A Clarification of Good Works

A grave misunderstanding about Catholicism is the notion of good works. The term good works seems to have a negative connotation to it in certain other Christian circles.

In order to clarify the Catholic position on what good works are and the role of works in salvation I propose that for the purpose of this article we substitute the term positive actions for good works. This new term will help to clarify misconceptions especially in terms of salvation, grace, and merit.

In some anti-Catholic literature the author seems to be trying to get his reader to think that positive actions are bad and that Catholics think that if they perform many positive actions after being baptized (justified by God) that they will go to heaven.

Well, this statement is true, but standing alone it is not the whole truth of what Catholics believe. Let’s contrast two ideas.

To sin means to offend God. It means that we sever our friendship with him by performing an act or action that goes against what God has commanded us to do in order to stay in good standing with him. Thoughts as well are considered actions because thinking is doing something just as is breathing, walking or reading.

Sin is an act or action. God will, one day, judge each of us human beings and decide which ones are worthy enough to spend eternity with God in heaven.

How or by what is God going to judge us? God will judge us by our acts and actions. We will be judged by the things we do and what we do not do.

According to Christian theology God is the universal standard by which good and evil (synonyms are positive and negative respectively) are measured and God is 100% good.

God wills for each and every one of us to be good. He wants us to be more positive than negative.

If sinning is done by our acts and actions then we must be able to remain in God’s friendship by our actions as well. The less we sin the more we remain in good standing with God.

The less negative actions we perform the more we remain in good standing with God.

Therefore, the more positive actions we perform the more we remain in good standing with God.

Hence the more good works we perform the more we remain in good standing with God.

The bottom line is that God will judge us in the end by our actions done throughout our entire lives. Throughout our lives we can choose to remain in God’s friendship or not. We have free will to choose whether to obey God or not and if we choose to disobey God, which is to sin, then we choose not to remain in God’s friendship.

Yes, we must have faith that our savior is Jesus Christ, but at the same time our actions reflect that faith.

So, in a sense, good works can get you into heaven, but not alone, nor does faith alone as is says in James 2:26 that faith without works is dead and in Romans 3:22 we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Catholic theology supports these teachings of the Bible.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2008 says that “good works are done to glorify God and are done in honor of him.”

The Catechism goes on further to state in paragraph 2010, “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification at the beginning of conversion,” (emphasis my own).

Also important is this quote from the same section saying, “These graces and goods are the objects of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions.”

The Catholic Church does not believe that good works alone will get anyone into heaven nor does it believe that faith alone will get anyone into heaven. However, good works in conjunction with faith do have merit.

Comments

  1. Joseph Rukeijakare says

    Why do people cling to Sabbath and blame the catholic church that we changed the day/ Constantine has never been the Pope of the Catholics did he have power to change the day. The catholic church is different from the Jewish religion.
    The Jewish religion prays on Sabbath for us we pray Sunday.
    The church is a new Creation. on Sunday when Jesus resurrected. the church had never been there until Pentecost day. If Jesus wanted us to pray on Saturday why did He rise from the dead on Sunday. Why did the Holy Spirit come on Sunday. Why did Paul and other apostles leave the Jewish religion.
    That was God’s Plan with His new arrangement. We are not saved by commandments but by the blood of Jesus. Make a distinction between faith and the law. People must make a distinction between salvation and the Law. Mind you the Apostles were praying in their church houses on the first day of the week. Paul was chased out of the synagogue and went to hire another room. To pray in the synagogue you have to denounce Jesus and that is why the apostles were chased a way from he synagogue. Stop saying Constantine brought Sunday we were already praying even at the day of Pentecost. Did the Apostles go to pray on Sabbath before the Holy Spirit came? He [Jesus} had authorized them to remain in Jerusalem till He sends a helper. From now onwards Adventists should stop saying Constantine authorized for praying on Sunday.
    This was Gods arrangement. The Jews had Jesus killed for two reasons.J Profaning the Sabbath and calling Himself God ,this is very clear in the Bible
    John chapter 5:17 If you want to pray on your Sabath go on but this will not Save you. There are two faiths you can choose from read Romans Chapter 10.

  2. sophie Caldera says

    I was married in the catholic church and I am now divorced. I have remarried in a civil ceremony. If I want to recieve communion do I need to change my religon? I feel sometimes that the catholic church is telling me, that I am good enough for them to accept my monthly tithes but I’m not I’m not good enough for communion.

  3. Renee says

    In Ephesians it states”for by faith we are saved through faith, not by works lest any man should boast”
    I also believe that faith without works is dead. Are these two scriptures the foundation for The Catholics belief that faith and works get you to heaven?

  4. J says

    I think the catholic position is pushing the scriptures a bit far.

