Biblical References on Justification

Table Of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Biblical References in Support of Various Propositions
    1. To be saved (justified), good works are required; and faith alone is not sufficient.
    2. Good works are beneficial and necessary for salvation.
    3. We will be judged by our good works, which must be performed when given the opportunity.
    4. Through sin and evil deeds, we can lose the inheritance of salvation.
    5. The Sacrament of Baptism is part of salvation.
    6. The Sacrament of Reconciliation cleanses us of our sins.
    7. We can never individually be certain of salvation.
    8. Famous Protestant misreading of Biblical verses on “How we are saved.”

  3. General Thoughts on Justification
    1. Asking the Wrong Question
    2. Mistaking the Role of Grace as Negating the Necessity for Good Works
    3. Mistaking the Nature of Christ's Gift
    4. Protestant Faith Alone versus Catholic Faith and Good Works
    5. Claiming Catholics Don’t Believe that Grace Saves
    6. What is Baptism?
    7. Confessing Our Sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
    8. Claiming Catholics Ignore the Bible and Protestants Rely Only on the Bible
    9. Claiming Catholics Taught “faith alone” Before Martin Luther
    10. Practical Results
    11. Review of Protestant Biblical Misinterpretations
    12. Biblical Summary on Justification

  4. References
  5. Keyword Index

Biblical References on Justification

  1. Introduction

It is nearly impossible to overestimate the influence of the Christian Bible on Western Civilization. Interestingly, the Bible was itself the culmination of millennia of accumulated wisdom. From it earliest beginnings, Christianity embraced and nurtured the ancient Greek tradition of reason or “logos”. One far reaching consequence was the concept of the “rights of man” so nobly enshrined in the American Constitution. Another was the formulation of the scientific method as a means to understand God’s creation and our place in it. Today, the Bible remains a unique document as all the other great religions of the world remain fundamentally antagonistic to these concepts, even at the dawn of the 21st century.

The point is that whether one believes the Bible to be the revealed word of God or merely a fortuitous historical oddity bringing out the best of man’s innate sense of right and wrong, there is no denying its importance and relevance for the believer and non-believer alike. Accordingly, the purpose of this treatise is not to argue the question of Divine Influence but rather to examine the raw written word to demonstrate that the Bible clearly says one thing and not another on a subject of some contention among Christian Sects even sometimes dividing families.

Several propositions are offered on salvation, supported by Biblical verse, and followed by commentary. The intent is to promote a dialog offered in the spirit of Christian tolerance for those with honest differences of opinion. The intent is not to convert the unwilling nor to harass the recalcitrant but only to encourage mutual understanding.

A central doctrine accepted by all Christian Denominations is that Christ died to atone for the sins of mankind and thus saved the world. In a nutshell, before Christ, salvation was impossible; and after Christ, salvation is available to everyone. But wonderful as this is, individual salvation is still not certain because some of us are saved, and others not so, depending on our personal choices in life. The mechanism for this two step path to heaven is via God’s grace, which is only available because of Christ and not because of any human heroism or virtue or thought or act, and which mankind does not deserve, and which is therefore a pure gift, but which will finally save us if we can only manage to get some.

There is an important distinction inherent in this train of thought worth repeating, to wit: Christ did not do everything necessary for our salvation; but rather did everything necessary to make our salvation possible. In a sense, Christ empowered us to save ourselves by sanctifying the proper use of our individual free will. Thus we might intone, if somewhat flippantly, Christ saved us while still requiring us to do something to save ourselves.

Catholics believe the path to heaven is that grace makes worthy, our previously unworthy, acts of faith and good works. God’s grace, which is available only because of Christ, flows to us whenever we choose to follow Christ’s example and teachings; that is by leading a good life.

Since the 16th century, Protestants have rejected the value of good works in daily life and have instead substituted a new “acceptance ceremony” involving a sense of faith as the sole means to grace. For support, they cite Biblical descriptions of grace as “God’s gift” which they assume imposes a duty on the faithful to make a conscious act of acceptance. The difficulty is that the word “gift” in no sense implies being a reward for any act, to include acts of faith. Indeed, to the extent that a ceremony of faith is required, grace becomes wages earned; because obviously, without the right mental attitude and performance, we wouldn’t get any.

Strictly speaking there is nothing inherent in the Biblical use of the phrase “gift of grace” to preclude it having been thrust into our unthinking hands at birth without our consent or having had it later left on our doorstep without our solicitation. A truly perfect gift, like a gift from God, is something given us whether we want it or not, whether we accept it or not, or even whether we know it exists or not; and does not unequivocally require any overt act of acceptance, however simple or unimposing.

Furthermore, Catholics believe we lose saving grace by sinful acts and regain it by repentance which necessarily entails an admission of guilt, restitution to those harmed to the extent possible, and a firm resolution to reform as evidenced by actually doing good rather than evil. This is consistent with the view that it is the availability of grace and the possibility of salvation, rather than actually getting grace and being saved that is Christ’s gift to us. Our daily seesaw struggle between good and bad choices, thus gains, or loses, us salvation at every turn, even while the very POSSIBILITY of salvation, remains a constant unwavering gift we don’t merit, can’t earn, and don’t deserve. As a perfect gift, grace is universally and automatically applied to sanctify our good works to include faith. To say this yet again, the concept of grace, which is only available from God because of Christ’s sacrifice, effectively allows Christ to save us while still requiring us to do something to save ourselves. We both have our separate parts to play.

On the other hand, the Protestant disregard for good works demands some novel and fuzzy mental gymnastics to reconcile contradictions with Biblical verse. One Protestant reading is that Christ did absolutely everything necessary, not just to make salvation possible, but to actually save us. This certainly de-values our good works but also raises the question of how really bad people ever end up in hell, since the logical consequence is that everyone would be unequivocally saved regardless of what they did or thought or imagined.

A popular, if somewhat unsatisfactory, rationalization is to finesse the question by retreating to the view that Christ did, if not everything, then “almost” everything necessary. All we have to do is produce a few good feelings or think a few inconsequential good thoughts perhaps in a church filled with flowers and music. So the flow of grace would still be “kind of” a gift because we wouldn’t have to do “very much” to earn it. This means grace is not a gift but instead a reward for our acts of acceptance. A corollary is that we can ignore most of Christ’s clearly stated Biblical injunctions to do good works because they will occur to us naturally, if we are truly accepting, more or less. Unfortunately there is no escaping the fact that grace is either a gift or it isn’t; and if it is, we don’t have to do ANYTHING; and if it isn’t, but only the existence of grace is a gift, then we do have to do SOMETHING ourselves to get it. Any other reading is smoke and mirrors.

Furthermore, Christianity cannot be simply reduced to the slogans “smile and you’re saved”, or “we accept whatever you do”, or “anything goes be happy.” Christians are absolutely required to unequivocally forgive every insult and injury and to forsake any thought of revenge or retribution. But this absolutely does not mean an indiscriminate acceptance of our neighbor’s proclivities. Christians must at the same time hate, not ignore, the sin while “loving the sinner as we love ourselves” and must turn the “other cheek” while retaining the right, even the duty, of self-defense. These are not slight but rather profound differences with non-Christian sensibilities, and to the extent they are observed, change the world.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the new Protestant Biblical interpretations certainly cater to our affluent and morally indifferent society. They are also difficult to reconcile not only with the greater sense of Christ’s original teachings but also with the first 1500 years of unbroken Christian (i.e. Catholic) tradition and practice. To follow in Christ’s footsteps, we cannot limit our participation to just thinking good thoughts but must actually perform good deeds, just as he did. These ideas are explored at some detail in the following sections.

  1. Biblical References in Support of Various Propositions

    1. To be saved (justified), good works are required; and faith alone is not sufficient:

      1. James 2:24 "Ye see then that how by WORKS a man is justified and NOT by FAITH ONLY.“
        [This verse says explicitly that good works are essential for salvation, in their own right; and this is not necessarily contingent on good works being a natural outgrowth of faith. It specifically says in very clear language that “faith alone” is NOT sufficient for salvation. But also it does not say that “works alone” are sufficient for salvation. Apparently both works and faith are required.]

      2. James 2:14-16 “What doth it profit, my breathern, though a man say he hath faith, and not WORKS? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not WORKS, is dead, being alone“
        [The concept of “faith alone” as being sufficient for salvation is again condemned. And again it is apparently possible to have faith without works. After James 2:24, this is the only other Biblical reference to “faith alone” which in both cases it is most clearly held to be WRONG.]

      3. James 2:18-21 "... and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God. Thou doest well. The devils also believe [but are not saved], and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without WORKS is dead?"
        [This verse says it is possible to believe, or to trust, in God but still not be saved, as devils are not saved. Although devils certainly believe, having direct evidence of God and Christ, their faith is insufficient. Apparently not only the intention but also actually performing good works is an essential ingredient for salvation. This gist of this verse is that good works not only demonstrate faith but also are required, in themselves, apart from faith in order to be saved. This expresses and reinforces the same idea as in James 2:24.]

      4. 1 Corinthians 13:2 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and have ALL FAITH, so that I could remove mountains, and have not CHARITY [i.e. good works], I am nothing”
        [This says it is possible to have EVERY type of religious faith of the greatest possible strength and still not have good works which, in a Biblical sense, are defined here as acts of Christian charity. Also, to avoid being “nothing” and thus not saved, good works are necessary. Apparently good works are separately required as acts in their own right. ]

      5. Galatians 5:5-6 “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision; but faith which WORKETH by love [i.e. showing charity or good works]”
        [This states that we must have faith and, in addition, we must demonstrate this faith by producing good works. This implies a natural interdependence between faith and works, specifically that if we WORK our faith we produce charity. The phrase “worketh by love” is truly one of the more inspirational passages and one of my favorites.]

      6. 1 John 3:6-7 “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that DOETH righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous”

      7. Romans 2:13 “For not the hearers of the LAW are just before God, but the DOERS of the law shall be justified”
        [Note, however, that the LAW means the Old Testament Mosaic Law, which was fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which alone created saving grace.]

