Faith vs Works

June 19, 2008

This topic has been the cause of HUGE separation among Christians. Whereas there are some differences in understanding, I strongly believe that the Protestant and Catholic beliefs are a lot closer than we often allow ourselves to think. And here is why…..


First things first…. The Catholic Church DOES NOT teach that you can EARN salvation by the deeds you do. Faith and Works come completely and entirely from Christ and the Grace He gives us to face daily struggles and temptations. It is this Grace that strengthens our Faith and trust in Him.


The Catholic Church teaches that at Baptism we receive Grace. Since the Church teaches that Baptism is a Sacrament, (“an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace”), it is understood that the child of God is opened up to an outpouring of God’s Grace.  This Grace gives us the strength and wisdom to accept Jesus as our Savior, as the Lord who died to take away our sins, and as the Lord who promises us eternal life and therefore saves us from our sin.


In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, statement 1989, (Council of Trent in 1547) it was resolved that “Justification is not only the remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” This shows that the Catholic Church defines Justification and Sanctification as codependent events. Both acts are acknowledged as distinct and equally important in the lives of Christians. Since Justification separates man from sin, it in turn gives way to Christian behavior (i.e. good works).  Therefore, Catholics don’t believe that they are saved by good works, but that the result of Faith in Christ Jesus and commitment to trying to follow Him, is Christian and virtuous behavior.


Baptism unites us in purpose to the righteousness of God because of the Grace we receive. This grace gives us the strength and will to believe and be saved. In Romans 3:24-25, Paul says that,


“They are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption which is Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as expiation by his blood, to be received by faith”


This means that it is by Grace we believe, and by belief that we learn the love of sacrifice and the joy of Christian life. It is through this process that we pass through the events of Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. The Catholic Church teaches that sanctification happens co-dependently with justification.  The sanctifying grace we receive at baptism is a habitual gift, given by Christ, to perfect our souls.  It is through this habitual gift of Grace that we are led to justification through Faith as well as sanctification through charity. And from here we take our final steps of Christian living towards glorification, everlasting life with Christ in heaven. Without justification we lose the willingness to love and the desire to live the Christian life.


Grace, the greatest gift of the spirit, both justifies us and sanctifies us. Grace cannot be known without Faith, and Faith is not easily found without Grace. Therefore, we cannot rely on good works, but only on Faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are a result and a vital component of our Christian faith.


These thoughts are supported in Scripture.  Saint James was particularly interested and wrote extensively on the topic of Faith and Works.


James 2:20 says, “Do you need proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?”


James 2:24 says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone


James 2:26 says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead


2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For all of us must appear before Christ, to be judged by him. We will each receive what we deserve, according to everything we have done, good or bad, while in the body”.


Matthew 16:24 says, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”


Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them“.


Revelation 22:12 says, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”


Ecclesiastes 12:14 says, “For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.”


These are just a few….


To sum things up…. Salvation is found in Grace, through which we have faith and works.

And in closing…. This is just an excerpt from one of my favorite apologists.

“Faith alone is not the Christian life unless by ‘Faith alone’ we mean a Faith in God the Father, given through Jesus the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit that issues in Faith expressing itself in deeds of love.”


So, I’m aware of the controversy that will be raised by this post, and perhaps some that will come after it. But please remember that I mean to eliminate misunderstanding and prejudice between faiths, as well as to share with you the faith that I love so much. I ask that you respect my (our) beliefs and work towards understanding so that there may be unity among Christians – How Christ must mourn at the division of His Kingdom.


In the Roman Catholic Mass it is Christ’s real presence is in the Eucharist. This belief has it’s roots in John Chapter 6, with The Bread of Life Discourse. The key verses begin with John 6:27.


Christ says, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the FOOD that ENDURES for eternal Life.”


Later, in 6:32 He says, “…”My father gives you the TRUE bread from heaven.”


When the apostles murmur and question his claim, Jesus tells them again that He is the Bread of Life. In verses 47-51 He tells them how the manna that their ancestors ate was not true bread, and therefore they died, but that He is the Bread of Life, and we will be given eternal life through Him alone. This tells us that the manna given in the desert is inferior to the food of Christ. How remarkable since the manna was already supernatural/ heavenly/ miraculous! Christ is saying that He is the Bread of Life that is perfect, whole, and life-giving. This is just one part of the Gospel that explicitly describes Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist. 


