“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24)
Salvation by faith and works—a doctrine of Roman Catholicism
In November of 1544, in the northern Italian community of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church convened its 19th ecumenical council. The Council of Trent officially lasted from December of 1545 through December of 1563. During that time the Church intensified its ongoing affront on Protestantism by codifying Catholic dogma in unprecedented fashion, in matters ranging from the strategic place of the sacraments to the doctrines of transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the efficacy of relics. Tradition was declared coequal to Scripture as a basis for authority.
Perhaps most significant was the Roman Catholic Church's claim that salvation and justification were the result of works as well as faith.
Canon 9 of the Council of Trent states categorically,
"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining [of] the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema."
Canon 14 states:
"If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema."
What does the Bible say?
Romans 3:20—"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin."
Romans 3:28—"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."
Titus 3:5—"He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."
But the Council of Trent met a long time ago. Hasn't Rome since modified its position?
"Has Rome's position changed? In fact it has not. The Vatican II documents as well as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church reinvoke the theological position of the Council of Trent, condemning the gospel of justification by an imputed righteousness" (Michael Horton, Founder & President of Christians United for Reformation, 1995).
“Paul clearly teaches that we are justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 1:17). …James declares, 'Was not Abraham our father justified by works' (2:21). …James and Paul would be contradictory if there were speaking about the same thing, but there are many indications in the text that they are not. Paul is speaking about justification before God, while James is talking about justification before humans.
This is indicated by the fact that James stressed that we should 'show' (2:18) our faith. It must be something that can be seen by others in 'works' (2:18-20). Further, James acknowledged that Abraham was justified before God by faith, not works, when he said, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousnes' (2:23). When he adds that Abraham was 'justified by works' (v. 21), he is speaking of what Abraham did that could be seen by people, namely offer his son Isaac on the altar (2:21-22).
…Paul is stressing the root of justification (faith); James is stressing the fruit of justification (works). …works as the proof of faith.” [Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (SP Publications, 1992), p. 528.]
Learn the basic purpose of God's Law
“God, being a perfect God, had to give a perfect Law, and the Law was given not to save men, but to measure them. I want you to understand this clearly, because I believe hundreds and thousands stumble at this point. They try to save themselves by trying to keep the Law, but it was never meant for men to save themselves by.” D.L. Moody
What about James 2:24 (“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” James 2:24, NKJV.)
“…James is dealing with people who profess to be Christians, and yet they don't evidence the reality of their faith by their works [deeds]. Over, and over again… people will say they have faith and they don't have works, and James is saying that real faith always produces works as a result… The question is, 'A man may say that he has faith, but will that faith justify him?' If it is just a 'said' faith”—no, it won't!” (D. James Kennedy in“Irreconcilable Differences,” a roundtable discussion and television broadcast, Ft. Lauderdale FL, 1995)
What did Martin Luther say?
Luther called justification by faith alone (sola fide) “the article upon which the Church stands or falls.”
Are there biblical problems with other Roman Catholic beliefs?
Try reconciling I Timothy 2:5 — “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” — with the longstanding Catholic tradition of praying to Mary, illustrated by the following Prayer to the Blessed Virgin (supposedly "Never Known to Fail"), typical of those published in many local newspapers:
“Oh, most beautiful flower of Mt. Carmel, Fruitful vine, Splendor of Heaven. Blessed Mother of the Son of God, Immaculate Virgin, assist me in this necessity. Oh Star of the Sea, Help me and show me herein you are my Mother. Oh, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, I humbly beseech thee from the bottom of my heart to succor me in this necessity. There are none that can withstand your power. Oh show here you are my Mother. Oh, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee (3 times). Thank you for your mercy to me and mine. Amen. This prayer must be said for 3 days. The request will be granted. This prayer must be published.”
For Further Reading
- Faith Alone, R.C. Sproul (Baker Books, 1995).
- The Gospel According to Rome, J.G. McCarthy (Harvest House, 1995).
- Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, Rhodes (Harvest, 2000).
More about salvation…
More about Roman Catholicism and the Bible…
Author: Daryl E. Witmer of AIIA Institute.
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