Faith that works

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Sola fide — "by faith alone" — is one of five "sola" slogans of the Prostestant schismatics. Luther added the word "alone" to his translation of [ Romans 3:28:] "For we consider that a person is justified by faith [alone] apart from works of the law."

The Catholic view, by contrast, is that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). Luther denigrated the letter to James on theological grounds, and treated it as apocryphal (along with Hebrews, Jude, and the Book of Revelation).

The great grain of truth that we must not lose while arguing about the role of works in the life of believers:

We are not saved by our works; we are saved by GOD's work.
We are saved by grace but are judged by our works.
Our works flow from God's grace.
Grace co-operates with nature.
Caritas Christi urget nos (2 Cor 5:14).

Faith Assents with Love

CCC #155
In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: "Believing is
  • an act of the intellect
  • assenting to the divine truth
  • by command of the will
  • moved by God through grace."[1]

Scriptural References

Our works are God's work

Isaiah 26:12
O Lord, you will ordain peace for us;
you have wrought for us all our works.
There is a false dichotomy at work [pun intended; you may laugh now] in the distinction between "faith" and "works." We cannot do any work worthy of God's love unless it is inspired by and worked through the love of God poured into our hearts. We gain merit by co-operating with grace in the works of love. Catholics do not believe that we can please God by acting independently of God's love and mercy; we do believe that God's work in us requires us to work with God.

"Not by faith alone"

  • Rom 2:6-8: "...[God] will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness."
  • James 2:20-26: "Faith without works is useless. ... Show me your faith and I'll show you my works."

"Do you want proof, you ignoramus [ὦ ἄνθρωπε κενέ], 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 [καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον] 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."

Protestants ignore this perfectly clear scripture by creating a canon-within-the-canon: they pick and choose which books of the New Testament are "really" inspired by the Holy Spirit and neglect the rest.
Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Judgment Day

  • There are no portraits of Judgment Day that talk about being judged by the quality of our faith; all of them say that God judges what we have done or have failed to do.

"By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. Yes, affliction and distress will come upon every human being who does evil, Jew first and then Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek" (Rom 2:5-10).


  • Galatians 6:9-10: "Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faith."
  • Ephesians 2:8-10: "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. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them."
See the section on Ephesians below for a longer quotation from chapter 2.
  • Rom 4:13: "I can do all things in [Christ] Who strengthens me."
  • Rom 5:20: "Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more."
  • Rom 6:1-2: "What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it?"
  • 1 Cor 5: The case of the unrepentant believer, who boasted of his sin of incest.
Those who say that salvation comes from "faith alone" are saying, in effect, "I do not need to obey the law of love. As long as I believe that Jesus died for my sins, my actions have no eternal consequences. I may do as I please. I don't have to repent and make reparation for my sins. God loves me unconditionally. He says, 'I love you just the way you are.'"
"By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me."

9 Therefore, from the day we heard this, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding

10 to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God,

11 strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13: "Anyone who would not work should not eat. We hear that some of you are unruly, not keeping busy but acting like busy-bodies. We enjoin all such, and we urge them strongly in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn the food they eat by working quietly. You must never grow weary of doing what is right, brothers."
  • 1 Tim 2:15: "Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty."


Our power to live in good works comes to us as a grace.

Eph 2:1-10

1 You were dead in your transgressions and sins

2 in which you once lived following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient.

3 All of us once lived among them in the desires of our flesh, following the wishes of the flesh and the impulses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest.

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us,

5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

6 raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,

7 that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;

9 it is not from works, so no one may boast.

10 For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.


  • 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."


  • Mt 5:16: "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your heavenly Father."
  • Mt 7: Good fruit = good deeds. "By their good fruit (good deeds!) you will know them."
  • Matthew 19:16-17: "'Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?'...'If you would enter life, keep the commandments.'"
  • Mt 25: the parable of the sheep and the goats.


  • Lk: the Good Samaritan (a member of the wrong faith!) whose work of mercy in attending to the wounded man is contrasted with the "faith" of the Jews on their way to worship in the Temple.
  • "I preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance" (Acts 26:20).


"But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God."
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father."

27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, ‘I know him', and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God's love comes to perfection in him. We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.

5 Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

6 If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.

7 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.

10 If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

  • Revelation 14:13
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.'"
  • Revelation 2:23
"And all the churches shall know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve."


"If you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb."
  • 2 Peter 1:10-11
"Brothers, you have been called and chosen: work all the harder to justify it. If you do all these things there is no danger that you will ever fall away. In this way you will be granted admittance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ."

Actions Speak

Jesus says to all of His disciples, "Come, follow me" (Mt 19:21; Jn 21:22; etc.). "Then he said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it'" (Lk 9:23-24).