      8. John 3:36 "He that believeth [from the Greek ‘pistuo’] on the Son hath everlasting life; he who does not OBEY [from the Greek ‘apitheo’; to obey, i.e. to do good and not “believeth not”], the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him"
        [Faith is essential but is not said to be sufficient.]

    2. Good works are beneficial and necessary for salvation.

      1. Matthew 16:27 "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall REWARD every man according to his WORKS."
        [Note that good works don’t make us deserve salvation but are a means by which we get grace by which we are saved. Christ’s sacrifice alone earned grace, by which our previously inadequate works are sanctified. So we can get into heaven indirectly through our good works even though we don’t really deserve it.]

      2. Hebrews 6:10 “For God is not unrighteous to forget your WORK and LABOUR of love [i.e. charity or good works], which ye have shewed toward his name in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”
        [It seems as if God is keeping track of our good works somehow; and that we will be rewarded in heaven.]

      3. 1 Corinthians 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the WORK of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your LABOR is NOT IN VAIN in the Lord”
        [Good works are not in vain. The mechanism is that good works get us grace which saves us.]

      4. Luke 14:12-13 "But when thou makest a feast, call the poor; the maimed, the lame, and the blind: And thou shall be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just."
        [God rewards us in proportion to our good works of Christian charity.]

      5. Luke 10:25-28 “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him saying, ‘Master, what shall I DO to inherit eternal LIFE’: He said unto him, ‘What is written in the law? How readest thou?’ And he answering said, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy strength and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.’ And he said unto him, ‘Thou hast answered right: this DO, and thou shalt LIVE.’ ”
        [This was illustrated immediately after by the parable of the Good Samaritan, who demonstrated, by his DEEDS, love and mercy to his “neighbor.” Note that Christ doesn’t say that we must believe but rather that we must DO. This doesn’t mean, however, that faith isn’t ALSO required from elsewhere in the Bible.]

      6. James 1:22-25 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only … he being not forgetful hearer, but a DOER of the work, this man shall be blessed in his DEED.”
        [The deed itself, unrelated to any other act, seems to be beneficial.]

      7. 1 John 3:22-24 “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we KEEP his commandments, and DO those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ AND LOVE one another [charity or good works], as he gave us commandment. And he that KEEPTH his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him …”
        [We need faith and good works.]

      8. Romans 2:10 “But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that WORKETH good”

      9. Acts 10:35 "But in every nation, he that feareth him, and WORKETH righteousness, is accepted with him."

      10. Matthew 6:3-4 “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what the right hand DOETH: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall REWARD thee openly”

      11. 1 Corinthians 3:8 "and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own LABOR [i.e. good works]"
        [Again, we see that we are rewarded in PROPORTION to our good works; the more good works, the more reward.]

      12. John 5:2-3 “By this we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God that we KEEP his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous”

      13. Ephesians 2:10 "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them"

      14. Galatians 6:10 “As we have therefore opportunity, let us DO GOOD unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith”

      15. Sirach 12-14 “His justice is as great as his mercy and he judges people by their DEEDS. Just as the sinner will not escape with his booty, the patience of the upright man will not go unrewarded. God will reward every act of mercy; each person will be treated according to his deeds [Old Testament obedience to the laws of Moses]”
        [Note that this verse is an Old Testament injunction and doesn’t describe how we are saved after Christ’s sacrifice. But see also Ezek. 33:13-14, Ezek. 18:26-30, Tobit 4:21, and many others…]

    3. We will be judged by our good works, which must be performed when given the opportunity:

      1. Revelation 20:12-13 "And I saw the dead, great and small, stand before God; … and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their WORKS. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were JUDGED every man according to their WORKS"
        [Good works are necessary for salvation because we are judged by them. From elsewhere we know the actual theological mechanism is that they get grace, or are sanctified by grace. On their own, they don’t merit salvation. But as this verse clearly states, good works are ESSENTIAL on the path to salvation however convoluted that path is.]

      2. Matthew 25:31-46 “When the Son of man [Christ] shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand but the goats on his left. Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, INHERIT the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world: For I was hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. … Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, DEPART from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. …And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
        [Although this is a rather long passage, nothing could be clearer. Good works are explicit, physical, and obvious acts of Christian charity. The specific works, which are required by this passage, are not fuzzy, mental, abstract acts of faith. Clearly, if we perform such good works, we are rewarded for our good works themselves and are saved; and if we fail to perform good works, we go to hell.]

      3. Matthew 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that DOETH the will of my father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, have we not prophesied in thy name: and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name have done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that WORK iniquity “
        [Please note that this condemns evildoers NOT unbelievers. It is an injunction to avoid hypocrisy. It says we shouldn’t lie by falsely claiming we foretold the future, performed exorcism, or worked miracles. It does NOT say we have to have faith to be saved but instead that we have to DO GOOD by acting out the will of God and by not making false boasts prefaced with “Lord, Lord”. Note however, that faith is also required from other sections of the Bible.]

      4. Romans 2:5-6 “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will RENDER to every man according to his DEEDS”
        [It seems like it might be best to have lived a life filled with good deeds. Just a thought.]

      5. John 5:28-29 “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have DONE good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have DONE evil, unto the resurrection of damnation”
        [Without a fireproof birthday suit, it might be best to do good works in one’s life.]

      6. 2 Corinthians 5:10 “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things DONE in his body, according to that he hath DONE, whether it be good or bad”

      7. Peter 1:17 “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man’s WORK, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear”
        [We should be really afraid of not performing good works because something horrible is in store for those whom God will judge as lacking them.]

      8. Ephesians 5:5 “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God”
        [While only a few specific sins are mentioned, the general sense seems to be that most sinful people don’t get into heaven. Note that this doesn’t mention unbelievers but rather evildoers! Of course, faith is also required from other verses. See also Romans 1:18-32, Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6 and many more…]

      9. John 3:19-21 “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their DEEDS were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his DEEDS should be reproved. But he that DOETH truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God”

      10. 1 John 3:10 “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever DOETH NOT righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother”

    4. Through sin and evil deeds, we can lose the inheritance of salvation:

      1. Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin [un-charity not un-belief] is death”
        [Apparently those who commit sin experience a spiritual death and thus are not saved. Since sin is an explicit act, this condemns the choice to do evil and not to good works, rather than a lack of faith.]

      2. 2 Peter 2:20 “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning”
        [If we weren’t saved before we had faith in Christ, then we are in even worse shape after we first accepted Christ and then somehow became overcome. Apparently we can slip in and out of grace.]

      3. Luke 8:13 “… and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation, fall away”
        [Seems as if evil deeds can cause us to lose a salvation which we had at one time.]

      4. 1 Corinthians 6:9 ”Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived:…”

      5. 1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”
        [Even St. Paul seems to fear that he can lose heaven by a lack of good works.]

      6. 1 Corinthians 10:12 “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”

      7. Romans 11:22 “… but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off”
        [Salvation requires a lifetime of constant effort to do good works.]

      8. Matthew 10:22 “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved”

      9. Galatians 6:8-9 “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in WELL DOING; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

      10. James 1:4 “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”
        [I love the beautifully lyric nature of this passage.]

    5. The Sacrament of Baptism is part of salvation.

      1. John 3:5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
        [Baptism, that is “born of water”, seems to be a requirement for salvation]

      2. Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
        [Apparently baptism saves and, by implication, a lack of baptism probably damns.]

      3. Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
        [Baptism cleanses us of our sins.]

      4. Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
        [Baptism washes away our sins.]

      5. Galatians 3:27 “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
        [Clearly baptism has some good effect.]

      6. Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father; and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
        [Christ orders his Apostles to spread his church across the world and perform baptisms.]

    6. The Sacrament of Reconciliation Cleanses Us of Our Sins.

      1. 2 Corinthians 5:18 “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”
        [St. Paul, and by implication, all the apostles were practicing the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which sinners confessed their sins which were then acknowledged to be forgiven by an acceptance of saving grace.]

      2. John 20:23 “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
        [After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples, except for Thomas who was absent, and specifically gave them the authority, and the implied mandate, to conduct the Sacrament of Reconciliation.]

      3. 2 Corinthians 2:10 “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave it in the person of Christ;”

      4. 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
        [Apparently, the confession of sins is an explicit duty.]

      5. James 5:15-16 “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray for another that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

      6. Acts 19:18 “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.”
        [It seems that early Christian communities actually practiced the confession of sins.]

      7. Matthew 9:2-6 “And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer: thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
        [Christ claims the ability to forgive sins.]

      8. Mark 2:5 “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

      9. Matthew 16:18-19 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall also be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
        [Christ vests a great deal of authority in St. Peter.]

      10. Matthew 18:18 “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

      11. Leviticus 5:5 “And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing.”
        [The confession of sins seems to also be a requirement of Old Testament Mosaic Law.]

    7. We can never individually be certain of salvation.

      1. 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 “For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes …”
        [The meaning of this verse seems to be fairly obvious… We only know for certain that we are saved, or not, after we die and are judged.]

      2. 2 Peter 1:10 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give DILIGENCE to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things ye shall never fail”
        [Our salvation requires constant effort on our part over a lifetime.]

      3. Philippians 2:12 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”
        [Be afraid rather than calm and thus by implication not certain of salvation.]

      4. Phillippians 3:12 “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus”

    8. Famous Protestant misreading of Biblical Verses on “How are we saved?”

Some famous verses offered in support of the Protestant misinterpretation on the doctrine of “faith alone” are as follows:

      1. Ephesians 2:8-10
        “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it [saving grace] is the GIFT [not earned] of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
        For we are in his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”

[These two sentences are probably the most often misquoted Protestant defense of “faith alone” so a detailed examination is warranted. Note that all the important terms of “grace”, “faith”, “saved”, “works”, and “good works” are present.

Let’s start with “For by grace are ye saved through faith;”

This verse says that grace, not faith, is what actually saves. In this sense, faith is subordinate to grace on our tortured path to gain heaven and avoid hell. The role of faith is only a means to get or to manipulate grace to our advantage. And although not absolutely demonstrated by just this phase, the implications are that the availability of grace isn’t the result of faith. But rather faith somehow channels grace as if by opening the spigot to a reservoir of pre-existing grace.

