience is telling you this is not right, but because you do not want to drop the twisted theological logic, you believe it anyway.

Mario July 2, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Thanks for the great post,Matt!!Before, i didn’t understand why the Protestants are trying to do good things to others while at the same time believe they are saved only by faith which I thought would exclude good works.Greetings from Indonesia :-)

Jerry Champion September 21, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I don’t believe that faith + works is what constitutes saving faith for Catholics–I think it is faith continuing through “God willed” works.

I think that “God willed works” many times follow faith but don’t always all the time NECESSARILY follow it.

If it is God’s will for you to do a good work that He wills and you refuse to do that “God willed work” you have mortally sineed.

Die unrepentant in that state and you will go to Hell.

The whole controversy has more to do with flowing faith being interrupted by mortal sin and Hell being a consequence than anything else.

The protestant view of faith alone is easy–the Catholic way is hard.

The devil came up with “faith alone” so protestants wouldn’t worry about mortal sin–would die unrepentant not worrying about its reality or consequences and that way he could take souls to Hell.

Martin Luther came up with the notion because he was obsessive compulsive and he erroneously though “faith alone” solved his obsession problems with guilt and works–he didn’t want salvation to be hard.

Feher Tamas from Hungary October 11, 2012 at 6:53 am


Words really do not matter. Why protestants say “faith only” is because it allows them to ACT evil freely. Nobody can see what is inside their heads, so it is cheap to claim “I have faith” and good works are not required, so you are free to butcher your neighbour if it profits you. Protestants hail and practice robber baron capitalism and do or at least try to hoard mountains of money and are proud of it.

Protestants look down on the poor and unsuccessful and they can claim those people are damned in both this life and the afterlife, because they do not have faith in them. That is a convenient claim, since there is no way to objectively investigate the amount of sincere faith inside one’s cranium.

Catholics at least feel ashamed when acting selfish, which limits their vileness somewhat. In contrast look at the marital immoracy, gruppen coitus, etc. that goes on in protestant Scandinavia, look at the LEGAL prostitution of 16 year old (!) girls that goes on in Switzerland, look at the agressiveness and coldness of people in USA. The USA, singlularly in this “civilized” world, does not even have a national health system to support the puchase of medications and that of hospital treatment for its amassed citizenry, which clearly shows how the “greatest nation” lacks good works due to the hardened protestantism of its white “elite”.

Protestants think good works give the unworthy people “corrupt entitlements” and are best avoided and believers shall do good works to materially enrich themselves – which is practically only possible at the expense of other people, other countries and the natural environment. Faith alone doctrine results in cruelty and vileness when applied in practice at every level.

I think the Trinity created protestantism as a planned shortcut in its fight against Satan, to speed up the material development of mankind (for particular reasons currently unknown to us). Yet the people who chose protestantism are the ones of selfish inclinations and they will fall to condemnation in the end, unless helped.

Eventually apostolic continuity will prevail and protestantsim/anglicanism will be a footnote in history books as a clever tool of Heaven in the fight against Satan, using or exploiting the people who otherwise would have joined the devil, had the protestant “selfish-religion” not existed. Because of this, much needs to be done to ask protestants to repent their selfishness and join the apostolic continuity. We must love them even if they are vile and must wish they are saved somewhow.

Best regards, Feher Tamas from Hungary.

Lenardo Davinci December 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Ok here is a rebuttal to your supposed faith + good works = salvation. It’s not true. Proof? Here is a multitude of bible verses “For by grace you have been saved through FAITH. And this is not your OWN DOING; it is a GIFT of god. not a result from WORKS, so that no one may BOAST ” Ephesians 2:8-9. We achieve salvation by FAITH ALONE. Clearly stated in these bible verses. Ok Mr. Catholic if we are justified by faith and works, which is a terrible fallacy lets see what God thinks about your WORKS. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our RIGHTEOUS DEEDS(GOOD WORKS) are like POLLUTED GARMENTS.Isaiah 64:6 Good job Catholics so when you go to heaven your going to carry in some extra polluted garments. Clearly those POLLUTED GARMENTS are significant to Catholics since they believe thats one part that saves them. It’s not true were saved by GRACE saved through faith alone. Now got to tackle Mr. James “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Issac on the altar? ” James 2:21 If you look at the next verse JAMES doesn’t answer his own question. He just assumes its TRUE. Well I’m not going to leave questions up to his (James) assumption.I’ll answer it using scriptural evidence.”For if Abraham was justified by WORKS he has something to boast about, but not before God”Romans 4:1 “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” Genesis 15:6 Catholics show me anywhere in the Bible where Abraham boasted and you can support James assumption that he was justified by works. Now im gonna really stretch myself and go against Catholics DEMON MAN. The one who believes God but shows no works. “And to the one who does no WORK but believes in him who justifies the UNGODLY his faith is counted as righteousness.” Romans 4:5 I think JAMES should answer his own questions on proof not assumptions. ABRAHAM was not justified by works because he didn’t boast. The only way to achieve salvation is by Faith ALONE. The Catholics demon man can also go to heaven too because he believes in god even if he doesn’t work.(scripture evidence given) Scripture does not back up James assumptions to his own question.

Matthew Warner December 18, 2012 at 9:52 am

Lenardo – Thanks for your comment! First, I think you have a misunderstanding of what Catholics teach on this matter. Second, I’d recommend re-reading the post and then also the long comment section here which address many of the points you bring up. God bless!

PETER May 6, 2013 at 2:52 am

Salvation comes three times, because God, is Trinity. There is Salvation by God the Father, Salvation by God the Spirit. And lastly there is Salvation by God the Son.
Salvation by God the Father, is salvation by Grace, through faith in the Christ. This salvation, is free. Nothing is expected by God from you. This salvation, is the Christ, the Son of God given to the world. To God the Father, we all belong to the Christ. To God the Father, you are a Son, because he sees you through His Son, who is the Christ.
Salvation by God the Spirit, is salvation by faith, with works for the Christ. To God the Spirit, you are Jacob, the New Israel for the Christ. This salvation, involves carrying the Cross of the Christ with the Christ, while the Spirit teaches you, the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the Christ, when in the Christ.
Lastly, Salvation by God the Son, is salvation hoped for. This Salvation, is by the Christ who sees you as a brother, if you do what he commanded you to do. To God the Son, you are a friend, if you help his carry the Cross as he creates, a New Heaven, and a New earth. He awaits you on the other side, to save you from hell.

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