It is a common misunderstanding that Catholics believe we can earn our salvation, that through our own efforts we can work our way to heaven by doing good deeds. This is not true, but even many Catholics are still confused when it comes to what the Church teaches about the relationship between faith and works. A listener named Dave recently called in to The Patrick Madrid Show and asked Patrick whether we are saved by faith alone, and if so, what is the role of works?
“Excellent question,” Patrick responded. “The beginning of the answer is found in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not of works. This is a gift from God.” And that’s the starting point. So it’s grace from beginning to end that saves us. It’s God’s grace that saves us.”
“But we have to understand, as it says there, that we appropriate this grace through faith, but we don’t have the means. We don’t have the native ability, the natural ability to save ourselves. This is what is so key here. Even that faith that we have, the faith necessary to receive that grace is also a gift of God. So we can’t even take credit, you might say, for the faith.”
In trying to understand the relationship between faith and works, Patrick explained that it is important to note that the two are not in opposition to each other, but are deeply connected.
“Faith, in itself, is a work,” Patrick said. “You don’t often think of it that way, but it is because it is an act of your will. You are doing something, you are willing to believe in God. Now, there is more to faith than merely that, but it is an exertion on the part of the human being. And in so doing the person becomes justified, and that is a gift of God.”
The key in all of this is to recognize that when we are talking about faith and works we must recognize that both are gifts from God, “so that none may boast,” as St. Paul writes. Therefore the essential elements of our salvation – faith and works – are gifts from God, not something that we can achieve on our own.
“So He is the one, in His grace, who is responsible for our capacity to have that kind of faith,” Patrick said. “Because if that weren’t true, then we could save ourselves, and there would be no need for Christ to be crucified and die for our sins because we could do it on our own. So that’s where the key of this whole this is. That’s it’s God’s grace enabling us to have faith and enabling us to do good works.”
“So both the faith and the works are necessary. And all of it ultimately comes from God. It’s His grace, it’s not ourselves. This is why we can’t boast about it. We can’t say, ‘Look what I did,’ because it was what God has done in us. But it’s the power of His grace that enables the faith and enables the good works. And they are meritorious in His sight because we’re cooperating with these gifts that He’s given us.”