These claims build to a moment when many of His disciples question and turn away. (Imagine how confusing it must have been to hear their teacher telling them to eat him!) When this happens Jesus doesn’t back down or change his wording, instead, he continues and says,


“…Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you.” (6:53)


This is the first time Jesus addresses this concept of salvation linked with the Eucharist. In the Greek translation, the word he uses is the generic word for “eat” (phago). But in 6:54-58, He says again,


“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is TRUE food, and my blood is TRUE drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (6:54-58 ).


Here, when He repeats it His claim, He uses the word trogo. Trogo is a more graphic and particular word for eat. It means literally, “to gnaw” or “to chew.” So, instead of softening His rhetoric, Christ actually makes His words more deliberate – stressing the literal meaning of His claim.


St. Paul echoes Jesus’ claim in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30,


“Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and the blood of the Lord.”


If these words meant that His flesh was a symbol of true food, and His blood, a symbol of true drink, than Christ most likely would have cleared things up with His disciples before they walked away. In other instances throughout the New Testament (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15 and with the Leaven of the Pharisees in Matthew 16:5-12) Christ’s disciples misunderstood so Christ cleared up misunderstanding, but this time He didn’t. If these words meant that His flesh was a merely a symbol of true food, and His blood, merely a symbol of true drink, than why does Paul put such an emphasis on their importance? We can see that Christ meant what He said in a very literal sense. He is telling us that Bread and Wine will be a new form of revelation to His people. This form celebrates both His incarnation and His sacrifice.


In the midst of the confusion the Lord asks the apostles why they have not left. The apostles respond, “Lord, to whom can we go?” Their faith was undying and they did not question the words Jesus was telling them.


A common misconception about the Catholic teaching on Eucharist is that we believe that Christ is sacrificed repeatedly, week after week, day after day – but that is not the case. The Catholic Church teaches that Christ’s sacrifice happened once and for all, just as is stated in Scripture. The difference lies in Christ’s role in our remembrance of His death and resurrection. In the Catholic Tradition, that role is revealed in the consececration and transformation of bread and wine into His own body and blood, shed for His people. He is the Paschal Lamb. We take the ultimate sacrifice into our own bodies and souls, just as the Jewish people took the Passover lamb into their own bodies. (The Passover Story closely parallel’s Christ’s Passion)


It is also important to notice that the word “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving, and therefore the act of receiving the Eucharist is in praise and thanksgiving for his death and resurrection. When we receive the Eucharist, we are celebrating the Christ’s sacrifice when he offered his life to save us.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks of The Sacramental Sacrifice: Thanksgiving, Memorial, and Presence. In statement 1360 it says, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through CREATION, REDEMPTION, and SANCTIFICATION.”


Therefore, the church does not teach Justification through the Eucharist, but in fact, Justification by Grace – through which we have Faith. Faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior who made the ultimate sacrifice. I think its often thought that Catholics think that if one doesn’t believe in the presence of the Eucharist than one is not “saved”, but that’s not true. Who are we humans to condemn others? Naturally, Catholics do believe that we have been given the gift of the fullness of faith (included in our understanding of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist), but who doesn’t believe that their own faith and understanding is the truth? True faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer is where justification and salvation comes in – but only by the means of Grace. The Eucharist is then God’s gift to us to help us understand Christ’s sacrifice and saving act. Faith is given to us by the Grace of God, and that Grace overflows in to all areas of our lives. If our Faith is strong, than why would we question God’s power to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of our savior? Why would we question the Holy Spirit’s role in the consecration of the elements? Isn’t it with God that all things are possible? With True Faith is there ever room for doubt?


When we take part in the Sacraments (there are 7 in the Catholic Church) we open ourselves to be recipients of God’s Grace. In the Catholic Church, a Sacrament is defined as, “an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace.” The Eucharist is a Sacrament because it allows us to open ourselves wide to receive the outpouring of God’s grace in the form of bread and wine, that has become the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is why the Eucharist is important – it is another avenue, another available moment, and another means to grow closer to God.


Karl Adam, a German Catholic theologian, described Transubstantiation like this…

“So completely does Jesus disclose Himself to His disciples that he gives Himself to them and enters into them as a personal source of grace. Jesus shares with His disciples His most intimate possession, the most precious thing that He has, His own self. So greatly does Jesus love his community that He permeates it with His real self, God and Man. He enters into a real union of flesh and blood with it, and binds it to His being even as the branch is bound to the vine.”