Note this verse does not advocate “faith alone” even by implication. The phrase “through faith” means only that faith is at most one essential ingredient along the path to salvation but not that faith is unequivocally sufficient. For instance, train tracks may get us from San Francisco to New York “through” many tunnels. The case for “faith alone” would require a phrase like “by sole means of” or something similar; and that isn’t what’s written. Nor does this phrase disparage the necessity of good works.

The next part is “and that not of yourselves: it [saving grace] is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

The word “yourselves” means anything emanating from us. This includes anything that is inherent in our nature as well as anything we do. Thus grace is not available because we have an immortal soul made in the likeness of God, or because we have made any act of good works, or because we have made any act of faith, or because of any aspect of ourselves. From other parts of the Bible, we know that grace is only the result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

This inadequacy of human efforts with regards to the availability of grace is reinforced by the explicit declaration that grace is “God’s gift.” A gift is not something that is earned nor is it the repayment of a debt. Thus grace is available because of God’s generosity and isn’t the result of any human work or thought or belief. Grace wasn’t created by mankind’s efforts but rather by God’s.

An ordinary gift, while not earned, may or may not be deserved. It’s just that, strictly speaking, the intent of a gift is not to reward. On the other hand, we might suspect that a gift from God necessarily isn’t deserved because otherwise we would benefit from God’s justice. But in any event, the clear implication is that mankind really didn’t deserve grace which wouldn’t be available without Christ’s sacrifice.

Note that “not of works” is sometimes misread to claim that we don’t RECEIVE saving grace because of good works of Christian charity. This misunderstanding would render “good works” useless or at best irrelevant for salvation. But please note that if grace isn’t a reward for our “works” to include charity, then neither is it a reward for any conscious ACT OF FAITH, or indeed a reward for anything of ourselves. Otherwise grace wouldn’t be a “gift.” The logical consequences of falsely interpreting this passage to think that grace doesn’t come to us because of any human effort, including faith, would mean that we can’t do anything to be saved and avoid hell. This interpretation is clearly NOT the intention of this passage and is specifically contradicted by the preceding passage.

Clearly the correct meaning of the entire passage is that the EXISTENCE, or AVAILABILITY, of grace is not merited by any human works, to include charity, and specifically faith. The concept, that our individual acts of free will can get us grace, is not incompatible with the idea that the EXISTENCE of grace is a GIFT. Apparently, only thanks to Christ’s sacrifice and God’s generosity, was grace created or otherwise made available for mankind; and we can be saved if we can somehow get some.

To reiterate, a superficial reading of this verse may be confusing because, while it says we need grace to be saved and we need faith to get grace, it also says grace is a gift and not reward for our works which include acts of faith. So how exactly can we possibly earn or merit salvation? The answer is that our previously undeserving acts of faith and works of charity as well, are now made acceptable to God because they are the means by which we accept the gift of saving grace. Basically, we must follow Christ’s teachings on having faith and doing good works; and our feeble, previously inadequate efforts are sanctified by God’s gift of grace. Grace exists only because of God’s generosity and not because our works deserve it; but we get grace through our own acts of faith AND good works; and are thus indirectly saved.

The next part, “lest any man should boast” says we shouldn’t feel too proud of our works because grace is only available due to God’s generosity and Christ’s sacrifice.

The last sentence is “For we are in his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto GOOD WORKS, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Finally, after a concise discussion on the nature of “grace” and the workings of faith, we get clarity on the value and necessity for “good works.” This verse teaches that God expects and demands good works as some dutiful part of our journey towards salvation. The clear meaning is that good works ARE ALSO required, along with faith, for us to accept God’s gift of grace as we travel on our twisty path toward salvation.

We might summarize the sense of the entire passage as follows:

“Faith alone”, without good works, as the path to salvation, is NOT what this verse says; rather the opposite. Nor does this particular passage suggest that good works are the outgrowth of faith rather than an independent necessity to get grace.

Strictly speaking, this passage only says that the availability of grace isn’t the REWARD for works because grace is a GIFT. And if our works didn’t create grace then neither did our faith or anything of “ourselves.” Only Christ’s sacrifice made grace available. Faith, however, allows us to accept the gift of grace and, in the same sense, so do good works. Just because our puny little imperfect acts of faith and good works don’t merit salvation in themselves, doesn’t mean they aren’t good enough to get us grace. In effect, Christ has drastically lowered the standards to get into heaven but hasn’t eliminated them entirely. Out of pure mercy, Christ has readjusted the requirements for salvation to what we can actually accomplish to include BOTH faith and good works. The effect is that our own efforts save us but indirectly via God’s gift of grace.

The putative Protestant misreading of these verses seems to be:

“By grace are ye saved by FAITH ALONE and not by GOOD WORKS; saving grace is something you EARN depending entirely on whether you chose to believe or not; it [grace] is thus a REWARD from God merited by your faith but not merited by good works, so it’s all right to feel proud of your choice to believe.

We are created by Christ to have FAITH in him, which may inconsequentially result in good works. Thus good works are nice but NOT a goal that Christ intended and so are not directly beneficial.”

But obviously this is NOT what is written. Although Ephesians 2:8-10 is very concise and mentions grace, salvation, faith, works, and good works, all in one short little passage, it is inconceivable how it could be twisted into the above misinterpretation. It might be useful to read the original verse again as it is literally written and separate from everything else in the Bible.

Clearly, this verse says our works don’t merit salvation but do get us grace which is what saves. In this sense, good works of Christian charity SAVE, but save by means of grace, just like faith does; and BOTH are required. The bottom line is that this verse supports the concise Catholic doctrine that we are saved when we accept God’s unearned gift of grace by having faith AND further by responding with acts of charity which are good works performed out of love of God as well as our neighbors.]

      1. Titus 3:4-7 “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life”
        [Although Christ saved us by making grace available, salvation requires both Christ’s sacrifice and our own efforts. This verse refers only to the reason for Christ’s efforts not what we still have to do. This verse does NOT say how WE manage to accept, or reject, the gift of saving grace, whether by “faith alone” or by faith AND good works. br>
        In detail, this verse describes how Christ made available the grace necessary for our salvation which was by “washing and renewing.” And it is only this grace, if we accept it, which justifies or saves us. Christ offers this grace to mankind out of mercy and not because our “righteous works” in themselves deserve it. It is the gift of grace which alone makes our works acceptable and justifies us. We still have to perform good works but they are useful only as a means to get saving grace. Again note that if our “works” didn’t make grace available, then our “faith” didn’t either. Neither our works nor our faith could ever be good enough. Christ saved our unworthy backsides himself out of pure MERCY so that, by means of grace, our “righteous works” could be made acceptable to God.

        To summarize, Christ saved us when we couldn’t save ourselves by making our puny little works, and faith, acceptable to God. And although our works aren’t really deserving of salvation in their own right, they are still REQUIRED. That is, our works, and faith, weren’t good enough to have created grace but they are still necessary to get grace. ]

      2. Romans 11:5-6 “Even so then at this present time [1st century A.D.] also there is a remnant [Jews who have been saved] according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work”
        [This verse says that there is a part of the Jewish community in Israel which has been saved by grace. And this grace came from Christ’s sacrifice and God’s generosity and was not earned, or merited, by any works, including following Old Testament Mosaic Law, on the part of those saved. This DOES not say how they managed to accept that gift of grace, whether by “faith alone” or by faith AND acts of Christian charity; only that they did manage.]

      3. Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness [i.e. good works] are as FILTHY RAGS; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
        [In this Old Testament verse, Isaiah is explaining to the Israelites that because they LACKED good works and didn’t follow the Law of Moses, God allowed the temple to be destroyed and everyone to be sold into slavery in Babylon. And further that if the Israelites stopped sinning and instead had good works anything like “CLEAN RAGS”, their suffering would end. This book of the Bible was written more than 700 years before Christ and DOES NOT say that Christian charity and good works aren’t necessary for salvation. Neither does this particular verse say whether faith in the Christ to come is required for salvation.]

      4. John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
        [While this verse says that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was absolutely necessary for salvation, (because the Bible says elsewhere this is what made saving grace available), it does NOT say that Christ’s sacrifice was SUFFICIENT. Are there other things, besides Christ’s sacrifice, which are also required? This verse allows for that possibility. Basically, this verse only claims that Christ made salvation possible but not that Christ made salvation a certainty. For instance, do we need Christ and ALSO our own faith; or do we need Christ and ALSO our own good works? Unfortunately this verse is silent on whether or not anything else is required but does not preclude the possibility.

        Neither does this passage describe HOW we come to the Father through Christ. Does “by me” mean we only have to believe to get Christ’s grace and be saved? Does “by me” mean we have to spend a lifetime doing good works by following Christ’s “way”? This verse doesn’t say one way or the other.

        Consider any famous sinner from history, Hitler, for example, who we assume murdered millions and died unrepentant. The Bible says elsewhere such despicable criminals are doomed to hell. Thus Christ didn’t do EVERYTHING that was required for Hitler’s salvation. Apparently salvation requires not only Christ’s sacrifice but ALSO an individual choice or act of will on our part, which may be lacking. This is an important distinction, especially if one wants to avoid fuzzy thinking and not misconstrue this passage as support for “faith alone”, because this passage in NO way supports that ` proposition.

        The putative Protestant misreading of this verse seems to be

        … I am the way, the truth and the life: no man or woman comes unto the Father except by simply having FAITH in me which is not only an important requirement but also is the ONLY requirement; so forget my previous claims that I [Christ] died to make saving grace available for you; and furthermore forget about all my earlier injunctions about the necessity for doing good works as a means to get that grace because I have unequivocally saved every one of you if only you believe regardless of how you lead your lives… so enjoy!!

        but this is not what is written, especially any reference to “simply having FAITH.” It might be useful to read the original verse again, just to be certain.

