“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”

I’ve been mulling over the idea of sola fide for the last 36 hours or so and have been having a difficult time finding an authentic Catholic response, though I know there is one. Having previously been a firm sola-fide-ist, and now being a firm anti-sola-fide-ist, I knew there had to have been a logical and concrete answer to have swayed my opinion so sharply. I just forgot what it was. I’ve been pouring over St. Paul and St. James, trying to come to a clear and concise Scriptural defense against faith alone. All I had was James 2, and I knew I would need more than that.

Then it dawned on me: why not go to Jesus? What does Jesus have to say about justification, about eternal life? So I looked to the rich young man and I asked the same question:

“Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”

-Matthew 19:16

Clearly Martin Luther missed this passage because Jesus doesn’t say, “nothing, just have faith.” Jesus says:

“If you would enter life, keep the commandments…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.”

-Matthew 19: 17, 18-19

Wait, so, what? I don’t have to just believe in my heart that Jesus is Lord and confess on my lips that Jesus is the Christ? I actually have to obey the commands? Yes. That is what Christ says. He elaborated this before during the Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”

-Matthew 5:17-19

I do not claim to know what all Jesus wants to accomplish, but I do know that heaven and earth have not passed away yet, so the law has not either. This law is still in effect. The commands are still commands not suggestions. If we truly are saved by faith, like the Protestant says, what is the point of the Bible anyways? Why give a rip about what Jesus has to say, what he teaches? Aren’t they more like suggestions anyways? And Paul? Don’t give a hoot when he talks about marriage, living righteously, having a unified faith, its all just a nice thought, but not necessary.

Many would like to say that the Catholic Church makes salvation too hard. That we take away from the merits of Christ by teaching salvation by grace by faith through works. But I hate to break it to you, salvation is not supposed to be easy, Jesus says so himself:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

-Matthew 7:13-14

The way to salvation is hard. It requires endurance, purity, faithfulness, obedience. It requires us to love and serve God, not ourselves. We fool ourselves if we think that simply having faith will do us any good, for even the devil and the demons have faith in God, for that is why they carry out their ministry of temptation, they know what God can do for us. Their faith cannot save them for it does not manifest itself in works of charity.

Our faith is in vain if we do not perform works of love. We will suffer the consequences for disobedience. And if our works of love are not done out of faith in Christ, they are nothing more than nice deeds. We will burn for our rejection of Christ, our lack of faith, despite our good works. I won’t quote St. James here, but we all know what he says. We cannot choose faith or works, while rejecting the other. Both are made possible only through the graces provided by Jesus Christ crucified. We must choose both together if we want to spend our eternity with Jesus Christ.

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5 thoughts on ““Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”

  1. You always have to be careful finding some Scripture that supports your argument while ignoring other Scripture that contradicts it. I know there is plenty of Scripture saying the Law is still in effect, but there is also substantial Scripture on the other side.

    For instance, Romans 7:1-6 envisions the Law like a marriage contract. Marriage lasts until one partner dies: after death, the surviving partner is free from the marriage and can marry another. Paul says in vs. 4-6:

    “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

    In addition, I don’t think Protestantism as a theology says “faith only” so that we can break whatever law we want willy-nilly (individual Protestants, of course, commit their own sins theologically). If you truly love somebody (God) you won’t break the law, even if you don’t suffer a penalty. In relationships, like marriage, partners sin against each other all the time, but that doesn’t dissolve the relationship or the marriage. Forgiveness gets rid of those infractions.

    I think if you look at Scripture alone it’s hard to say definitively that the Catholic way or the Protestant way is the right way, since there are, *gasp!* contradictions in the Scripture. You, however, as a Catholic, defer to an outside source (the Church) to sort through those contradictions. I think that’s an important part of your argument that you need to include, for if you try to argue with Protestants based on the Bible alone, chances are they will always find a way to counter your argument. After all, the Bible is all they have, and many Protestants know the Bible very well.

    Peace,
    Dennis

    • All very welcome input. I’d agree that there is Scripture that sits on both sides of the fence. However, Scripture needs to be interpreted holistically, and I know that I did not illustrate this fully in those short, quickly put together post. I definitely committed the sin of only taking the verses that seem to support my idea while ignoring those that seem to contradict it. I think the there are a few things here that this post was meant to illustrate, but completely failed to do, which was my own fault.

      The first is that the “faith alone” interpretation does not sit well at all with the words of Jesus Christ. If we were to sit at the feet of the Savior with the multitudes while he taught on the Mount or at the synagogues, we would hear nothing like “faith alone.”

      The second is that I believe the words of Christ trump the words of Paul, not the other way around. We should not choose Paul’s words over Jesus. Paul should be interpreted in light of Christ. Christ said clearly, time and time again, that we must follow the Law to reach eternal life. Paul’s words should be read and interpreted with these words of Christ echoing in our souls.

      I know that faith alone theology doesn’t intend to allow us to break whatever law we want to, but in essence it does. It ultimately take our own will, our own power to choose, our own power to love, our own power as images of God to imitate God, out of the equation of salvation, and places 100% of it on Christ alone. Therefore nothing we can do can merit salvation, and nothing we can do can demerit salvation. This is the logical end to the theory, whether its what Luther intended for or not. But if one doesn’t really believe that works have no part in salvation, they really shouldn’t use the term “faith only.” But once one does that, they kind of sound Catholic, and lets face it, that’s most Protestant’s worst nightmare, to be associated with anything Rome. It’s a lose-lose situation for the Protestant.

      Ultimately, it comes down to the issue of interpretation of the passages. Then the same question comes up: how does one know that one has the right interpretation? Who has the authority to make such definitive interpretations? Is it important to know the right interpretation on such an important and fundamental issue? I can’t force one to accept the answers I’ve accepted, but, I am firmly convinced that if one seeks the answers with an open mind and an open heart, they will come to the same conclusions that I have, the same conclusions that numberless Church fathers have come to, that numerous Saints and martyrs have died for, and that is that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which is headed by Peter and the Bishops, has the keys of heaven and the ability to bind and loose, as commanded by our Master, and therefore, can be fully trusted on this issue.

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