salvation a matter of balancing the good and the bad?
The following series of
letters were published in The Times (of Malta)
Defending God's Church
Malcolm Lowell, Balzan. July 1 [Excerpt]
One day, we know not exactly when, we must all meet our Maker and
go through our life story, hoping that the good we have done will
outweigh the bad and that we will be judged mercifully. Of one thing
I am as certain as my human limitations permit me to be - that our
private failings will be judged as such but those actions and words
which are made public and have been used to influence people against
the Church and, God forbid which give scandal to young children
whose minds and opinions are still in the formation stage and easily
manipulated will not be so easy for even our God of boundless mercy
to forgive. Let us all be very careful what we say and do,
especially in public. These are very serious matters.
Joseph Mizzi, Attard. 8 July
Malcolm Lowell (Defending God's Church, July 1) advises that we
ought to be very careful what we say and do, especially in public.
Why then does he carelessly present a totally skewed picture of the
message of the bible on salvation? He wrote: "One day, we know
not exactly when, we must all meet our Maker and go through our life
story, hoping that the good we have done will outweigh the bad and
that we will be judged mercifully".
Nothing could be further from the truth. The bible declares that
salvation is a matter of grace, received solely by faith in Christ,
and apart from any merit of our "good"! "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).
Where did this idea of weighing personal good against bad come
from? Certainly not from the Scripture! Sin is cancelled by the
blood of Christ for those who, laying aside all confidence in their
own sanctity, rest their salvation in the hands of the one and only
Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Judgement in the Bible
Paul Galea Curmi, Birkirkara. July 13
Malcolm Lowell (July 1) need have no qualms about his
contribution being contrary to biblical teaching.
In Matthew 25, 31-46, we find a very pictorial description of the
Last Judgement given by Jesus Christ himself.
And the basis of the judgement is simple: our charitable acts (or
lack of them) towards our neighbour. "Then he will answer them,
'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of
these, you did not do it to me'" [Mat 25:45].
And the conclusion, too, is definite: "And these will go
away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal
life" [Mat 25:46].
The good and the bad
Mario Jaccarini S.J., Msida. July 19
Malcolm Lowell was right and scriptural in writing (July 1) that
we have to give an account of our deeds, hoping that in God's mercy,
the good done will outweigh the bad. All the good we do depends on
God's grace who, by the death and resurrection of his son, saved us
from sin and hell. As I understand, Mr Lowell, this dependence on
God's grace was implied by him when he used the words
"hope" and "judged mercifully".
He was implying that ultimately we do not place our confidence in
our good deeds, which anyway we perform by God's grace, but on the
same grace, which we have been given in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, we can also reject God's grace. Still we do have
to give an account of all our deeds.
All this can be seen in many parts of the New Testament like in
Jesus Christ's parable of the last judgement (Matthew 25:31-46)
where those who love their neighbour are rewarded and those who
neglect him are punished. So also in Matthew 7:21-23, the Lord tells
us that not those who call him Lord, or prophesy or cast out devils
in his name, but those who do the will of the Father will enter the
St Paul clearly mentions the judgement that Mr Lowell wrote
about, for example in Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-10. I
conclude with the last verse of the latter: "For all the truth
about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ and each of
us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good
or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Judas' kiss and salvation
Joseph Mizzi, Attard. July 29
Mario Jaccarini SJ (July 19) portrays salvation as a matter of
hoping that "the good done will outweigh the bad".
His disclaimer that "we do not place our confidence in our
good deeds" is not very reassuring. If his basic thesis is
correct, we would better start confiding in our good works for it is
their weight that supposedly tips the balance to eternal life!
Good works, like a kiss, could be the sign of opposite things. A
kiss could signify pure and sincere love; it could also be an act of
hypocrisy and treachery.
True Christians are characterised by the godliness and love that
spring from a renewed heart and the presence of God's spirit in
them. Their obedience to Christ is the natural way of expressing
their gratitude to the one who died for them to secure their eternal
redemption. These good works are their identification badge on the
Day of Judgment.
Of all people, the disciples of Jesus shun sin and pursue
righteousness for the glory of God. Yet they would not dream of
relying on their own goodness for salvation.
"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but
according to His mercy He saved us." (Titus 3:5). They do not
attempt to cover their guilt with a pile of religious deeds. Only
the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin; in Christ alone they
entrust the salvation of their soul.
Paradoxically, good works could also reveal a lack of faith in
Christ. For instance, the Catholic Church teaches that prayer and
good works are forms of penance (defined as a vindicatory punishment
and satisfaction for sins). The joyful privilege of communion with
God in prayer is mutated by religion into a form of punishment! The
system would not allow the penitent to enjoy God's full and gracious
pardon. The penitent is hindered from trusting completely in Christ
because he is compelled to make reparation for his sins by prayers
and other personal works.
We ought to question our deepest motives. Are my works a Judas
kiss, betraying the grace of Christ? Or a kiss of love and gratitude
to my Saviour? As for myself, "I do not set aside the grace of
God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in
vain" (Galatians 2:21).
Fr Mario Jaccarini SJ, Msida. August 4.
I am afraid Joseph Mizzi (Judas' Kiss And Salvation, July 29)
quotes only part of my letter (The Good And The Bad, July 19) and
then attacks my whole position on the basis of that part. One must
take a piece of writing as a whole not in part and this holds true
especially of Holy Scripture which must not be quoted selectively.
Dr Mizzi doesn't seem to leave place for the possibility of our
not cooperating with God's grace. My point was that, although we are
saved by God's grace, there is also need of our cooperation or at
least our not rejecting God's grace. This is shown by the many
exhortations which the Lord gives us to love God by doing His will
and to love our neighbour in deeds and not just words. I must quote
again the words of Jesus: "It is not those who say to me,
'Lord, Lord', who will enter the kingdom of heaven but the person
who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21).
