If salvation is not by our effort, how come having "faith" does not count as our effort?

(Jay Jordan Uy) #1

A coworker brought this up-- she said by believing or trusting, that is already your effort. She is Catholic. I was explaining that salvation is through faith in Christ alone, not through any of our efforts because she was explaining her way to heaven was through doing good deeds and not hurting others.

How do I show that faith is different from, say, following the traditions of Catholicism or serving others to get to heaven?


(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi Jay,

Great question! I think this quote by Dallas Willard might be helpful to you:

The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude. You have never seen people more active than those who have been set on fire by the grace of God. Paul, who perhaps understood grace better than any other mere human being, looked back at what had happened to him and said: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (I Cor. 15:10)

With this distinction in place, we can see that faith is the receiving of God’s gift. That is categorically different than our moral behavior earning God’s positive regard of our lives. We did not earn Christ’s death on the Cross for our sins; we do not earn God’s free offer of forgiveness. Rather, we humbly receive this gift by faith.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #3

How do I show that faith is different from, say, following the traditions of Catholicism or serving others to get to heaven?

I appreciate your heart in reaching out to your co-worker @jayjordanuy. I pray that your conversation with her will be fruitful, that she may come to know the Lord.

To answer your question, first, in one sense, faith or believing could be considered a work or effort by virtue of it being a human action, that it is something done by a person. However, this usage of work or effort is different from Paul’s teaching against salvation by works (works of the law). Your co-worker seems to commit the fallacy of equivocation, in a sense that she equivocates in one sense that trusting is a work, to prove a different definition or sense of working to you.

Second, since we are now clear of the sense faith as a work is used. We could make now a distinction to prove that faith is different from following the traditions of Catholicism.

Faith could be likened as receiving the gift that was given, which is the gift of salvation. Following the traditions of Catholicism or doing good works is not mere receiving, which is done passively, but an active action, which tries to add to the work of Christ for us.

Here are some passages which could help in your discussion with her:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” ~Ephesians 2:8-9

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them. Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” - so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” ~Galatians 3:10-14

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:20

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” ~Matthew 5:48

(Jennifer Judson) #4

There may be some dogma changes in the Catholic faith that your coworker is unaware of. A couple of years ago I read a writing by the Pope concerning the idea that Catholic/Protestant differences in justification had been largely resolved a couple of years back. To look into whether Catholics and Protestants could be re-united, a council between Catholics and Lutherans had with prayer, time, and study, written and agreed to an understanding on justification that highlighted many areas of common ground.

It’s a document called:
by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church


There is a vast amount of information in the document and it is well worth reading. Here is one part from the document that shows a meeting of the hearts that salvation is through faith in Christ alone:

Sect. 3: The Common Understanding of Justification

14.The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.

15.In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

A nutshell might be: We are saved by grace for works.

Protestants have a legacy stressing grace and Catholics have a legacy stressing a calling to the work of the Gospel. Both are compatible in the light that we are not just saved, but saved for a purpose. We are to be people doing the work of the Kingdom for the Glory of God through a saving faith that comes from grace alone.

I think your co-worker may have a point that believing and trusting involves some of our effort–or our agreement. But it is the work of the Holy Spirit that enables that faith/trust. Carson’s quote from Dallas Willard highlighting the difference between effort and earning is wonderful clarifying language.

It would be interesting to hear more about how your co-worker understands faith and how she might receive the statements in The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

(Jay Jordan Uy) #5

That’s a good distinction between action vs. attitude. I will try to share that next time I’m talking with her at lunch. Thanks a lot for the response, Carson!

(Jay Jordan Uy) #6

Thank you for praying. I’m a little discouraged by how sure she was about her viewpoint. It felt like what I was saying was being sucked into a vacuum.

Thanks for the clarification on the passive vs. active actions. Also, thanks for the verse references about the law. I will try to mention these verses in my next conversation.

(Jay Jordan Uy) #7

Thanks, Jennifer. This is interesting… I will need to look into this more. I just participated in David Platt’s Secret Church 18 where he discussed Catholicism. What I was understanding was that justification was through faith AND works (i.e. baptism, adhering to traditions, sacraments). Has this changed?

(Jennifer Judson) #8

Jay, I’m not sure I can answer your question, but below is a particular part of the document that seems to speak to it. I admit I have not exhaustively studied it and haven’t read through it fully in several months. My brother, who was a charismatic evangelical has recently converted to Catholicism. I will talk to him and see what he might add. His catechism training will be recent, as opposed to someone who may have had it decades ago as a child.

