Grace, Faith, and Works
Catholics and Protestants often debate about how God saves human beings. Are they saved by faith and works, as Catholics argue? Or are they saved by faith alone, as Protestants insist?
Today's second reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians helps us understand the relationship between faith, works, salvation, and most importantly, God's grace. St. Paul first reminds us about what God has done for us and why He has done it.
God, who is rich in mercy,
because of the great love He had for us,
even when we were dead in our transgressions,
brought us to life with Christ -by grace you have been saved-,
raised us up with Him,
and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus,
that in the ages to come
He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace
in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
God saves us because He loves us. We were dead in sin. He brings us to life with Christ Jesus and raises us up to share in His own divine life that He might pour out His grace and love upon us.
Notice one line in particular: by grace you have been saved. This is key. We are not saved by our own efforts but by God's free gift of grace. At Baptism, God freely gives us a share in His divine life. He pours His saving, sanctifying grace into our souls, wipes away sin, makes us His children, and comes to dwell within us. We do nothing at all to merit this grace. Christ has merited it for us by His Passion, death, and Resurrection.
So where do faith and works come in? Listen to what Paul says next.
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.
For we are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works
that God has prepared in advance,
that we should live in them.
He begins by repeating that we have been saved by grace, but this time he adds through faith. Faith is our response to God's grace. We respond to God's free gift of salvation by believing in Him and not just with an intellectual belief but with a faith that is self-giving. God gives Himself to us when He comes to dwell in our souls. Through faith, we give ourselves back to Him fully. Notice that Paul reminds us that even this faith doesn't arise from us. God gives it to us as a gift.
Paul further warns us that we must not boast because our salvation is not earned by our works. He goes on to say, however, that we have been created to do the good works that God has prepared for us. We need to live in these good works, these works of love, these works that spring from our loving, self-giving faith in God that spills over into love for our neighbor. Our works, like our faith, are our response to God's gift of salvation.
To sum up, we are saved by grace, by God's free gift to us. But we have to accept this grace, and there's where both faith and works come in. We need to reach out and grasp God's gift of salvation, and we do that by believing in God with a deep, self-giving faith and by living out that faith in works of love for God and neighbor.