Is Faith Alone Enough?

🌺  Written by Brittany Ann

Is Faith Alone Enough?

This post is post 4 in a series entitled Letting God Lead: My Journey Through Protestant and Catholic Beliefs. While you certainly can read this post by itself, I highly encourage you to check out the rest of the series as well. You can also find more about this series and a list of all of posts here. *This post contains affiliate links.

Of all of the issues I’ve been researching during My Journey Through Protestant and Catholic Beliefs, I think the issue of Faith vs. Works or Sola Fide is the one I’ve had to grapple with the most. Not because I have a hard time understanding or accepting the teachings of either side, but because it’s such a huge, messy and complex issue–it’s hard to really nail down.

 

What I mean is, with the Eucharist–it either is or is not the real Body and Blood. But with faith and works, figuring out exactly how the two mix together… and how much you need of both and why… well… it can get pretty tricky!

 

Protestant View: Faith Alone (Sola Fide)

 

Traditional Protestant belief (the way I was raised) would state that we are saved by faith ALONE. That while good works are nice and all, they have absolutely no bearing on our salvation. That we should do them, but if we don’t, it won’t affect our salvation at all.

 

As an analogy: When you get married, it is saying the words and signing the paper that actually make you married. Whether you are a good spouse or a bad spouse after the fact, it doesn’t change the fact that you are married. Being a good spouse will make your life happier and easier, but it won’t make you any more married than you were before.

 

Protestants base this belief off of Ephesians 2:8-9, which clearly states that we are saved by faith, not works.

 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 

Growing up, I never questioned this belief. After all, the verse is pretty clear and my analogy makes pretty good sense. But then I started on this journey, and I began to question everything.

 

Searching the Bible for Myself

 

So, in my questioning, I set out to search the Scriptures and see what the Bible REALLY says. At first I found a few verses that seemed to support the “faith alone” argument…

 

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” –Romans 3:28

 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16

 

But then as I kept reading, I started to find more and more verses where some type of work or good deed was an integral part of the equation. The number was almost overwhelming.

 

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” –Romans 2:6-7, 13

 

“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.‘” –Matthew 19:16-17

 

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.” –Matthew 19:29

 

And my favorite one of all…

 

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?… So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” –James 2:14, 17, 19, 21-26″

 

It’s easy to look at one verse of the Bible and come up with one conclusion, but when you look at the rest in context, another picture begins to emerge. And I’d say these verses make it pretty clear–works have to be a part of the equation somehow.

 

So, I set out to find out how.

 

The Truth About “Faith Alone” (Sola Fide)

 

You may be surprised to hear… nowhere in the original translation of the Bible do any of the writers teach “faith alone.” Rightly or wrongly, Martin Luther actually ADDED the word “alone” in his German translation of the Bible. It’s not in the original language. The verses say we need faith, but they do NOT say that faith is all we need, and they do not say what type of faith we need.

 

The devil’s in the details, right?

 

Clarification on Ephesians 2

 

What many people do not realize or understand about the text in Ephesians 2 is that Paul was NOT saying that NO works are necessary for salvation, but that you can’t earn your salvation yourself by being a “good person.”

 

If you start in verse 4, you read:

 

“But 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).” –Ephesians 2:4-5

 

Paul isn’t talking about earning our ticket to heaven after we are already “saved;” he’s talking about our ability to make the decision to follow Christ in the very first place. We don’t choose Christ because we earned it through doing all the right things. God chose us and raised us up while we were still sinners. The fact that we are able to believe AT ALL and in the first place are both acts of grace–not things we earn.

 

But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to live up to our calling after the fact.

 

 

For an absolutely FANTASTIC explanation on this topic, I highly, highly recommend listening to this video clip of Francis Chan. He’s non-denominational by the way, not Catholic, so I can’t say that for sure that it is 100% Catholic-approved, but it seems spot-on to me.

 

(Fast Forward to 29 min, 30 seconds. The first half an hour is all internal budget stuff. Very interesting, but not really relevant)

 

So it IS faith that saves us, but not just any kind of faith. It’s an active, living faith that goes on to produce good works. The works themselves don’t save you, but they do show what kind of faith you have.

 

Clarification on Catholic Beliefs

 

Many people mistakenly believe that the Catholic Church teaches that people are saved by their works. This is not true. The Catholic church expressly denounces the idea that people can be saved by works, apart from faith. (They also denounce the idea that people can be saved by faith alone, apart from works.)

