Dialog: Saved by Faith Alone or Faith & Works

by Steve Ray on April 28, 2020

I am responding to a polite gentleman named David who posted a comment on my blog. He was responding as a kind Protestant who was reacting to my article “Response to a Southern Baptist.” He is kind and well-spoken and I wish we could sit and have a cup of coffee together to discuss this more personally. I have responded only briefly and with a few random thoughts while on the run. I would suggest he and others read a new book by Steve Wood entitled, Grace & Justification: An Evangelical’s Guide to Catholic Beliefs.

David’s words are italicized and in blue; my words are in regular text and in black:

Steve’s opening thoughts in preparation to respond:

I would like to make two opening comments which are touched on only briefly below. First, the argument about “faith vs. works” has been twisted by Luther and subsequent Protestants into a Protestant vs. Catholic debate. However, Paul never intended that in his letters. There was no Protestant vs. Catholic debate — it was rather a Jew vs. Gentile. Works of the law were not required of Gentiles to become followers of the Jewish Messiah. Only faith like that of Abraham was required.

Second, Catholics are often accused of believing works is what saves us. This is not the case. It is the grace of God through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus that saves us, though we believe we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to bring that justification-sanctification to its heavenly fulfillment. Jesus does not say those with faith alone will be resurrected and saved, rather he says, John 5:28–29 “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” I am always amazed how the words of Jesus are set aside in preference to a poor interpretation of the words of St Paul.

David starts:
I believe that Evangelicals rightly emphasize that we are saved by grace through faith alone. We are saved by trusting in what Jesus did on the cross and not by earning our salvation by doing a list of required good works. This is taught throughout the New Testament and is especially clear in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is 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.” This clearly says that we are saved by faith in God’s grace, not by our works. We don’t earn our salvation. Grace is a free gift; but we must receive it by faith. Faith is a combination of believing and trusting in what Jesus did.

Click here for the full discussion.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie April 29, 2020 at 10:16 AM

"Of course, Protestants and uneducated Catholics often misrepresent Catholic teaching, as did Luther, by saying we Catholics think we get saved by our works. This is a sad misrepresentation."

I've often thought that part of the problem is that Protestants and Catholics, in discussing it, have different starting points. When someone asks, "How are we saved?" Catholics start with the assumption that God is, that Jesus is God the Son and that He died to save us, that He established the Church, that we are part of that Church because we are baptized. Given that, the question sounds to us like, "What do I need to do to cooperate in my salvation?" So the answer is, "I need to obey the commandments of God, and obey the Church, do these good things," etc. Which Protestants hear as "I don't need to believe in God, don't need to believe in Jesus, I'll get to Heaven based on my own actions."

STEVE RAY HERE: Well said. Thanks Leslie.

Patrick May 2, 2020 at 7:21 AM

One problem I run into with protestants is that when I point out that Paul is referring to the old Mosaic Law, they immediately claim that Catholic teaching is the new version of that. I often hear that Catholicism is a “rules religion” that is equivalent to the teachings of the Pharisees (obligation to attend Mass, other church success don’t count, why can’t you just confess sins to God, etc.). Whereas the”Bible believing” churches get it right that it’s just about accepting nests as Lord and Saviour

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