As any Bible reading Christian knows, a frequent theme throughout scripture is doing good – not evil. From the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes, there are rules and actions given for us to emulate. Yes, Jesus died for our salvation. He defeated death and sin, once and for all. This we must believe. Yet Jesus is well known for instructing his followers to display their love and faith in Him through good works.
It cannot be a coincidence, then, to consider ourselves purposefully instructed to continue our quest for sainthood. There is no room for slacking or resting purely on His sacrifice without also putting our faith into action. In fact, we are admonished to take the path less taken, the hard road, to be saved.
To clarify a common misconception, Catholic Christians do not believe in “works salvation“. In fact, the Council of Carthage, in A.D. 418, specifically condemned Pelagianism – the idea that man could earn salvation through his natural power of free will and without the help of God’s grace.
It is, however, clear that works are a necessary component of man’s righteous existence on earth. James tells us that “faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself”. In accepting the gift of salvation, we are obligated to live as we believe. Believing (having faith) is certainly a step in the right direction, yet our actions must also demonstrate that faith. Just as God tested Abraham by demanding the life of his only son, so too are we asked to put action to our belief.
Jesus’ Own Words
And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
Who being struck sad at that saying, went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
While we may have hope that the young man simply went away to ponder over the meaning of Jesus’ words, and found his way, we know the difficulty the young man must have felt.
Good Works in Scripture
“But if a wicked man turns away from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness which he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity and does the same abominable things that the wicked man does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds which he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, he shall die. “Yet you say, `The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die for it; for the iniquity which he has committed he shall die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is lawful and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.” Ezekiel 18:21-28
Discussion About Being Saved
Of course, we can all agree that salvation is not earned by works. Salvation cannot be earned at all. Faith and grace and the sacrifice Jesus made for us are the necessary actions and the basis of our salvation. James explains that clearly. Yet detaching grace, faith, and obedience (good works) from each other does nothing to impress on us the need to not only believe but to also act on those beliefs. Coasting along, with no responsibility of good works does nothing to show our love to Jesus. Those who slack on acting out their faith cannot expect to simply glide into heaven. It is the combination of believing in the salvific gift of the Lamb of God as well as demonstrating our love of Him that displays a truly Christian life.
If we remain kind in Christian charity, a discussion on this topic might be helpful. What say you?