 

Because this is such a complex issue, I met with a Catholic priest to discuss the matter further, and we came to an agreement that was pretty much in line with what the video above states. That faith IS what saves us, but not just any kind of faith. It has to be an active, living faith that naturally results in good works. It doesn’t matter for our salvation if we produce one or one hundred (or even zero) good works over the course of our lifetime, as long as we have the kind of faith that is growing and bearing fruit in our lives. It’s not the number that matters, but the direction.

 

(We spoke about purgatory and indulgences briefly too, but I’ll cover that in the post on purgatory, coming March 18th.)

 

And really, doesn’t that just make sense? If you REALLY, TRULY believed in Jesus, wouldn’t you naturally WANT to follow him? And of course, by follow Him, I mean keep his commandments and teachings.

 

After all, even the demons believe in God, so clearly just believing can’t be enough. Or all the demons would be Christians and go to Heaven too–and that doesn’t make any sense at all!

 

 

So at the end of the day it turns out that my original beliefs weren’t so far off after all. Works don’t save us–faith does–but that doesn’t mean that works don’t matter. Instead, our works are a really great indication of what kind of faith we have–and if we even have faith at all.

 

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions!! Leave me a note (or a book 🙂 ) in the comments section below!

 

 

10 Common Catholic Myths that Critics Believe

 

Enjoyed this post? Don’t miss the rest of the posts in the series!

 

The Day I Realized My Religion Got it Wrong

10 Common Catholic Church Myths that Critics Believe

Is the Eucharist Really Just a Symbol?

Is Faith Alone Enough?

Who has the Ultimate Authority? A Biblical Look at Sola Scriptura

A Brief Look at the History of Christianity

What All Christians Should Know About Priests, the Pope and Confession

What Do Catholics Really Believe About Mary, Saints and Statues?

Infant Baptism or Believer’s Baptism? Which is Correct?

What is Purgatory? What are Indulgences?

Why Do Catholics….? Honest Answers to Your Burning Questions

Protestant and Catholic Beliefs Series Conclusion

 

Resources

 

I’m not asking you to believe because I say so. Please DON’T take my word for it! The purpose of this series is only to share what I’ve learned on my journey in order to inspire you to begin a journey of your own. Here are a few helpful resources to get you started.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

The New Catholic Answer Bible

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic by Patrick Madrid

About the author

Brittany Ann is an author, speaker, and founder of EquippingGodlyWomen.com, a popular Christian-living website dedicated to helping women be “all in” in faith and family.

  1. Hi Brittany!

    You tackle another great topic with much thought and research and I admire all the prayer, time, and questioning that you are putting into this journey…May it continue to bring forth much fruit and faith.

    Just wanted to point out one typo that I must bring up since it is bothering me. In this line you wrote, “What I mean is, with the Eucharist–it either is or is not the real body and blood.” I think you need to capitalize “Body” and “Blood” because you are referring to Christ’s Body and Blood and anytime He is mentioned, His names are capitalized. I hope that makes sense and I hope I don’t sound like a “know it all” because that’s not my intentions. I just know that anytime the Eucharistic Christ is mentioned His Body and Blood is always in caps 🙂

    Also, I’ve never heard of Francis Chan before so after I listened to part of his video, I googled a little about him and came up with this post that you might find interesting. I know I did: “How Francis Chan Helped Me Become Catholic” https://frontierruminations.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/how-francis-chan-helped-me-become-catholic/

    God bless you on your continued journey to seek truth and understanding!

    1. Fixed! Thank you. And no, you don’t sound like a “know it all” — that’s just one of those little details I haven’t learned yet. (And on a related note–loved that “what they don’t teach you in RCIA” article. I actually had heard most everything on the list, but that type of article is DEFINITELY needed. I wonder if I could find the same thing in book form? lol)

      And thanks for the links 🙂

  2. Thank you for tackling what can be an emotionally charged topic for many Christians.

    As a cradle Catholic, I have always wondered what some Protestants believe: Can an ax murderer automatically go to heaven – no matter what he has done – by just “accepting Jesus as his Lord and Savior”? If that is true, why do we need the 10 Commandments? Why do we have any moral code if belief and acceptance is all it takes?

    The important thing that I really appreciate you stressing is that Catholics do NOT believe good works earn you heaven. That is completely false. This is not a points system. It’s a hard concept to understand, but we have to be clear on that. So, thank you.

