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Monday, January 16, 2006
Faith versus Works
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Last night I had the opportunity to watch one of my favorite EWTN programs, Sunday Night Live with Fr. Benedict Groeschel. And, last night he had a special MailBag session where he answered common questions he received throughout the year. One concerned the discussion between faith and works.

Q: Why are faith and works so important in the Catholic faith?

A: It takes both faith and works to successfully live our lives for Christ. First, I must stress, though, that the works don't save us. These works of good-will do not save us; only through God's grace and faith in Him are we saved. Good Works allow us to become followers of Christ and serve him.

Look to Matthew 25 that we can be condemned for not being charitable enough. Our Lord said, "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." And then He shall say, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

And to those that didn't help others Our Lord shall say, "Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal 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, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me."

As those words illustrate, we can lose our salvation without good works unless of course there are exceptions in a person's abilities. Again, faith are so important in the Catholic faith because that is what Jesus Christ taught. He didn't just have faith; Jesus Christ had the greatest of all works - the Cross. Faith in Christ leads to our salvation, but to serve Him and follow Him we must do good. We are saved by grace- the freely given supernatural gift of God bestowed on us out of love. We are saved by grace.

James 2:17-18 "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. "

Epistle of St. James:

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. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. 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. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God." See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Do you really believe that someone that harms others and hates everyone else will still reach Heaven if he believes? Faith demands action.

Action isn't a lot - Our Lord died for us! His skin and was torn open all of of love for us. Dismas, the good thief, confesses Jesus is the Christ and is saved. He is saved through his faith and his baptism of desire:

Above all we are saved though through God's friendship. If we do not know Christ and find Him on our deathbed, then we can't have any works. But, if you claim to have faith in Christ then you certainly must follow His Commandments. Following the Commandments is doing something - it's a work. We too must follow the Commandments and serve God. He gave us the Sacraments to lead us to Him. They are gravely important.

Yet, what I find most important is for us to put aside these differences. What we should do is spread Christ to others - to those that do not know him. We must convert atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jewish people to our true faith in Our Savior. We will all have differences and I will always know that Christ's Church is the Catholic Church, but if we don't do anything to bring the unbelievers to God then so many souls could be lost.

Reflection by Father Franz Schmidberger entitled "The Errors of Luther and the Spirit of Today"

2. Sola fides (faith alone, not works)

An important objection against this Protestant error can also be raised here, first of all from Scripture itself.

a) In the Epistle of St. James we read that faith without works is dead; in the Apocalypse the dead are praised, ". . . for their works follow them." And in the Second Book of Maccabees we see the great hero Judas taking a collection for the fallen, that a sin-offering may be made; that it is a good and pious thought to pray for the dead.
b) Human nature itself reveals a connection between faith and works, as it consists of body and soul, whereby the soul is expressed in the body, the body is an instrument of the spiritual soul, and an exchange between body and soul cannot be denied. For example, if I make a genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, I proclaim the faith of the Church, that Christ truly, really and powerfully, with His divinity and humanity, body and soul under the appearances of bread, is present among us. By the same token every outward gesture, every sign of the cross and every bow, helps us to strengthen our faith. The soul is inwardly nourished by these outward signs. In this connection it is not to be forgotten that the separation of body and soul in death is only a temporary arrangement until the last day, when body and soul will again find their unity, yet distinct from one another.

Exactly the same relationship holds between faith and works. Faith expresses itself in works, as works without faith are dead, like the body without the soul. At the same time works are a true prolongation of faith, reflect back upon it, strengthen it and shape it.
c) As works belong essentially to faith, a blinding flash of light occurs in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead; God comes visibly among us; He walks around for thirty-three years in our earthly flesh, He performs miracles and makes use of outward elements as, for instance, a mud plaster in the healing of a blind man, His finger in the healing of a deaf-mute; He cries out and prays aloud for the apostles' sake in the raising of Lazarus.

And thus the Church is His visible Body; the Sacraments are visible signs, which contain and bestow an inner, invisible grace and mediate it through the work itself; works are faith made visible; our cathedrals and churches, processions and pilgrimages, our seminaries and convents, all proclaim the eternal, living Truth which has broken into time.

Because God became man, therefore we bend the knee; because He went down into the dust of the earth, we throw ourselves on the ground in holy fear. All of nature should proclaim His works, all art should be put at His service and sing the praise of the Eternal One.

When we reverence the relics of the saints, we are praying to that uncreated Love which took weak man to Itself, opened Its throne to them and surrounded them with Its grace.
Not to be overlooked in this regard, the Catholic priest binds himself to celibacy and wears the black cassock, in order to show himself to other men as a man chosen from among men, to make visible in the world the presence of God.

It is therefore clear that works are not only a short-term or a long-lasting consequence of faith; they are part of faith and thus also a part of justification. Because parts of Holy Scripture are a direct contradiction to the sola fides theory of Luther, he did away with the Epistle of St. James, calling it an epistle of straw, the Apocalypse of doubtful authenticity, and the Books of Maccabees as definitely apocryphal. He himself not only attacked celibacy, but did not hesitate as a monk with perpetual vows, to marry an ex-nun, and to proclaim up and down the land—quoting the Second Epistle of St. Peter—the general priesthood of the laity to the detriment of the structures which Christ had established with His own Blood.

If we see work therefore as sign and fruit of Christian love, then the sola fides theory must become the gravedigger of that beautiful principle which, according to St. Paul, surpasses and survives faith and hope; and it alone remains, because it is eternal.

4 comments:

del_button January 16, 2006 at 2:56 PM
kevin h said...

I like to point out when talking with people who misunderstand works that "faith" does not save us, either. Faith has a role and place in our salvation, but it is God's grace that has salvific power.

del_button January 16, 2006 at 3:02 PM
tom said...

I know we can't earn our way through the Pearly Gates...the way I am coming to understand this, we sure aren't going to do good things is we don't first believe that Jesus saved us...personally, if I don't buy into the first, what the hecks the point of the second?

del_button May 12, 2008 at 8:22 PM
Anonymous said...

a dead faith is an oxymoron...good works is absolutely and positively an intrinsic factor in the God believing soul. Alternately, those who seek salvation by good works alone are lacking in faith; and without faith it is impossible to please God.

del_button July 28, 2008 at 10:50 AM
Joe Cope said...

Paul wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Romans 3:28 "28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law"

Additionally he wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast"

God's grace is not dependent on anything we do, rather is bestowed upon us permanently when we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9) These utterances are the beginning of faith. And it is through this faith we are saved, not dependent on any previous actions to that moment OR any future actions to come. But rather it is in that moment of faith that we are justified before the eyes of God. Our sins which once condemned us and the wrath we were due for them are credited as payed upon Christ and the Cross, and Christ's righteousness is imputed (or given) to us.

2 Corinthians 5:21 1God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We literally become righteous (or blameless) before God for our past, present and future sins. That is why there is freedom in Christ. There is no longer condemnation once you are in Him, once you've accepted by faith what he has done. Why you no longer have to feel guilt.

Will we continue to sin? Yes. We will continue to ask for forgiveness? Yes. Why? Because as Paul says in Romans 6 19I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Obedience to Christ and his commands, i.e. our Works, are a result of being freed from the condemnation of sin. We obey the commands of Christ and "Work" for Him in this world because he freed us from eternal condemnation. Those works are based on our gratitude and desire to please Him, to store up treasures in Heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy (Matthew 6:19-21)

James was talking about the results of faith. He and Paul complement one another...Romans 6 is the same as James 2.

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