Saturday, September 23, 2006

Faith and works

Steve (SJB) recently posted the following comments and questions:
"I'd love to see you address the faith/works issue (for lack of a better word), as it pertains to salvation. That is, if you already haven't given it a full post (and if there is interest from others).Isn't it true that the Catholic teaching is that faith is the one pathway to salvation, and that good works are a manifestation of that faith? To take an example--Wouldn't it be the case that Mother Teresa is it the Lord's side today because of her faith (devotion to the Eucharist, etc.)? Her good works were born of that faith, but are not why she has entered into eternal salvation. I probably have this all knotted up! Disentangle it for me!"

Thanks for your post, Steve. One of the first places I go on this issue is James 2:14-26. Particularly, "demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works" (v.18). This is what you mean when you say that good works are a manifestation of faith. St. James is saying that faith without works is 'dead', and asks, "Can that faith save (a person)" (v.14)?

The Church teaches that "salvation comes from God alone" and that "our justification comes from the grace of God"(CCC, # 169, 1996). It is through and in Christ Jesus that man receives God's grace, which is the means of his salvation. Specifically, it is Christ's death and resurrection (the Paschal mystery) that is our salvation. Anyone who wishes to be saved must not only have faith in Christ, but must actually do something: participate in the Paschal mystery.

Initially, for us, that comes in the form of Baptism; Christ says that Baptism is necessary for salvation (see Jn 3:5). This is where we receive the gift of Faith. We live out our Baptism (and participate in the Paschal Mystery) by receiving the Grace of the other sacraments. I would consider these "works" that are necessary for salvation. Christ says that we must receive the Eucharist in order to receive eternal life (see Jn 6:54). The sacraments are the works of Christ, but we actually share in them for ourselves.

Beyond these primary ways to receive salvation, Christ makes it clear that there are other "works" (based in faith in Christ and from his Grace) that are necessary for us to get to Heaven. In Matthew 25, he says that we will be judged on how we treated the poor. Those who did good "works" with the poor will go to Heaven; those who did not "will go off to eternal punishment" (v.46). Faith in Christ demands the response of works of charity. We are not saved by faith or works alone. We are saved by the Grace of Christ which gives us faith and is manifested through good works.

For more reading about faith / works, check out this site:

1 comment:

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