        To reiterate, this verse says our individual paths to salvation are ONLY through Christ; but it allows that OTHER REQUIREMENTS may also lie on those paths. Christ is absolutely necessary but not sufficient. Just because this verse implies Christ’s efforts, not human efforts, were the sole means by which saving grace was created, DOES NOT mean we don’t have to believe or do good works to get that grace. ]

      5. Romans 3:27-28 “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the works of the LAW”
        [Martin Luther decided to CHANGE this Bible passage to read “justified by FAITH ALONE.” That wasn’t what was written. That was a seriously wrong thing to do. This DOES NOT say that Christian charity or good works aren’t the means to acquire saving grace but only that we should depend on the grace Christ earned by his sacrifice on the cross rather than on the old Mosaic Law of the Israelites. Among the early Christians, one of the most discussed parts of the LAW was a requirement to be circumcised which was found to be unnecessary for salvation. This latter decision came from St. Peter while heading the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem in 49-50 A.D. (Acts 15).]

      6. Galatians 2:16 “Knowing that a man is not justified by WORKS OF THE LAW but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the WORKS OF THE LAW: for by the WORKS OF THE LAW shall no flesh be justified”
        [Again, “WORKS OF THE LAW” do not refer to Christian acts of charity but instead to whether following Old Testament Mosaic Law, especially the circumcision of adult male gentiles, without modern surgical procedures, anesthetic, or antibiotics was necessary for salvation. Fortunately, this verse says it isn’t. This verse does NOT say that “faith alone” is sufficient without good works for our acceptance of the grace Christ’s sacrifice earned for us. ]

        Galatians 2:17 “But if, while we seek to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are also found to be sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid”
        [The very next verse says that those who DO sin, not disbelieve, are not saved by Christ. Apparently avoiding evil works, like NOT offering charity, is required for salvation. ]

      7. Galatians 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness comes by the LAW, then Christ is dead in vain”
        [Again, Old Testament Mosaic LAW does not mean Christian works of charity. Nor does this verse say that Christ died for our sins because of our faith or because of any works we did. It simply says that Christ didn’t die to make available saving grace because the Israelites followed Old Testament LAW. ]

      8. Galatians 5:4 “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the LAW; ye are fallen from grace”
        [Again, the LAW does NOT mean Christian charity. This verse only says that following Old Testament Mosaic Law won’t by itself save us. Rather grace saves us. And if following the LAW isn’t good enough then neither is our faith or good works or anything of ourselves. Rather our faith and good works are the means to accept grace and are sanctified by grace. Most importantly, note that this verse does NOT say that “faith” alone is sufficient or that good works of Christian charity aren’t required. ]

      9. Romans 4: 2-5 “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
        [This New Testament verse quotes an Old Testament passage which says that Abraham met with favor from God because of his belief in God. But our salvation requires the sacrifice of Christ on the cross which wasn’t available to Abraham until much after his death. ]

      10. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life”
        [Faith is somehow PART of getting salvation but NOT “faith alone.”]

      11. John 6:28-29 “Then they said unto him, ‘What shall we do that we might work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent’ ”
        [Believing in God is PART of God’s work but NOT that “faith alone” is sufficient for salvation.

        This verse describes Christ’s motivation to willingly suffer and die on the cross as a payment to God for the forgiveness of our sins. Christ acted only out of love so his sacrifice was not a reward for our faith or our good works. Rather Christ’s efforts on our behalf were an unearned and unmerited gift.

        It is important, however, not to confuse a discussion of Christ’s actions with our own responsibility to exercise our free will by doing good and avoiding evil. Christ clearly taught that each of us has to lead a life of Christian virtue to include faith and especially good works in order to be saved. This is not contradicted by the clear sense of this verse that without Christ we couldn’t be saved and that we are only saved through Christ.

        Christian tradition is that Christ earned a sufficient amount of a quality called “grace” which is absolutely essential for our salvation. Christ made a gift of this grace to mankind which we can choose to accept or reject. Our previously unworthy acts of faith and good works lack sufficient merit for salvation in their own right but when combined with grace become acceptable. In this manner, the concept of grace allows Christ to save us while at the same time requiring us to do something to save ourselves.

        This is a two step path to salvation consisting of two essential ingredients. Christ had to suffer and die for us; and we have to have faith and do good works. The verse does NOT say that Christ died for our sins so we don’t have to do anything to be saved; BUT RATHER Christ died for our sins creating saving grace which our faith and good works couldn’t have created on their own merits.

        The point is that, just because Christ didn’t die on the cross as a reward, or payment, for our good works, does NOT mean that good works aren’t still an essential requirement for our salvation.]

      12. Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”
        [Faith is somehow PART of getting salvation but NOT “faith alone.” Note that our faith, by itself, does NOT justify us but rather is a means to acquire saving grace which we can accept or not.]

      13. Hebrews 10:10 “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
        [EVERY Christian agrees Christ doesn’t have to die TWICE on the cross to earn the grace necessary for our salvation. But this does not address what we have to do to be saved. Again, the subject of “faith alone” or “faith and good works” being required on our part to accept saving grace, isn’t mentioned.]

      14. Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
        [In the first century A.D., confession was more complicated than simply making a private, personal statement or mental resolution. It usually meant a formal, public pronouncement involving a sacred promise to change one’s entire way of life. It could easily disrupt familial and other social support networks and was frequently quite hazardous.

        In addition, the clear implication is that one would follow through with this declaration by actually practicing the new religion with new dietary laws, new observances and celebrations, new social customs, new communities of worship, and especially new teachings and commandments.]

  1. General Thoughts on Justification

    1. Asking the Wrong Question

Some Protestant evangelists tend to imitate the “Ancient Mariner” by seizing every unwary and unenlightened arm while begging the question in a frenzied whisper “Do you know HOW you are saved?” The question itself presupposes the answer to the question it raises. It amounts to propaganda by trying to transmogrify the concept of a Biblical UNDERSTANDING into the famous Biblical misinterpretation that FAITH ALONE saves.

The Protestant implication is that if you only memorize a few Bible verses and understand the Protestant Canonical interpretations, you are somehow saved and otherwise damned. But an understanding is less than faith because we can refuse to accept that an idea is true. Also, an obsession over a personal reading of scripture obfuscates the fact that nowhere does the Bible assert, that simply reading it, is sufficient to save us. Nor does forgetting the precise wording or even existence of any particular verse, mean we have lost faith in the greater body of Christian truth.

Not only is an understanding not faith, but neither is faith any assurance of living as Christ commanded. Given the vagaries of human nature, even the most resolute faith may not result in an individual acting in accordance with his conscience. We can always choose, to the extent we have free will, to be bad and to do evil despite what we believe. From weakness, or other causes, immediate gratification is often wrongly preferred over future benefit. For example, one might knowingly chose what one believes to be a sinful life, while intending to repent the expected pleasures at a later date. Strictly speaking, it is theoretically possible to have the strongest imaginable faith, trust, or belief, in all Biblical precepts and still choose to sin rather than to perform good works. Thus, faith is not necessarily an unshakable mental commitment to act in accordance with our religious beliefs and even less an assurance of such acts.

An example of Protestant fuzzy thinking on salvation is the oft repeated mantra that “Christ did everything necessary for our salvation.” This is clearly wrong, or at best imprecise. Just choose your favorite sinners from history, and if they behaved as advertised and died unrepentant, then from everything the Bible represents, they are not saved. Christ made salvation possible, but not certain. This is because the Bible clearly says we are saved only if we think and live as Christ commanded. At the most fundamental level, the only person we have any control over, or have any moral responsibility for, is ourselves. Influence, however persuasive, is not the ability to exercise another’s free will. We are finally responsible only for ourselves and are only judged on our own thoughts, choices, and deeds.

The net result is that the issue of HOW, i.e. by what precise theological reasoning salvation may occur, is nonsensical. If we believe that some of us are saved and others are not saved, then the essential question instead is “What do I have to DO to be among the saved?” Only after we free ourselves from a prejudiced prepossession and conceptual mishmash involving Bible reading, memorization, understanding, faith, choice, and action, can we consider the issue of salvation rationally and ask truly relevant questions such as as “Do I have to believe the Bible is the word of God?”, “Do I have to perform good works?”, “Do I have to repent my sins?”, “Do I have to be baptized?”, and so forth.

Protestants ask the misleading question “HOW does it work?” The implication is we don’t have to actually do anything to be saved. Instead the pertinent question is “What must I myself DO?”

Catholic thinking might produce the following questions and responses. Do you accept Christ as your PERSONAL savior? Yes, I fully accept the example of Christ’s life as a guide to how to live my own. I accept the truth of Christ’s teachings to lead a life full of good works so that I might be saved, because none of us were born saved. And finally, I appreciate the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice, which I did nothing to earn myself, to make my otherwise unworthy efforts acceptable to God.

    1. Mistaking the Role of Grace as Negating the Necessity for Good Works

Christ lived and died on earth for slightly different purposes. It is incontrovertible that Christ devoted his life to teaching us how to be Christians. His teachings, his parables, and especially his example demonstrated in what truths we should believe, by what principles we should organize our lives, and finally what deeds we should perform and what deeds we should avoid. Christ during his sojourn on earth showed us what we must do to be saved. Finally at the end of his life, Christ died so that our sins might be forgiven.

On a superficial level, these two aspects of Christ pose a dilemma. Clearly Christ taught the road to salvation was to follow his example by having faith and performing good works. But if we are saved through own efforts, why did Christ have to suffer and die on the cross? Of what value was his personal sacrifice to anyone else? On the other hand, if Christ saved us by dying so that all our sins are completely forgiven, why do we have to read the Bible, or have faith, or do good works, or indeed do anything that he commanded? Aren't our own choices in life irrelevant? Didn’t Christ do everything that was necessary?

The solution to this apparent conundrum is the somewhat nebulous substance called “grace“. Grace was created, or became available to us sinners, only because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And it is grace that finally saves us, if we can get some. Our faith and good works are still necessary for salvation but only because they allow us to accept grace. Grace works by making our previously undeserving faith and good works acceptable to God. In short, grace sanctifies our previously unworthy efforts. The concept of grace thus allows Christ to save us while still requiring us to do something to be saved.