Having faith motivates us to work: "For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor 5:14-15).

"You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Mt 5:13-16).

Letter to the Romans

Luther's Interpolation in Rom 3:28

"A Fascinating Concession By Albert Mohler."
In [Luther's] Open Letter on Translating, he wrote:
I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text — if the translation is to be clear and vigorous [klar und gewaltiglich], it belongs there.'
But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas [“I will it, I command it, my will is reason enough.”]. For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges. For once, we also are going to be proud and brag, with these blockheads; and just as Paul brags against his mad raving saints, I will brag against these donkeys of mine!
Ultimately, Luther's position was that “justification by faith” implies “justification by faith alone.”

"Ergon" in Romans

Strong's Greek, #2041
2:6 κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ [God] will repay everyone according to his works ...
2:7 καθ' ὑπομονὴν ἔργου ἀγαθοῦ δόξαν ... eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works
2:15 ἐνδείκνυνται τὸ ἔργον τοῦ νόμου They show that the [work] of the law [is] written in their hearts
3:20 διότι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ no human being will be justified in his sight by [works of] the law
3:27 διὰ ποίου νόμου; τῶν ἔργων; οὐχί, What occasion is there then for boasting? It is ruled out. On what principle, that of works? No, rather on the principle of faith.
3:28 ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου

For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Luther added "alone" to this verse: "Justified by faith alone."

4:2 Ἀβραὰμ ἐξ ἔργων ἐδικαιώθη ἔχει Indeed, if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works, he has reason to boast; but this was not so in the sight of God.
4:6 δικαιοσύνην χωρὶς ἔργων So also David declares the blessedness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works
9:12 οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων ἀλλ' ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος not by works but by his call
9:32 ὡς ἐξ ἔργων προσέκοψαν τῷ Because they did it not by faith, but as if it could be done by works.
11:6 εἰ δὲ χάριτι, οὐκέτι ἐξ ἔργων, ἐπεὶ ἡ χάρις οὐκέτι γίνεται χάρις. But if by grace, it is no longer because of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
13:3 τῷ ἀγαθῷ ἔργῳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κακῷ. For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil.
13:12 οὖν τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκότους Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light.
14:20 κατάλυε τὸ ἔργον τοῦ θεοῦ For the sake of food, do not destroy the work of God.
15:18 λόγῳ καὶ ἔργῳ For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed [work!].

Works Righteousness

This is a real problem among Catholics. We tend to think (as did the Pharisees) that we qualify for Heaven by keeping the law (Torah). Pharisaism is condemned in the New Testament because it is such a common problem among Christians.

  • Luther was right: we are not saved by our good works; we are saved by God's sovereign and selfless decision to save us by the death of God, the Son, on the Cross. "By his wounds, we are healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
  • Pelagianism is a heresy condemned by the Church. Pelagius taught that Jesus just gave us a blueprint to follow in our own lives; in his view, once we see the blueprint for love, we are capable of imitating Jesus by choosing to do so. The Church teaches that this is false; we can never become worthy of God's love on our own merits but only through the merits of our Savior.
  • The Church later condemned the Semi-Pelagians as well. They said, "We may need Jesus to heal us and sanctify us, but we can, at least, recognize our need for a Savior by ourselves." The Church teaches that even our awareness of sin is a grace given to us by God; without God's loving kindness, we cannot realize how much we need His love to save us.

So we are not saved by our works; but if we do evil rather than good, we will be condemned by our works. The good that we do by faith will lead to glory: "eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works" (Rom 2:7).

Catholic Perfectionism and Minimalism

  • There are periodic outbreaks of perfectionism among Catholics, starting with the Pharisaism of New Testament times and appearing in later ages among the gnostics, the Jansenists, the Illuminati, etc.. In the Protestant tradition, the Puritans are famous (or infamous) for this kind of Christian extremism (although, in fact, many of the Puritans may not have been as puritanical as our culture makes them out to be).
    • Perfectionism breeds depression. "It doesn't have to be perfect to be good." "The best is the enemy of the good." "Virtue is the mean between extremes." Scrupulosity seems to be zeal for the law but it violates the law of love by putting second things first.
    • Perfectionism breeds rage and condemnation. "You strain the gnat and swallow the camel." We can become so focused on small violations of the law that we don't realize that we are cultivating an anti-Christian mentality of anger and resentment.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, some Catholics abuse the Church's guidelines for the Christian life by trying to figure out what is the least they need to do to gain Heaven. They say in many different ways, "How close can I get to sin without really sinning? How much pleasure can I take in sin without completely breaking my relationship with God?" This is a poisonous mindset. Jesus replies, "You are neither hot nor cold; I will vomit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:16).

Dead faith

"They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a 'bodily' manner and not 'in his heart.' All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged" (LG 14).

Prevenient grace and saving faith

God does not act on us as passive objects to be manipulated by His sovereign power. His grace invites the response of faith from us — He intends and desires that we co-operate with Him in our salvation and sanctification. The gift of grace always comes first; our faith is a response to God's initiative.


CCC #2094
One can sin against God's love in various ways:
- indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.
- ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.
- lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.
- acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.
- hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments.
CCC #2670
"No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace. Since he teaches us to pray by recalling Christ, how could we not pray to the Spirit too? That is why the Church invites us to call upon the Holy Spirit every day, especially at the beginning and the end of every important action.
If the Spirit should not be worshiped, how can he divinize me through Baptism? If he should be worshiped, should he not be the object of adoration?[2]

Catholic Encyclopedia

"With regard, first, to the period of unbelief, the Second Synod of Orange (529 AD, can. v) decreed that prevenient grace is absolutely necessary to the infidel not only for faith itself, but also for the very beginning of faith. By the 'beginning of faith,' it intended to designate all the good aspirations and motions to believe which precede faith properly so called, as early dawn precedes sunrise. Consequently, the whole preparation for the faith is made under the influence of grace, e.g. the instruction of persons to be converted."[3]
Grace prevenes, "comes before," our reception of grace by faith. As Msgr. Tom Rowland put it, "God acts; we react."

The virtuous life

Faith should bear good fruit.

It is good to be good. Our goodness is a gift to us from God's goodness — we participate in God's goodness through His mercy. He loves us because He is so good, not because we are so good.

Work heartily

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Col 3:23-24).


"Hauled Aboard the Ark - Conversion Story of Peter Kreeft."
Catholicism taught that we are saved by faith, by grace, by Christ, however few Catholics understood this. And Protestants taught that true faith necessarily produces good works. The fundamental issue of the Reformation is an argument between the roots and the blossoms on the same flower.
But though Luther did not neglect good works, he connected them to faith by only a thin and unreliable thread: human gratitude. In response to God's great gift of salvation, which we accept by faith, we do good works out of gratitude, he taught. But gratitude is only a feeling, and dependent on the self. The Catholic connection between faith and works is a far stronger and more reliable one. I found it in C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, the best introduction to Christianity I have ever read. It is the ontological reality of we, supernatural life, sanctifying grace, God's own life in the soul, which is received by faith and then itself produces good works. God comes in one end and out the other: the very same thing that comes in by faith (the life of God) goes out as works, through our free cooperation.

Faith should bear good fruit

2 Peter 1:3-11

3 His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power.

4 Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge,

6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion,

7 devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love.

8 If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

9 Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins.

10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble.

11 For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

This is an eight-fold path:
  • Faith (πίστις)
  • Virtue (ἀρετή)
  • Knowledge (γνῶσις)
  • Self-control (ἐγκράτεια)
  • Endurance (ὑπομονή)
  • Devotion (εὐσέβεια)
  • Mutual Affection (φιλαδελφία)
  • Selfless Love (ἀγάπη)

John Martignoni's questions

Bible Christian Society:

  1. If assurance of salvation is true, then how can one be severed from Christ by being circumcised (Gal 5:2-4)?
  2. When Jesus was asked, "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt 19:16), how did He answer? How would you answer that question?
  3. Can you get into Heaven if you do not forgive the sins of others - yes or no? Cf. Mt 6:15.
  4. Can you give one example in the Bible of a Christian who was saved by reading the Bible?
  5. Who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and how do you know? How do you know the Gospel of Mark is the inspired Word of God?
  6. For a Christian, what is the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15)?
  7. Are you infallible in your interpretation of the Bible?

John Martignoni's verses

  • We must forgive (Mt 6).
  • 1 Tim 5:8 where we are told that anyone who does not provide for his family has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
  • in John 6, Jesus tells us that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, or we have no life in us.
  • We also have to love our brother. It says so plainly in 1 John 4:20.
  • We also have to seek for glory and honor and immortality by patience in well-doing, according to Rom 2:6-7, in order to have eternal life rendered unto us.
  • In Hebrews 6:4-6, it tells us we can separate ourselves from Christ through apostasy.
  • In Romans 11:22 it says we will be cut off from Christ if we do not continue in God's kindness.
  • In John 15:1-6, it tells us that we will be cut off from the vine which is Christ if we do not produce good fruit.
  • We must follow Him by denying ourselves and picking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23).
  • We must do His will in order to be saved (Matt 7:21).
  • “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).


  1. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II,2,9; cf. Dei Filius 3:DS 3010.
  2. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 31,28:PG 36,165.
  3. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Merit."