Salvation by Faith ALONE?

Or by Faith and Works? – PART II

In my last post on Faith and Works, we saw how the Bible teaches salvation by faith and works, and not faith alone (Sola Fides).  Let’s examine this in more detail.

Many honest people believe that they are saved through faith alone, but many of these same people honestly just don’t know that this doctrine was invented by Martin Luther.  Still fewer realize that the earliest Christians never believed or accepted Sola Fides.  It really is a novel teaching. (For those who desire to see some quotes from the early Christians, I will list a few at the end of this blog post).

Most Protestants misunderstand what the Catholic Church teaches regarding faith and works.  It is thought that Catholics can work their way to heaven, earn their salvation, or merit their own way to eternal life just be being a good person.  All of these are flagrantly wrong.

Despite the attacks by Protestant fundamentalists, the Catholic Church is more than well aware that a person cannot work their way to heaven.  The Church has never taught this, and any Catholic who “just tries to be good enough” is wrong and doesn’t know their faith.  Many Protestants may be breathing a sigh of relief here, happy to hear this.  And, it’s true.

In fact, the Catholic Church condemned this heresy, known as Pelagianism back in the 5th century, which taught that you could work your way to heaven.  Nope.  No such thing!  A person needs faith in the Lord Jesus, for it is only His passion, death, and resurrection which can atone for our sins and open the path to heaven.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church is that salvation is a free gift of God, and there is nothing we can do to earn it.  Sin permanently separates us from God, and a thousand, million good works cannot fill that gap.  Only Jesus and His eternal sacrifice can.  I think Prots and Caths can agree up to this point.

The Catholic Church teaches, as does the Bible, that we are saved “by grace alone” (Acts 15:11).  This means that even having faith is a grace.  It also means that all the good works God commands us to do can only be accomplished by His powerful grace. (As a side note, the Catholic practice of infant baptism is proof that Catholics don’t need to earn their salvation.  Babies are justified by the grace of Christ without doing anything).

With this being said, it is also untrue that works account for nothing.  While we can’t “earn” our salvation, God commands us to do good works (Eph. 2:10) and we will be judged by those works Mt. 25:31-46).  Faith and works are supposed to walk hand in hand.  It’s not faith alone.  IT’s not works alone.  It’s both, working together.

A very telling thing is that every passage of the Bible that talks about Judgment Day and what we will be judged on, mentions that we will be judged by works!  Now obviously, this is not works alone or working our way to heaven, but it is a works done in faith.  In other words, it’s a working faith that saves us.  Faith and works are inseparable.  Here are some of those verses.  They are very plain.

Rev. 20:12 – And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things, which were written in the books.

Rev. 22:12 – And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to repay to every one according to his work.

Mt 16:27 – For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.

Mt. 25:31-46 – “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him,saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Rms:  2:5-7, 10-13 – But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his works [deeds], eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek… for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified [saved].

2 Cor. 5:10 – For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or evil.

And there are more.  Read them again if necessary.  No one can read these passages and claim that works “count for nothing” or  “aren’t necessary” as many Protestant denominations teach.  Protestants who teach that they are necessary, even if they don’t count toward salvation are in agreement, or close to the Catholic Church’s teaching.

The necessity of faith and works has been taught for over 2000 years, whereas faith alone was invented by Martin Luther in the 1500s.

The Truth about Faith and Works

The first time Paul ever mentions works in Romans is found in the Romans 1:5 where he talks about faith working in obedience, or “the obedience of faith” depending on the translation.  Faith and obedience (both which are works) always go hand in hand and cannot be separated.  That is why when someone asked Jesus in Scripture how to get to heaven, Jesus didn’t instruct them to “just believe” and then “go find a good Bible church.”  No, rather He gave the Catholic answer, “Follow the Commandments” (Mt. 19:16-17).  We see this also in Mt. 7:21-23 & Lk. 6:46, where Jesus tells us we must do the will of God do enter the kingdom of heaven.  It reads, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of My Father in heaven.”  Lk. 6:46 adds, “Why do you call me Lord and don’t do what I command you to.”  Thus, obedience to God’s will is a necessary requisite for obtaining salvation.  After all, what is the difference between someone “Saved” and not “Saved?”  The believer is the one who did something, a work:  They believed, they repented, they confessed, and they turned away from their old life.  Those are all works, not just believing.  “Even the demons believe.”  Belief is not enough.