I’ll find out if he’s read this document. Knowing about it certainly made me more comfortable with my brother’s conversion. (Not that he asked my permission or advice). He is a devout Christian and felt this was where God was leading him.

4.3 Justification by Faith and through Grace

25.We confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ. By the action of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they are granted the gift of salvation, which lays the basis for the whole Christian life. They place their trust in God’s gracious promise by justifying faith, which includes hope in God and love for him. Such a faith is active in love and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works. But whatever in the justified precedes or follows the free gift of faith is neither the basis of justification nor merits it.

26.According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative word. Because God’s act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of “justification by faith alone,” a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one’s way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.

27.The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through baptism as hearers of the word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him. This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God’s graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God’s unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Rom 3:27).

(SeanO) #9

@jayjordanuy I spoke to a Catholic elder as part of one of my seminary projects about this very issue and I think that there is a very wide variety of views with the Catholic church. He basically stated a classical protestant understanding.

You said that her understanding seemed to be hazy. Have you ever considered inviting her to a small group Bible study or a cookout or something at your Church? Especially if you can think of a group of women who may be willing to invest in her.

I knew a missionary in South America who sought to invite Catholics involved in syncretism to Bible study - to come and see the Word - rather than debating specific points of doctrine. People frsom traditionally Catholic background often already respect the Bible - so sometimes he said it is actually easier to get them involved in a small group and let the Word do the talking rather than debating against Catholic points of view - which may simply turn them away.

(David Vermaak) #10

Hi @jayjordanuy,

I think there are a couple of distinctions here for your friend to consider.

The belief she might have, is that her salvation is an ongoing effort toward obtaining her salvation. That “effort” really comes down to her works and actions.
What I find disconcerting about that for myself, personally as a human with the biases and thinking I often find being incorrect after consideration after the fact, on many occasions, is that I’m wrong about many things. What happens if I hurt someone or even think I’m helping someone and end up hurting them. Are the intents of my actions or the result of my actions the most important thing. Because if they differ, I’m in trouble. I think an all knowing and observant God is most likely going to look at the results of my works, and your friend might agree with this.

So the works I do which are based on my human thought and actions are continuously weighed against the God of the universe thoughts and actions to determine if I’m saved by “good works” and He tells me I come no where near His thinking…no where near… Isaiah 55:8-9.

So I can spend a lifetime doing “good” works and they could not be pleasing to God because I’m doing them based on my way of thinking.

Also, At what point in my life have I done enough “good works” and “not hurting others” to tip the scale in my favor? Can the scale tip back?

And is someone whose being doing “good works” for 2 days that’s a more objective and less offensive person any more deserving of being in heaven than someone whose being doing “good works” that’s an schizophreniac for 50years, because the schizophreniac might have hurt a lot of people with their “good works”, or vice versa in relation to a God who might not consider either of their “works” good…?
This ongoing life of a “good works” effort seems to be currently balancing on a precipice of uncertainty and unknowability.

The “effort” of faith could save the unbelieving guy on a motorcycle in literally 1 second of “effort” before being hit by an 18 wheeler because the culmination of a lifetime of knowing God and His goodness (Romans 2:15) and the need for Christ to remedy his imperfection regardless of any “good works” (Romans 3:10 & 3:23, also Isaiah 64:6) results in the realization that he was never enough to save himself and have union with the Father, only He was… (John 14:6, John 3:16)

So the faith then seems to be more of a decision in the heart, than an effort.


(Joffre Essley) #11

I am Jennifer’s brother, the Catholic convert. First of all you misunderstand the Catholic Church’s use of tradition in regards to justification. We are not justified because we follow traditions. Rather traditions informs our understanding of the word of God. Traditions guide us on how to interpret the Bible and fills in the gaps. Before Luther the Church had 1500 years of following the guidance set down by the apostles. Part of that tradition was how we viewed the role of the sacraments and the Church in regards to salvation.

In the Protestant view justification is a legal fiction. Jesus died for our sins and now God doesn’t see them and if we keep on doing them they are still covered.

With a Catholic view our baptism and belief together take away our sins, but, let’s face it, we are still scallawags. We need to change and purify ourselves before we are ready to enter the holy of holies. That happens over a lifetime, and then some. This happens with prayer and confession and partaking of the Eucharist and through the daily disciplines and drawing close to Jesus. This takes an active participation in the Church and the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ, including those who have gone on to heaven.

All of what I just said would be considered orthodox, until Luther. It was accepted in the East as well as the West. It was Luther who jettisoned this understanding and refused to accept this traditional understanding of salvation. In doing so he expected the reform element to jump on board with his interpretations of Scripture. It turns out that when you leave the guidance of tradition it becomes every man for himself. As Luther himself bemoaned “every man fancies himself a pope.” And so it goes. We divide into ever smaller factions.

