Just for Catholics

Is Mother Theresa a True Christian?

Question: Is Mother Theresa a true Christian?

Answer: 'Of course she is!' That's what all Catholics and many Protestants would affirm without any hesitation. 'It's enough to consider her charity and work among the poor in Calcutta. She is a saint!'

If good works makes anyone a Christian, then we must also regard a friend of mine, a communist and an atheist, to be a true Christian as well, for he, though unknown to the media, has dedicated his life to help the poor. Yet he would be the first to refuse the name 'Christian.'

Works alone do not make anyone a Christian. Clearly, we must consider what a person believes as well as what he does, or, in other words, the proper motives for their works. The Jews also were very zealous in their religion, yet the apostle Paul did not consider them saved because their religion was 'not according to knowledge' and they attempted to make themselves right with God by their works while refusing to rely on Christ for salvation.

Still, one may argue, 'Mother Theresa believed in Christ and her works are the evident proof of her faith.'

Maybe. Maybe not.

If Mother Theresa believed in Christ alone without depending on her works for justification, she was a true Christian, for the Scriptures say that a person 'is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ' (Galatians 2:16). Her good works would be the evidence of genuine faith in Christ, as James say: 'I will show you my faith by my works' (James 2:18).

If that is so, it is confusing why Mother Theresa remained a faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church which officially teaches that personal good works are not merely the evidence but also the cause of personal righteousness for justification. In that case, the Roman Catholic Church would curse the poor nun: 'If anyone says that the righteousness received is not preserved and even increased before God though good works, but that such works are merely the fruits and signs of the justification obtained, and not also the cause of its increase, anathema sit' (Trent, On Justification, canon 24).

On the other hand, if Mother Theresa depended on her good works for salvation, she was not a true Christian, for the Bible clearly states:

  • 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).

  • [God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy1:9).

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

So what is my verdict? God knows! What we know for certain are the principles by which God justifies or condemns Mother Theresa and every one of us.

There is a far more important question for us than to speculate on whether Mother Theresa was a true Christian or not. God is her judge, 'for the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart' (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows her motives as well as her actions. What is of greater concern to us is our own salvation. Am I a true Christian?

A false Christian is one who 'believes' in Christ and yet depends, at least in part, on his own works for salvation. His 'good' works are the fruit of pride and unbelief. A true Christian is one who believes in Christ and does not depend on his own works for salvation. His good works are the evidence to living faith.

Moreover, a true Christian is eager to let everyone know that Jesus is the only way to heaven. It is sad that Mother Theresa neglected this, the greatest work of all. She wrote: 'There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. Iíve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic.' [reference]

It's true: there is one God; it is just as true that there is one Mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus! Muslims and Hindus are not saved without Christ, whether they are better or not.

Copyright Dr Joe Mizzi. Permission to copy and distribute this article without textual changes. < BACK TO Q&A