Where did Catholics get the hair-brained notion that we are saved by faith plus works? Have you ever wondered about that? Well, duuuhhh. Maybe they got it out of the Bible.

As Protestants we have blindly followed Luther in his emphasis on sola fida. Frequently, without serious contemplation. Now don’t get me wrong. I like Luther myself. But folks, he ain’t the Pope. So don’t be afraid give him a hefty boot in the posterior when he’s off the mark.

Where do Catholics get the idea of faith plus works? Yes, in the Bible. Particularly in the Gospels. Here there are repeated references to works, not the least of which is the so-called “Golden Rule”:

Jesus said” In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Does this having anything to do with salvation? The very next verses comprise the “narrow-is-the-gate” warning (Mt. 7:12-14).

A few verses later Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 19). In verse 24, one has to hear and act to be wise, and not let the house fall down in the rains.

Jesus goes on to urge his followers to give a cup of cold water. And the ones who serve the poor and hungry and prisoners are actually serving Jesus himself.

You know all the passages in the Gospels. No need to even make reference to James, that epistle of straw, as our dear Reformer referred to it.

I was raised in Fundamentalist Dispensationalism, where the gospels are often low on the totem pole—as is James. Here is a system that at least accounts for the singular “faith alone” doctrine of salvation that is universally held in evangelical Protestantism.

But what about the rest of you? Sure, you all have ways to re-interpret the Gospels. But I’m urging you to look at Luther in his context. He was fighting against the extreme in salvation-by-works practice—that of indulgences. Few people today would claim there is support for indulgences in the Gospels.

The faith-plus-works of today’s Catholic church is one that looks at the whole of Scripture. We should too. We often make the hard-to-reconcile biblical passages way too easy to reconcile, and in the process we’re deluding ourselves.

Let the Bible be itself—in its hard-to-reconcile passages. And let’s all of us be more nuanced in our biblical interpretation.

    34 replies to "Salvation by Faith Alone: Was Luther Right?"

    • C Michael Patton

      Ruth, thanks for the post and contribution to this issue.

      You said:

      “The faith-plus-works of today’s Catholic church is one that looks at the whole of Scripture. We should too. We often make the hard-to-reconcile biblical passages way too easy to reconcile, and in the process we’re deluding ourselves.”

      I agree with the our tendency to make difficult passages seem easy so that they better fit within our theological stucture (modernism in the Church?).

      When you say that “The faith-plus-works” of today’s Catholice church is one that looks at the whole of Scripture” do you mean that Rome has this right?


    • jybnntt

      Dr. Tucker,

      I echo Michael’s agreement with you that every sinner who approaches the text of Scripture or any text for that matter is tempted to enter into delusion. Very true.

      But I cannot help but think you may have misinterpreted Luther and the situation to which he was reacting during the reformation. Luther had a very high view of Christian obedience (cf. The Freedom of a Christian).

      His doctrine of sola fide was in no way meant to militate against good works. Are works necessary in salvation? I think Luther would clearly have said: “Yes! By all means!” (and I’m positive his words would have required exclamation marks) :-). But if asked whether good works were ultimately causative in salvation? Luther would have said: “No! May in nevr be!” (probably using more “colorful” language than would be appropriate to our more enlightened ears).

      I agree with you that Fundamentalist Dispensationalism is badly skewed on many levels.

      I am curious as to what tradition you participate in at present?



    • Vance

      We must keep in mind that, despite our intense desire for clear consistency in Scripture, the Bible does SEEM to be all over the place on this issue. We have Paul and James who seem directly at loggerheads and who would seemingly have disagreed on this point entirely. And, not surprisingly, we have thoughtful, honest believers dedicated to getting to the Truth from Scripture who come to different conclusions.

      Now, assuming that we all agree that Scripture IS true, then all of these concepts DO mesh together somehow. But my mantra is still humbleness and refusal to be dogmatic on things that are simply not clear to us at this point.

      Again the quote from NT Wright (botched I am sure): I know part of my theology is not correct, but I don’t know which part!

