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Faith and Good Works

Question: I went to Catholic school for 8 years and I was taught that Jesus died for us and that He redeemed us, but we have to do our part. We have to do things such as unite our sufferings with His. We have to do our share in the salvation process. This may all seem silly to you but these are things I and many other Catholics struggle with. The priests say that in the Protestant position there is no accountability: everyone who believes will go to heaven. How does that show God's justice? For example why should a person who lives a good life and another person who simply believes and continues to live an unchristian life, why should both go to heaven? That wouldn't seem fair.

Answer: I honestly appreciate what you are saying because as a former Roman Catholic I used to envision salvation in the same way. I was told Jesus died for us and that He redeemed us but - ah! that little word 'but' - we have to do our part, our share, unite our sufferings with His.

Logically the implication is that His death was, by itself, not enough to pay the debt of my sins. I had to offer some sacrifice myself to be completely forgiven. However, the Bible presents a different message:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified...Their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin (Hebrews 9:15-18).

According to this Scripture, by whose offering is a person perfected and forgiven? Is there a need to offer some other offering for sin? Can we say, then, that I can unite my suffering with His in order to receive forgiveness? Or should I trust in His finished sacrifice?

Or, to tackle the subject from another perspective, do I go to heaven because I live a good life? No, I go to heaven because God is merciful to me. He gives me what I do not deserve (Heaven), and he spares me what I merit (Hell). All because of Jesus and not because of me.

Please read these two Bible verses carefully:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us (Titus 3:5).

Salvation is not our work. It is the work of Another, Jesus Christ. A true Christian lives for the glory of the One who loves him with infinite love. Whoever truly believes will certainly live a righteous life because God gives him a new heart that appreciates God's goodness and mercy. Why is it that people can't imagine any another motive for living a good, responsible life, other then to gain merit for salvation?! Could one live righteously and do good works as an expression of heart-felt gratitude to Jesus Christ? For example, I love my parents very much. But I don't love them in order to gain some favor from them. I simply love them because I appreciate how much they suffered and worked hard for my sake. It is the same with the Christian's relation to his Saviour. "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

So as a Christian, I don't try to earn salvation by my works. I strive to live a righteously as the reasonable response to the mercy of God.  It's my way of saying "Thank you!" On the other hand, he who "believes" and continues to live in sin is deceiving himself and remains lost in his sin no matter what he says.

Dr Joseph Mizzi