Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Trouble with Works

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Original image from Pixabay.

This Sunday, the second reading will be from James 2:14-18 (the link goes to a bit more). I’d strongly encourage you to read the other readings as well. It’s lectionary #131, if you’re reading from a hard copy.

I don’t think there is another issue that is as contentious between Catholics and most Protestants as that of the role of works in salvation.

On the one hand, Protestants have one strong point in their favor. We cannot earn our Salvation. Not by doing good works, not by study, not by any means. And any Catholic who is worth their salt will tell you the same thing.

Faith is both a gift and an act of the will. Salvation, on the other hand, is a gift, given to you by Christ, not because you did anything to earn it, but because you, acknowledging your own weakness, asked for it. So, if you claim that you cannot earn your salvation, you’re right. You can’t.

However, there is more to the story than that. James reminds the faithful that if, “you believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.” (2:19) So, faith alone isn’t enough. We do only as well as the demons if we believe in God and that he is one.

Something else is required. A response of some kind, right? Some will tell you that the response is to “repent and believe”, but I’m assuming that if you have faith, you already believe.

No, “repent and believe” is not quite enough. You have to respond in some way - not just sit back on your laurels, confident that your salvation has been won already. God acted with love toward you, and the only appropriate response is to act with love in return.

This response of love logically demands action, as one of the elders in Daniel’s church pointed out in a sermon, “When you love someone, you want to spend time with them, and you want to make them happy.” You don’t make someone happy by sitting there and admiring them. You talk to them, you do things that will please them.

This is what Catholics (really) mean when we say that good works are necessary unto salvation. Good works are an expected fruit of the kind of faith that will save you.

And even with works, we mere mortals are unable to tell the quality of your faith itself. That only God can know with certainty. I point this out because many people have misconstrued the Catholic faith as a religion of works, where salvation is earned by the faithful, and that isn’t the case at all.

All the works in the world won’t save you, but without works, we can infer that your faith won’t save you because it is only as good as the faith of the demons… and we can see how much good their faith in God did them without a right response.

Loving Father,
Thank you for the great work of love you have done for us in sending Jesus to save us from ourselves. Help us to respond to the love you have shown to us with everything we have. Help us to you with the same, perfect love, that you give to us.


*Note: This is all based on my understanding of the Catholic teaching on faith and works. If I do not have a correct understanding, please let me know! This is a nuanced subject that I want to get right!

Join me on Facebook! 

No comments:

Post a Comment