Grace Alone & Necessity of Good Works: Ecumenical Agreement

Grace Alone & Necessity of Good Works: Ecumenical Agreement May 4, 2017

Original title: Catholics and Protestants Agree on Grace Alone and the Necessity of the Presence of Good Works in Regenerate and Ultimately Saved Persons; Disagree on Faith Alone


The Good Samaritan, by Théodule Ribot (1823-1891) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


If works (even ones enabled, caused by, and soaked in grace from A to Z) have nothing to do with salvation whatsoever (the standard Protestant position), how are these 50 passages about the final judgment (that I have collected) to be interpreted? Not one mentions faith alone as the criterion for salvation. All mention works as somehow part of the equation (and they do because, as James tells us,”faith without works is dead” and he specifically denies faith alone in the same passage) Folks may want to argue with God’s inspired Word, I suppose. I think that is a dangerous position to be in.

Lutheran pastor Ken Howes (LCMS) [words in blue henceforth): We are saved through faith alone by grace alone. But where grace and faith are, works will also be, because there the Holy Spirit will have been at work. The thief on the cross is an exceptional case in that his coming to faith and receiving God’s grace came at a moment and in a situation where no works could follow. The only work he could do in those circumstances was to confess his faith. But ordinarily, grace and faith come under circumstances in which there is time for good works to follow, and if they are there, the works will be be there. The works do not save; but they are the sign of the saved, because those who are saved will do them.

Both sides agree that the works must be there, for salvation to be attained. Whether they are placed in the category of justification or sanctification is (in the final analysis) a mere abstraction and matter of semantics. The fact remains, that for Protestants and Catholicism (rightly understood): works must be present, or else it is an inauthentic faith, which will not save.

Grace alone is completely biblical, and we Catholics agree with it. Faith alone is not biblical, so we disagree with that.

All Catholics are saying is that “works must be present if one is to be saved.” Luther and Calvin taught that if works aren’t present, true faith isn”t either. That’s how we fundamentally agree:

Martin Luther: Good Works Prove Authentic Faith [4-16-08]

John Calvin: Good Works Manifest True Saving Faith [9-4-08]

The only disagreement is the “box” we place works in. You guys put ’em in the box of sanctification. We call them meritorious (and are then falsely accused of believing in salvation by works / Pelagianism, or Semi-Pelagianism). And St. Augustine said all that merit means, is God crowning his own gifts. Trent agrees! So does Scripture.

He [Luther] does not deny justification through faith alone; but he refutes the antinomian idea that “it doesn’t matter what you do, if you believe and trust Jesus, you will be saved.” The Lutheran reformers (I will leave it to the adherents of other Reformation traditions to speak for their own traditions) were clear about this, as is clear from our confessions: Augsburg Confession: Article VI: Of New Obedience.

As you can see, the antinomian teaching sometimes falsely attributed to Lutherans is not at all our doctrine.

I agree (have defended Lutherans and Luther); and Pelagianism or denial of grace alone aren’t our teachings, either. See my paper:

Martin Luther: Faith Alone is Not Lawless Antinomianism [2-28-10]

That’s very true.

It’s also true that the Catholic conception of merit does not equal “works salvation” or contradict grace alone.

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