A very dear friend of mine, a Protestant, has asked me to respond to the "Salvation" section of a website used to show the errors of Catholicism. I will be posting my response to these four main attacks on Catholicism regarding salvation for anyone else who may seek the answer to these questions. The four main points are salvation through: good works, baptism, Mary, and the Church. I have already explained Mary to some degree but further clarification will likely be necessary.
Here is my explanation on "salvation through good works". Keep in mind that the original response was via email:
One thing I notice when talking apologetics is one topic can generally lead right into another. This makes it difficult, at times, to stay on topic. Sometimes, in order to understand the Catholic teaching on one thing, it is essential to understand the Catholic teaching on something else.
Based on the four main points of salvation that you sent me, I am going to have to begin with the "good works" part. This brings us to the Protestant doctrine of sola fide. Before I begin, I want to make it very clear that Catholics do not believe in "faith alone" or "works alone" or that we earn our way to heaven by our good deeds (whether works of the law or works of faith). We believe, and I'm sure you'll agree, that without Christ's work on the cross and the blood he shed for our sins and without his grace given to us, that we would not be saved at all. It is a gift:
CCC 1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
We will also both agree that in order to receive the gift we must do something. First, we must have faith. The Catholic Church teaches this:
CCC 161 Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. "Since "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"
Protestants claim that salvation is by "faith alone" and there are several scriptures used to back up this viewpoint:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.
...that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me...
Therefore the just shall live by faith. The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Notice here that he says deeds of the "law". Catholics agreed completely!
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
...having been justified by faith...
That if you shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
...and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
For by grace are you 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 has before ordained that we should walk in them.
WAIT! First works are condemned but then we are created in Christ to do good works? (More on this below)
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Again, a distinction made to "works of the law".
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
I say, "AMEN!" to all of these verses. Catholics believe all of these 100% and do not disagree with them at all. BUT, none of these verses say faith "alone". Catholics believe that salvation comes first from God's grace and that we are saved by cooperating with this grace with faith AND works. (It is important to note here, that Catholics are NOT talking about works of the law as often spoken of by Paul. Paul condemned the Pharisees for observing the law but not showing love. Catholics are speaking of works of "faith" such as obedience to God, love, service, etc.)
1 Corinthians 13:13
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Notice here that the greatest is not faith, but LOVE...
6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Works of the law have no value. But works of faith (love) is the only thing that counts.
1 Corinthians 13:2
2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
15"If you love me, you will obey what I command.
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
1 Timothy 5:8
8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
20You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
WOW. The only place in the Bible where "faith alone" appears is to say "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone." And note the parallel drawn between the body and spirit and between faith and deeds? Just as you cannot separate the body from the spirit, you cannot separate faith from deeds!
This is why Catholics believe that you cannot separate faith and works. They MUST go together or your faith is a dead faith. We are not talking about our own works or that our works EARN us eternal life... but that, by the grace of God, we act in faith working through love to cooperate with the gift of grace and gain eternal life.
In the link you sent me, it quotes from the catechism (837): "...Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved."
I'd have to agree with this in light of Scripture because one who is not charitable or does not show love, according to the Bible, does not have a saving faith and does not inherit the gift of eternal life.
In addition there are several verses that tell us we are judged according to our deeds.
2 Corinthians 5:10
10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
2 Corinthians 11:15
15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
1 Peter 1:17
17If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;
24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
Note that none of these verses indicate we are judged based on our level of faith? So, in short, it is not faith alone, nor works alone (as many *think* Catholics teach) but faith AND works, as the Bible clearly teaches.