The Bible honors the magnitude of Christ’s effort by repeatedly characterizing the grace, which he alone made available, as a pure act of mercy and an unmerited gift. Since our free will permits us to accept or reject a gift, Christ’s sacrifice was necessary but not sufficient because we have to do our part as well. Reconciling the divine and human contributions for salvation requires a careful consideration of the word “gift.” We must admit that if we get grace to the extent we have faith and do good works, then in a narrow sense, grace may be said to be earned by, or a reward for, our efforts. How then is grace a gift? Grace is only a gift in the sense that it owes its existence to Christ’s sacrifice and not to any human efforts. Basically our works get us saving grace, whose availability is a gift we don’t deserve. By this reasoning, grace can be both a divine gift to humanity and an unmerited consequence of our individual actions at the same time.

This multifaceted path to salvation (i.e. Christ’s sacrifice creates grace; and then our faith and good works attract grace resulting in salvation) is not difficult to understand or appreciate. Nevertheless, Protestants twist themselves into pretzels trying to transmogrify the accepted Biblical teaching, that the existence or availability of grace isn’t the result of our good works, into the false idea that grace doesn’t flow to us as a consequence of our good works. This is manifestly wrong for if grace is an idealized gift which doesn’t come to us as a result our good works, then neither can it come to us as a result of our faith, because in this sense, a perfect gift can’t be the reward for anything we are or do. Unless we deny Biblical teachings on free will, about a judgment after death, and the existence of heaven and hell, then we have to do SOMETHING to be saved and not be damned. Basically, if faith is required to get grace, then in like manner so are good works. The correct Biblical teaching is, of course, that Christian faith AND good works together allow us to accept saving grace whose existence was merited by Christ’s sacrifice and was not merited by human works which include acts of faith.

Another way of characterizing grace is as an “all purpose cleaner.” A vast amount was accumulated by Christ and is automatically applied to wash our faith and good works so that, filthy as they previously were, they are now clean and bright enough to save us.

Bickering and nitpicking which criticizes such slogans as “Our Faith saves us!” or “Our Good works save us!” are purposelessly pejorative because we know what the other guy really means, i.e. they are both necessary to get us grace, which is what really saves.

    1. Mistaking The Nature of Christ’s Gift

The Bible says that Christ suffered and died on the cross in order to create, or to otherwise make available, the somewhat nebulous substance of saving grace without which no one could get into heaven. The Bible further describes grace as a “gift.”

Catholics understand that it is the availability, or existence, of grace which the Bible describes as a “gift”; and that we, ourselves, get the benefit of this grace by leading a good life by following Christ’s example and teachings. Basically, our previously unworthy faith and good works are automatically washed clean by grace and only thus made acceptable to God. We still have resonsibility for our own salvation but this wouldn’t even have been possible without Christ’s sacrifice. Catholics claim Christ’s sacrifice was necessary but NOT sufficient because we have to do our part as well.

The problem Protestants have with this long standing and clearly enunciated Biblical doctrine was the flood of abuses by the medieval Christian hierarchy involving the corrupt marketing of “indulgences” as imagined substitutes for “good works.” In a much needed attempt to correct the problem, Protestants unfortunately attacked not only the organization of the Christian church, but also its theology. Beginning in the early 16th century, Protestants rewrote extant Christian doctrine to claim that the word “gift” means Christ alone did everything necessary for our salvation thus making our good works irrelevant. Catholics suggest this reading has only the most indirect and indistinct Biblical support and further, is logically absurd. Certainly this evolving Protestant doctrine requires formidable mental gymnastics, not the least of which is the assignment of new and mysterious meanings to what were otherwise clearly understood words and doctrine.

The main problem with this new interpretation, i.e. that Christ saved everyone unequivocally, is that, because some people commit such heinous crimes and never repent, most of us wouldn’t want to sit next to them in heaven. Justice would seem to dictate they be sent to hell to suffer for their sins. But if, from the moment of Christ’s death, sufficient saving grace was given unreservedly to everyone, rather than only becoming available to sanctify our individual works, then henceforth everyone should go directly to heaven regardless of the lives they lead. It would be pointless to strive against temptation to live a Christian life because grace couldn’t be the result of “works”, to include good works, or acts of faith, or anything we do. Otherwise grace wouldn’t be a gift but rather a reward. Everyone would already have sufficient means, i.e. everything necessary, to get into heaven since all of our sins, past and present, would have been completely forgiven simply because of Christ’s sacrifice. Even sins of omission such as failure to believe, or outright rejection of God’s word, or lack of charity and good works, would be forgiven without restriction. Strictly speaking, we would have no choice in the matter and would be saved regardless of ANYTHING we do. Catholics suggest this new Protestant idea of universal and unconditional salvation is untenable because it is flatly contradicted by Christ’s Biblical teachings on the necessity of good works and because it is so distasteful in its description of Christian virtue as irrelevant. At its most pernicious, it completely absolves everyone of any responsibility for their actions by removing all consequences.

Loath to abandon the fundamental reason for their existence as a new organization, Protestants finesse this difficulty by stretching the meaning of the word “gift” to argue that Christ did ALMOST everything necessary for our salvation but that some trivial, inconsequential, almost effortless action might perhaps still be required on our part. Grace would still be a gift of sorts but we, ourselves, have to formally accept it. What Protestants suggest is that God hasn’t bestowed grace as an unrestricted birthright, but at some point in our lives, He REQUIRES each of us to perform some type of mental ceremony to be saved. So saving grace is NEARLY, if not exactly, a pure gift; and Christ didn’t exactly do everything to ensure our salvation, but instead, did ALMOST everything.

Unfortunately, the more we think about the explicit act of acceptance, the more demanding it necessarily becomes. Strictly speaking, the acceptance of a gift of grace doesn’t necessarily require gratitude for Christ’s mercy or even belief in the basic propositions of Christian teaching. In short, we could just grab it and run. For instance, a simple acceptance would be to think about the abstract question of whether we would want to spend all of eternity happily in heaven or suffering horrible tortures in hell; and then to choose between the alternatives. It is hard to imagine that anyone would make such a mistake as to imagine hell as the better choice, within the limits of the question, regardless of whether they even believed in God or not. The thought would be, “I don’t know if any of this is real or not, and I don’t care, but if it is free and available, I want it. Just don’t expect me to adjust my lifestyle.” Without resort to fuzzy logic, there is nothing in the Biblical usage of the word “gift”, as interpreted by the Protestants, to require any more than this.

Unfortunately something more would seem to be required to rescue the relevance of Christian virtue. Without admitting to the lack of clear Biblical support on the nature of the acceptance ceremony, a few Protestants have invented the concept of “visceral” faith. This is “faith from love” and apparently consists of involuntary emotional reactions. Basically, if you experience an unintended emotional reaction upon understanding that Christ loves you, then you are saved. Good feelings of a religious nature are effectively a choice to accept God’s grace. In this way, the acceptance ceremony becomes so effortless, not requiring any real act of will on our part, as to relegate our contribution, relative to Christ’s, to be NEARLY inconsequential. This important because to the extent you have to strain to induce the hoped for euphoria, then one might argue that your salvation was the result of, or earned by, your own effort. If, as Protestants insist, grace directly flows to us as a gift then it can’t be a reward for performing any stressful acceptance ceremony, can’t be a reward for performing good works, and indeed, can’t be a reward for faith either.

Catholics read the Bible to say faith is the INTELLECTUAL exercise of choosing to believe. This is hard to dispute because in Greek, in which language the Bible was written, faith and belief are same word. Catholics read the Biblical phrase of “faith from love” to mean a sincere intellectual acceptance of the truth of a proposition. One might argue that some Biblical descriptions of “faith” are more or less strident in stressing the necessity for firmness or an intensity of belief which effort may generate emotion as an inconsequential reaction to an essentially intellectual act.

Mainstream Protestants argue that salvation requires a complicated, all consuming, type of “faith” where one must realize the nature of what is being offered, appreciate the magnitude of the gift, and truly resolve to be grateful to such a degree as to ensure the performance of good works in the future if given the opportunity. The idea is that, while good works have NO value in themselves, a lack of them effectively demonstrates we had insufficient faith at the beginning and so are not saved. Unfortunately what this means is that we effectively earn our salvation by the total performance which looks less and less like receiving a pure gift. This impression refutes the central Protestant premise.

Of course, if we accept the Catholic view that the word “gift” refers only to the existence or availability of grace which is AUTOMATICALLY applied to sanctify our works, then the necessity for strained mental gymnastics disappears. Our faith and good works have value in themselves and are crucial at our final judgment as the Bible repeatedly stresses. And it is especially difficult to accept the Protestant Cannons on fundamentally different categories of faith which are the invention of modern Protestant reformers and not eyewitnesses to Christ’s life.

In any event, the most pernicious aspect of the new Protestant doctrines are that good works, which constitute the vast bulk of Christ’s Biblical injunctions on how to lead our lives, and which are difficult to consistently practice over a lifetime, are relegated to inconsequential and irrelevant concerns. And it is no excuse to note, correctly, that the Christian (i.e. medieval Catholic) Church hierarchy in the time of Martin Luther had become corrupt in the selling of indulgences as imagined substitutes for good works. The solution was to reform the organization and not to invent new highly-convoluted doctrines contradicting long standing Biblical truth in a Protestant revolt, however justified by the abuses of the times.

To reiterate, if grace saves us and grace is a pure gift, then grace can’t be a reward for our faith or good works either. If we are somehow, without clear Biblical support, to accept the modern Protestant theory that a personal acceptance ceremony is required for salvation, then that ceremony can’t REQUIRE us to have faith. Otherwise saving grace would be a reward for our faith and not a gift. But if we believe, as the Catholic Church has consistently interpreted Christ’s teachings from the beginning, that it is the AVAILABILITY of grace which is a gift, and that grace simply sanctifies our previously unworthy good works, and faith, then the necessity for complicated double-think disappears. We don’t have to invent multiple categories of something as simple as “faith”; nor do we have to mysteriously explain away all the Biblical references on the necessity for good works in order to be saved.