On the other hand, we have also to keep in mind that we have no
rights in front of God because our good deeds are His gift, as is
shown by the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.
Finally, it is not right for Christians to quarrel among
themselves but, I am afraid, it seems to me that Dr Mizzi loses no
chance to start such controversies against Catholics.
Grace Cannot Be Merited
Joseph Mizzi, Attard. August 12.
Why should I bother to defend myself against Mario Jaccarini's
(August 4) puerile ad hominem gibes? Much rather would I
defend the truth of the Gospel and exult in the grace of God.
Fr Jaccarini misses the point completely. The question is not
whether a person could resist the grace of God, nor even whether a
person could be saved apart from good works (of course he
Here is the crux of the matter. Is it possible for a sinner to be
justified before God on account of the merit of his good works; or,
to put it simply, am I accepted by the Divine Judge because my
personal "good" outweighs the "bad", as the
No, not unless a sinner can be saved without the grace of God.
For the apostle Paul defines "grace" as the antithesis of
the "merit" earned by 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).
The Bible insists that only he who "does not work" but
"believes" is justified before God. Justification is not
the reward for our works. On the contrary, justification is the free
and gratuitous gift of grace which we do not merit.
Believers do good works out of gratitude to God's amazing love.
Their purpose is not to merit grace, nor are works the basis of
their acceptance before God. The once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus
Christ is the only basis for the believers' right standing before
the Creator. "Much more then, being now justified by his blood,
we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:9)."
Joe A. Serge, Ontario, Canada. August 13.
Fr Mario Jaccarini may be zealous for God and genuinely believes
salvation is influenced through cooperation with God by good works
(August 4) but that's not found in the Scripture.
Good works are the natural offshoot of a sinner saved by grace.
For on a rugged cross on Golgotha's hill, Jesus paid in full the
penalty we justly deserve for our rebellion against God's law. Sheer
grace. The will of the Father is that we believe in the Son's saving
work on our behalf. It is to no avail to call Jesus "Lord,
Lord" but refuse to cling to Christ alone for our salvation.
The concept that good works help us get to heaven betrays man's
carnal pride saying the creature has something to offer to the
Creator to merit eternal life.
The Scripture says: "All of us have become like one who is
unclean and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all
shrivel up like a leaf and like the wind our sins sweep us
away" (Isa 64:6). Fr Jaccarini further suggests mere man has
the power to resist God's saving grace and that flies contrary to
the Scripture's teaching that the Holy Spirit regenerates and turns
to Christ the elect whom God predestined for salvation before time
"And those he predestined, he also called; those he called,
he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified"
(Rom.8:30). The hymn I Sought the Lord, sings the praises of God's
awesome, irresistible grace: "I sought the Lord and afterward I
knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; it was not I that
found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found of thee"
Faith, hope and love
Adrian Camilleri, St Paul's Bay. August 26.
According to Joseph Mizzi (August 12), "The Bible insists
that only he who... 'believes' is justified before God".
Actually, the Bible insists on rather more than that. It speaks
of three "theological" virtues, Faith, Hope and Love, and
all three are absolutely necessary for salvation. Mr Mizzi, however,
aligns himself with a tradition that emphasises the first, Faith, at
the expense of the other two. This is thoroughly unscriptural.
Doesn't St Paul say, for instance, "We are saved by Hope"
As for Love, St Paul could not have expressed himself more
strongly: "If I have all Faith, so that I can move mountains,
but have not Love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). In the
same place he writes: "Now remain these three: Faith, Hope and
Love. But the greatest of these is Love" (13: 13). When Jesus
is asked which is the greatest commandment of all, He replies,
"To love the Lord your God with your whole heart, soul, mind
and strength; and to love your neighbour as yourself. There is no
other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12: 30, 31). St
Paul tells us: "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans
13:10). St John writes, "God is love. Whoever lives in love
lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4: 16).
Recognising the centrality of love in the Christian message
enables us to see the question of "good works" for the red
herring it is. When we do good, we must do it for love, full stop.
Love of God or love of our neighbour (which is also love of God). If
we do it to gain merit, we are not doing it for love but for a false
motive, so our action counts for nothing.
Merit and Salvation
Joseph Mizzi, Attard. September 10.
Adrian Camilleri (27 August) debunks antinomianism,
the heretical teaching that a sinner can be justified before God by
barren, solitary faith. That is the kind of “faith alone” that
evangelical Christians like myself also repudiate and condemn.
The Bride of Christ, redeemed by the blood of her
Saviour, is adorned with many precious jewels: faith, hope, love,
patience, kindness, holiness, good works and other spiritual virtues.
Thus if we ask “who” will be saved, the
unequivocal answer is, “Only believers whose life is characterized
by love and good works.”
But if we ask “how” we are saved, the Bible
points to faith alone as the hand that receives the gift of salvation;
it also excludes our works as the meritorious cause. “To him who
does not work but believes on Him who justifies the
ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
Of course the apostle Paul is not excluding works
altogether. Elsewhere he emphatically speaks on the necessity of
godliness in the life of every believer. Deeds are the fruit of faith,
but their purpose is not to merit justification. It all about motives:
some perform works to merit grace; Christians do them out of love for
Interestingly, Mr Camilleri concurs at this point.
He boldly states that “if we do [good] to gain merit, we are not
doing it for love but for a false motive, so our action counts for
nothing.” That is precisely what the Catholic Church does not
teach. The Catholic Church still curses us who, having trusted in
Christ alone for salvation, work and live for God’s love rather than
to merit eternal life.