Why Catholics Have a "Both/And" Policy: Salvation through Faith AND Works

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I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t consider myself to be an apologist. I’m not like Trent Horn or Patrick Madrid or Scott Hahn or Taylor Marshall. I did better in my philosophy classes than in my theology classes in college. And yet, as a Catholic, I am called to defend my faith when the situation calls for it.

My Protestant friend, Holly, commented on my “Yes, I am a Christian AND?” post with a really long comment that I’m going to break down here in the hopes of starting a civil discussion and dialogue.

Holly’s comments will be written in blue.

Saying you believe in salvation coming through faith AND works is just not biblical.

Yes, yes it is. 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?James 2:14-20

When I discussed with Holly about the Letter of James, she said that James was talking about justification, which to her, is different from salvation. According to the apologetics books I own, this is because Protestants in general believe in a difference between justification before God and justification before men and because they see salvation as a one time event.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man” (CCC 2019). So justification does relate to salvation, as stated in this verse from Romans: 

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.- Romans 6:6-8

According to Catholic Answers: “What is significant about 6:7 is that when it says the one who has died has been freed from sin, the word for “freed” is actually the Greek word for “justified.” What it literally said was “he who has died has been justified from sin,” yet the context is so obviously sanctificational that all standard English translations of the Bible rendered “justified from sin” as “freed from sin.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Now of course if we are truly saved, we will want to please God, and our life will show obedience to His Word and commands. But it is ONLY through His grace that we are saved, and if we say we must do works to receive our salvation, that goes against these Words and ignores what He did on the cross for us. Works are a result of being In Him, but they have nothing to do with our salvation.

I often hear Protestants talking about having a personal relationship with Christ. Since Christ is fully human (as well as being fully divine), let’s approach justification and salvation from the perspective of a relationship.

When we have a relationship with a person, it’s not enough to just say that we love them. If there’s anything I learned from the comedy of errors that I call my love life, it’s that actions speak louder than words.

Ephesians 2:10, the verse that comes right after those two sentences says “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Emphasis mine.)

The second chapter of the Letter from James gives examples of people in the Bible whose faith was shown through action:

 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead. – James 2:21-26

Paul also shows how salvation is a process in his letter to the Philippians:

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13

Like any good relationship, a real loving and functional relationship with Christ starts with faith and grace, but needs works in order to thrive and grow. Christ dying on the Cross and rising from the dead was just the beginning of salvation, just like how a wedding is only the start of the life a married couple will share together. And that’s why faith and works belong with each other. Like a marriage, our relationship with Christ depends on believing in Him and sharing His love to the world through works and actions. Catholics don’t believe that doing a lot of good deeds will make up for any bad things, but that our faith inspires us and motivates us to go out into the world and testify to our faith through doing good.

But really, this passage from the Gospel of Matthew is, I think the strongest proof of how works contribute to salvation:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me 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 nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25: 31-46

Addendum 9/23/15 1:10PM

I shared this post with Catholic Answers staff apologist Michelle Arnold who said: “We can agree with your friend that grace comes first. Grace makes it possible for us to have faith and to do good works. Without God acting first, even so far as to give us the actual grace to desire supernatural faith, we can’t do anything. Where your friend goes off the track is in concluding that works are unnecessary. Faith and works are our responses to grace: faith, interiorly, and works, exteriorly. Both are necessary, but both flow from grace received from God.”

Tweeting to God – Every Young Adult Needs To Read This!

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I will admit that I was put off by the title at first. I thought it was a gimmick, kind of like “Letters to God.” When I actually saw the book on sale at a Catholic gift shop, I was surprised at the size of it. When I actually got the book, I felt like devouring it. The best part? I still haven’t finished it!

The book is huge, over 400 pages of stuff, with tons of questions that are divided into 4 sections. The first section has questions relating to theology-related things such as who God is, the nature of Jesus and the Trinity, and all the questions everyone asks about Catholicism specifically (Mary, the problem of evil, heaven and hell, etc). The second section is all about Church history, which includes questions on Islam and Protestantism. The third section is about having a personal relationship with Christ and how the Mass and sacraments relate to that. The last section has questions about the Catholic life, which covers questions relating to vocations, sexuality, all the pro-life questions, death, and society.

Every time I open this book, I find something new about Catholicism that I didn’t know. Each section goes into great detail answering the question and has a tweet-sized summary at the end. There are no gimmicks with this book. It just presents the Catholic Church as it is. Something I heard on Catholic Radio is that you can always learn something new about the Catholic Church no matter how long you’ve been a Catholic. This book is a great example of that.

I think this book would be great to use for teaching Confirmation. It goes beyond the stuff one teaches in Catechism classes. It’s not just a list of rules and regulations, but actually gets to the “why” of things. I also think that campus ministries would benefit greatly from this book. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are hosting book clubs that look into the various questions that everyone is asking. I also love this book as something to use for apologetics because it’s easy to understand, but it’s not dumbed down, either.

A lot of people these days talk about the “New Evangelization,” which, according to this book is “seeks to spread the faith to all who are far from Christ, in particular to the baptized who no longer believe.” I feel like this book would be a great contribution to the movement because through this book, people will relearn what exactly it means to be Catholic. I also feel like this book reaches out to Catholics who just want to know more about their faith beyond the courses taught in college or in Catechism.