    • jybnntt

      Dr. Tucker,

      Oh . . . I apologize, I meant to also mention in the last comment that the reformers did not view Rome as teaching abject Pelagianism. This is a crucial point I think. They understood Rome to be teaching semi-Pelagianism. There is a big difference between the two.

      I think it is imperative that we keep that in mind when we evaluate the parallels that were drawn by the reformers between the writings of Paul (particularly in Galatians and Romans) and the church of Rome. It is very easy to demonstrate that neither the Judaizers nor late medieval Rome taught a raw legalism akin to Pelagianism, and then judge the reformers for overreacting. But the reformers didn’t see it that way at all. They fully understood that they (as well as Paul, if I might speak anachronistically) were in disagreement with a sort of semi-Pelagianism, which in truth is far worse than Pelagianism since it gives the concept of grace just enough air time to satisfy the Scriptural witness while undermining it all along by adding to works it.



    • Jeff

      Please help. Doesn’t Eph 2:8-10 answer this? We are saved by grace through faith. One of the results of our salvation is a desire to do the work which we were created in Christ to do. I’m a lay teacher and I want to get this right.

    • Vance

      The problem, Jeff, lies in that Scripture describes, in many places, the need to accept Christ, to turn to Christ, to follow Christ, and often with implications for salvation. All of these are works, since it is Man taking a step in God’s direction. James is even more explicitly pointing toward Man’s action.

      Even the act of HAVING faith, BELIEVING, etc, point to what the human being does as part of the equation.

      As someone who leans toward Arminianism, I have no problem with this level of human involvement, since it is still ENTIRELY by God’s Grace that we have anything to accept, believe in, turn to, etc. We can do NOTHING on our own, it is entirely God’s gift, our only involvement is the “work” of believing. Most Calvinist would balk, however, at even that level of human initiative.

      The Catholic Church has taken the language of James much further and, while still calling the salvation process entirely an act of God’s Grace, they put even more stock in the process of Man stepping forward to accept that gift than even the Arminian would. They might say that if certain actions were not done, then we are not truly grasping the gift freely given.

      Again, the whole thing is a spectrum of “degree of human involvement” in the accepting process. Calvinists at one extreme saying we can and do NOTHING, we have no choice, we are predestined to either be Christian or be damned. The Catholic is closer to the other extreme saying that without certain actions, actual physical and mental “works”, then we have shown that we have not accepted the free gift. Many others (like myself) are somewhere along the spectrum in between.

    • Preacher Jack

      I agree that there are times when we have to be skeptical of Luther and the things he wrote about. In fact a very dear friend of mine is in Lodon right now working on a doctoral thesis that probes the links between some of Luther’s diatribes and statements that may have helped German society society to be complient with the Nazi plan for the Jews of Europe during the regin of the Third Reich.

      However, I am a former Roman Catholic and the Catholic Church has formulated its doctorines not only on the accepted cannon of scripture but also books that are not a part of the accepted canon of scripture. They also reject certain sections of the Bible that contradict their stance.

      To say they take the scriptures as a whole when formulating their view on salvation is not accurate. The doctorine of purgatory for that matter is taken for the apocraphal books as well as their doctorine of Mary and her status as sinless and a perpetual virgin.

      In the gospel Luke, Mary can not come to the temple until she has completed her time of purification and offers a sacrifice according to the Law of Moses. There are also verses which also clearly state that she had other children after she gave birth to Jesus. Which would seem to indicate that her virginity came to an end after the birth of Jesus.

      Taking the scriptures as a whole is an important thing when understanding them. A common mistake we all make.

    • jybnntt


      I highly recommend Martin Luther’s work Bondage of the Will as well as Jonathan Edwards’s work Freedom of the Will. Both are excellent treatments of the issue you raise. Both are explanations and defenses of the classic teaching known as compatibilism.

      Blessings to your study,


    • jybnntt

      Preacher Jack,

      I think you are right that Catholic dogma can be very unscriptural at points.

