Faith and Works

There is perhaps no greater confusion among Roman Catholic Christians and Evangelical Protestant and Pentecostal Christians than that held over the controversy of faith versus good works. This controversy best warrants the balance of scriptures necessary in reading the Word of God to understand what God means for us to know.

The Bible is clear that faith holds a first and prominent role in the salvation of every person.

Heb 10:38
But my just one shall live by faith ...
Heb 11:6
But without faith it is impossible to please him (God) ...

The Bible is equally clear on the saving role of good works in the lives of the faithful.

1 Pet 2:12
Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Rev 2:2
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance ...
Mt 5:16
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
Mt 16:27
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
Mt 25:34-36
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

The Bible makes it clear that there must be a balanced relationship between our faith and its expression in good works.

James 2:14-18
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
1 Cor 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Heb 6:10
For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.
James 2:20-22
Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.
Mt 16:27
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
1 Cor 3:8
The one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor.
Col 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance.

The Bible indicates that it is wrong to disturb the balance of works expressing a life of faith. Man is not saved by faith alone.

James 2:24
See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
James 2:26
For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Nor is man saved by works alone.

Rom 9:31-32
Israel, who pursued the law of righteousness, did not attain to that law ... because they did it not by faith, but as if it could be done by works.
Gal 3:11
And that no one is justified before God by the law is clear, for "the one who is righteous by faith will live."

The Bible declares that salvation is a gift of God alone and constantly reaffirms that faith has a primary role in that salvation.

Eph 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.
Heb 6:1
Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,
Heb 9:14
... how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
2 Tim 1:9
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began,
Titus 3:4-5
... the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.
Rom 3:27-28
What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith. For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Gal 2:16
(We) know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

The constant teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on these Scriptures was clearly restated on January 13, 1547.

Council of Trent, On Justification, Ch. VIII
When the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, "without which it is impossible to please God" and to come to the fellowship of His sons; and we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification. For, "if by grace, it is not now by works, otherwise," as the Apostle says, "grace is no more grace."

The Council also reiterated the relationship of good works to man justified by faith.

Council of Trent, On Justification, Ch. XVI
Therefore, to men justified in this manner, whether they have preserved uninterruptedly the grace received or recovered it when lost, are to be pointed out the words of the Apostle: "Abound in every good work, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. For God is not unjust, that he should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in his name"; and "Do not lose confidence, which hath a great reward." Hence, to those who work well "unto the end" and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits.



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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-1997, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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