Faith, Works, and the words of Christ

In this post I will continue to look at what Sacred Scripture says regarding the necessity of “works” for our salvation.  As discussed in previous posts, when the Bible speaks about “faith,” from the Catholic understanding this means much more than a mere intellectual assent to an understanding that Christ paid for our sins.  Biblical faith, from the Catholic view includes repentance, a surrender of ourselves to God’s will, trust in His goodness, obedience to Christ, and working in charity.  You don’t really believe in Christ unless you are willing to do what he tells you.  And this type of faith is only made possible by God’s grace working to transform us into the image of Christ.  We are totally dependent upon God’s grace. This is why even though such works are a necessary response to God’s grace they are not what saves us – it’s grace.  Always and forever, everything is grace. 

We already looked at some primary passages of Sacred Scripture that speak to the necessity of these works for salvation — James 2:14-26 that tells us we are justified by our works and not by “faith alone,” and the great judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46.  Sacred Scripture contains many supporting references to these passages that focus on the necessity of obedience to Christ, the willingness to forgive, and most importantly to love.

Jesus is asked the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In Luke 10:26-28 he responds “‘What is written in the law?  How do you read?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.  And he said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’”  In Matthew 19:17-19 he responds “’If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’  He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  This encounter is also recorded in Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-24.  When asked directly about how we are saved, Christ doesn’t respond to simply “believe” in him as though an intellectual assent is all that is necessary.  His focus is on the requirement for our obedience, and above all to love. 

Christ also tells us that the forgiveness of our sins is tied to our ability to forgive others.  We see this in passages like Matthew 5:21-24“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insult his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” And in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  We can also reference Mark 11:25 and Luke 6:37

We see the necessity for forgiveness in the parable Christ tells of the debtor who received mercy from his master and his debt forgiven, but then failed to show mercy to someone who owed him a much smaller debt (Matthew 18:23-35).  So his master instead retained his debt and had him thrown in prison and Christ concludes with “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”  Forgiveness of those who have wronged us is not optional for a follower of Christ, and there is no room in heaven for a heart with anger towards another.  When speaking of forgiveness it is always necessary to remember that forgiveness does not require a person to remain in a relationship that is harmful.  While reconciliation can indeed be a beautiful fruit of forgiveness, sometimes that is not possible.  What is possible, with the help of God’s grace, is to release our anger toward that person and to give to God our need to judge them, trusting in His goodness and perfect love for all.  And we remember that even when we’ve made the decision to forgive it may take our feelings some time to “catch up,” and that’s okay.  We simply continue to call upon God’s grace and to commit to our decision of forgiveness.

Jesus tells us that even our words can be the source of our condemnation – Matthew 12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

There are many other passages from Sacred Scripture we should consider as part of this topic.  Verses like:

Hebrews 5:8-9 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him

Matthew 7:17-20 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.  A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Luke 8:21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Luke 14:27Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  ( Also Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)

John 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

John 14:21-24He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”  Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”

John 15:10-14 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Acts 5:32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:22-25 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.

1 John 3:10 By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

Loving God and our neighbor as ourself.  Forgiveness of others.  Obedience to Christ and his commandments.  All found in Sacred Scripture as being necessary to receive eternal life, to be saved.  And in the Catholic view of things, all only possible for us when we rely on God’s grace.  Grace always, everything is grace.

My next post will turn to the writings of St. Paul. 

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