      But let’s not blame Martin Luther for WWII. That’s a bit of dirty pool, don’t you think?


    • JoanieD

      Vance, I very much appreciate reading your comments. You are always to the point and clear in your writing. Thanks!

      Joanie D.

    • Saint and Sinner

      —“As Protestants we have blindly followed Luther in his emphasis on sola fida.”

      I agree with jbynntt, Luther (and all the Reformers for that matter) would agree that works ARE necessary for salvation.

      In fact, if asked whether I believe that I am saved through faith or through faith and works, I would respond, “Both!” Of course, this is not a contradiction since I don’t mean both in the same sense, and this is where, I believe, you are committing the fallacy of equivocation.

      Faith is the *only* means by which we receive the expiation of sins and the imputed righteousness of Christ, but works are the necessary result of regeneration (which is always effectual and the result of God’s sovereign choice).

      Romanism, on the other hand, makes faith into a reason for obtaining condign merit, and makes good works that were done “in faith” into the means (i.e. congruous or condign) of expiating sin. So, it’s not Christ’s actions and His alone that are effectual for removing sin, but Christ + the sinner’s actions.

      THIS is most certainly worthy of the anathema of Paul.

      —“Jesus said” In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Does this having anything to do with salvation? The very next verses comprise the “narrow-is-the-gate” warning (Mt. 7:12-14).”

      This is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The Reformers not only emphasized sola gratia and sola fide but also the Preservation of the Saints in holiness.

      —“A few verses later Jesus says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 19). In verse 24, one has to hear and act to be wise, and not let the house fall down in the rains.”

      Again, descriptive and not prescriptive. Also, v.18 would eliminate the idea of mortal sin.

      —“No need to even make reference to James, that epistle of straw, as our dear Reformer referred to it.”

      The “epistle of straw” comment referred to the fact that it did not contain much hard-core theology like Romans. Later in Luther’s life, he preached much on James.

      —“Fundamentalist Dispensationalism”

      Yick! Oh, let me clarify:


      Yick!!! :p

      —“as is James”

      Even if it is assumed that James is using “to justify” in the same sense as Paul (i.e. the cause and means of *initial salvation*), and v.24 is isolated from its surrounding context, it still cannot be used in support of the Roman Catholic doctrine. If the two assumptions above are made, James would be made to read more in support of Pelagian doctrine, not Romanism. Rome denies that works + faith = initial salvation (unless they count baptism as a work which would cause them to run their ship aground on Eph. 2:8-10).

      Even Luke Timothy Johnson (still a Catholic, I believe) translates James 2:24 as: “You see that a person is shown to be righteous on the basis of deeds and not on the basis of faith only.”

      —“He was fighting against the extreme in salvation-by-works practice—that of indulgences. Few people today would claim there is support for indulgences in the Gospels.”

      Actually, they try to find it in Colossians 1:24.

      Everyone still needs to be reminded that Rome NEVER took back or condemned her right to SELL (yes, with money) indulgences. In fact, I believe that it was Leo X that anathematized anyone who denied Rome that right. They have merely changed their policy.

      —“The faith-plus-works of today’s Catholic church is one that looks at the whole of Scripture. We should too. We often make the hard-to-reconcile biblical passages way too easy to reconcile, and in the process we’re deluding ourselves.”

      This could be said by one doubting the deity of Christ. Does that mean that we should be lazy, give up, and say that there is irresolvable tension in Scripture? I think not.

      Paul makes it clear that the only means through which we receive the expiation of our sins due to Christ’s perfect sacrafice is through faith alone. John also clearly affirms this, and because of the presupposition of the unity and inerrancy of Scripture (not to mention the immediate contexts of the passages themselves!), we should recognize that both Jesus and James taught sola fide (or at least, did not teach differently).

      I will gladly affirm that modern evangelicalism ignores the need, nay, the NECESSITY of holiness (Hebrews 12:14).

      To paraphrase Luther: “Man is saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.”

      However, Rome clearly denies this, and this is why they warrant the anathema of Galatians 1:6-10.