    To be honest, this whole concept shows how differently people handle sin. From my experience, many Protestants believe that sin doesn’t separate us from God – that him dying on the cross was a one time deal and now we’re free to live our lives as we want. But the Catholic Church has a different concept bringing in the free will God gave us by which we can choose to accept his will for us or go against it.

    Thank you for continuing this series – looking forward to upcoming posts!

    1. Beliefs vary. Some protestants believe that once you are saved (“justified”), you are always saved no matter what since salvation rests on what God did, not what we do. Others believe that you could be saved, but then lose your salvation later if you turn your back on God. Others believe that if you later turn away, you were never really saved in the first place.

      Growing up, I would have said that it depends. If the ax murderer was not a Christian, repented and became a Christian, he would go to Heaven. All his previous sins would not count against him anymore. If he was a Christian, but then he walked away and became an ax murderer, he probably would not. But I don’t know that I believe that your very last work will always trump everything else you did in your life before then (what if he was always a good Christian and then went crazy right at the very end?) — which is why God is the judge–not me!

      Does that help at all?

    2. Please feel free not to post this comment if I’m intruding myself in a conversation I shouldn’t be. I won’t be offended, for in full disclosure, I’m a man and a Protestant. These Catholic-Protestant conversations have fascinated me for years though, so this blog interests me. Having been raised in a Baptist/Presbyterian environment, I grew up believing (and still believe) in the principle of once saved/always saved–a principle Brittany accurately describes so far as I can tell. I wanted to also add to and support Brittany’s suggestion that such a principle doesn’t mean Protestants like me believe someone can live any way they want and still be considered a Christian. I do believe that if someone (we can call him John Doe) is in Christ, no sin can then cancel his salvation, as his salvation depends on the work of Christ, not his own. That said, the Bible is clear that Christians are known by their fruits. If John Doe claims to be in Christ then becomes an unrepentant axe murderer, I think it biblically fair to conclude that he never came to a truly saving knowledge of Christ in the first place. Of course, we have to also take into account possibilities of mental illness, etc., so it is difficult to truly know the heart of another in this life, but suffice it to say that Protestants in denominations like the ones I attend believe that our salvation depends on Christ’s work and cannot be cancelled by our sin, but that if we are truly Christian, the work of Christ in us will produce good works. If those good works are totally absent during the course of our lives, we have no right to assume we are in fact Christian and should re-examine our hearts. According to our beliefs, the source of our justification is God’s grace through Christ’s work, the vehicle is the faith that Christ awakens in us, and the evidence is the fruit that such faith produces. Hence, we conclude our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but that faith without works is indeed dead, as true faith inevitably produces good works. We just think that those good works don’t really contribute to our justification, which we hold is achieved by the work of Christ alone.

      1. By, all means, comment away! I think this really helps clarify the belief–as I’ve heard Catholics ask before how Protestants can possibly believe they can just go do whatever they want and live however they want and still go to Heaven.

        What do you say to 1 John 5:16-17, then, which says that some sins lead to death while others do not? “If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”

      2. I would have to research those verses in 1 John more to give a good answer, but a quick scan of commentary suggests that some Protestants interpret “a sin that leads to death” as referring to complete and total rejection of Christ and His Gospel. Not in the sense of someone who simply meets a missionary and doesn’t believe, but in the sense of someone who knew about the faith, outwardly accepted the faith and was part of the visible church, then turned from outward profession of faith with eyes wide open. Such an act deliberately rejects the only path to life and truly does lead to death. Indeed, this sin would be different than that of a believer who, though justified by Christ, is struggling with a sin and whose heart is drawn to repentance because Christ is in his or her life. Based on the view of once saved/always saved, we could not have confidence that the first person will gain spiritual life, because he or she apparently didn’t have it in the first place despite temporary outward profession, has rejected the only path to life, and is on the path of death. For the second person, we could pray with confidence for God to grant them life, because if they are indeed a child of God, He will lead them to repentance of whatever sin they are struggling with. I admit, though, that I may be mistaken in my opinion on these verses in 1 John, as I’ve not studied the verses there very deeply and acknowledge my thoughts as expressed could be flawed and could misrepresent the Baptist/Presbyterian view I’m attempting to express. What would the Catholic interpretation of these verses be?

      3. I believe it is used to point out that some sins (mortal sins) can separate us from the body of Christ and put our salvation at risk, while others (venial sins) do not. Mortal sins have to be serious, you know that they are wrong, and you are doing them of your own free will. Examples: murder, adultery, robbery. Venial sins are any sins that don’t meet one or more of those three qualifications, such as telling a white lie to protect your spouse’s feelings, cheating on a test, losing your temper.

