Just for Catholics

God's Grace and Human Works

Question: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that we are saved by grace alone. When we first come to God in faith, we have nothing in our hands to offer him. Then he gives us grace to obey his commandments in love, and he rewards us with salvation when we offer these acts of love back to him.

Answer: Superficially Catholicism teaches salvation by grace alone, because it is argued that the works which merit eternal life originate in the grace of God:

grace good works salvation

Evangelicals believe that a person is justified by grace alone and not on account of personal works. No-one can perform a deed that is good in the sight of God unless he is first justified and at peace with Him. God's wrath rests on every guilty person; the man who is not justified is at war with God. Nothing that an enemy does can possibly please God. So justification must precede good works.

When a person is saved, he is forgiven and given a new heart that desires to please God. Good works follows naturally. The presence of good works implies that the person is already saved. Hence good works are not the cause, but the fruit and result of salvation.

grace salvation good works

So, what does the Bible say about this crucial matter? Is a person justified on account of the works that grace enables him to do? Or is he justified by grace apart from personal works? The Bible does not leave us in any doubt. Please read the following references and note how grace is contrasted to human works:

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness (Romans 4:4,5).

And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. (Romans 11:6).

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).

Who 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 Timothy 1:9).

According to the Bible, grace is the antithesis of the payment owed for someone's work. Grace is unmerited favour. It is unmerited, undeserved, because it is not granted for any work done. The believer says, "I am saved by grace - God's unmerited favour - entirely apart from my merits and works." On the other hand, when a Catholic says that he is saved by grace, he means something entirely different. Rome's definition of grace is deceptive because it incorporates the merits of human works notwithstanding the clear teaching of the Bible. Rome's "grace" is not grace at all.

Question You do not understand the difference between our works (which do not justify) and God's works wrought in us (which complete our faith). You confuse God's works for our works.

Answer It evident that the Christian performs good works because God enables him. Grace teaches and empowers saved people to do good works. Yet it is equally clear that these good works follow salvation, rather than procure it. Moreover, human good works are, by definition, the works of man, even though they are done in cooperation with God.

The Council of Trent corrects your mistaken idea; it recognizes that the Christian's good works are not merely God's works performed through him, but are actually the good works of man. "If anyone says that the good works of the justified person are the gifts of God in such a way that they are not also the good merits of the person justified...anathema sit" (Trent VI, canon 32).

As far as justification is concerned, human works have absolutely nothing to do with it. God justifies the ungodly who "does not work" but "believes". To such a person "God imputes (credits to his account) righteousness apart from works" (Romans 4:4-6). Our pride would not allow us see grace for what it is. May God humble us and open our eyes to see the wonder of His mercy and lovingkindness that we may wholly trust in His Son and joyfully sing the praises of His grace forevermore.

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