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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Grace, Faith, or Works?

Since I've had this discussion on whether we are saved by grace, faith, or works many times during my journey into the Catholic Faith, I thought I'd address the question here. Actually, the idea of this post started during today's Gospel reading.

In today's Gospel we heard the story of Jesus' healing of Jairu's daughter and the woman with a hemorrhage. Mark obviously presents this story the way he does in order to focus on the healing power of faith in Christ. However, from my personal experience it seems that we tend to focus on the raising of the girl from the dead and skim over the woman with the hemorrhage.
Mark 5: 25-34

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, "If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured." Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to him, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."
This passage gives the perfect opportunity to take a single line of scripture, "Daughter, your faith has saved you", out of context and make the "saved by faith" arguement. But something very important happens in this story. The woman commits a "work". She reaches out to Christ. She could have had all the faith in the world that if she touched Jesus' clothes that she would be healed. But the healing didn't take place until she put her faith in action. James tells us that faith without works is dead.
James 2: 17-26

So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, "You have faith and I have works." Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works. You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble. Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God." See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Growing up Southern Baptist I was taught, but never really believed, that once you were "saved" nothing else need be done. When I was told that we were saved by grace, I had no problem. When I was told that we found faith through God's grace, I had no problem. But when it came down to faith alone without the need for works, I had a problem. Christ warns us in Revelation about being lukewarm and having a false sense of security.
Revelation 3: 15-17

"I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,' and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
We shouldn't fall into a false sense of being "rich" with salvation after walking down an aisle and making a profession of faith and saying a prayer with a preacher (in other words and "alter call" or "invitation" in many Protestant churches). Christ tells us that he KNOWS our works and will spit us out.

All throughout the Bible (read the stories of Noah, Abraham, Lot, the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc) we see stories of people to whom God extended his grace. They had faith in Him and did works to show their faith. Their faith and works were enabled by the grace of God. God pours out his grace on mankind, it is up to us by our God-given free will to respond to his grace with faith AND works.


James said...

I've always viewed it as we must have God's grace reach through to save us. At say that appointed time God quickens one's heart in any number of ways, including being witnessed to we must respond with faith and confession. Afterward, as one grows closer (not santification - I don't believe in the idea of complete santicfication) works are an evidence of one's faith. Works are a necessary extension of one's faith. For example, if one truly believes the Gospel and God's laws how can you not spread the good message and be obedient while calling yourself God's child?
I believe a lack of works is indeed sin, especially when one feels compelled by conscience or Holy Spirit, however you wish to look at it. Paul does define sin as not doing what one knows he should do. So, a lack of works creates separation between man and God.

My real question surrounds the area of must we be completely sinless or does God cover our sins as long our hearts are broken and contrite. I don't mean in a long term sense...

Chris said...

If it was possible for us to be completely sinless there would be no reason for Christ to have come to Earth and died on the cross. We are born with original sin and therefore have no real hope of living a life without the stain of sin. That isn't to say that we have a license to go do what we will, just that we shouldn't be self-loathing and self-destructive because of our sin. God recognized our sin and sent his Son for us. We also must recognize that we are sinners and turn to Christ for the strength to resist tempations of sin and for forgivness when we fail.

From what I understand (and may someone will see this and have a better explanation) the moment you are truely sorry for some sin and ask God for his forgivness you are forgiven. However, you should still seek the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible, especially in matters of mortal sin. This is the method ordained by Christ, John 20:21-23.

"(not santification - I don't believe in the idea of complete santicfication)" - James
Hmm, maybe we should talk about purgatory sometime.

James said...

I don't think you understand me. I am talking about the question of getting of into heaven immediately after having, say cursed out you grandmother or having sinned in anger, something of that nature. I have the question does God's grace cover that if you died instantly after beating up grandma.

I believe in santification in protestant terms just not complete santification where you gain complete victory over sin and temptation. I stop just short of the Wesleyan perspective.

Chris said...

Are you asking what happens if you die immediately after committing some big sin? We can't know what happens in the moment of death. Maybe at the moment of death the sinner, through God's grace, realizes his sin, is repentant, and gains salvation. Maybe not. We can't really know.

And taking death out of the equation. God's grace is always there. He doesn't abandon us. So, yes God's grace is there for us immediately after, during even, committing some sin. But we must be truely repentant to receive forgiveness.

Moonshadow said...

The original post is excellent ... and I read with the purpose of finding something to correct! Alas, there is no way to improve upon what you wrote.

This is not a question of "works," per se, but of "merit".

And, of course, I think that the Catholics have it right and the Protestants are shortchanging themselves.

Look at the Catholic understanding of "merit" from two perspectives, from a Catholic and from a Reformed Protestant. The latter criticizes an article in This Rock by Mark Shea, "The Meaning of Merit", October 1995.

Just a caveat: the bigoted Reformed author of the second article no doubt held Mark Shea in as much contempt when Shea was an Evangelical as he does now that Shea is a Catholic. In my experience, adherents to the Reformed tradition find reason to despise all the other traditions, even Lutheran.

Greg Long said...

Do you remember the saying-

Practice without theory is like a tree without roots.
Theory without practice is like a tree without shoots.

substitue "Faith" for Theory and "Works" for Practice and the result is just as accurate.