      [BTW: I’ve never read any Protestant who holds that Rome is a true church actually exegete this passage and tell us why it doesn’t slice against Rome.]

    • Lou Ortiz

      I grew up Catholic and I always felt that I could never measure up.
      Always felt that I was missing the mark. Nothing that I did was ever
      good enough.

      Isn’t what Jesus is teaching us in the gospels not salvation by works but
      what the Christian life is all about — love. Unconditional, caring and
      giving of ourselves to others. Not because we have to supplement what
      Christ did on Calvary, but His new life in us produces the fruit He talked

      Penance is a sacrament in the Roman church that I dreaded, because I
      feared the number of Hail Marys and Our Fathers that the priest would
      slap on me as a sentence for my misdeeds. Did it help me to walk in the
      ways of Jesus? No. It just made me avoid confession, until I felt I had to
      absolutely enter that booth again.

      I didn’t understand true freedom and liberty until I became born-again.
      I was relieved to know that I didn’t have earn anything. That Jesus paid
      paid it all. No more guilt or shame. And the added bonus of having a
      personal relationship with the Father now that I didn’t have back then.


    • Saint and Sinner

      A couple more points:

      First, I should note that I’m not trying to be mean or angry. Please don’t read my words that way. However, if I am right, and the anathema of Galatians 1 does attack Roman Catholic teaching, then you are guilty of giving a false hope to those who have none.

      Second, the doctrine of Purgatory is called “satis passio”, the suffering of atonement. One suffers for their own sins instead of Christ. If this doesn’t warrant anathema, then I don’t know what does!

    • Ruth Tucker

      Thanks everyone for challenging me and really stimulating me to think this matter through more clearly. But it’s hard to keep up with all this discussion going on relating to the broad topic of Protestants and Catholics.

      Michael, no I’m not saying that Rome has it right on faith and works, but for some years now I wondered aloud about our standard interpretation of Luther—and our tendency to take all our salvation proof-texts from Paul without seriously interacting with the Gospels. I think a serious reading of the Gospels forces us to be more nuanced than Luther was.

      We have so many ways to read around the texts—as in the case of Luke 18:18-22: A certain ruler asked Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds by reminding him to keep the law, which he says he has done. Then Jesus says, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.”

      Jay, I would appreciate any concise quotes from Luther’s, “Bondage of the Will” and Edwards’s “Freedom of the Will” that relate to this discussion. You ask what tradition I participate in at present. I’m an active member of the Christian Reformed Church. I taught for six years at Calvin Theological Seminary—until a year ago (www.ruthtucker.net).

    • C Michael Patton

      Stimulating discussion. Thanks for answering Ruth!

    • Vance

      Thanks, Joanie D!

      Here is a question that I have for Calvinists regarding the concept of free will, faith and Grace. I have no problem with the concept that we are not saved by works in the sense we can not “work” our way to heaven. No degree of good work or righteous living, etc, will do the trick. But some Calvinists take this to the logical (?) extreme and say that humans have no part whatsoever in their own salvation. God reaches down and pulls the depraved sinner out of the mire with not the slightest degree of activity on the part of that sinner.

      But is it not Grace, through faith? That addition, “through faith” means that it is not JUST God’s grace which is necessary for salvation, but we are required to have faith. We are required to believe. Are these not actions that each individual takes or does not take? Are these, then, not “works” in the strictest sense? Is it not God’s grace, and Man’s faith? It surely is not God’s grace and God’s faith.

      And I don’t think it works to say that God chooses who will have faith and creates that faith in the elect. That does not undo the need for the act of faith by the sinner, and it does not disqualify it as a “work”. All it would say is that God forces the action, the faith, the belief, the work. And, if you go THERE, then you could say that about ANY work, and it becomes circular, and a bit tortured, reasoning.

      Now, I have heard some Calvinists go this route and say that God does, indeed, dictate and force every action we take, and they even accept the inevitable result that God dictates and even causes sin. I don’t think many Calvinists would go this far. But, how do you stop this train short of that conclusion once you get on the track?

