Friday, January 27, 2006

I am a Catholic who believes in Justification by Faith and Not Works

"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)
Hello all,

I bet most of you are probably surprised to see this on a Catholic blog. I started reading blogs last month and have stumbled on a few that don't think too kindly of us Catholics. Saying that, I have also come across a lot of really good Protestant blogs too. i.e. Regardless of what the writer's opinion may be about Catholics, their main objective is to love and serve the Lord and they very humbly try to bring people closer to Him.

I'd like to start this post by mentioning that I don't care if you're Catholic or Protestant. My objective in my posts is to point people to God. Please don't think I'm trying to convert people to Catholicism or that I'm trying to pick an argument. I'm just offering my opinion. You, the reader, can choose to agree or disagree.

I guess I should start out by saying that I absolutely agree with Ephesians 2: 8-9!!! I, however, have a bit of a different take on it than my Protestant brothers in Christ.

Do I have that faith?

I wish I did.

What did Paul mean when he wrote those famous words? Well, to answer that, I have been focusing my thoughts on Romans. As most of you know, Paul is trying to deliver the Truth to the gentiles. He tells us that all men are under the "domination of sin." (Romans 3:9) And that we need to turn to Christ for salvation.

By the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees had "forgotten" about God. They were still following the Mosaic laws (like circumcision for example) but they really lost the faith that Abraham had. They were following the law for the law's sake and not because of God. This is why Jesus was so angry with them in Matthew 23. (Of course, He still loves them for you can be angry at someone and still love them. I can't tell you the number of times that my parents were so pissed at me--for my own fault--and yet, they never stopped loving me. Alas, another post for another time). They lost their righteousness when they stopped believing (Matthew 23: 28) and thus broke God's covenant with them from Genesis (Romans 9: 7).

They were filled with so much pride and sin that they stood in the presence of the Lord God and nailed Him to a tree.

Why?

Because they had lost their righteousness; they lost their faith; and they didn't love God. They were still doing the things that a good Jew should do. But it's not enough.

Who did have this righteousness? Abraham.

God made Abraham a promise.

"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you." (Genesis 12: 2-3)
That's a pretty big promise! How did Abraham respond? By doing everything that God asked of him through faith. (Hebrews 11: 8-17)

Why did he do this? Because he had hope in the promise that God made to him. That he would be the father of nations. And also because this man truly loved God.

So, what does it mean to have faith? It means to be fully obedient to God's will as Abraham was fully obedient. God kept testing him and Abraham continued to respond.

So when Paul talks about faith and belief, he's not talking about simply believing in God. The Pharisees believed in God. That's not enough. Paul's faith is a faith of obedience (Romans 1: 5/Romans 16:26) to completely conform yourself to the will of Jesus Christ. To follow ALL of His commandments as Abraham followed ALL of God's. Honestly, I struggle with that every day for I am a sinner and I need to be forgiven by Him.

Works

What does Paul mean when he talks about works? Well, again with Abraham, in Romans 4, Paul says that Abraham isn't the Father of Nations because of his actions. It's because he had that faith in God to do His will and not argue or object to any of His commands. Because he believed what God told him; he had hope in His promise and because he loved God. (Faith, Hope, and Love...the greatest of these is love) So, it wasn't his actions highlighted in Hebrews 11: 8-17 that made him righteous. It was his faith.

But above all, God didn't make him a Father of Nations because of his righteousness or his faith (or his works) but rather because of God's grace. As our faith doesn't deliver us eternal salvation but rather His grace.

So what's Paul telling us?

Well, for the gentiles, he's telling them that they don't have to get circumcised to be a Christian (which was probably a huge relief to all of those Roman guys) for Abraham was given the promise before he was circumcised and that that's not important because it's not the works of the Mosaic law which are important, but rather the obedience of faith.

Do I ever do works without faith? All the time--unfortunately. When I go to church because I have to and not because I love God. When I'm "just going through the motions" of my Christian life and not actively loving Him.

I guess in conclusion, Faith is being completely obedient to the will of God.

And as Abraham had faith in God (through his total obedience) and believed in his promise to him about becoming a father of nations, we must have faith in Christ (through total obedience to Him) and believe in His promise for everlasting life.

For anyone who has accomplished this, praise God and please pray for me for I am a humble sinner who yearns for everlasting life.

May the Lord God bless all who read this.

11 comments:

Puritan Belief said...

Greetings theden:

Here is part of the catholic catechism that you must have missed somehow to do with Mary.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p122a3p1.htm

Very interesting conclusion:

"For anyone who has accomplished this, praise God and please pray for me for I am a humble sinner who yearns for everlasting life."

I am not sure what you mean here.

In your own words if you were to die right now what do you think would happen?

TheDen said...

Hey Puritan Belief,

Thanks for the reference. Yes, I did find that part of it. I guess I wasn't specific in my comments on Modern Day Magi.

I was referring to his comments regarding Luke. I found them very profound and had not heard them before.

If I were to die right now? I guess my answer is, "I don't know" and have hope in God's grace. Nobody ever said living a Christian life was easy. I think that 10 out of the 11 remaining apostles all died pretty horrific deaths because of their faith--along with Paul. They followed Christ's will to their death.

Can I do that? I have a hard enough time getting to church on time on Sundays.

So, the last part of my post refers to anyone who has lived that life like the original apostles who picked up their cross and followed Jesus faithfully unto death or like Abraham who did everything God asked of him, to please help me because that's what I want too.

