In my previous post I communicated that in order to read St. Paul in a way that aligns him with the words of Christ and the other apostles, it is necessary to understand two important “keys” to his writings. One is to always remember he is fighting the first major heresy that threatened the Church – the idea that Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law. The second “key” is to understand that when St. Paul uses the terms “works” or “works of the law” he is referring to the Mosaic law. When he uses the term “good works” or “doing good” he is referring to the fulfilment of that law – love of God and neighbor. And he agrees with Christ and the other apostles that these works of love and obedience to Christ are indeed a necessary response to God’s grace for our salvation.
For example, even though the book of Romans has multiple examples of St. Paul indicating that “works,” or “works of the law” are not necessary for salvation, he also writes these things to them:
Romans 2:6-10,13 “For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek…..For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” We know here that St. Paul cannot be speaking of the Mosaic law when he says that it’s the “doers” of the law who will be justified. He has been an invincible advocate that following the Mosaic law is not necessary. But “well-doing” is necessary in his view in order to receive eternal life, and this is following the law of Christ (Romans 13:8-10). And verse 13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” is an echo of James 1:22 — “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
Some other passages to consider from Romans:
Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 14:18 he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
St. Paul writes similar things to other groups as well. One of my favorites is Galatians 5:5-6 “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Some newer Protestant translations like the NIV translate this verse as “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” This clearly indicates that St. Paul does not see Biblical faith as merely an intellectual assent. Rather he sees faith as so closely linked to charity that charity is the way faith manifests itself visibly to the world. And this kind of faith is the only thing that counts in his view.
Other examples from the writing of St. Paul for the necessity of “good works”:
Galatians 5:14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:7-10 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
1 Corinthians 9:21 ”To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law.” St. Paul here is speaking about the Mosaic law. Those “outside the law” are the Gentiles in his care, and he became to them as “one outside the law,” as they were. But then he also clearly tells us that doesn’t mean he is without law from God, but rather is now under the law of Christ. The law of Christ is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law (love of God and neighbor), and St. Paul very much sees himself as being bound to that law. One verse very well known to Protestants is Romans 6:14 – “you are not under law but under grace.” Given St. Paul’s testimony here, we have to understand that when he says this to the Romans he is speaking of the Mosaic law when he tells them they are not under law, but grace. But they, like St. Paul and all of us are under the law of Christ. So yes, he is no longer under the Mosaic law – it has been fulfilled by the law of Christ. And our ability to keep this law of Christ is indeed totally dependent upon grace. Always and forever, everything is grace.
1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…..So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” If St. Paul were really an advocate of salvation by “faith alone” apart from love, how could he ever state that love is greater than faith? And that faith without love is nothing? This is very much an echo of St. James that faith without works is “dead.” (James 2:17)
1 Corinthians 7:19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.
Colossians 3:23-25 Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
1 Timothy 5:8 If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.
In his writings, St. Paul is a fierce advocate for the idea that the Mosaic law is not necessary for a Christian believer, but rather what is necessary for salvation is faith in Christ. And his view is totally Catholic as to what it mean to have faith in Christ — repentance, a surrender of ourselves to God’s will, trust in His goodness, obedience to Christ, and working in charity. St. Paul does indeed affirm the words of Christ and the other apostles about the necessity of works for our salvation, and that sanctification is not optional. Which is why we see him say “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14). As Catholics we share in his view, and we always remember that our “pressing on toward the goal” is only made possible by God’s grace. Everything about our salvation always is, and always will forever be grace. Everything is grace.
Perhaps St. Catherine of Siena sums up all of these passages the best – “You are rewarded not according to your work or your time but according to the measure of your love.”
So now, Catholics, back to the ultimate question – are you saved?
Yes, if I follow God’s will, with the help of His grace.
One thought on “Faith, works and St. Paul Part 2”
Another great teaching Cindy! While reading it I found myself reflecting on how much I reduce my Catholic faith to a following of Mosaic type law as the Pharisees (liberals) and Saducees (Conservatives) did in their political era. Like them my faith is not backed up with works of Love!
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