        While you wouldn’t want to commit any sin, it only makes sense that some sins are more serious than others. A child stealing a cookie cannot possibly be the same amount of wrong as a serial killer intentionally murdering several people.

      4. DCal90 this quote from your reply: “I … believe that our salvation depends on Christ’s work”
        Catholics believe this too 100%

        “and cannot be cancelled by our sin”
        This is very unbiblical, and contradicts what Jesus says in certain instances, and especially what Paul tells us, along with 1 John.
        A huge chunk of Paul’s letters is dealing with Christians that have fallen into sin. He makes a very clear list of those that “will not inherit the Kingdom of God”, after they have fallen into sin. All those sins in that list ARE Mortal sins that 1 John mentions, since Paul makes it very clear that those people will NOT inherit salvation.
        The OSAS as is normally called (Once Saved Always Saved) is one of the most dangerous late development beliefs within Protestantism because it creates a false assurance. Some, both Catholic and Protestant, go so far as to say that it is totally diabolical (personally, I agree).

        If we sin, but do NOT REPENT, we may think we are ‘saved’ and ‘be assured’ that we are saved, and yet reach the end-of-the-line and find ourselves going down instead of up. Even repentance has different levels. Someone may have a complete change of life, while others continue to struggle with the sin and need to be continuously repenting and praying until they can overcome it and “sin no more”.

        “but that if we are truly Christian, the work of Christ in us will produce good works.”
        Catholics also believe this 100%.

      5. Brittany and Antonio, thank you so much for your thoughtful replies and your patience with my comments. I realize I come to this blog as an outsider, and naturally, as a Protestant, I disagree with some of the distinction between mortal and venial sins in regard to justification. My understanding of the New Testament and, indeed, the Old, is that any sin whatsoever separates us from our perfect God, unless it is covered by the blood of Christ. Hence the rigidity of Old Testament law, which pointed Israel (and, by implication, us) to our need for Christ due to inability to keep it, and hence the teachings of Christ Himself, where we learn that even thoughts of adultery or hateful insults make us guilty in the eyes of God. That said, I do agree that some sins are more hardened and more serious than others and evidence a more open rejection of Christ than others. Antonio, I know we’ll disagree on some of my statements above, but I did want to note a few points too where I think we agree more than perhaps either of us realize. I fully subscribe to the once saved/always saved view, but I agree with you that this is taken by some Protestants to an extreme. Too often, some Protestants convey, either deliberately or inadvertently, the idea that anyone who has prayed the sinner’s prayer is in Christ, whatever the rest of that person’s life looks like. Like you, I absolutely stand against that idea, as the New Testament is clear that the fruits in someone’s life are evidence for or against their salvation. I think where we disagree is in our interpretation of a fruitless life. I would hold that when Paul and others in the Bible speak of those in the visible church who will not go to Heaven, they are speaking of those who were, whatever their outward professions, never truly Christian in the first place. As their lives progress, their true identity manifests itself. No unrepentant sinner can ever be confident in his salvation, even if, in some point in the past, he has prayed the sinner’s prayer. And I think we also agree that repentance is something that should continue in a Christian’s life–every time he or she sins. That repentance is further evidence of Christ’s work in a person’s life, and when a person remains unrepentant and unconcerned by their sin, we should question whether or not they are truly in Christ. The once saved/always saved view is one that does teach security for a Christian in regard to his or her salvation, but it should never be used to imply that a Christian need not be concerned about sin.

    3. I have really enjoyed this conversations and appreciate that we can do it in love..I am a Protestant and will share from my view. There seems to be a misconception that someone can say a magical prayer and now there and can live any old way they choose.This is simply not true.Man is spiritually dead,a slave to sin,no capacity in his will to come to Him. We must be drawn,granted,given life.People are elected Eph. 1, Rom 9 ,
      The 10 commandments are given to show us we are law breakers, and that it is impossible to keep them. But Our Savior fulfilled the Law. So the law points us to the perfect Savior who could keep all the commandments.
      If Abraham was justified by faith, and this is what we see in Eph. 2:8,9 Then it’s not by any works of the law, any deeds do not get us saved or keep us saved. We have been forgiven as far as the east is from the West.What sins of tomorrow did Jesus not die for? We all would agree we will sin until the day we die. God does not weigh our good and bad on a scale . They have been paid in Full.If a man is converted,Born again, He is a new creation. He cannot and will not be the same. Perfect? no but will live in a new direction.He will have fruits showing that he has been saved. A person who claims Christ but has no fruits will not be saved.I am honestly just trying to follow god and His Word. Not to a burden on man that he has to “do” to make God happy or pleased. He is completely pleased in Christ. If we are in Him then he is pleased with us. Again if we have been given life we now live as a new creation for His Glory not FOR good works,but since we have been saved we will bring forth works.If I am wrong I want to be corrected. i don’t want to hold to a false Gospel if it’s not true. Thanks for listening to my rambles.