    1. Protestant Faith Alone versus Catholic Faith and Good Works

The Bible says we need both faith and good works to be saved with the implication that the two are intimately related. The concept of “faith alone” is only mentioned twice in the Bible and each and every time it is condemned. So the issue seems to be “Are they the result of the same act of will or different to some degree?”

On one hand, some might argue that thinking religious thoughts, most often in Sunday service, and striving for belief in an all-powerful God and a compassionate Jesus Christ, is sufficient for salvation. This school of thought is the “faith alone” path to salvation. Hopefully, good thoughts will result in a steadfast resolution to be charitable as Christ command us. Usually, and unfortunately, this requires constant reinforcement. Every New Year’s day, I resolve to start exercising, to clean the garage, and to be nicer to my family and more generous to strangers. All too often, even when returning from church, a rude driver will scare the bejesus out of me through no fault of my own and despite my best efforts at defensive driving. Good intentions, Christian charity, and rude gestures are all too easily thrown out the window, even as I retain all my beliefs and all my faith. Knowing the right thing to do is not an assurance of actually doing the right thing. Basically, I don’t have to lose my faith to commit a sin. This is especially true since, strictly speaking, faith is simply a belief and not a mental resolution to behave in any particular manner.

So we might properly argue that believing in Christ’s teachings while nice and even necessary is not sufficient for salvation. What is also required is a separate and independent act of will, to wit, a constant striving to emulate Christ’s teachings and example through acts of charity performed out of love for God and neighbor. Now faith and good works are not totally independent but they aren’t exactly the same thing either. This is the “Catholic” path. An advantage is that having both faith and good works as enumerated goals helps each to reinforce the other.

After all that, one might ask, “What is the blasted nit-picking difference between the two?” A firm enough mental resolution to believe in and to love God should produce exactly the same good works that another might perform as an explicit duty of faith. Whether works are simply a manifestation of a resolute belief or are actually necessary to procure salvation in their own right might seem to be a subtle, almost inconsequential, distinction.

As previously described, the problem with “faith alone” is that having all the faith in world doesn’t preclude us from committing sins which would condemn us to hell. In general terms, faith is only a blind trust in the truth of something. In the Bible, religious faith is an act of will acknowledging the truth of scripture. But belief in God, or belief that Christ wants us to follow his teachings, does not necessarily ensure an unshakable resolution to actually be charitable. Even a faith, which includes the most deliberate adult decision to devote one’s entire life to following Christ’s teachings, might find the flesh weak at a later date. And backsliding among the faithful is lot easier with the pleasant and easily adopted delusion that we can somehow be saved entirely by faith, while at the same time leading a sinful life unburdened by the strain and inconvenience of virtue. It is not impossible to both believe and yet fail to act on that belief at the same time.

The “Catholic” problem with repetitiously emphasizing good works is the easily adopted delusion that our efforts can somehow earn salvation on their own merits while forgetting about the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. De-emphasizing the role of grace is not Catholic Teaching but the ancient heresy of Pelagianism. Precise Catholic doctrine is that good works save, but only as means to grace and accompanied by faith.

The central difference is that Protestants believe we are saved by only by faith which somehow includes an intention to do good; whereas Catholics believe we are saved BOTH by faith and by actually doing good.

    1. Claiming Catholics Don’t Believe that Grace Saves

The Heresy of Pelagius from “Contra traducem peccati” arose about 410 A.D. and was loosely defined as:

Pelagius claims that the entire human race neither is condemned by original sin nor redeemed by Christ and that the LAW (Mosaic law and tradition) is as good a guide as the Christian Gospels of the New Testament. Further this heresy claims that good people (e.g. Abraham, Isaac, etc.) could be saved BEFORE Christ by their good works in following the LAW.

The Catholic Church has officially condemned this heresy since it arose 1600 years ago, as follows:

      1. Pelagianism was condemned by St. Augustine (412) in “De naturâ et gratiâ”
      2. A regional council in Carthage in 412 A.D. with 200 African Catholic Bishops (Carthaginian Synod), sponsored by Pope Innocent I, condemned Pelagianism.
      3. Pope Zosimus in his "Epistola tractoria" reaffirmed the condemnation in 418 A.D.
      4. The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, which was the 3rd of the Catholic Church, in 431 A.D again condemned it.
      5. The second Council of Orange (Arausio, France) in 529 A.D., convened by Pope Felix IV condemned Pelagianism. This was used as the basis for the later Council of Trent.
      6. The Council of Orange was reaffirmed by Pope Boniface II in 531 A.D.
      7. The Ecumenical Council of Trent, which was the 19th of the Catholic Church, was convened from 1545 A.D. to 1563 A.D. by Pope Paul III and again condemned Pelagianism.
      8. Throughout the entire history of the Protestant movement, beginning with Martin Luther in 1517, the Catholic Church has continued to consistently condemn the heresy of Pelagianism.
      9. Every Catholic Mass recites the Nicene Creed (from the Ecumenical Council of Nicea convened by Pope Sylvester in 325 A.D.)

…who [Christ] for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, …was crucified, died and was buried….

      1. A well known Catholic prayer is the Apostles’ Creed (originally from Tertullian about 160 A.D. and Rufinus about 400 A.D.), and currently taught as part of a standard Catholic catechism, includes the following:

…[Christ] Was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was buried; He descended to hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead…

Christ descended into hell to take good people, who by good works had followed the Law of Moses (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, et al…) but had died before his sacrifice on the the cross into heaven; i.e. there was no salvation before Christ.

A major problem with Christians, i.e. Catholics, in the Middle Ages, was the licentious and scandalous practice of selling indulgences, which were advertised as a profligate substitute for real works of charity by local opportunists. Protestants did not officially object to the Church as much as to selected corrupt Church officials.The solution was not the rejection of extant Christian doctrine as to the necessity for good works as maintained by the Catholic Church over one and one-half millennia but organizational reform. It is especially unjust to accuse Catholics of the heresy of Plagainism when they have been so steadfast in their opposition for the last 2000 years.

Catholic and most Protestant teachings on grace are identical. Only grace saves. The divisive issue is how to get grace whether by faith alone or by faith and good works.

    1. What is Baptism?

Christian Theology maintains that Christ died for the forgiveness of everyone’s sins. And further, this was necessary before anyone could get into heaven. This is such a central tenant of Christian thought expressed throughout the Bible that it brooks little compromise.

A problem therefore arises when one considers the death of very young children. A very young child made in the likeness of God with self-awareness, reason, and free will, however rudimentary, might never have encountered a serious moral choice. That poor soul might have been free from any conscious act of sin when they died.

The death of an innocent child is at least theoretically possible. On a superficial level it isn’t obvious how either Christ’s teachings on how to lead one’s life or his sacrifice on the cross to atone for the sins of all mankind could be either useful or necessary to get such an “innocent” person into heaven.

The resolution to this conundrum is the concept of “original sin” which maintains that no one begins life completely free from blemish. The Christian teaching is that every human has inherited the sin of Adam which event heralded the expulsion of the human family from the Garden of Eden. The “grace” made available by Christ is automatically applied at baptism to cleanse both children and adults from all sin, inherited or otherwise.

Thus everyone still needs Christ to have saved us, irregardless of how fortunately free from temptation we have been or how we have lead our lives.

    1. Confessing Our Sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

An unfortunate corollary to the concept that our faith and good works enable us to acquire saving grace, is that lapses of faith or failures to do good works or otherwise commit sinful acts, lose grace. Fortunately, Christ passed the authority, which he claimed for himself, to forgive sins to his disciples under the dictates of his Church. The Catholic Church, interpreting the Bible, teaches a “perfect” sense of repentance is required, which reasonably requires a firm mental resolution to acknowledge the sin, a sense of being truly sorry, an intention not to sin again, and reasonable restitution to repair any damage.

Despite Catholics believing a “perfect” act of contrition at the moment of death is sufficient for salvation, a lifetime of sin and dissipation inhibits the proper mental attitude. How sorry or how willing to reform and make restitution can one be after innumerable transgressions endlessly repeated? It is nearly impossible to be truly repentant while in any way imagining the benefits of a lifetime of sinful pleasure eventually redeemed by a deathbed conversion. The very act of planning to enjoy a sinful life up until the last moment is itself a sin. Nor can one always time the moment with sufficient precision. The emphasis can’t be on eventually converting to Christianity but must rather be on living a life as a Christian. Why take a chance with one’s soul?

Good works as the natural working of faith, if nothing else, focus the mind and ensure a consistent and long lasting state of grace most likely to result in salvation. Confession of sins engenders a humility and sincerity, which are also Biblical requirements.

    1. Claiming Catholics Ignore the Bible and Protestants Rely only on the Bible

The Catholic Church existed in its present form before the Bible was assembled at the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. with St. Augustine in attendance. Pagan converts had often attempted to retain prior beliefs and practices. Jewish converts had often been loath to de-emphasize Old Testament Mosaic Law and to accept the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice for salvation. Some Christian intellectuals valued their own thoughts and preferences over the relatively new apostolic gospels recounting Christ’s teachings. So it was with no little effort, that the great body of works from the rapidly expanding but widely separated Christian communities was classified by all the Catholic Bishops in this first Ecumenical Council. After the seeking and obtaining the approval of Pope St. Damasus, Catholics officially created the Christian Bible we know today.

In addition, a rich body of literature written by the immediate successors of the Apostles from the first and second centuries but not included in the New Testament has survived. For example, among many other documents, we have the catechism or summary of Catholic belief, commonly referred to as the “Didache”, which was used by Saint Clement of Rome. Clement was personally instructed by St. Peter and was elected the fourth Catholic Pope in 92 A.D. Around 96 A.D., Clement sent a letter to the Church of Corinth, a major city in northeastern Greece and the site of St. Paul's evangelization. This letter, known as known as Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians, expressed dissatisfaction with events taking place in the Corinthian Church and asked the people to repent for their unchristian ways. The letter is important because it indicates that the author was acting as the head of the Christian Church and that it was centered in Rome. Also, in the fourth century, St. Augustine summarized extant Christian beliefs and wrote extensively about how our faith AND good works allow us to accept Christ’s gift of saving grace.

