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Do good works work?


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The question of whether good works are required by Christ for salvation is a vexing and long-standing matter of dispute between Catholics and many Protestants. While it would be utterly impossible to explain this issue adequately within this limited space, it is helpful for Catholics and Protestants both to consider these passages that tell us something about the role that good works play in Christ’s plan of salvation:

Matthew 7:21-26 -- ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven....’

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; ...And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand.”

Matthew 19:16-22 -- And behold, one 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? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”

Matthew 25: 31-41 --”When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

Romans 2:2-10 -- “We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing [i.e. in doing good works] seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

Galatians 5:4-6 -- “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.”

Philippians 2:12-13 -- “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 -- “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-- not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

James 2:14-17 -- “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

James 2:20-24 -- “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.

Revelation 2:26 -- “He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations ...”

And finally, notice that St. John reminds us that our faith must be accompanied by our good works: “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them....

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 3:21-24, 5:2).

Additional passages: Matt. 5:16; Luke 1:5-6; John 6:28; John 9:4, 14:22; Acts 9:36; Romans 3:20-28; Hebrews 10:24; Rev. 2:2-5, 2:19-23

Patrick Madrid is an author, public speaker and the publisher of Envoy Magazine. Visit his web site at www.surprisedbytruth.com

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