Are we saved by faith or by works?

16 08 2009

Mother Teresa of Kolkata

These are some passages from the Bible that teach us about faith and works:

  • 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. (Eph 2:8-9)
  • 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. (Jam 2:14-18)
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Mt 7:21-23)

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 161) we are informed: Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. “Since “without faith it is impossible to please (God) ” and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.'”

Catholics therefore must accept the necessity of faith for salvation. The question for us is ‘what is faith’? Faith is not only an intellectual belief in Jesus. True faith is faith that moves us to repentance, enables us to trust Jesus, compells us to obey God and enables us to have a loving relationship with Jesus. In a way, it is a state of being, a state of our relationship with the Lord.

This kind of relationship with God will certainly manifest itself in good works. St John emphatically says, ‘We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 Jn 4:19-21).

Christ and the Good Thief

The good thief was promised paradise by Jesus because he repented and had faith in Jesus; he did not merit it by good works. Similarly, a person who is incurably paralyzed will not be able to perform good works. However, he too is saved if he is repentant, knows and loves the Lord. This would in turn make him able to love others, and express that love, not through physical service but perhaps through prayers and by offering his sufferings for others.

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