Monday, December 29, 2008

Do Catholics Believe in Faith Alone?

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.


ignorant redneck said...

Thanks Deb! You've cheered and encouraged me immensly with this post!

deb said...

Your welcome IR and considering how much I admire your blog, a compliment from you is very flattering.

Jahsoul said...

Hey Debra. I was just google searching and I caught this and read it. I am a protestant and to clear it up, the term we used is "grace alone through faith alone." We are saved by grace but are justified by faith and works is a manifestation of our faith. If we don't have the faith that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the remission of our sins, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day, then the whole showing of grace has been omitted. If we are justified through grace alone, that means that the whole world is heaven bound, because Jesus died for the sins of the world but Romans 5:1-2 tells us that we are justified through faith and we gain access to grace through faith. And faith and believing are two different things. On judgment day, everyone will believe. Faith is when you know that you know that you know that God is real and Jesus is the Son of God and it shouldn't leave people confused. If you read Romans 7, it speaks on the Law of the Flesh which tells us that the spirit and flesh coexist within us but what we feed is what lives. I know this comment was long but I hope that I've shed a little light.


deb said...

Thank you so much for leaving a comment, Jahsoul. I did not think that your response was too long at all.

It has always struck me that the majority of Protestants and Catholics are not as different as some people think. Your answer actually sounds quite Catholic. LOL

Let me apologize for being too general in my discussion about Protestants. I should have used the word, some, in front of the word Protestants. Its not fair for me to say all Protestants believe something. But I am a Catholic convert so I have to say that yes, some Protestants do say that we are saved by faith alone. I am in the southern US so perhaps that is a regional thing. LOL

Anonymous said...

Hi Debra,

I too googled and found your blog and this post. Personally I found it weird that some Protestants will insist that Justification can be done by faith alone, especially some of my Protestant friends told me over and over, "it doesn't matter how we behave, as long as we have faith in Jesus..." I don't mean to be harsh but it screams sheer hypocrisy to me.

Debra you gave an excellent example of how you love someone you will ACT to show the person that love. Why is it so difficult to believe that if one truly loves God, s/he will naturally do things that will please God??? Abraham was justified because he had strong faith in God AND sacrificed Isaac to God (Abraham clearly did act on what God wanted him to).

And what about Holy Spirit??? Isn't Holy Spirit always guiding us what to do and what not to do???

Come on, it's no rocket-science.

Thank you SO much for this post, Debra. I will send this link to my Protestant friends, they deserve to have a 2nd opinion ;-)


deb said...

Thank you Katherine. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot! I wanted to site paragraphs from the Catechism for my paper on Martin Luther. This really saved me a lot of time. (Not like I was going to search through 1987 paragraphs.

Jason said...

Along with my previous, anonymous comment, I wanted to comment on Katherine's post.

By definition, it is hypocrisy to act in a way that is not the same as what you preach. It does matter how we act; these actions define us as Christians.

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:14-18 NKJV).

Keitho said...

This is a wonderful Blog. I am a Catholic convert and must say I love the Catholic Church, but this question has bugged me for years. There doesn't quite seem to be a good (or I should I say good enough) answer. The priests and others I have asked say we are saved by the Sacraments (Baptism), But this answer just isn't true in all instances, and we are baptised very young. Also, how about Luke 23: 39-43. The criminal that Jusus saved on the cross didn't have time for good works. He was saved by faith alone.