Many of you are, no doubt, familiar with the common-though by no means unanimous-Protestant belief that faith alone saves (sola fides). This belief did, of course, originate with Martin Luther. It was Luther who-by his own admission, and that of Protestant scholar Roland H. Bainton-added the word “alone” in between the words “faith” and “justifies” in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Luther defended this addition to Scripture by saying that that was what Paul was really meaning to say.
Aside from the obvious problem of Luther altering Scripture to fit his own interpretation, there is the additional problem that Luther’s interpretation was wrong. Paul never said, and did not mean to say that faith alone saves. In fact, a further examination of Scripture will reveal that the opposite is true.
Catholics can easily put this debate to rest by referring to James 2. It is here that James says that good works are an essential element of a Christian life. Good works are not simply a sign of a living faith. They’re not like a pulse in a human body. No, good works are the life of faith. Since, however, I started off with St. Paul, we shall stick to primarily examining his writings. I wish to mainly look at two particular passages. First, however, let us see what Jesus said.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says first that He is the truth. (Jn. 14:6) Later, during Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, He says that He came to bear witness to the truth. So, believing truth is essential to salvation. Yet, that alone isn’t enough. As James points out in the second chapter of his epistle, the demons believe in the truth, but they still languish in hell. Why? Because they don’t love the Truth. They possess a mental assent to the Truth (called a “fides fide informis” in Latin). But they don’t possess a “faith working through love”. (Gal. 5:6)
This is what is necessary for salvation. We must have a faith that is developed and worked out in love. Love is what is most important. Faith is simply the first step. If faith were more important, then Paul could not have placed love first among the Three Theological Virtues. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Now, if we truly possess love, we must show it. This is why good works are necessary. In fact, if we really love Jesus, we will desire to do good works! This doesn’t mean we will never sin. Everybody sins at some point. It simply means that the overall desire to do God’s will will be present in us; and when we sin, our conscience will let us know. When then will feel sorrow, and hopefully repent.
Look at it this way, good works are necessary if we truly love God, because true love is never passive. When you fall in love with another person, you realize (hopefully) that just saying you love them is not enough. Anyone can say they love someone. No, you must show you love that person by your actions and words. Why? The answer is that love is never passive.
God didn’t just tell the Hebrews He loved them, and then leave it at that! He showed His love through His blessings and, at times, His punishments. Jesus, likewise, didn’t just tell us He loves us. He showed by redeeming mankind through the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus died that we might live!
So the next time someone tells you that faith alone saves; good works aren’t essential to salvation; or that good works are merely a symbol of a living faith…explain it to them. Set the record straight. Show them that sola dudes is by no means a scriptural teaching. Then plead with them to come home to the church founded by Jesus Christ. Lead them home to the Catholic Church. The Church responsible for compiling and interpreting the Bible!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity