Saved by Faith, Not Works…
In today’s verse, St. Paul tells us that we are saved by faith, not works:
We, who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, (yet) who 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. -Galatians 2:15-16, NAB
A common argument between Catholics and Protestants is whether we are saved by faith or saved by faith and works. My goal today is to show you that we arguing needlessly against ourselves as Christians, and if we begin to listen to each other a little more, we may understand each other better.
During my Protestant years, a common argument that I made was that Catholics are trying to “earn” their way to Heaven. Now, as a Catholic, I understand that this is far from true. In fact, I have learned that both groups feel much the same way.
In verses like the one we read today, we are taught that it is our faith in Christ that will save us. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. This is plainly shown in Romans 3:28, Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:9, and many more verses like them. These many references show us that we are truly saved by the grace, love, and power of Christ, not by anything we could have done.
This is where the argument begins. Both Protestants and Catholics can agree that it is faith in Christ that saves us, but what about works? What role do they play?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. -James 2:17, NAB
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… See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone… For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. -James 2:21-25, NAB
I remember hearing many sermons about this during my Protestant years, but it was never combined with being saved by faith. In fear of sounding “too Catholic,” it was often avoided in the same subject. Like Catholics, I was taught that our works are evidence of our faith. If you truly have Christ in your heart, works will come flowing out naturally – it’s impossible to keep that much grace bottled up inside.
Catholic doctrine does not teach us that anything we do is worthy of being saved. Let me be clear. Protestants, we do not believe that our works will save us; they are merely proof that our faith is alive. The question becomes, can a faith that is dead truly save us? Is a faith that is dead even faith to begin with, or is it simply lip service? Will someone whose faith shows no life be saved? Only God can answer that question.
Again, let me be clear. Catholics, you cannot be saved by anything you do – regardless of how many trips to the confessional you make, the number of Masses you attend, or the number of rosaries you pray. Do not get me wrong, though. These works are evidence that your faith is vibrant and alive, and that faith in Christ, through His power, majesty, and grace, will surely save you.
I truly believe that we arguing the same thing. Yes, we are saved by faith, not works, but our works are evidence of the grace within us that is flowing directly from Christ and the Holy Spirit. When you have truly accepted Jesus in your heart, when faith comes, works will surely follow.