      If it is not grace alone, but also faith, how is this NOT something required of us in response to God, without going down the “every action dictated by God” route?

    • jybnntt

      Dr. Tucker,

      I apologize if my reference to Luther’s Bondage and Edwards’s Freedom in comment #8 was unclear. That comment was addressed to Jeff’s specific question in comment #5. Jeff asked for help understanding the relationship between divine and human agency in salvation, which is what prompted my references.

      While I’m sure quotes could be found in either text that would in some way be appropriate to your post, I think the better reference would be Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian. Correct me if I am wrong, but you seemed to imply in your post that the Catholic understanding somehow accounts for faith and works better than Luther’s understanding, particularly with respect to sola fide. In other words, you seemed to imply the Catholic understanding is more balanced than Luther’s. I don’t believe that implication is true. Luther was not against the concept of works per se. Of course, he was a preacher at heart. As such, he had an innate proclivity for hyperbole. Nonetheless, taken on the whole he clearly articulates a balanced perspective of the necessity of both faith and works throughout his writings.

      Here are some quotes that come to mind from his pamphlet, The Freedom of a Christian. He writes:

      “A Christian is perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. . . . Insofar as he is free he does no works, but insofar as he is a servant he does all kinds of works. . . . The inner man, who by faith is created in the image of God, is both joyful and happy because of Christ in whom so many benefits are conferred upon him; and therefore it is his one occupation to serve God joyfully and without thought of gain, in love that is not constrained” (Three Treatises [Philadelphia: Fortress Press], 277, 294-295).

      Luther really had a way with words, don’t you think? Sometimes his rhetoric can get a little heated (understatement of the year) :-). But sometimes he really strings together words in a beautiful way to communicate beautiful truths. What a treasure!

    • stevemoore


      To your question regarding faith – how is this NOT something required of us in response to God, without going down the “every action dictated by God” route?

      It is not something required of us, nor is it every action dictated by God, if faith in itself is actually a gift from God. If you look at Eph 2:8-9 as you referenced, you could think of it as saying that we are saved by grace through faith – all of which is a gift of God (our salvation, His grace, and the faith).

      Anyway, that’s how it can meet the conditions you noted.



    • Vance

      But if our faith, our belief, our choice of turning to God, our surrendering to Him, our accepting of His sacrifice, if all of these actions/works of our mind and spirit are not our own, but something being channeled through us by God, then it is not really our faith, or our belief, or our surrendering at all. It is God’s faith, God’s belief and God’s surrendering. This seems to fly in the face of a dozen Scriptures talking about our need to do such things.

      And if God channels these basic, core aspects of humanity (or not, at His choice), then it is a “one-man-show”, with no true humanity at all. Automatons.

      The entire “Reclaiming the Mind” ministry is based on the concept that God created us in His image as a reasoning being, and thus, ultimately there is reason capable of grasping in this whole big picture. To some extent, it must make sense to us. And maybe it has just not clicked, but the strictest forms of Calvinist election/predestination do not make sense to me.

      If there is a call, then there can be a response.

      If there is a knock, then this presupposes that someone CAN answer. Or not.

      We can SAY that the person is FORCED to get up and answer, but that is not the sense I get of SO many of the Scriptures along these lines. When I read the Scriptures as a whole, taking it all in and trying to make it all work together, that is not where I end up.

      As of right now, I think that God is entirely sovereign and has given us the free gift of salvation, no special merit or work required beyond the simple surrender, the acceptance, the turning to God. And, yes, the ABILITY to even do that is freely given, the mere ability to HAVE faith is a gift from God, so it is in that sense ALL God’s work. But that ability is given to ALL, even though not all will use it. It is God’s desire that all should be saved, and this only makes sense if God made it theoretically possible for all to be saved.

      And, I think that God, when He created everything already knew who would accept and who would not. Time is not linear to God, it is all one event, everything has already happened for God as soon as it is initiated. So, if you create something with a variable, but know even before-hand how that variable will turn out, you can still be said to be creating with some predestination and some fore-knowledge, without disturbing the complete variable of free will.