    I believe Sola Fide is contextual. For example, in the example of the thief on the cross, it is sola fide. It was by his faith alone that he was saved. You said before that this case is a bad example of sola scriptura, on the contrary it is the definitive example of sola fide.

    That is not to say that works are not neccesary. If you have accepted Jesus as your lord and saviour, you should live a righteous life. That is to live a life which is pleasing to God.

    The point you miss however, is that it is ultimately about faith. Why? Because you will never do enough good works. What is the threshold by which you have done enough good works? The bible surely has never sent a threshold. Do I need to help the poor 10 times? 100 times?

    Of course, you cannot claim sola fide if you say you believe then do nothing based on your faith – I agree with this. But that is not to say that works are essential. The thief on the cross shows this. It shows that ultimately that you CAN be saved without works – if it comes down to it. But surely God will never save someone who has done works but does not have faith.

    • V Doronila says

      In St. Matthew’s gospel, there are verses which describe the final judgement of the nations at the end times where the goats are separated from the sheep. The gospel writer does not qualify whether these nations have heard the Gospel. In this account, Jesus saves those who have done good by caring for the poor and needy and not necessarily those that have called him “Lord”. Salvation by faith alone in this passage is not supported as in the case of the thief on the cross who was dying which is an exceptional circumstance. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans also writes that hope saves and furthermore, in his letter to the Corinthians says that among the virtues of faith, hope and love; love is the greatest and further writes about about “faith working out in love”. The doctrine of Sola Fide is to narrow, excludes the other truths about our faith and thereby prevents a full understanding of Christ’s saving act.

    • Charles Remedios says

      For the thief, this was his moment of conversion. It was for him, his bapism. At this point, all his sins were forgiven and his soul was wiped clean. Catholics too believe that if one dies immediately after baptism, salvation is assured. Had the thief not died, but lived and continued his sinful ways his salvation would not be assured. Choosing Christ is a life-long commitment, and we can at anytime throw everything away by turning against God and choosing what he forbids over what he loves. Our lives must be an attempt to imitate Christ’s.

  5. J Thompson says

    It is amazing to me the number of folks that follow Luther’s ideas like solo scriptura, epistle of straw, etc,etc hook line and sinker. They recite it, post it, speak of it nonstop never once stopping to examine the character of the man and the fact that he took it upon himself to alter the Holy Bible. Wake up, learn about the early Church history, read some things written before Luther and Calvin. Faith without works is dead my protesting friends and yes, that’s in the scriptures, google it.

    • Joseph Rukeijakare says

      i am in support of the individual talking about Martin Luther. First the Bible is claimed to be Holy. if it is Holy and the writers were inspired why did Luther remove the other 7 books. People should not follow his reasoning for removing the Books for the Bible had been written by Jerome 1000 years before Luther was born. Why did the Jews reject those books. Two main reasons they were written in the Greek language. Some scriptures would imply Jesus who they did not want. Are you aware that they had prevented People from reading Isiah chapter 10.
      Mind you the book is called the Septuagint because 70 Jews were sent to Egypt to write those books. In any case the Jews even when not using these books will never forget Antioch-us 1V and the Maccabees who fought against him
      Some funny people say that the Jews rejected the book and so they are right also to reject them. Are you aware that they don’t have the new testament.
      Sometimes i wonder you accept Luther and don’t follow him why? follow him so that your religion is one like the catholic church. Jesus said You are Peter a
      and on this rock i will build my church. Mathew chapter 16:17 and on. He never said I will build other churches and He will never say it because He says He is married to his church. Are you aware Luther had married a nun secretly
      as he was leaving the church. How can his removal of those books be inspired?

  6. Ralph says

    While listening to a Christian talk show on the radio yesterday, I heard a caller ask a question that went something like this: Would Jesus regard a good thought in the same way that he would regard a good act?

    The talk show host’s indicated that good thoughts would not be regarded by Jesus in the same way a good act would be.

    This question brought to mind Matthew 5:28 (ESV) where Jesus says: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    Should this passage alter, in any way, the talk show host’s answer to the caller’s question? If so, how?

  7. says

    Wrt to sola scriptura, this is really a man made doctrine created in the 15th century by martin luther. Martin Luther distorted the scripture by adding the German word for alone to satisfy its faith alone doctrine.

    Ephesians 2:8-9 is not enough just like faith alone it is lacking in substance, it is only complete when you include verse 10 which fully state
    Ephesians 2:8-10
    8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

    I think the Catholic stands on Good works can be explained from verse 10 of Ephesians Chapter 2.

    • anthony says

      I guess my real question is “Was Martin Luther influenced by the Holy Spirit?” if so then what he did might be considered right, if the Prophets and others can write the bible then what makes what he did any different, At the time Luther and Calvin felt the church was too corrupt, so they decided to change things, does that make them bad?

