Why Do Catholics Teach Salvation By Works?
The Lord is just and loves just deeds," the psalmist says, and "the upright shall see his face" (Ps 11:7). These words summarize the Catholic view (which is also the biblical view) of salvation: Because God is just and loves justice, if we hope to "see his face" -- that is, to live with him in friendship forever -- then we ourselves must become "upright", as he is. The First Letter of Peter puts it this way: "Be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, 'Be holy because I (am) holy'" (1:15-16).
How do we become holy: Catholics agree with other Christians that we cannot save ourselves, and we cannot earn heaven on our own. Rather, we are saved by grace -- God's merciful aid, given to enable us to become holy as he is holy. It's an absolutely unmerited, free gift of God, made possible through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and his atoning death on the cross for us.
Certainly, our faith in Christ's power to transform us is essential to our salvation by God's grace. But a mere intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel is not enough. Scripture insists that faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead (see Jas 2:14-26).
When we are justified (literally, "made just") by God, he doesn't just declare us righteous as a kind of legal fiction so that we can escape eternal punishment. Divine justification actually wipes out sin and provides a supernatural, renewing infusion of his power. By cooperating with grace, we become like God, fit to live with him forever.
In this way, good works, and the transformation of character they contribute to and reflect, are indeed necessary for salvation. God rewards the good works we do, works that he himself has made possible (see Mt 16:27; 25:31-46). "To the obedient," he promises, "I will show the salvation of God" (Ps 50:23).
Other related scriptures: Mt 5:20; 7:16-27; Lk 14:13-14; Jn 3:36; 6:27-29; Acts 3:19; 10:31, 35; Rom 2:5-13; 1 Cor 3:8-9; 6:11; 15:10; Eph 2:8-10; Phil 2:12-13; 3:11-14; Heb 5:9; Jas 1:22; 2:14-26; 1 Pt 1:17; 2:7; 1 Jn 1:7-9; Rv 22:12
Catechism of the Catholic Church: 26; 142-147; 150, 155, 161, 176, 180, 183, 222-227; 654, 824, 1810,; 1987-1992; 1999; 2008-2011; 2023-2024.
*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com
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