Protestants ignore the first 1500 years of writings by Christian philosophers, and bishops, and saints who consistently interpreted the Bible to say that good works, as well as faith, are required for salvation. It isn’t easy to disregard such a large body of literature and precedent and scholarship. One way around this difficulty is to claim that salvation only requires an individual reading of the Bible which everyone agrees is the fundamental authority. And since every Catholic mass reads from the Bible at least twice, collective Bible readings are also discounted. Apparently anyone else’s teachings or opinions on the Bible are not educational or thought provoking but instead a barrier between you and God. Unfortunately for this line of reasoning, the Bible clearly supports, and has always supported, Catholic Doctrine so that new Protestant interpretations are especially difficult to promulgate without exactly the same type of structured institutional literature developed by the Catholic Church during the first 1500 years of Christianity. Protestant literature interpreting the Bible started with Luther’s 95 Cannons, nailed to his church door in 1517 A.D.

Both Catholics and Protestants read and interpret the Bible. Both groups develop and REQUIRE extensive literature, written formal theses, or Cannons, and schools to promote their versions of Biblical interpretations and their versions of Christian doctrine.

    1. Claiming Catholics Taught “Faith Alone” Before Martin Luther

Since the time of Christ, the Catholic Church has never taught “faith alone.” Early Christian communities living the “Way”, as evangelized by St. Peter, held that good works were a central tenant of Christ’s teachings and necessary for salvation. Early writings by the successors to the Apostles in the first and second centuries, e.g. St. Clement of Rome who was the fourth Pope and baptized by St. Peter, consistently stressed the necessity of Christian charity in order to be saved. In the fourth century A.D., Catholics invented the Bible which only refers to “faith alone” twice and both times condemns the teaching.

St. Augustine in the fifth century wrote extensively in support of the treatise that faith without works is NOT sufficient for salvation, e.g. ”Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15 and 8:16 and in Chapters 18 and 19; in a Treatise on Grace and Free Will; and in Enchiridion, Chapter 18:3. Luther himself noted that St. Augustine taught the necessity of good works for salvation and specifically condemned St. Augustine’s failure to support “faith alone” e.g. Luther’s Works 15,10 and 15,49.

Nor do any other early church fathers write in support of “faith alone.” In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas taught the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church are the means to salvation and helped described the nature of Purgatory, e.g. Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Forgiveness of Sins, Chapter 10. St. Thomas never supported “faith alone.”

In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther personally inserted a third reference to “faith alone” in the Protestant Bible this time praising the concept. Perhaps he was divinely inspired, or perhaps not, but in any event “faith alone” was not a teaching of the Catholic Church before Luther. In response to Luther’s initial attacks, all the Christian Bishops in the world assembled at the Council of Trent and condemned “faith alone”. Luther’s subsequent refusal to deny the truth of “faith alone” resulted in his excommunication after which he founded his own church with the patronage of a German nobleman. Up until that time, Christians uniformly lived and taught that good works were necessary for salvation in their own right. After that Protestants split from the original Christian communities. Protestants invented, or at best claimed to have rediscovered, “faith alone” in the Catholic Bible, which they, at least partially, rewrote.

    1. Practical Results

Catholic doctrine has always been that we are saved when we accept Christ’s gift of grace, which mankind didn’t earn, by having faith AND further by responding with acts of charity which are good works performed out of love of God and neighbor.

Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, split from the Catholic Church over whether “faith alone” was sufficient to be saved. There was NEVER any disagreement about grace being available only because of Christ’s sacrifice as opposed to good works or faith or anything of ourselves. The disagreement was ENTIRELY over whether faith alone, or faith AND good works, gets us saving grace. Thus Protestants endlessly degrade the moral value of good works and create some extraordinarily convoluted arguments in support of this new Biblical interpretation. Martin Luther desperately wanted to change the 1500 year old Christian teaching about the necessity of good works, because the selling of indulgences (equivalent to “good works”) was such a scandal. He was right about the scandal but wrong about his new doctrine, or Cannon. Because “faith alone” was the sole justification for the split with extant Christianity, evolving Protestant Doctrine continues to expand upon these arguments into the present day and with an ever increasing number of Denominations. But these two different interpretations of the Bible on “good works” are still the central dispute.

On the other hand, Christ’s sacrifice has already happened so there is nothing we can do about it, either to add or detract. And although we should be grateful, make that very grateful, our main job is to concentrate on what the Bible says we, ourselves, have to do in order to be “justified.” So Catholics are endlessly told to perform good acts, which is at best a difficult journey requiring constant reinforcement. Unfortunately, Catholics tend to muddle the Catholic Doctrine of Christ’s sacrifice alone creating saving grace, as being an obscure theological fact forgotten shortly after their grade school exams. Since actually doing good works requires such constant vigilance, it seems over the years to become more and more important or, incorrectly, everything. This is wrong and contrary to long standing and precise Catholic Doctrine. Fortunately, it is nearly impossible to imagine how anyone could labor over a lifetime to perform avowed acts of Christian charity and not have faith in Christ even if they forget the wording of various Biblical verses. In a practical sense, faith is the easy part so while we might forget the detailed theological aspects of grace with relative impunity, we can never escape our duties to perform good works as Christ commanded.

Protestants exploit the propensity of Catholics to forget that, strictly speaking, our good works while necessary for salvation don’t save of themselves. Although a thoroughly detailed study of the Bible would correct this misimpression, so would even a superficial reading of ANY Catholic literature on the subject. Catholic Doctrine interprets the Bible to say that good works save but only because they are a means to grace. The concept of grace serves to make Christ’s sacrifice meaningful but does nothing to lessen our own responsibilities to live as Christ commanded. What Protestants forget is that simply knowing the theology of grace doesn’t of itself get you any of it. Instead grace flows to us from a laborious effort involving both faith and charity and not from any inconsequential exchange of ideas in some offhand conversation.

    1. Review of Protestant Biblical Misinterpretations

Attacks on the Catholic interpretation of the Bible in support of the novel doctrine of “faith alone” take several forms:

i) The phrase “faith alone” is only explicitly mentioned twice in the Biblical where it is both times condemned as insufficient without “good works.” Apparently Luther felt this was a damaging enough argument to his new church and doctrine, that he actually rewrote the Protestant Bible by inserting “faith alone” in Romans 3:28.

Confronting this difficulty, a Protestant fallback position is that works have no value in themselves but are simply a natural consequence of faith. While the Bible says that faith and works are interdependent, it also spends a lot of time saying that both are required independently; and that the lack of either one is fatal to our salvation. In the end, there shouldn’t be any doubt that emphasizing a mental ecstasy of good thoughts rather than emphasizing good works themselves, results in a lot less charity in the world given the human penchant for rationalizing and temporizing. The Bible so often stresses the necessity for good works without even mentioning faith that the “faith alone” slant seems out of touch with the greater body of Christ’s teachings.

It is a common and serious misinterpretation is to take any verse that cites the necessity of faith and claim that this means faith is the only thing required. There is a BIG logical and practical difference between “absolutely required” and “sufficient” (meaning EVERYTHING that is required).

ii) The main Protestant Biblical misinterpretation is the idea that because mankind’s works weren’t good enough to make saving grace available, they aren’t now required for an acceptance of this grace Christ earned for us. Please recall that if our good works didn’t merit salvation before Christ, then our faith didn’t either. Catholics and most Protestants agrees that grace became available only because of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s generosity and not because of our good works OR faith. Misinterpreting the Bible to say that our previously unworthy good works aren’t sanctified by grace and thus aren’t required, confuses what Christ did for us with what we still have to do ourselves to be saved.

Basically, Christ did NOT do everything that is necessary for our salvation. Christ only made salvation possible, not certain. We have to do our part as well. When the Bible talks about grace being the result of “God’s gift” or “Christ’s mercy”, it describes how grace came to be available not how we accept or reject it. Just because the existence of grace wasn’t the result of our unworthy works, does not mean that we don’t have to do good works to get grace. Note that grace wasn’t the result of our faith either but we must make an act of will to believe if we want to be saved. Nor is faith alone sufficient but is only ONE step, however important or necessary.

iii) Another misreading is to confuse Old Testament Mosaic Law with acts of Christian charity. The Bible clearly says that grace was the result of Christ’s sacrifice and not because anyone followed the “Law.” Most of Christ’s initial converts, and all the Apostles, were Jewish; and the Bible wanted to emphasize that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament and that salvation was only through Christ. But this de-emphasis of the LAW doesn’t shed any light on what is required for our acceptance of grace or whether that includes Christian charity or good works or even faith.

iv) A cute but pernicious trick is to select via a Biblical concordance any phrase containing both the word “works” and any derogatory term. The phrase “our works are as filthy rags” falls into this category and so might appear to the casual observer as support for the irrelevancy of Christian charity. In all cases, and especially here in Isaiah 64:6, the correct interpretation decries a lack of good works rather than the opposite. It says Israelites wouldn’t have to suffer God’s punishment of slavery if they did good works of the LAW. This is not surprising as the Bible is essentially replete with injunctions to lead lives of Christian virtue and otherwise to perform any number of good acts.

v) An even more drastic fallback position is that good works are irrelevant because God’s omniscience predestines us to salvation, or not, despite the seeming appearance of human free will. The mental gymnastics involved are formidable and, in practice, so dilutes our own responsibilities that it seems to make the world even less friendly to Christ. Just a thought.

