Previously in this space, I have mentioned that there is a particular verse in Scripture that Protestants most often use to argue in favor of “sola fide,” the idea that in order to obtain eternal salvation, all one needs to do is believe. The verse is Ephesians 2: 8-9, which reads “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.” I am currently reading a new book by former Protestant and Catholic Answers apologist Jimmy Akin titled The Drama of Salvation and he has a chapter titled “Faith, Works, and Boasting,” a direct reference to this Scripture verse. Naturally, my interest was piqued.
Now, of course, we Catholics believe that there is more to the gift of faith than to simply say we believe. This gift also includes the ability to repent and be forgiven. One can declare faith in Christ, and be quite sincere about it, but then, because of human weakness, concupiscence, etc., go on and commit deadly sins. Such a person, by Catholic standards, cannot be saved without repentance and forgiveness before death.
What is meant by “works” and “boast?” What are the “works” that Saint Paul refers to in this Scripture passage? Akin claims that there are two kinds of “works” evident in Saint Paul’s writings. One is works of the law and the other is works of mercy toward our fellow man. “Works of the law” refers to acts performed by Jews of the day that kept them in compliance with Jewish law and traditions, such as circumcision, eating kosher foods, etc. Jews that were in compliance with these laws claimed that their salvation was assured because of this compliance, boasting that they were saved by these works. In this Scripture passage, Saint Paul was warning them that, in the new covenant, salvation is by the gift of faith and not by their own doing … not by these works.
Christ gave us a defined path for the repentance and forgiveness that is required in the new covenant. He gave us the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Confession. After rising from the dead and before ascending into heaven, He said “Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” He gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins when the sinner repents. So, yes, we are saved by the gift of faith, but this gift of faith includes the gift of the sacraments when we need to have our sins forgiven.
My prayer for today: Lord, thank you for your precious gifts of our faith and the sacraments. Please help us to nourish our faith so that we can avoid serious sin and seek your forgiveness when we fail. Amen.