Squaring the Circle

I believe faith and works both play a role in salvation. Now before you label me a heretic or crypto-Catholic, please hear me out. Since the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, the church in the West has been divided between Protestants, who believe justification (becoming right with God) comes passively by means of faith in Christ alone, and Catholics, who believe that justification is a gift of God’s grace that is received actively by faith and baptism with repentance being a key element. (I know there are other theological differences. I also know that there’s a dispute about whether free-church Christians like us Baptists should be called “Protestants,” but even if not we are related closely to them theologically and historically.) To oversimplify the case, Protestants make good works a product of justification, whereas Catholics see good works also as part of the process of justification. (Never mind that Protestants disagree among themselves on whether baptism is essential for salvation.) However, for both Catholics and Protestants good works are essential, either as evidence (Protestant) or both evidence and ingredient (Catholic) of God’s work of conversion in a person’s life. Neither would say that good works are irrelevant.

An analogy might be helpful. Most would agree that love is a key ingredient in a marriage. In Western cultures we say you need to make sure that you truly love the other person before you marry. Someone who comes from a part of the world where arranged marriages are still common might say that you must love your spouse after you’re married, even if you didn’t love them before. Both agree that love is essential in marriage.

The Bible says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). It also says, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Which do I believe? Both.



Filed under devotionals, issues

2 responses to “Squaring the Circle

  1. Kristi May

    Great analogy! I’m going to use that in our RCIA classes. Cradle Catholics definitely fall into that “arranged marriage” idea.

    My newfound Catholic faith makes reading Scripture about salvation much easier. As a Baptist, parables in the Gospels that seemed to point to works having a role in salvation made me a bit nervous; as a Catholic, they fit into my theology. Still, it has been difficult to accept at times, oddly. You state the Catholic belief well – we do believe that we are saved by grace through faith. Our good works are our cooperation with God in our salvation – they don’t stand alone and they are not done without the grace given to use by God. We are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling”, as Paul states in Philippians.

    Great post!

  2. Glenn Bratcher

    Travis, I’ve been on vacation…attempting to catch up! I totally agree with you. When we become a “believer”…we should expect to “grow”…and we cannot/do not grow if we do not serve. I believe our “works” proves our “faith.” Our conversion is the beginning, not a time to sit back and relax!

    Thanks for the topic!

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