    1. Biblical Summary on Justification

So what does the Bible teach about salvation? The following summary seems to be well documented:

i) In the Old Testament, God’s favor was granted to the Israelites when they strictly followed Mosaic Law. Bad things happened when they worshiped false gods or otherwise broke the LAW. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed; they were sold into slavery; and there were plagues and other really nasty collective punishments.

ii) Adam’s original sin, and the sins of each human being, was so grievous an act that it wasn’t possible for any human act of faith or good works or anything we could do to earn God’s complete forgiveness. So no one, holding any amount of belief in God, or having any number of good deeds, or however strictly following the Law, could be saved.

iii) During his life, Christ’s teachings, parables, and example showed us what to believe and what good works to perform. In a pure act of mercy, Christ died for our sins on the cross. He thus earned sufficient grace for mankind’s salvation which God made available as a pure gift. Thus the existence, or availability of saving grace, was not earned by any act of faith or good works or adherence to Old Testament Mosaic Law or indeed by anything mankind could offer. After Christ, the effect of grace is to sanctify our otherwise worthless efforts. We must believe and, if given the opportunity, we must do good works and not do evil works in order to accept the gift of grace. To reiterate, while our good works and faith are sanctified by grace and not by their own merits, they are both REQUIRED, however indirectly, for salvation.

iv) After Christ died, but before the resurrection, Christ brought all the worthy people from the Old Testament into heaven, since grace was now available to save them.

v) Since we have free will, we can choose to reject saving grace. We can also accept grace at one time and then lose it. We lose grace by failing to be charitable or otherwise committing sin.

vi) Our sins can be forgiven if we express our love of God and neighbor by being truly sorry, resolving never to sin again, and making restitution for wrongs done. Again acceptance of God’s gift of grace requires both faith and good works. Memorizing a line from the Bible, while nice, is nowhere near sufficient. One has to both resolve to be good and then actually do good to be saved.

vii) Unfortunately, we can never individually be certain of salvation. We have to wait for God’s judgment after death to finally know the outcome of all our strivings.

viii) A slight digression is the related question “Can non-Christians be saved?”

[Catholics believe that a person is only saved by the grace earned by Jesus Christ and not by the Pope or Mary or the Saints or Mohammad or Buddha or anyone else because of the verse:

Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved”

Catholics rightfully can, and do, ask for the prayers or intercession with Christ from a variety of people. Asking Mary, the mother of God, to “pray for us sinners” during the rosary falls into this category. In like manner, asking the entire Sunday congregation to pray for the sick or disadvantaged or otherwise sorrowing, falls into this category.

But if an individual were invincibly ignorant of Christ’s sacrifice and teachings, logically there would be no guilt; and they could still be saved by God. In effect, they would be saved by Christ’s sacrifice and the grace resulting through their moral behavior even though they were ignorant of the fact. It’s just that once one knows of Christ, there is an absolute requirement to respond with faith and charity. In any event, it isn’t “Christian” to harp upon or to take delight in the possible damnation of others of which we can never be absolutely certain anyway.]

A parting thought might be that salvation isn’t as easy as it looks. The “way” is clearly stated and straightforward, it’s just that living it is hard. Faith, and ESPECIALLY good works, requires constant effort. And there can’t be any doubt that Christ intended us to do good works throughout our lifetimes. Let’s at least try to do the right thing. And may God bless and keep us all.

  1. References

    1. “The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version”, Thomas Nelson Bibles, originally published in 1611.
    2. “Christian Community Bible”, Pastoral Bible Foundation, 34th Edition Claretian Publications.
    3. “A Biblical Defense of Catholicism”, Armstrong, Sophia Institute Press, 2003.
    4. “Catholic Doctrine in Scripture”, Oatis, Coming Home Resources, 2003.
    5. “Catholic and Christian”, Schreck, Servant Books, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2004.
    6. “Catholic Dictionary”, Stravinskas, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2002.
    7. “Concordance of the Bible”, Strong, World Bible Publishers, 1986.
    8. “Where We Got the Bible”, Graham, Herder Book Company, 1911.
    9. “Four Witnesses”, Bennett, Ignatius Press, 1997.

  2. Keyword Index

The following associates a mnemonic key phrase in each Biblical verse with the indicated proposition:

    1. To be saved (justified), good works are required; and faith alone is not sufficient.
c.  i) James 2:24                     […not by faith only.]
d.  ii) James 2:14-16          […faith if it hath not works is dead…]
e.  iii)       James 2:18-21          […faith without works is dead…]
f.  iv) 1 Corinthians 13:2             […have all faith…and have not charity, I am nothing…]
g.  v) Galatians 5:5-6        […faith which worketh by love…]
h.  vi) 1 John 3:6-7           […he that doeth righteousness is righteous…]
i.  vii)       Romans 2:13            […doers of the law shall be justified…]
j.  viii)      John 3:36                      […he that believeth…he who does not obey…]
    1. Good works are beneficial and necessary.
m.  i) Matthew 16:27          […reward…according to his works…]
n.  ii) Hebrews 6:10           […not unrighteous to forget your work…]
o.  iii)       1 Corinthians 15:58            […labor is not in vain…]
p.  iv) Luke 14:12-13          […thou shalt be recompensed…]
q.  v) Luke 10:25-28          […what shall I do to inherit eternal life…]
r.  vi) James 1:22-25          […shall be blessed in his deed…]
s.  vii)       1 John 3:22-24         […to every man that worketh good…]
t.  viii)      Romans 2:10            […peace, to every man that WORKETH good…]
u.  ix) Acts 10:35             […worketh righteousness, is accepted…]
v.  x) Matthew 6:3-4          […left hand know what the right hand doeth…]
w.  xi) 1 Corinthians 3:8              […reward according to his own labor…]
x.  xii)       John 5:2-3             […love of God that we keep his commandments…]
y.  xiii)      Ephesians 2:10         […unto good works, which God hath before ordained…]
z.  xiv)       Galatians 6:10         […let us do good unto all men…]
aa.xv) Sirach 12-14           […upright man will not go unrewarded…]
    1. We will be judged by our good works, which must be performed when given the opportunity.
dd.i) Revelation 20:12-13    […judged…according to their works…]
ee.ii) Matthew 25: 31-46              […righteous to life eternal.]
ff.iii)       Matthew 7:21-23        […he that doeth the will of my father…]
gg.iv) Romans 2:5-6           […render to every man according to his deeds…]
hh.v) John 5:28-29           […they that have done good, unto resurrection…] 2 Corinthians 5:10             […according to that he hath done…]
jj.vii)       Peter 1:17             […according to every man’s work…]
kk.viii)      Ephesians 5:5          […no unclean person … hath any inheritance…]
ll.ix) John 3:19-21           […he that doeth truth cometh to the light…]
mm.x) 1 John 3:10            […doeth not righteousness is not of God…]
    1. Through sin and evil deeds, we can lose the inheritance of salvation.
pp.i) Romans 6:23            […wages of sin is death…]
qq.ii) 2 Peter 2:20           […overcome, the latter end is worse…]
rr.iii)       Luke 8:13                      […for a while believe, and … fall away…]
ss.iv) 1 Corinthians 6:9              […unrighteous shall not inherit…]
tt.v) 1 Corinthians 9:27             […I myself should be a castaway…] 1 Corinthians 10:12            […take heed lest he fall…]
vv.vii)       Romans 11:22           […otherwise thou also shall be cut off…]
ww.viii)      Matthew 10:22          […endureth to the end…]
xx.ix) Galatians 6:8-9        […let us not be weary in well doing…]
yy.x) James 1:4              […let patience have her perfect work…]
    1. The Sacrament of Baptism is part of salvation.
bbb.    i)      John 3:5                       […Except a man be born of water… cannot enter…]
ccc.    ii)     Mark 16:16             […He that… is baptized shall be saved…]
ddd.    iii)    Acts 2:38-41           […be baptized… for the remission of sins…]
eee.    iv)     Acts 22:16             […be baptized, and wash away thy sins…]
fff.    v)      Galatians 3:27         […have been baptized… have put on Christ]
ggg.    vi)     Matthew 28:19          [Go ye therefore… all nations, baptizing them…]
    1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation Cleanses Us of Our Sins.
jjj.    i)      2 Corinthians 5:18             [… given us the ministry of reconciliation.]
kkk.    ii)     John 20:23                     [Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted…]
lll.    iii)    2 Corinthians 2:10             [To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also…]
mmm.    iv)     1 John 1:9

                       [… confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive...]

nnn.    v)      James 5:15-16          [… Confess your faults one to another…]
ooo.    vi)     Acts 19:18                     [… many believed came, and confessed, …]
ppp.    vii)    Matthew 9:2-8          [… thy sins be forgiven thee…]
qqq.    viii)   Mark 2:5                       [… thy sins be forgiven thee…]
rrr.    ix)     Matthew 16:18-19               [… whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth…]
sss.    x)      Matthew 18:18          [… Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth…]
ttt.    xi)     Leviticus 5:5-6        [.. he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing…]
    1. We can never individually be certain of salvation.
vvv.    i)      1 Corinthians 4:4-5            […judge nothing before the time until the Lord comes…]
www.    ii)     2 Peter 1:10           […give diligence to make your … election sure…]
xxx.    iii)    Philippians 2:12               […salvation with fear and trembling…]
yyy.    iv)     Phillippians 3:12              […not as though I had already attained…]
    1. Famous Protestant Misreadings of Biblical verses on “How we are saved.”
aaaa.  i)      Ephesians 2:8-10               […not of works, lest any man should boast…]
bbbb.  ii)     Titus 3:4-7            […not by works, but according to his mercy…]
cccc.  iii)    Romans 11:5-6          […if by grace, then it is no more of works…]
dddd.  iv)     Isaiah 64:6            […all our righteousness are as filthy rags…]
eeee.  v)      John 14:6              […no man cometh unto the Father, but by me…]
ffff.  vi)     Romans 3:27-28         […without the works of the (Mosaic) law…]
gggg.  vii)    Galatians 2:16-17              [...not by works of the (Mosaic) law…]
hhhh.  viii)   Galatians 2:21         […by the (Mosaic) law, then Christ is dead in vain.]
iiii.  ix)     Galatians 5:4          […justified by the (Mosaic) law … fallen from grace…]
jjjj.  x)      Romans 4:2-5           […Now to him that worketh not, but believeth…]
kkkk.  xi)     John 3:16              […whoever believeth in him should not perish…]
llll.  xii)    John 6:28-29           […the work of God, that ye believe on him…]
mmmm.  xiii)   Romans 5:1-2           […being justified by faith, we have peace with God…]
nnnn.  xiv)    Hebrews 10:10          […sanctified through … Jesus Christ once for all.]
oooo.  xv)     Romans 5:1-2           […if thou shalt confess … thou shalt be saved…]