Catholics can trust our doctrinal traditions because we don’t change dogma. That is we don’t change what is already understood. We can add to what is considered dogma, but only by better defining what is already accepted. There was no need to create a dogma of the Trinity until a priest named Arius came up with a definition that relegated Jesus to a lesser status than what the Church had traditionally believed. The bishops were loathe to define that relationship because they valued constancy and disdained innovation in doctrine. It was only because Arius was tearing the Church apart that we ended up with the Nicene Creed. But they got to that expansion of doctrine in order to avoid the innovation of doctrine that Arius was promoting. You can trust the doctrinal traditions of the Church because of that disdain for innovation.

In the Protestant view these doctrines were corrupted and needed the Reformers to take us back to first principals. The problem with this view is that you can’t place where this corruption took place. From early on you find the Church Fathers describing a church that is sacramental, with Priests offering a Eucharistic sacrifice, and which they took to be the real body and blood of Jesus. These are the things the Reformers reformed right out of their faith communities. They began with a desire to make a better church but they ended by making a different church.

I will grant you that God could have set up a church that looked like a modern Protestant church. I would be more comfortable with that. The problem is I can’t find where he ever did that. The early church looked a lot more like the present day Catholic church than any Protestant church I am familiar with.

Please understand I do not doubt your salvation, nor that most of you are twice the saint that I am. What I believe, what the Catholic Church believes, is that you would be better off if you had the fullness of what the Church has to offer.

I hope this has proved helpful. And when you are ready to come back we have left the light on for you.

(Jennifer Judson) #12

Thank you, Joffre. It’s good to hear from someone with a perspective from both Protestantism and Catholicism. Hope you’ll continue to participate in our community here at RZIM Connect. We all learn from one another and I know I would learn a lot from you.


(Anthony Costello ) #15


I would like to respond to your entry here. First, let me say that I grew up Catholic, went to Catholic grade school, high school and the University of Notre Dame, a major Catholic university. My entire family is Catholic and we have these discussions on a regular basis (and usually quite congenially). I was converted through a religious experience to Evangelical Protestantism in 2010 and have since completed 4 years of Seminary studies. I also teach a class at my local church on Catholicism. Moreover, in that class, I look for ways to be both critical of the doctrinal differences that persist between the cathecatical teachings of the Catholic Church while also looking for as much possible agreement and areas of __mutual cooperation as possible. Thus, for anyone in this thread I highly recommend these two books for more on this topic:

That said, I have some questions regarding some of your views.

First, it seems to me that oral tradition and post-apostolic traditions technically do not inform the individual’s interpretation of Scripture, at least not in any way that would, according to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility (Vatican I 1870), make them binding as a Catholic. More precisely, it seems that it is the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church with the Pope as its head, that takes into account sacred tradition in order to formulate its “infallible” interpretation of the Scriptures and the lay Catholic is then bound to follow that interpretive conclusion (i.e. the Dogmatic pronouncement of the Magisterium). I think this is an appropriate distinction to make, what do you think?

If that is accurate, however, then it appears to me that the Catholic believer is bound by the infallible interpretation of the Pope, who views Scripture through tradition and makes dogmatic pronouncements. That doesn’t necessarily mean those pronouncements are false, but I suppose they could be. Either way, it sounds a bit confusing to me when you say “tradition guides us on how to interpret the Bible…” because the Protestant could easily make that same exact statement. As a faithful Catholic, wouldn’t you have to say that tradition informs the Papal interpretation of Scripture, and you then adhere to whatever that is? Further, if one fails to follow the Papal teachings, do you think one should continue to identify as Catholic? An example might be a Catholic who disbelieves in the dogma of Mary’s immaculate conception. Should one stop identifying as Catholic if they reject one dogmatic teaching of the church?

That said, I think any Protestant can, and should, take into account the teachings of the church Fathers and theological traditions in his or her engagement with Scripture. In fact this is one way that contemporary Evangelicals can being to rediscover some of their ecumenical roots. Something I encourage often amongst my Evangelical brethren!

There are, however many Evangelicals who, for example, follow the interpretive traditions of Thomas Aquinas, and many historians would conclude that Calvin’s soteriology is right in line with Augustine. It is just that the Protestant does not treat post-Apostolic, non-inscripturated oral traditions with the same primacy and binding authority as the inscripturated Revelation of the Word of God. This is what “sola” Scriptura means. Sola Scriptura does not mean (or shouldn’t mean) that Protestants do not take into account tradition, it means that tradition serves Scripture and Scripture alone is the final and ultimate arbiter of propositional truth about God. Does this sound agreeable to you?

