Salvation Through Faith Alone, Works Alone, or Both?
A few Sundays ago I was listening to an evangelist speak on the television. At one point he said that we are saved not just by faith but by “faith alone”. And so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the ‘doctrine’ to let you know what the Catholic Church teaches about this and why She does so.
The Scripture verse that most closely comes to stating that one is ‘saved’ by faith alone is found in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9. It says: “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”
We can plainly see that faith is definitely needed for salvation. It makes sense then to understand Eph 2 to mean that if one receives faith, through the Grace of God, and immediately dies then that one will reach heaven. Typically though we don’t die immediately following reception of faith. And so the question comes up, what must we do, if we need to do anything, once we have faith? It seems to me that we do indeed need to do something since the very next verse in Ephesians 2, verse 10 states that: “10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
It seems rather obvious to me that God’s Will is for us to do those good works that He’s prepared in advance for us. And what happens if we don’t do the Will of God by avoiding those good works? Jesus tells us only the ones who do the Will of the Father will enter heaven (Mat 7:21).
In fact there are many verses that clearly point out the necessity of good works as a condition for entrance into heaven. When asked what good works one must do to do the works of God that He requires of us, Jesus answers: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29) To believe in Jesus is a work of God. We are to believe Him when He says that we must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood if we are to have eternal life (John 6:54), we are to believe Him when He says we are to follow the commandments (Matt 19:17) and so on.
Another clear-cut example can be found in Paul’s letter to Timothy. He says: “8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8) To have denied the faith means that one was already in possession of it therefore not to provide for their relatives, even after having faith in Him, are worse than an unbeliever. Is an unbeliever ‘saved’? No, faith is required but as you can see, the works of God prepared in advance for us to do are also necessary to be done for ones salvation.
So don’t let anyone tell you that you are saved by faith alone and that no works are necessary. Yes, if one has faith and does not have the possibility of doing the works of God because of an early death (like the one of the good thief on the cross) is saved, but beyond the initial acceptance of faith we are to DO something because of our faith.
In fact, there is only one instance where ‘faith’ and ‘alone’ are found together and it is to DENY that we are saved/justified by faith alone. James 2:24 says: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” In fact, to make the point absolutely clear James goes on to say that “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.” Just like we need both a body and a spirit for physical life, so too do we need both faith AND works for eternal life.
Prepared by a St.Denis parishioner