Many people discuss how we are to regard the relationship between Grace, Faith and Works. Some protestants claim that the Catholic Church teaches that people are saved by their own works, that the Catholic Church Teaches that you can “save yourself.” This discussion is becoming a bit old, but I’ll post some thoughts anyway.

As with every other discussions, we need to understand the underpinning realities about what we discuss, and how we define the key words. Therefore I will do that in this post.

God. The first thing we need to understand, is the role of God in our salvation. When we say that God alone saves, mean protestants use this term to say that God is “alone-working,” while most Catholics — Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics and Orthodox — see God as “all-working.” I believe that the latter understanding is the Biblical one, which is used by both Paul and James. In James 2:22.24, we see that “faith [is] active along with [our] works, and faith [is] completed by [our] works” and that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” This understanding — God as “all-working” — is also evident in Phil. 2:12-13 where you are urged to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” not because this is something you do of yourself, but because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Therefore, the traditional protestant stance, that faith “produces” works — that we somehow do works because the salvation makes us happy — is wrong. I believe that works is a crucial part of salvation, but then again I do not believe that you “produce” the works yourself, but that it is “God who works in you.” This view of God also clears up any “problem” between Paul and James. And Christ, who pointed out the need of repentance and works (see for example Matt. 3:2.8, 4:17, 25:31-46; Luke 13:3.)

Faith. The word faith is very important to understand. I have already written about it, so I’ll just write a few thoughts. The important thing here is to regard the twofold character of faith; that it is both the assent to doctrine and trust in God. As J.P. Moreland puts it; “Faith is trusting what we have reason to believe is true.” This should also be connected to the Hebrew word for “truth,” emeth. C.S. Lewis writes about it in “Men Without Chests,” the first essay/talk of The Abolition of Man:

The word is emeth, ‘truth’. Where the Satya of the Indian sources emphasizes truth as ‘correspondence’, emeth (connected with a verb that means ‘to be firm’) emphasizes rather the reliability or trustworthiness of truth. Faithfulness and permanence are suggested by Hebraists as alternative renderings. Emeth is that which does not deceive, does not ‘give’, does not change, that which holds water. (See T. K. Cheyne in Encyclopedia Biblica, 1914, s.v. ‘Truth’.)[1]

And it is also important to note that faith many protestants have a rather dualistic view of man. But that is [at least a bit] unbiblical. Faith, which — amongst other things — is an act of the soul, should therefore be acted out in out body, since the soul is the form of the body.

Grace. This word is very important to understand. Many protestants, but far from all, regard this in a purely forensic way, seeing it as just “mercy.” Catholics, however, regard grace not only as “mercy,” but also as a power that lead you to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” As St. Paul puts it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2:8-10

Notes & references:

[1] Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Lewis, 1944,1947; HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), pp. 104-105