As Catholics, we believe in the necessity of good works not to earn God’s salvation which comes from Him alone and which He freely “gives” to us because of His love and mercy. We believe in the necessity of good works in order to perfect our faith which allows us to “receive” His salvation.
As Catholics, we are often asked by our brothers and sisters from other Christian denominations if we believe that good works are necessary for our salvation.
I was asked the very same question by a good friend from another denomination just a few days ago. I thanked her for her question not only because it implored me to know more about the beliefs of the Catholic Church, but also because of her sincerity in asking the question. She asked me not to challenge me, but to really understand our faith.
Today’s Gospel reading is one of the verses I quoted to share with her the belief of the Catholic Church regarding good works and salvation. Today’s reading also inspired me to write down and share with you my answer.
Let us start with the first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is the summary of our beliefs:
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” — Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraph 1 (CCC 1)
We will break down the paragraph into five parts: the beginning, the source of salvation, our role in salvation, the fulfillment of our faith, and the end.
The Beginning: What is Salvation?
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.”
Why God created us in the beginning gives us a clue as to what will happen in end — when we are saved.
God created us in order to love us. He created us in order for us to share in His blessedness, in His goodness, and in His love for us — like how a father loves his children.
However, because of sin, we forgot that God is, first and foremost, a father. In the account of the Fall of Man in the book of Genesis, the first consequence of sin was a broken relationship between God and man. It’s not because God changed and became disappointed with man, but because man became afraid of God.
When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” — Genesis 3:8-10
To be saved means to be restored in our filial relationship with God. Salvation means once again sharing in the blessedness, goodness, and fatherly love of God for all eternity. As Catholics, we believe that salvation is more than just eternal life. It is eternal life with the Father, like how He meant for us since the beginning of time.
The Source of Salvation: God Alone
“For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.”
Throughout history, God has always been drawing Himself to man. He has been constantly giving and offering Himself to us. We can see this in the Old and the New Covenants, the mutual giving of oneself.
In the Old Covenant, God takes the Israelites as His own people. But in return, He also offered Himself to them.
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” — Exodus 6:7
In the same way He freely offered Himself to the Israelites, He also freely offered Himself for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation.
“For this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” — Matthew 26:28
God freely offered Himself for our salvation. That’s why the Catechism says and why we believe that God has “given” His salvation for free.
“Salvation comes from God alone.” — CCC 169
The Father’s unconditional love, His grace, and His mercy are the source of our salvation. He alone is the source of our salvation.
Our Role in Salvation: Faith
“He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.”
While God “gives” us His salvation freely, we can reject it. While He never relents in pursuing us, we can also keep on running away from Him, His love, His mercy, and His grace.
Our role in salvation is to “receive” it. And we can only “receive” His offer of salvation through faith.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” — John 3:16
We can only “receive” God’s salvation if we believe that God has given us salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.
Again, in the Catechism:
“So faith is already the beginning of eternal life.” — CCC 163
The Fulfillment of Faith: Love
“He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.”
So, is faith alone necessary in order for us to “receive” salvation or eternal life? Yes.
If that is so, are good works no longer necessary in order to receive salvation? They still are.
We often make the mistake of thinking that faith and good works are two separate things. We often think of faith only as the intellectual resolve to believe — in God, in Jesus, and in what He has done for us. But, true faith is more than just our intellectual resolve. True faith is the total immersion of our whole selves — our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our souls, our actions, our entire beings. It is good works that perfects our faith.
We become truly faithful not just by believing, but by living our faith.
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” — James 2:14-17
Our faith only comes to life through action.
That is why throughout His ministry, Jesus was focused on teaching us to love not only God, but also our neighbors:
“One of the scribes asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘The first is this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’” — Mark 12:31
“This I command you: love one another.” — John 15:17
Even in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that what we do for others, we also do for Him. What we don’t do for others, we don’t do for Him:
“Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” — Matthew 25:44-46
As St. John the Evangelist wrote in his first epistle:
“This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” — 1 John 4:21
We can only love God by also loving our neighbors.
As Catholics, we believe in putting God above all. We believe in have a relationship with our Father. But as mentioned in the Catechism, God calls us not just to have a personal relationship with Him. He calls us not only to seek Him, to know Him, and to love Him. He also calls us into the unity of His family — our brothers and sisters, our neighbors.
More than a personal relationship, He calls us into His family.
It is our faith which perfected by our love and good works — and not just intellectual faith — that brings and unites God’s family together.
The End: How to Be a Redeemed Child of God
“To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.”
The end of the paragraph brings us full circle to the creation. Through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Firstborn in the Spirit, invites us once again to be children of God and heirs of eternal life with the Father.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus reintroduced God to us as our Father. It was Jesus, our Savior, who bridged the gap between man and the Father by restoring what we have forgotten because of sin — our filial relationship with God.
Throughout His ministry and even at the point of death, Jesus called God His Father. He even taught us how to pray by calling God as our Father.
“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” — Matthew 6:9
As the Son of God, He also taught us how to be redeemed children of God — by following His example.
“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” — John 13:15
If we wish to know how we, God’s children, will be like in eternity, we need to look no further than Jesus, the Son of God.
Like how Jesus lived and died for the Father and for His children, we are also called to live and die for God and our neighbors — our brothers and sisters from the family of God.
“I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” — John 6:38,40
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” — John 15:13
In short, we are the work in progress. Jesus is the finished product.
The Necessity of Good Works
As Catholics, we believe in the necessity of good works not to earn God’s salvation which comes from Him alone and which He freely “gives” to us because of His love and mercy.
As my good friend shared with me:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9
Even if we have good works, we cannot boast of our salvation to others because it is freely “given” by God.
At the end of the day, we can only rely on the love and mercy of God for our salvation.
But as Catholics, we believe in the necessity of good works in order to perfect our faith which allows us to “receive” His salvation.
We also believe in the necessity of good works because only faith perfected by love and good works can bring the family of God together. Only faith perfected by love and good works can help others to “receive” God’s salvation as well.
For we are called not only into a relationship with God. We are also called into the unity of His family.