      As of right now, for me personally, this is the only approach that comes close to fitting the wide variety of seemingly conflicting Scripture on these issues.

      At least it has the merit of intellectual honesty in the approach since I really am open to all possibilities and do not have an dogmatic axe to grind.

    • stevemoore


      At the risk of hijacking the thread (which I dont think we should do out of respet to Dr Tucker) I think it’d be best to point you to some of the other resources on RMM which will address your questions. The answers provided may not satisfy you, but it does address the question. ;^) See the TTP class on soteriology, and the CWS session with Sam Storms on Calvinism. He does a good job and reccomends a number of other resources as well.

      It’s good that you have the intellectual honesty in your pursuit- may God continue to guide both of us in our search for answers.


    • Vance

      You know, I think I have that soteriology course downloaded already, but have not yet listened to it (still in the middle of hermenuetics), so will listen to that next. Thanks!

    • Preacher Jack


      I am sorry for the misunderstanding. My Freinds thesis is not blaming Luther for WWI. He is justing researching how Luther’s views on the Jews may have influenced their complience with Hitler and his thugs and the policies the Reich put in place.

      If it seemed I was placing the blame on Luther am I am sorry and if anyone tried to lay the blame squarely on him then I would oppose that good friend or family memeber for that matter would make no difference.

      Blame lies squarley on Hitler and the decision makers of the third reich and the treaty of Versilles.

      Anyway I have side tracked enough back to the more important issue.

      Preacher Jack

    • jybnntt

      Preacher Jack,

      Thanks for the clarification. I didn’t figure you really meant to balme Luther. But I did feel that your comment could have been read that way by non-initiates to the discussion. I agree that blame ultimately must fall on Hitler himself.


    • Chad Winters

      Historically I don’t think it would be incorrect to say that many of Rome’s “works” that were requred to dispense Grace developed more as a way of projecting secular power than from exegesis of scripture. They brought down many a king by refusing give him the sacraments and thus threatening his salvation

    • Dave Armstrong

      I think another interesting aspect of this question is how many times in Scripture judgment after death is associated strictly with works, but not faith:

      Matthew 25:31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
      . . .
      41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
      42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
      43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
      44 “Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
      45 “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
      46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

      Rev 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
      12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
      13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
      14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
      15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

      Matthew 7:16-27 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So every sound tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.” Every one then who hears these words of mine, and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine, and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.

      Salvation is put into very practical terms by Jesus. He reiterates the teaching of Matthew 5:20 by emphasizing acts of obedience, as opposed to verbal proclamations only or mere head knowledge. Even some miraculous works are not necessarily under His superintendence.

      A similar dynamic is also present in Matthew 25:31-46, the great scene of the separation of sheep and goats, where Christ continually makes the works of faith the central criterion of judgment. And again in Luke 18:18-25, where the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asks if he has kept the Commandments. Upon finding out that he has, He commands him to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor (18:22). Jesus was quite an incompetent missionary, according to the pragmatic evangelistic techniques and criteria for “success” which prevail among many of today’s evangelicals.

      Nothing whatsoever is spoken about faith alone in any of these passages, as would be rightfully expected if Luther were correct about the nature of saving faith. All Christians agree that a person living unrighteously is in great danger. Catholics say that such a one has lost the state of grace through mortal sin, whereas most evangelicals contend that they were likely never saved at all. In any event, the actual outcome is the same in both cases if the sinning persists: hellfire.

      Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

      Romans 2:5-13 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

      What is mentioned by St. Paul? Faith alone? No: works, well-doing, being factious, not obeying, being wicked, doing evil, doing good, sinning, being doers of the law . . . this is all Paul talks about. The theme of obeying the gospel, or the obedience of faith, is common in St. Paul’s writings (e.g., Romans 1:5, 6:17, 10:16, 15:18-19, 16:25-26, 2 Thessalonians 1:8; cf. Acts 6:7, Hebrews 11:8).

      Reformed theologian G.C. Berkouwer wrote about the Romans 2 passage above:

      “In Paul, as elsewhere, we are impressed by an unambiguous eschatological perspective of the judgment which shall be according to works . . .

      “The relation between final judgment and works is here unmistakably intimate. There is a final divorce between obedience and disobedience . . . The question is the more insistent in view of other utterances of Paul [cites Gal 6:7-9, 2 Cor 5:10, Col 3:23-25, 1 Cor 3:13, 4:5] . . .

      “We can hardly say that such ideas form a subordinate line, a secondary and rather unimportant element of Paul’s message. Quite the contrary. The utmost earnestness of the judgment and the appeal to man to consider his daily responsibility before the Lord of life sound clarionlike through his whole witness. It is not to be denied that for Paul, too, the works and affairs of man play a role in the final drama of God’s judgment.”

      (Faith and Justification: Studies in Dogmatics, translated by Lewis B. Smedes, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954, 103-105)

      1 Peter 1:17 . . . who judges each one impartially according to his deeds . . .

      Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.

    • Ruth Tucker

      Thank you Dave. You’ve added a lot for us to mull over in this discussion.

      If you don’t know Dave, folks, check out his website: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/

    • jybnntt


      Of course it is. We are saved by works. The works of Jesus Christ.

    • stevemoore

      And here I thought we were saved by Grace, albeit through faith. No?

      (that’s not to argue agaisnt jybnntt in your last point, I agree). ;^)

    • Perry Robinson

      A few things to clarify.

      First, we need to be careful not to impute to Rome all of the views Luther reacted against. Luther was trained in the tradition of Okham and Biel. And they most certainly were semi-pelagian. But Scholasticism was much wider and more varried than Okhamism. This is why many of the Thomists and Scotists were initially supportive since they made the very same critiques at points.

      Further, when Trent speaks of “works” and “merit” these terms have a very precise meaning. “Merit” generally doesn’t have the full english connotation in latin of a kind of earned credit, but of brining about a pleasing disposition so that the connotation is, do our good works please God?

      For Rome, that depends. Are these works works done by myself, out of my unaided nature or are they works done not only together with God but specifically God’s works? If the former, Rome says no, if the latter, Rome says yes, following Augustine.

      So it is not like two men pulling a load, to the degree that one pulls the other does not. So the question in medieval scholasticism was not, how can my works be God’s, but rather how can God’s works be mine? For Aquinas, God reaches down and produces good works in you and with you so that the good works that please God are the good works of Christ. Hence he is the head and we are his body carrying out his good works.

    • Perry Robinson

      Saint and Sinner,

      You wrote :”Romanism, on the other hand, makes faith into a reason for obtaining condign merit, and makes good works that were done “in faith” into the means (i.e. congruous or condign) of expiating sin. So, it’s not Christ’s actions and His alone that are effectual for removing sin, but Christ + the sinner’s actions.”

      This is a mistake. Condign merit is merit or grace which God alone gives and is active. Hence, faith can’t be a reason or condition for containing since condign grace is the grace that makes it possible for one to believe. You seem to be confusing condign and congruous grace, where the latter is co-operative, the former is operative with God alone working. There is nothing one can do to obtain condign grace in Catholic teaching.

    • Carrie Hunter

      Hello all!

      Thank you Dr. Tucker for your post. It has definitely sparked yet another very important discussion.

      I believe we are saved, wait, I KNOW we are saved 100% completely upon the grounds of what Christ did for us on the cross. By His righteousness alone are we brought into right standing before God. There is nothing we can do at all that can possibly add to what He has done on the cross. If so then it renders the cross meaningless. Christ suffered and died in vain if He were merely setting an example for humanity. But I digress…

      How do works factor in to this?

      I would say that Paul explains this clearly in Ephesians. So often we simply leave it at verse 8 and 9. Whereas when we keep going further into what Paul is saying ….

      10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

      We definitely get an idea of how works factor in.

