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Are we saved by faith or good works?

It is often said that Catholics believe people are saved through their good works while Protestants believe we are saved by faith alone. As with most stereotypes, these ideas of salvation are not entirely true for either group. But what do Catholics believe about faith and good works? Is one more important than the other?

Catholics believe that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation. This conviction is based upon both Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Let us first consider the role of faith in salvation. It is impossible to read the Scriptures without noting the importance of faith. On many occasions, Jesus encouraged people to have faith in Him: "Your faith has restored you to health," He tells the sick, and in the Gospel of John, He says: "This is the work of God: have faith in the One whom he sent." In the Letter to the Romans, we read: "Faith in the heart leads to justification, confession on the lips to salvation." In an even stronger statement, the Letter to the Hebrews says that "without faith, it is impossible to please God."

Ever faithful to Scripture, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council wrote that "the People of God finds its unity first of all through the Word of the living God.... Since no one can be saved who has not first believed, priests, as co-workers with their bishops, have as their primary duty the proclamation of the Gospel of God to all."

The reason why faith is necessary for salvation is because it is faith that places us in relationship with God. Faith calls for an opening of ourselves to the touch of God -- a trusting in His presence in our lives. Without faith, we limit God's saving grace in our lives.

Does this mean that good works are therefore unimportant?

No, it does not. The Bible teaches us quite clearly that we are not saved by our good works, but we must be careful about the way we interpret this message. What the Holy Spirit is telling us in Scripture is that we cannot earn salvation through our own efforts. It is God's grace that saves us, and His grace is a gift that we do not earn through our good works.

For example, the Letter of James says, "What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such a faith has no power to save, does it?" And in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "None of those who cry out, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven." In His parable of the last judgment, Jesus makes it clear that doing the will of the Father includes not only faith, but also such good works as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the captives.

We can say that a person of faith does good works, for faith brings to us the grace to love as God loves. These good works do not by themselves bring salvation, but they do give evidence that we are people of faith. In fact, if our faith does not move us to do good works for the greater honor and glory of God, then it may well be that the object of our faith is not really the God of love, but a false god of security. That is why the Letter of James states that we do good works to give evidence of the faith that saves us.


To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission