Monthly Archives: June 2016

More Guns, Less Crime

Some of you may remember the masterpiece of research and presentation on the matter of guns against the insanity of those who want to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens to be able to defend themselves and their families against unjust aggressors. The book is titled More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott, Jr., first published in 1998. It is now in its third edition.

Here is just another among hundreds of cases we could examine that demonstrate how guns can be instruments that save the lives of the innocent. When two armed men attempted a home invasion robbery of a home in Ladson, South Carolina, where a 13 year-old boy was home alone, thank God he was able to quickly acquire his mother’s  legally-purchased pistol to defend himself.

To make a long story short, a gun fight ensued leaving one of the invading felons dead, and the other eventually in custody. The boy was uninjured. See the full story here:

I, for one, am glad the Catholic Church is not pacifist, and, in fact, teaches, in CCC 2264-2265:

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow…

[2265] Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of  the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.

It is unthinkable to me how anyone, much less a Christian, could really believe the government should disarm its citizenry.

Some will say at this point that there is a legitimate tradition of pacifism in the Church. And there is. If you want to read an article I wrote about that, click here. So if someone wants to be a pacifist that is one thing. But to force others, even a father like me, who has the responsibility to protect my wife and seven children, to disarm so that he, or I, cannot protect my family, is unconscionable. In the end, the only thing gun control accomplishes is the rendering of law-abiding citizens defenseless against armed aggressors.

Thank God this 13 year-old boy had recourse to what became the ultimate equalizer in this battle of and for his life!

Don’t anyone dare to try and take my guns away from me and my family! Not gonna’ happen, folks!


Understanding Indulgences

To say there is confusion and misrepresentation among non-Catholics on the topic of Indulgences may well qualify as the proverbial “understatement of the year.” In this post,  we are going to consider four of these misapprehensions. But first, we need to understand the truth concerning Indulgences. CCC 1471 gives a succinct definition:

An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.

The theology of Indulgences is rooted in four very biblical notions.

1. Sins that are forgiven by God may still require temporal punishment. This is a matter of common sense as well as it is a matter of Public Revelation. For example, if one of my sons were to put a rock through the window of our house, I would forgive him of this transgression as soon as he expresses sorrow. However, in justice, and for my son’s good, I would require him to repay the cost of the damage. This would serve to teach him of the serious nature of his actions as well as the damage that disobedience causes. Moreover, in the process of working to earn the money to pay for what he has done and in giving up some of that hard-earned cash, he will become a more virtuous person.

I use the analogy of my relationship with my sons for a reason. In Scripture, we find that God is revealed to be our Father who disciplines us—his children.

[God, the Father] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).

The Greek text indicates that this discipline of God, the Father, leads to the fruit of justification (Gr.—dikaiosunes). This suffering imposed by God is part of the very process of justification where the believer is finally made just and worthy of heaven.

King David is perhaps the classic example of just what we are talking about. In II Samuel 11-12, we read the sad tale of how David committed the sins of murder and adultery, but then later acknowledges his sin and repents. In 12:13, the prophet Nathan declares to David:

The Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die.

Notice, David’s sins were forgiven, yet that same prophet also declared:

Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife… Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun… because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die (II Sam. 12:10-14).

This is some pretty severe punishment to be sure, but you’ll notice it is temporal by nature, not eternal.

Later in his life, after having reflected upon all that happened to him, this same King David would write in Psalm 119:71: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.” The temporal punishment imposed by God upon him, he knew, was for his own growth in virtue—for his own good.

2. The People of God have always been understood in Scripture to be able and responsible to make atonement for the temporal punishment due not only to their own sins, but they can also aid others in this purification process as well. Proverbs 16:6 says, “By loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for…” That text could hardly be clearer. Moreover, St. Paul says, in Colossians 1:24,

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…

The “iniquity” mentioned as being able to be atoned for cannot be mortal sin. Even one mortal sin against an infinitely holy God requires an infinite expiation. Only the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ can expiate this sin. The implication here is temporal punishment can be atoned for, with God’s help, by our own prayers and sacrifices, or as Proverbs 16:6 said, “by loyalty and faithfulness…”

Colossians 1:24 adds our sufferings as efficacious in remitting punishment due for sins in the lives of others as well. This is an important factor in the doctrine of the Communion of Saints that underlies the Catholic and biblical notion of Indulgences. As members of the body of Christ, we have the power to effect healing in one another when it comes to sins and faults that are not mortal.

I John 5:16-17 explains it this way:

If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

Notice, St. John says one Christian can ask and God will communicate “life” (Gr.—zo-ay, which refers to the divine life of God communicated to the believer through grace) to the one who sinned as long as the sin was not mortal. This is true because the one who sins mortally would be cut off from the body of Christ and there would be no way to communicate healing directly to the one who sinned mortally.

This really makes sense when we consider the metaphor of the “body” St. Paul uses for the People of God in both I Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. If one member of a body, let’s say a hand, is wounded, the rest of the body will immediately and organically affect healing in the wounded part. So it is by analogy with the “Body of Christ.” If one member is wounded the rest of the body can affect healing by virtue of the fact that “the body” is organically linked, so to speak, as members of the same body. St. John says we, as members of Christ, can communicate “life” or healing to the wounded member through our prayers.

But notice, St. John also says if the person commits mortal sin, “I do not say that one is to pray for that.” St. John would hardly be commanding non-prayer in any sense. Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” in Matt. 5:44. St. Paul tells us to “pray for all men” in I Tim. 2:1. His point is we cannot pray for and directly affect healing in the one who is in mortal sin because he is cut off from the divine life that flows from member to member in the Body of Christ. Of course, we can pray the one cut off from Christ in mortal sin be restored to Christ through the particular grace of repentance.

3. There is nothing in Scripture indicating this communication of divine life between members of the Body of Christ ceases at the end of life on earth. Indeed, if there is need for purification at the time of death, this purification must occur in order for the Christian to attain heaven (see Matt. 5:48; Heb. 12:14). II Maccabees 12:46 is a great example from the Old Testament that this purification can in fact continue in the next life:

Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead that they might be delivered from their sin.

Many Protestants will respond claiming this text is meaningless because they do not accept II Maccabees as Scripture. But really, that is beside the point. Even if one does not accept its canonicity, as an historical document, it provides accurate information about the life and faith of the Jewish people shortly before the advent of Christ, and specifically, that they already believed they could pray for the dead to be forgiven. Or, as II Maccabess 12:39-46 says it,

Judas and his men… turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… [Judas Maccabeus] also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering…

The Jews believed that the sacrificial offerings of members of the People of God could “wholly blot out” the sins of those who had died. This makes all the more significant Jesus words in Matt. 12:32:

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Not only do we simply have nothing in Scripture that condemns this common practice of ancient Jews—a practice, by the way, that continues to this day in Orthodox Jewish circles—but Jesus himself implies this to be a good and pious practice.

4. The Church, through the ministry of the forgiveness of sins communicated to her by Jesus Christ himself, has the power to remit not only the eternal consequences of sin through the Sacrament of Confession, but also the temporal punishment due for sin through Indulgences. In John 20:21-23, in the plainest of terms, Jesus communicated his power to forgive sins to the apostles:

Jesus said to [the apostles] again, “Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

In Matt. 16:18-19, Jesus promised the authority of the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter as well as the authority to “bind and loose.” Two chapters later, in Matt. 18:18, he promised the power to “bind and loose” to all of the apostles in union with Peter. This authority of “binding and loosing” involves not only a declatory power in defining the faith of Christians, but it also involves restoring the fallen to full communion with God and the Church in the forgiveness of sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares:

(1444) In imparting to his apostles his own power to forgive sins the Lord also gives them the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ’s solemn words to Simon Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” “The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head.”
(1445) The words bind and loose mean: whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God.

One way to understand the Church’s authority to remit temporal punishment due to sin is via a fortiori argumentation. This is an argument that says, “If X is true, then how much more is Y also true.” Both Jesus and St. Paul use this type of argumentation (see Matt. 6:25-34; Luke 11:13; Romans 5:8-10; 8:31-32; 11:22, etc.).

Thus, if Jesus Christ gave his Church the power to forgive mortal sins and the eternal punishment due to these sins, how much more would that same Church be able to forgive the merely temporal punishments due to sin.

The Misconceptions

1. The Catholic Church teaches (or has taught) Indulgences not only remit sins, but they can remit sins before the fact. And for a price, of course! Thus, this first point really covers two misconceptions: 1) Indulgences remit sins before the sin is committed. 2) You can buy Indulgences.

Several years ago, my wife and I watched a video put out by “New Liberty Videos” called “The Forbidden Book,” a hit-piece targeting the Catholic Church, wherein the narrator presents a document allegedly written by Pope Leo X cataloguing various prices the Roman Pontiff declared one had to pay to the Church for Indulgences so that one could freely sin without guilt! For a price, you could (among other things, I just jotted down a few of them):

• Ravish a Virgin – $2
• Kill a man – $1.75
• If a priest, keep a mistress or concubine – $2.75

Or, how about this one?

• To be absolved of all sins whatsoever – $12.00

What a deal!

Of course, this list is a complete fraud. The folks at have several articles in English (it’s a Spanish-language site, but these articles are in English) that do an excellent job in exposing this fraud:

Unfortunately, these lies are found peppered across the board among anti-Catholic literature. So what is the truth of the matter?

First off, Indulgences do not even remit sins at all; they remit the temporal punishment due for sin. And, of course, this is only so after the sin has been committed and one has been forgiven of the guilt of that sin in Confession!

And just for the record: the Catholic Church does not teach and has never taught that one can “buy” Indulgences.

The confusion here is at least partially rooted in the fact that the Church used to grant what are referred to as “alms-Indulgences.” There is nothing inherently wrong with the practice; in fact, it is very much rooted in the Scriptures inasmuch as almsgiving has always been considered a meritorious and salvific act. It’s mentioned by Jesus himself in Luke 11:41:

But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.

Jesus is here emphasizing alms must be given out of the right motivation in order to truly be meritorious before God.

In Acts 10:3-4, and 34-35, both the angel Gabriel and St. Peter combine to tell us that Cornelius’ alms were instruments whereby he merited from the Lord:

About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius”… “What is it, Lord?”… “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…”

(34) And Peter opened his mouth and said: [with regard to Cornelius] “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Thus, almsgiving is still, as a matter of Faith, taught to be meritorious if done with the proper motives. However, there was confusion among some of the Catholic faithful in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with regard to Indulgences in relation to alms. The perception was, among some, that the act was a mere mechanical process. You give this, and you get this (the remission of temporal punishment due for sins), apart from the necessary predispositions that must be present. As a result, Pope St. Pius V eliminated “alms-Indulgences” in 1567. That discipline of the Church remains in force.

But this in no way means the Church once used to “sell” indulgences. That is a non-sequitur.

3. This misconception goes straight back to Martin Luther who, in his notorious “95 Theses,” no. 82, famously asked:

Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there…?

The question itself shows a rather childish understanding of Purgatory and Indulgences. That would be like saying, “If the Church can remit the eternal consequences of sin though the Sacrament of Penance, why doesn’t she just declare everyone in the world to be forgiven?”

The Church cannot do either because there are divinely mandated prerequisites that must be fulfilled before the Church can remit either sins or temporal punishment due for sins that have been forgiven.

In the case of Confession, one has to be sorry for his sins, confess his sins with a firm purpose of amendment to avoid sin in the future, and be absolved by a validly ordained priest, in order to have his sins forgiven.

In the case of Indulgences, one must perform whatever God through his Church prescribes as being necessary to gain an Indulgence. With regard to a plenary Indulgence, he must be detached from all sins both mortal and venial, pray for the intentions of the Pope, make a good Confession, and receive communion within about a week of performing the requirement for the Indulgence. If all of these requirements are not met, he would receive a partial Indulgence, in accord with his disposition at the time he performs the required works. So the Church just can’t say “whammo” and it’s done!

4. There is much confusion over the idea of numbers of “days” with regard to Indulgences. Jimmy Akin clears up the difficulty in his new book, The Drama of Salvation, (p. 74):

… in the past, a certain number of “days” were attached to many indulgences. These were not days off in Purgatory. Instead, they expressed the value of an indulgence by analogizing it to the number of days’ penance one would have done on Earth under the penitential practices of the early Church.

Moderns had lost touch with the ancient system, which made the reckoning of such “days” confusing. The practice was abolished in 1967 in Pope Paul VI’s constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina.

If you enjoyed this and would like to learn more, click here.

How Works Work

How can Catholics claim “works” are necessary for salvation for Christians who have reached the age of accountability when Romans 3:28 says:

For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Romans 4:5 says:

And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.

And Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.

On the surface, these texts may sound problematic, but once we examine their respective contexts, the problems go away rather quickly. First, let’s take a look at the context surrounding Romans 3:28. St. Paul had already made very clear in Romans 2:6-7 that good works are necessary for eternal life, at least in one sense:

For [God] 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…

One of the problems in Rome St. Paul was dealing with was a very prominent heresy known to us today as the “Judaizer” heresy. Those attached to this sect taught belief in Christ and obedience to the New Covenant was not enough to be saved. One had to keep the Law of Moses, especially circumcision, in order to merit heaven.

The problem with this teaching, of course, is, among other things, according to Hebrews 7:11-12, the old law has passed away in Christ:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further needtwould there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz’edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.

According to this text, the law of Moses had passed away with the advent of Christ. Moreover, according to St. Paul, Christians are under the new law, or “the law of Christ,” not the old.

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 (I Cor. 9:21).

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

This is not to say that we have now exchanged one list of rules for another and if we follow a list of rules, apart from grace, we can be saved. Absolutely not! Following the letter of the law, even the new law, cannot save because as St. Paul says in II Cor. 3:6:

[God] has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We are bound to follow “the law of Christ” as St. Paul said in I Cor. 9:21, but we must understand that we are saved by grace through the instruments of faith and obedience. That obedience includes keeping the Ten Commandments, but the keeping of the commandments is an instrument—a necessary instrument—through which the grace of God flows and keeps us in Christ, the principle of reward for us. Thus, we have to keep the commandments to be saved, but we understand it is only through grace that we can do so.

At any rate, there is a great description of what was happening in the early church with these “Judaizers” in Acts 15:1-2:

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

Notice the emphasis on “circumcision” and the law of Moses? St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is steeped in responses to the positions of these same “Judaizers.” It becomes obvious St. Paul has them in mind when he says in Romans 2:28-29:

For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal…

It is very interesting to note that this same St. Paul would tell us that the true “circumcision of Christ” is New Covenant baptism in Colossians 2:11-12.

At any rate, it is in the context of dealing with the “Judaizers” that St. Paul says we are “justified by faith apart from the works of law.” He did not eliminate works as necessary for salvation in any sense. He specified the works of law because these were the very works without which the Judaizers were claiming a person “cannot be saved.”


At this point our Protestant friends may point out that Romans 4:5 does not specify “works of law.” It simply says, “to him who does not work, but believes…” And even more, what do you do with Romans 7:6-7 where St. Paul uses the ninth and tenth commandments as his example of “the law” that has passed away and cannot save? This is talking about “the Ten Commandments!” Would the Catholic Church say the Ten Commandments have passed away with the advent of Christ?

But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

How do we respond? First, it is true that St. Paul does not say works of law in Romans 4:5. But the context makes it very clear that St. Paul was referring to circumcision in particular and the same “works of law” he was referring to in Romans 3:28. Romans 3:28 down to Romans 4:5 represents one continuous thought in answering the Judaizers and their insistence upon circumcision and keeping the Old Covenant in order to be saved.

When it comes to Romans 7:6-7, we need to go a bit deeper in our response. St. Paul does use the ninth and tenth commandments as examples of “law” that cannot save us. St. Paul is using the example of the “Judaizers” to teach all of us a deeper truth about the nature of justification and works. The works that justify us (as we saw in Romans 2:6-7) are works done in Christ. When the “Judaizers” were insisting a return to the Old Covenant was necessary for salvation, they were, in essence, saying Christ and the New Covenant are not enough. And in so doing, they were ipso facto rejecting Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” The “Judaizers” were attempting to be justified apart from Christ. St. Paul’s main emphasis is that we can only perform salvific acts in Christ! If we are not “in Christ”, even our outwardly “righteous deeds” will never and can never merit eternal life.