      I have to say that we are first saved, and then as a result, our good works are simply that of living out what God has ordained in our life. Our doing these works are our living out His Will here on earth (Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…to cross reference the Gospels here). That He prepared these things beforehand is of great significance. I have to see this as part of His decretive will which we as believers are to strive to live out simply because we love Him and are humbled by the fact that He in His grace has saved us.

      Salvation is through Christ alone and it is only by faith are we justified. Paul again, this time in Romans.

      Romans 4:9-12 ….We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

      Again we see how the works (acts of the law) come after faith, the faith in the One whom makes us righteous.

      I have had discussions with Roman Catholics about the law. It usually goes something like this:

      I say : “You are not saved by the law but rather have a desire to follow the law once you are saved.

      They reply “Good works are not the same as keeping OT law”.

      To which I reply: “What are your good works?”

      They say “Taking care of people, meeting their needs, feeding the hungry etc”.

      I say “So would you say this is an act of love?”

      They say “Of course!”

      I say “Then you are keeping the OT law because Christ Himself said that all the law hangs on the two greatest commandments. The second of which, is to love your neighbor as yourself”.

      Doing good works IS keeping the law. But as we see time and again in the New Testament (and in the Old) that it isn’t the law that saves us but rather the object of the law; that to which the law points – Jesus Christ.

      If we belong to Him, just as Abraham, we will have a desire to do as God tells us. But it isn’t out of any want or need to be saved, but rather because we already are. It is to show the world that we already belong to Him and that if they only trust in Him alone for the forgiveness of their sins, then they too will be saved.

    • mosesl

      slight sidetrack…

      faith alone in Christ alone…

      now if I rekon faith to be “trust”… then trust in Christ alone, in His all sufficient atoning work on the cross.

      But… what exactly am I trusting? For not everyone was atoned for on that cross – only those that believe. So what exactly am I trusting? Or if it is “who” I am trusting, and that clearly would be Christ, how do I know if my sins are on that cross?

      If Christ demands something of me… then that changes things. For then, to trust Him would be to …trust him with my life. lordship. to submit.

      Now… would that satisfy the debate over faith/works? For then, if obedience is what Christ calls for, that act (ah..now a “work”) proves my trust in Him. Yet it is the trust (faith) that saves, not my own works….

      What exactly am I trusting?

    • Will Coburn

      Preacher Jack,

      You say:

      “They also reject certain sections of the Bible that contradict their stance.”

      Any specific references?

      And Catholics DO take the entire Bible as a whole, in fact, they were the ones that wrote, translated, and produced it. Let’s face it, with out the Catholic church, the Bible, and Christianity, would not be here.

      But, Catholics do not agree with “Sola Scriptura,” or “Scripture Alone.” No where in the Bible does it point to that notion. The Church for 1500 years didn’t even have that notion.

      Jesus did not say, “You are Peter. On this rock I will write my BIBLE,” but “On this rock I will build my CHURCH.” History shows us that there was a church before any Bible was put together. Bishops were appointed years before the Bible was what it became to be. St. Ignatius of Antioch was made Bishop before 100 A.D. St. Jerome translated the first Latin Vulgate in 400 A.D.

    • Will Coburn


      You wrote:

      “Now… would that satisfy the debate over faith/works? For then, if obedience is what Christ calls for, that act (ah..now a “work”) proves my trust in Him. Yet it is the trust (faith) that saves, not my own works….”

      That’s exactly it. Jesus says “If you love me, keep my Commandments.” John 14:15

      Understand, he doesn’t say “If you love me, just believe in me” indicating the term “believe” in this case means to JUST believe in him as a spiritual truth. When Jesus says “believe” he means the whole shebang.

      One thing, though. Jesus died for EVERYONE: Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, everyone. Everyone’s sins are on that cross. He sacrificed himself for us to have the chance to be saved.

      Now it’s our choice act on it. Our choice to BELIEVE (faith) in him truly in our hearts through prayer and trust, and to have him WORK (works) through us by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matt. 25:40 This is what he says, and this is what his church has taught since he was on this earth.

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