If you haven’t read this book yet, #getthisnow!

Women of Christ Wednesday: Leah Libresco

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Leah Libresco grew up as an atheist in New York.  When she went to college, she picked fights with the most interesting wrong people that she met, who happened to be the campus Catholics.  After a long series of coffees, late night conversations, and book swaps, she would up changing her mind and leaving her deontological beliefs behind to be recieved into the Catholic Church in 2012.  She blogs about religion at Unequally Yoked and her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer explains how she learned to pray to God, instead of just argue about Him.

 

When I was browsing around the Patheos site in my college days, I used to see Leah Libresco on the atheist channel. When I saw her blog on the Patheos channel a few years later, I was like “Oh, she converted. Good for her.”

She delves a lot more about what life is like for her as a Catholic in her book Arriving at Amen. I’ll be posting a review on that later this week. For now, I wanted to ask Leah some questions relating to her book and about apologetics in general.

1) Where did the inspiration for Arriving at Amen come from?

 

Becoming Catholic wasn’t as simple as just changing my mind about God.  I needed to learn how to have a spiritual life at all, and I couldn’t avoid prayers that were hard for me — that would have meant skipping all of them!

 

I wound up finding my way into prayer by relying a lot on analogies and examples from things I loved in the secular world (so, the repetition of ballroom dance helped tutor me in how to approach the Rosary, and some of what I’d learned about the Sunk Cost Fallacy helped me prepare for Confession).  I hope that the book can be helpful both to anyone who is stymied by one of the seven prayer practices I discuss or someone who’s a little more comfortable but would like to see a prayer from a new angle.

 

2) What do you tell atheists when they ask you why you became Catholic?

 

Well, when I want to tell the whole argument, it usually takes about three hours and starts “There are three major schools of ethical reasoning: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics…”  I can’t promise the short version is satisfying, but the gist is that the thing I was most certain of was that morality was real (something we discover, not something we construct) and that we were able to percieve it (albeit imperfectly).  Holding on to this idea created a lot of confusion about how we wind up having access to a transcendent kind of truth, and, in the end, I was more sure of this than I was that God didn’t exist.

 

3) How do you balance working in news with apologetics?

 

Most of the time, there’s no balancing act at all — I don’t write apologetics at work; I cover statistics-heavy facets of the day’s news.  The biggest way that my faith impacts my writing is that I try to reflect on the effect my pieces will have on my readers.  I try to avoid writing anything that leaves the reader with a feeling of contempt or hatred, even if I’m discussing a tragedy that’s being treated callously.  I want to follow the Campsite Rule and leave my reader better than I found them, and not just in terms of new facts discovered!

 

4) You’re obviously not one who shies against politics and religion. What are some tips for having a good civil debate?

 

A good debate is one that you and your opponent expect won’t be solved in a single conversation.  It’s pretty hard for someone to find out that they’re wrong in a single argument (and it’s prudent to go home and reflect on what you heard before conceding completely).  So, in general, you should be playing a long game.  That often means I put less of my energy and attention into arguments I can’t stick with (drive by commenters, etc).  Starting a fight means starting a relationship — I can only take on so many!

 

If you’re trying to lay the foundation for future conversations, you need to make it as pleasant as possible for your opponent to fight with you — after all, you want them to invite you over again for a second round.  I try to do this by asking a lot of questions about whatever I’m genuinely curious about, making sure I really understand my opponent, rather than trying to box them in our first discussion.  I try to be honest about which parts of my argument I think are weaker, so my opponent can trust me to be truthful and so that it’s clear it’s worth their time to ask questions of me.

5) With the recent news about the decline in Christianity, what are some reasons for staying Catholic?

 

I think there’s really only one — because I think it’s true.  It would be silly to stay Catholic just for community or to not disappoint someone or because you haven’t made up your mind what you’re leaving for.  Catholicism shapes my life in a way I wouldn’t want it to if I didn’t think it was rooted in truth.

 

6) Who are your go-to saints?

 

My confirmation saint is Augustine.  I wanted a saint who had experience with some of my temptations (gnosticism, Manichaeism, and others) who I could turn to in faith that he knew the troubles I was having.  I also really love St. Maximilian Kolbe, whose love cast out hatred when he volunteered to die for another prisoner in a concentration camp.  I think about St. Catherine of Siena, but mostly in the context of how intimidating I find her, rather than in prayer!  And I love the Breastplate of St. Patrick.

 

7) What advice would you give to young adults who don’t identify with any particular religion, fallen-away Catholics, and those just struggling with their faith in general?

 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any good advice in general.  I think advice in this domain tends to be best when more specific and tailored to the particular person.  If someone came to me and said that they were struggling with their faith, I’d wind up asking a lot of questions before I had any ideas on how to be helpful (including “What information or experiences do you think would give you peace on this topic?”).  If the person were interested, I might recommend Fr. Thomas Green’s Weeds Among the Wheat, which is a book on Ignatian discernment, but, if I were going to summarize it in a single idea, I’d say this: make choices from a place of consolation, not desolation.  If you’re not sure where you belong and feel conflicted/torn/lousy, try to think about what will lead you to a good choice, but also, just take care of yourself and be patient — don’t rush into anything without a feeling of peace and settledness about your choice.  If you keep pursuing truth faithfully, that sense of being welcomed will come.