In other words, the law, whether old or new, cannot save us apart from the grace of Christ. In fact, St. Paul goes beyond declaring the keeping of the law alone cannot save us. He even says, in I Cor. 13:3:

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Sola Gratia

The truth is, it is the grace of Christ alone that saves us by our cooperating with that grace in fulfilling the “law of Christ.” This is precisely what St. Paul teaches in Galatians 3:2-3, 5:2-6. And take note how he writes concerning these same “Judaizers:”

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh… (5:2) Now I Paul say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness (Gr. dikaiosune—justification). For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.

Notice St. Paul’s emphasis on our being in grace and our working through the Spirit and in Christ in order to remain in Christ. Back in Romans, St. Paul said it very similarly:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

In Romans 6:16, St. Paul goes on to tell us that after baptism (cf. Romans 6:3-4) obedience to Christ (that means good works!) leads us to justification while sin (that means bad works!) will lead us to death:

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 (Gr.—eis thanaton, “unto death”), or of obedience, which leads to righteousness (Gr.—eis dikaiosunen—unto justification).

Notice: St. Paul makes it very clear. Obedience leads to justification and eternal life while sin leads to eternal death (see also Romans 6:23). Thus, St. Paul’s emphasis is not just on works, but works done in and through the power of Christ. In Romans 8:1-14, St. Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that we must be in Christ and continuing to live our lives in Christ in order to do works that please God.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit… and those who are in the flesh cannot please God… So, then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

The key, again, is to remember St. Paul is emphasizing our continuing in Christ, or, in his grace or “kindness.” In Romans 11:22, he says it this way:

Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off.

Just so no one would get the wrong idea of what St. Paul was saying, it seems, he put it plain and simple in Galatians 5:19-21 and 6:7-9. There is no way we can get “justification by faith alone” that excludes works as necessary for justification in any and every sense if we read these texts carefully. St. Paul makes clear that if Christians allow themselves to be dominated by their “flesh,” or lower nature, they will not make it to heaven.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God… (6:7) 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 (eternal death); 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.

Here St. Paul teaches that through good works, or continuing to “sow to the Spirit,” we will be rewarded with eternal life, but only if we persevere.

Works in Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.

Once again, context is going to be key. In verses 4-6 St. Paul had just said:

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him…

Here St. Paul is talking about the initial grace of salvation or justification by which we Christians were raised from death unto life. The Catholic Church teaches in agreement with Scripture that this initial grace of salvation is entirely and absolutely unmerited.

My heavens, the Catholic Church baptizes babies! What more could she do to  demonstrate this truth! What kind of works could a newborn baby have done to merit anything?

However, once that baby grows up and reaches the age of accountability, he must begin to “work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in [him], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Or, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 2:10—the very next verse after Eph. 2:8-9:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

St. Paul is in no way eliminating works in any sense, to be necessary for salvation; he is simply pointing out what the Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years: there is nothing anyone can do before they enter into Christ that can justify them. But once a person enters into Christ… it’s a whole new ballgame (see Phil. 4:13; Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:7-9, etc.).

In the final analysis, I believe the text that is about as plain as any text could be concerning works and justification is James 2:24—that is, it is about as plain as can be in telling us both that “faith alone” is insufficient for our justification, and that “works” are indeed necessary. Are we justified by faith? Certainly! By faith alone? No way! It’s both faith and works, according to Scripture.

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Jesus says it similarly. Are we saved by faith in Jesus? Certainly! John 11:25:

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.

Are we saved by faith alone? No way! In Matthew 19:16-19, Jesus himself said to a rich young man who had asked him what he needed to do to have eternal life:

… If you would enter life, keep the commandments… You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Or, how about Matthew 12:36-37? Here, Jesus says:

I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

That sounds like there is more to this justification thing than faith alone.

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