I am a convert so if I make a mistake in the following article, please do not hesitate to correct me.
A few evangelicals accuse Catholics of having a works based faith. It is assumed that because Catholics put emphasis on obedience to God that we must therefore believe that it is our own efforts that save us. If we Catholics really thought that our own actions could get us to heaven then other Christians would have a right to criticize us.
Catholics take Eph 2:8-10 seriously. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. It is grace alone that justifies us, and that Grace gets applied to us when we have faith.
A search in the Catholic Catechism for the word justification will yield evidence that Catholics do not believe that our own human works can save us. From the Cathecisim 1987 The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ"... and 1996 Our Justification comes from the grace of God, Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God....
Yet, I still occasionally have Protestant friends argue that I, as a Catholic, believe that my works alone save me Why such confusion when every Catholic source I have ever read puts emphasis on the fact that it is Grace which saves us?
It's my opinion that the real problem is how the word, "faith", is defined. Faith is more then simple belief. James 2:19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
Faith is not just belief, it isn't just a strong, emotional reaction. Yes, I realize that some people define the word, faith to mean feeling really positive that God exists and that Jesus is his son. The problem with this definition of faith is that it leaves people confused when they have times of doubt or spiritual dry spells. It also leaves some people feeling as if they should always be at the top of an emotional high in order to have real faith.
When we read the New Testament as a whole, an entire book, instead of taking verses out of context to discover tortured theological truths(How is that for an Alliteration?)we discover that
the Bible speaks a lot about what we have to do as Christians not just how much belief that we should place in Christ. This is because active faith is not just believing, its also a combination of works. Belief and works make up faith.
Once, a man I knew told me in touching detail how much he adored his wife. He informed me that she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever met, she was perfect in every way. I am sure that he felt some intense emotion for his wife, but I also learned later, from several sources, that he was physically abusing her. So, did her love her? Certainly he felt something for his wife but in order for us to call his feelings love he would have had to acted differently toward her. Most people understand that the individual's personal feelings have to be combined with actions in order to be termed love.
The same is true of faith. Can you really say that an individual has faith if he doesn't obey God? Jesus said, He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.
I am sure that many of us have had the experience of listening to a fellow Christian defend their actions with the words, "But God knows my heart." Whether it be adultery or having sex before marriage, certain Christians will put more emphasis on the importance of their feelings toward God and not the obedience that he expects. And no, I am not judging these people, because I am pretty certain that there have been moments in my life when I assumed that God just wanted me to feel his presence without the bother of following his commandments. But can such a person-and I am including my past self- be said to have real faith if they ignore what they must know God wishes them to do?
So, do Catholics believe in faith alone? Do Catholics believe that their faith saves them?
Actually, I don't think that any Christian should say that their faith saves them because that is not what the Bible says. It is God's Grace that saves us. As I wrote before, Grace gets applied to us when we have faith.
I think that instead of the words 'faith alone', Catholics(and many Protestants, by the way) should say that they believe in Grace Alone.