Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is the church teaching of the differences between grace and works. It’s been a hotly debated topic for centuries between Protestant and Catholic circles, and in continuation of my discussion of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), I have come to several conclusions regarding the doctrines of the major worldwide church bodies, whether Catholic or Protestant.
Let me state right off the bat that I do hold to a Protestant understanding of the Bible. That’s how I was raised, and that’s what I believe today. But again, living and going to college in a dominantly Catholic part of America has forced me to examine the teachings and doctrine of the RCC.
Although I disagree with various parts of Catholic theology, I do greatly respect the sincerity of the majority of the RCC’s members. I definitely see where they’re coming from regarding the importance of good works. In fact, the largest provider of charity and relief efforts is not the federal government of a certain country. It’s not the Salvation Army, the YMCA, or a worldwide missions agency of your choice. It is the RCC that provides the most relief effort, aid, and compassionate caregiving to the greater world.
Granted, I don’t believe that being sincere in your beliefs will get you to heaven, but nevertheless, I respectfully admire the RCC’s intentions. There’s nothing more important to a Christian’s life than a consistent witness and testimony – after all, Jesus Himself said that you will recognize a sincere believer by his/her fruit (Matthew 7:20).
According to Scripture, no one can be justified by a good life. Salvation is a free gift from God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and one does not need to work their way into heaven. The RCC’s teaching of salvation and justification by works is illogical in this sense, because Jesus specifically died so that we as humans wouldn’t have to get to heaven by works.
The Apostle Paul repeatedly stresses in books such as Galatians that no one is made righteous by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16). Titus 3:5 states that we are saved through God’s mercy through Christ’s death and resurrection, rather than by works.
Inarguably the most frequently cited verse in Protestant circles regarding the doctrine of sola fide is Ephesians 2:8 & 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
However, Paul finishes this paragraph with verse 10, which says that God created humans to do good works that are pleasing to Him.
Other New Testament passages speak of the work of the law versus the work of sanctification through Christ (Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1, etc.).
However, let’s not go too far, either. The RCC teaches that faith and works go hand in hand, which I wholeheartedly agree with. The part that I disagree with is the teaching of works being necessary for salvation. Yes, the Bible says that if you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Messiah, died for the sins of man, and rose again shortly thereafter, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 & 10, Acts 16:31, etc.). Catholics, by definition, do believe in the atonement and resurrection of Christ and could therefore be considered to be Biblically saved.
However, I also believe that it’s ultimately to be judged on a case-by-case basis, although no one knows an individual’s true spiritual condition or eternal destiny.
The book of James frequently mentions the importance of faith in action through good deeds, even going as far as to say that faith without good works is dead.
In the Four Gospels, Jesus often speaks of doing good to others and the importance of faith in action. He repeatedly commanded His disciples to prove their love for Him by their good deeds – that if you’re a true disciple, you will love Christ by obeying His commands (John 14:15, John 14:23, John 15:10, Luke 11:28). In the same passage, Jesus remarks, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (verse 12).
Well, that just about wraps up my spiel for today. I hope that no matter what your convictions are regarding this divisive issue, that my blog has helped you gain a better perspective. Much love and God bless!