      1. Sounds like we’re on the same page here! yay!! 🙂

        (Catholics would say *for* good works. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on 🙂 We are saved. We naturally good good works as a result. If we aren’t–something’s wrong. We don’t do them to earn salvation/justification (which we already have), but because our faith naturally produces them as a result/we WANT to.)

  3. Love this post and love Francis Chan. I am another one who believes we are saved by faith alone, but that faith should produce good works in your life. I know people who say they “believe”, but really don’t show it by the way they live and I find myself questioning that.

    1. I do too. I mean, I know we are all guilty of not doing all of the good works we should. But if someone shows NO evidence that they believe and it makes NO difference in their life–do they really believe? I think it has to manifest in some way to count.

  4. The best way to put all three elements together, Grace, Faith, and Works (Love) is by understanding that everything is started by God’s grace and depends on my response to that grace. My free-will provides the critical element to whether I choose to cooperate or not. If I cooperate with God, I am allowing His grace to move and transform me, and faith (trust in God no matter what) is critical for me to take the plunge and cooperate with Him, especially in things that are difficult to understand.

    The more I cooperate with God’s grace, the greater the transformation that takes place within me (God’s work), and God perfects/sanctifies me (Mat 5:48) . This change leads me to do good works (be charitable to others), and all of it is caused by God’s Grace.

    Just as I mentioned about the metaphysical change that took place with the Incorruptibles in the previous Eucharist talk, who don’t decay after death, this is solely accomplished by God’s Grace.

    So the full understanding of Catholicism in a sentence is:
    BY THE GRACE OF GOD, we are saved through our faith; this faith entails by its very nature, good works, always enabled by prior grace, without which it is dead.

  5. Such great discourse of faith versus works. Proper exegesis is always important when reading out of the scripture.

  6. As I was reading this my mind was blown. (Grew up catholic, switched to Methodist, just recently went back to Catholic Church.) Then I remembered the teaching of crowns. Build up your crowns in heaven, there are lots of verses. It’s taught with great care in the Methodist church, so as to not be mistaken for works. But I think it can relate and the verses you point out bring it full circle. Thanks for this series!

    1. Mind-blowing, huh? That’s the best compliment I’ve had on this series yet 🙂 I’m not sure how you could separate works from doing things to get crowns…. but I’ll have to investigate the verses more. And you’re welcome!

  7. I came across this in morning prayer today: “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:27

  8. Read also Matthew 25:31-46. Super powerful. Those who did not give food to the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the ill and visit the imprisoned will “go off to eternal punishment.” Those are strong word from Jesus about our faith expecting to be active with works.

  9. Still reading along with your series here, Brittany, and enjoying taking the journey with you. It is interesting to me that so much of the divide between Protestants and Catholics that you are exploring here remains in the ‘misunderstood’, ‘misquoted’, and ‘misinterpreted’. The Sola Scriptura approach is broken open when we learn things like “Luther just added the word *alone* on his own”. And the misnomer of working your way to Heaven is broken open when we look at the heart of all things that are authentically married to each other – faith and works being no different. It might seem funny, but the phrase that was called to mind when you wrote “faith IS what saves us, but not just any kind of faith. It has to be an active, living faith that naturally results in good works”…. was one from America’s founding fathers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”. That good works would naturally arise from a living faith seems to make sense in that context for me. Anyhow, thank you again for thinking “out loud” on this one.

    1. It’s amazing what you learn when you actually dive in for yourself instead of just taking people’s word for things! Thanks for coming along for the ride!

      1. Hope, something that catches my attention about the “sola scripta” approach is that… it is not in scripture.
        If such concept intents to establish that concepts out of scripture are not valid… then it ends up ruling itself out. I believe that’s called a circular thinking. Yet another reason I found hard to swallow the Sola Scripta approach.

        Hope it helps on the journey for truth. Self reading and praying with a Humble mind and a humble heart… and God will keep His promise to meet us.

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