Daniel said...

Dennis,

Are you familiar with the work of Tom Wright? Have you read anything by the Bishop of Durham?

TheDen said...

No, I haven't read him. Is he good/worth a read? I found his web site. I honestly haven't read too many books. Mere Christianity and of course (some of) the Bible.

My learning comes mostly from a friend of mine who is a priest named Fr. John Riccardo. It also comes from reading the Bible and discernment and, oh yeah, 12 years of Catholic school. Anyhow, Fr. John is very dynamic (has his own radio show here) and always points people to God.

Here are some of his sermons. They are definitely worth the read.

http://www.stanastasia.org/id49.html

Puritan Belief said...

To quote the bible from memory so might be good to check it up.

"My Sheep know my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my Hands. My Father who is greater then all has given them to me and no one can snatch them out of my Fathers hands. I and my Father are one"

I am not having a go at your salvation theden or telling you that you are wrong so please don't misread this.

I would not ask me to help you because I can't. I wouldn't ask Fr. John Riccardo to help you because he can't either. I wouldn't ask Mary to help you because she is to busy enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven to be concerned with you.

My Point is this: I would go directly to Jesus and ask him to reveal to you the truth of your eternal salvation because the scripture tells you that He is the one that will make sure no one snatches you from his hands and you have eternal life. Sure people may be able to point you in the right direction but sooner or later you need to hear from Him. You need to hear his voice.

It is because of this that Abraham was Justified by Faith and Christians take up daily their cross not the other way round.

Kind Regards.

TheDen said...

PB,

I thank you for your kindness and respect. I know that we differ in our views.

I absolutely agree with you on this. We need to go to Jesus directly. As often as possible. We need to hear His voice and we need to respond to it.

Jesus wants us to be in relationship with Him. We need to hear Him. Very specifically through prayer and through Scripture.

Saying that, I don't think there's anything wrong for asking for help. As long as those people point you to Him. In John 2, when the servants ran out of wine. They didn't go to Jesus, they went to Mary and she interceded for them. Then she directed them, "Do whatever He tells you."

I'm not saying we shouldn't go to Jesus, I'm saying that we can ask her for help too. She will, however, take us right to Him and tell us to do whatever He tells you.

God bless.

Modern Day Magi said...

Hi TheDen,
Great post. I loved hearing your take on Grace, Faith and Works.
I am a protestant (and a pentocostal at that), that being said though, anyone who is saved by Jesus is my brother in Him, in spite of some doctrinal differances we may have. We are saved by Jesus and not doctrine, correct doctorin is still very important though.
My stance is that Salvation is all about Grace, nothing more, nothing less.
The responce to salvation and grace however, is the pairing of Faith and Works. James 2: 14-26 says:
"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

It is my experience that many of my protestant and pentocostal brothers and sisters can tend to focus too hard on salvation by Grace alone and thus ignore works, to prove we are not saved by them. This saddens me every time.
I am not saying that I am the model christian, but one thing I really admire about 'you Catholics' is your social concience and heart for the 'masses'. I know i am generalising here but while the doctrinal differences are still there, i think us protestants should take a leaf out of the catholic book and do some more works. Because our faith without deeds (works) will die.

keep up the good work and i love having you stop by Modern Day Magi.

TheDen said...

Thank you MDM! That was very reaffirming. Of course, you are always welcome back here as well. But most of all, thank God that we found each other. I think He's working in both of our lives and there's a reason we stumbled on to each other's blogs.

Through my journey, I've learned not to focus on the promise but to focus on loving God because that's what He wants (and it can be found throughout the whole Bible.) It's interesting because I honestly don't think about if I'm saved or not. I'll let God decide when that time comes.

May the Peace and the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

Modern Day Magi said...

because of a crying child i missed one point from my last comment so here it is...
It is my experience that many of my protestant and pentocostal brothers and sisters can tend to either focus too hard on salvation by Grace alone and thus ignore works, to prove we are not saved by them or water down the gospel so much that christianity for them becomes an emotional and self gratifying experience.
in regards to thinking about salvation. the great thing about it is that it is up to God. as such we should stress too much about it because once Jesus enters our hearts and makes us 'born again' or a new creation, then we are his child from then on. That being said our correct responce to salvation should be a christ like and obedient lifestyle.

Joel said...

If I were to die right now? I guess my answer is, "I don't know" and have hope in God's grace.

That's a pretty good answer, Den, but when I'm asked that, I usually respond with the assurance of heaven. Why? Because in order for me to go to hell, either I would have to abandon God or He would have to abandon me. I know that the latter won't happen; God is faithful. And while I COULD spurn God and His grace by unrepentant sin, I know that I haven't. (There was a time when that wasn't the case, but we're talking about now.) So if I died TODAY, I know where I wouuld be. Being the sinful, stupid chap I am, I can't say with absolute certainty that I won't one day reject God's salvation and die unrepentant, but for now I'm living in His grace. And I intend to continue to.

Does that make sense?

TheDen said...

Hey Joel,

Thanks for stopping by. I agree with you totally. Unfortunately, you're talking to a guy who is a bit of a hypocrite and hasn't gone to confession in a while--not years or anything but long enough to know that I have sinned. (I am so strongly feeling the urge to go and no, I don't want to get into an argument with Protestants about confession). I don't want to dwell on my sins but if I were to die right now, I'd be at the mercy of God. Working on this blog has really been a conversion experience for me.