“I believe salvation is a free gift,” says your Protestant friend. “But it seems like you Catholics think you can earn salvation.”
Ah, the good ol’ “faith alone” argument, you think to yourself. Luckily, you’re feeling confident, because you’ve been reading Get Fed!
One of the main points of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is the role of good works in salvation. Misinterpreting such passages as Ephesians 2, they argue that faith alone is necessary:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.
Catholics, on the other hand, know that good works are bound up with faith, and that both are necessary for salvation. Salvation is truly a free gift in the sense that we can do nothing to earn it—that is what the above passage from Ephesians means. And it is of course necessary to believe—with a firm faith—in Christ and His promises if we are to receive them.
Good works, in their turn, support our faith; safeguard the life of grace in our souls; demonstrate our sincerity of heart, interior conversion, and love for God; and increase God’s grace in us.
St. James explains this very clearly in his Epistle, which Martin Luther was never able to explain away:
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
—James 2:14-17, 24
Christ, in fact, commands us to do good works throughout the Gospels:
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
This emphasizes the importance of doing as well as believing.
FUN FACT: Nowhere in Scripture does it say we are justified by faith alone. A passage often used to defend “faith alone”—Romans 3:28—never says this. Martin Luther actually inserted the word “alone” after the word “faith”!
This has been a brief glance at the Bible verses that support the Catholic understanding of faith and works. You can learn more in the The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants—a clever contrapunkt to Luther’s 95 Theses. You will learn how to scripturally defend not only the role of works, but also the papacy, the Eucharist, Our Lady, and other central Catholic dogmas. Pick up your copy today!