  8. Patricia says

    What are considered “good works” specifically? Because I read that alms giving alone isn’t considered good works. I have been enrolled in the brown scapular and have been following the prayers and things we must do while we wear it. One of the options of things to do while we wear it is to “do a good work (with permission of a priest)” A good worth with a priests permission?? What does that mean? It makes me think something within the church other than charity. Good works has been popping up a lot lately but I don’t know what it means exactly. Can you give me examples. Thank you. Oh and Patricia is just my online name. I don’t like giving out my real name online. lol God Bless.

      • Jun S says

        Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever BELIEVES in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

        Salvation is not found in good works, money or religion. Its only through faith in Jesus. The punishment of Sin is death (Rm6:23) but the gift of God is Eternal Life. A gift is something freely given and not earned. We can never earn salvation. All you have to do is give your heart to Christ.

        Good works is the result of your faith in Christ. There is a big difference here from doing good works to go to heaven. A christian who accepted Christ do good works because of his love for Christ. A catholic can do good works out of fear that he may not go to heaven.

          • Lynda Jackson says

            I think you’re incorrect there. Christ’s work on the cross was complete, once and for all. A person who believes that Christ is Lord of all and His sacrifice was for my sin, can not help but live for Him doing things to glorify Him. We could never do enough to be righteous before God in our own selves, all our works are filthy rags in His sight. You know these scriptures.
            I read all these comments online and it’s baffling, so much arrogance, so much “I’m right”.
            The criticism and arguing needs to stop bcuz it’s not glorifying God. And you would think that people who truly love Christ could find common ground and strive to be in some way united. The only way anyone will ever understand scripture correctly is through the Holy Spirit’s guidance so lighten up, examine yourself, and see if maybe 2000 years of human beings hasn’t had just a little bit of an effect on our understanding of Christianity, the Bible, and God’s plan for salvation.After all, Satan is the great deceiver and he’s working very hard at confusing us. If we’re all really seeking the truth, God’s word says we’ll find it, so we should end up in the same place. The one true church is the body of Christ, which includes all believers.

          • says

            If one “cannot help but live for Him doing things to glorify Him” does this mean God has taken away his gift of free will to choose to do right and wrong? Is free will given to us up until we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior then we no longer have free will?

  9. Andrew M says

    In the verse I belive James is saying that faith is shown by deeds. How can you say you have faith but not show it.

    His reference to Abraham and Isaac was that Abraham shows his faith by his works, not that his works saved him they were simply his faith showing through his works.

  10. Paul A. Sabota says

    Hi Jon, Please don’t take this message as bold or negative but only truthful. When someone reads, interprets and lives the Bible it should be done so in correct context. You stated in the website that, “Nowhere in the Bible does it say salvation is by faith alone.” I am not sure which version of God’s Word you are reading but Ephesians 2:8-9 reads, “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I feel that is very clear to anyone who reads the verses in context. You may want to also consult the CARM website at http://carm.org/topic-salvation which has great resources all from the Holy Bible. Thank you for reading, Paul

    • says

      Thank you, Paul. I do not take offense. The works Paul references in Ephesians and Romans are the works of the Law, the Torah. Paul is making the point that faith in Jesus Christ, not the deeds prescribed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, are what saves someone. It is not an admonishment of all “works” (i.e. deeds or actions that one can commit). This is a very common misinterpretation of this passage. However, if you take your position, how do you reconcile it with James that faith without works is dead? James 2:17: “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Read the whole passage of James 2:14-26 (http://www.usccb.org/bible/jas/2:14) and some footnotes that accompany that passage (http://www.usccb.org/bible/james/2#67002014-1). The Bible makes it very clear that “works” have salvific merit. James even uses concrete examples from the Old Testament to prove his point. It’s as if James 2:14-26 was written in anticipation of this debate. Thanks for visiting the site!

      • Paul says

        If good works do not follow, it is clear that there is no true and proper faith; none that justifies and saves. If faith produces no fruit of good living, that fact proves that it is dead, that it has no power, and that it is of no value. This shows that James was not arguing against real and genuine faith, nor against its importance in justification, but against the supposition that mere faith was all that was necessary to save a man, whether it was accompanied by good works or not. He maintains that if there is genuine faith it will always be accompanied by good works, and that it is only that faith which can justify and save.

        James and Paul both agree in the necessity of true faith in order to salvation; they both agree that the tendency of true faith is to produce a holy life; they both agree that where there is not a holy life there is no true religion, and that a man cannot be saved. We may learn, then, from the whole doctrine of the New Testament on the subject, that unless we believe in the Lord Jesus we cannot be justified before God; and that unless our faith is of that kind which will produce holy living, it has no more of the characteristics of true religion than a dead body has of a living man.
        Extract Taken from http://barnes.biblecommenter.com/james/2.htm

        This explanation gave me peace. God Bless

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