People can’t do whatever they want and still hope to get to heaven by just believing (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:17-21; Heb. 12:26-27; 1 John 1:6, 2:3-4; Jn. 15:5-6, 7, 10, 14; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Rev. 3:3-5, 16, etc).  There is nothing about faith alone in these passage or the following ones.

Mt. 19:16-17 “And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; honor thy father and thy mother; and, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me. And, the man went away sad because he was very rich” (Note: Jesus called him to do more than just the commandments to obtain salvation.  Quite the opposite of just accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior – which we must do, by the way).

1 John 2:3-4 “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (Note: People who claim to follow Jesus but think they can do whatever they want aren’t in the truth and aren’t his followers).

Jms. 2:14-17, 21-24 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? [The obvious answer is NO]. … Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. …  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works [The Catholic position], and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified [saved] by works, and not by faith alone.” (More about this in my next Faith and Works post on Romans and St. Paul).

Gal 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Love is a work)

And many more. Rather than write them all out, I will list many more below.  We are not saved by faith alone, but by:

— Faith and works (Jms. 2:19-24; Jn. 6:28-29; Eph. 2:10)

— The work of love; without love, faith cannot save you (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Note: Love is a work just as faith is (Gal. 5:6).  Believing is something you do (Jn. 6:28-29). That’s why Paul talks about the obedience of faith, Rms. 1:5).

— The need to walk in the light, stay faithful to the Gospel, and to love one another (1 Jn. 2:3-4; 1 Jn.2-10-11);

— Works being necessary to accompany faith (Mt. 25:31-46; Jms 1:22; Titus 3:8).

Works alone will not save us. Faith alone will not save us.  A working faith will.  Faith and works are both necessary.  As the Bible states, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18).  There is no real faith without works, and thus, no salvation!


Early Christians

Here are some of the earliest Christians on the topic.  Only a few of many.  Sometimes Protestants may point out times where early Christians, like St. Augustine or St. John Chrysostom, for example, speak about faith without works, of the fact that a person can’t earn salvation, or that works are condemned in Scripture.  However, what they don’t usually realize, either because they haven’t actually read them, or don’t read them in context, is that they are referring to those Gnostics, Pagans or Jews who believed they could can save themselves by their works (which the Catholic Church condemns too, of course).  They are also condemning the Jewish works of the law, the outdated rituals which have no power to save.  Many of their writings are addressed to people like the Pelagians who the Catholic Church condemns too.  They only condemned works alone, or works done apart from the grace of Christ, never works in conjunction with faith or done by God’s grace (Catholics agree).

St. Iranaeus (180 A.D.) “For God at the first, indeed, warning them by means of natural precepts, which from the beginning He had implanted in mankind, that is, by means of the Decalogue (which, if any one does not observe, he has no salvation), did then demand nothing more of them. … while at the same time He issued His own exhortations, in order that those who do not obey Him should be righteously judged (condemned) because they have not obeyed Him; and that those who have obeyed and believed on Him should be honoured with immortality (Against Heresies, IV, 15)

Clement of Alexandria (202 A.D.):  When we hear, ‘Your faith has saved you,’ we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed. To begin with, it was to the Jews alone that he spoke this phrase, who had lived in accord with the law blamelessly and who had lacked only faith in the Lord (Stromateis or Miscellanies 6:14:108:4)

Origen (226-232 A.D.):  Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the epistle bearing the name of James (Commentaries on John 19:6)

Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 A.D.): “Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. Faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither is righteous living secure in itself of salvation, if it is disjoined from faith” (Homilies on Ecclesiastes 8).

John Chrysostom:  “He that believes in the Son has everlasting life.” Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son,’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’ By no means! Listen to Christ declare this himself when he says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’; and the blasphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man believe rightly in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, but does not live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 31:1).

St. Augustine (Catholic Bishop of Hippo 391-430 A.D.): “He was handed over for our offenses, and he rose again for our justification.” What does this mean, “for our justification?” So that he might justify us, so that he might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you are a man. If God made you a man, and you made your-self just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. You did not lend your consent so that God could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but he does not justify you without your willing it” (Sermons 169:13).

“But we know that God does not hear sinners: but if any man is a worshiper of God and does his will, that man God will hear. He still speaks as one only anointed. For God does listen to sinners too. If God did not listen to sinners, it would have been all in vain for the publican to cast down his eyes to the ground and strike his breast saying: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And that confession merited justification, just as the blind man merited enlightenment” (Homilies on the Gospel of John 44:13).