Now, I would also pose the question with regard to sacred tradition as to whether or not you hold to the traditionalist Catholic view (i.e. the pre-Vatican II) that sees oral tradition as a literal, second source of divine revelation (cf. Ott), or do you hold the progressivist (post-Vatican II) view of tradition that holds that tradition is either a) a lesser form of revelation compared to the written word of Scripture, or b) that tradition mainly has to do with the idea that the teaching Magisterium of the Church with the Pope as its head has the infallible interpretative authority for Scripture (cf. Ratzinger)? If I held to the first view, then I think I would ask myself the question “why think that post-Apostolic fathers continued to receive revelation equal to the revelation found in Scripture?” And further, “what are those additional revelations and how do I know about them?” Also, do I have evidence that early church fathers actually thought they were receiving additional revelation from God in the same way the apostle Paul did?

Or, on the other hand, if one holds to the weaker, post-Vatical II view that the Magisterium is the infallible interpreter of scripture when the Pope speaks “ex cathedra”, thereby defining doctrine, how might I know that God has actually ordained and validated such a infallible Magisterium? It seems circular to say that there is an infallible interpretive authority of Scripture, and when asked how one knows there is such an authority to point to Scripture as the source. Of course, as I think many of us realize, circularity is incredibly difficult to avoid, and it also seems unavoidable when it comes to Protestant views of the Holy Spirit being the ultimate interpretive authority of Scripture.

Finally, it seems to me important to note that the post-Vatican II view has actually established that the Scriptures alone are materially sufficient for all things regarding faith and morals. So if the content of Scripture is sufficient for all things regarding faith and morals, then why think one needs a formal principle that adds another source of authority to Scripture alone? It’s an interesting question for sure, since interpretation can run wild, but I think it takes compelling evidence and argument to think one has to have two sources of authority, as opposed to just the written word. Thoughts?

One last point, and I don’t mean this in a condescending way, but I think you do a bit of a disservice to church history, when you make the claim that “All of what I just said would be considered orthodox until Luther.” First, what exactly are you saying here? Second, are you sure about the accuracy of your claim? There were reformers before Luther (Hus, Wycliffe for example), who did not officially break from the Church (well, Hus was executed), but still made similar arguments. Therefore, I think to suggest that there was some kind of monolithic view of faith and salvation prior to Luther is historically a bit naive. Also, what do you think the apostle Paul says about this? Ultimately, I think on both the Catholic or Protestant view, you still have to wrestle with what the text says.

I’d like to hear your responses to these points if you have time.


(Anthony Costello ) #16

Jennifer, it’s a terribly complex topic and one that is hard for even the best theologians to truly wrap their mind around. Both faith and some kind of works do seem necessary. It is hard to imagine a faith without good works to show for it, but then it is equally difficult to think that my good works earn something from God (let alone heaven).

Unfortunately, I think it would be both historically and theologically a bit naive to think that the fundamental doctrinal division that split up the church 500 years ago, namely the doctrine of Justification, has been somehow now resolved. I wish it were so, but I just don’t think that recent pronouncements have really solved the issue. As much as we would like to be ecumenical these days (and, to some degree as much as we actually can), I think the issue of Justification is more than just matters of words or semantics. Rather there seem to be real logical contradictions involved if one compares the traditional Protestant view of Justification over against the Catholic view.

It is true that cathecatical Catholic teaching agrees that initial justification is by God’s grace alone. One cannot earn one’s initial salvation. However, initial justification must be supplemented through good works lest it be lost. This is called progressive justification. Therefore, over time one continues to earn one’s salvation through the good works they do (e.g. receive the sacraments, do penance, acquire indulgences, perform the corporate works of mercy, etc.). In this way, a true Catholic cannot really _know_in any secure way if they are properly maintaining their progressive justification, and, subsequently, if they are truly saved. That said, the proper Catholic answer (and the one my conservative Catholic brothers always give me) to the question “are you saved?” would be something like “I hope so” or “I am being saved every day.” When I first became an Evangelical, my new pastor asked me at pastor’s class if I “knew I was saved?” I gave the typical (and I think correct) Catholic answer, “I hope so.”

In short, because of the Catholic requirement for one to continue to perform meritorious works in a process of continued justification (not sanctification, mind you), one can never really be assured of their salvation in Christ (even if they objectively might be so.) I lived this way for many years, and honestly, it did not go well, nor does it go well for Martin Luther. Perhaps it will not be the same experience for all Catholics, but perhaps some people are simply more tuned toward God’s grace than others. Hard to say, for sure.

in Christ,