Saved for Good Works
October 27, 2019
Five hundred and two years ago this week, a lone monk posted 95 topics of debate for the church of that day (what we now know as the Roman Catholic church). He didn’t want to bring down that church; he simply wanted to reform it. His topics set in motion the creation of a new church of protesters, called the Protest-ant Church — a church of which you and I are members.
We need to remember that the debate between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics in the Reformation was not over grace, faith, and Christ — the debate was triggered by the word alone. The question was whether there was anything a man could do to bring about or enhance his salvation. Much of the debate, then, was around the topic of works — what is the role of works in the salvation of an individual?
The debate is not over. There is still a vast chasm between what Rome believes and what we believe. Notice how RC explains a believer’s cooperation with grace to merit salvation:
Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church.… [my emphasis]
The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, so that the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit.… [author’s emphasis]
Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods like health and friendship can be merited in accordance with God’s wisdom. These graces and goods are the object of Christian prayer. Prayer attends to the grace we need for meritorious actions. [author’s emphasis] [Catechism, §2003, 2008, 10.]
So the believer is equipped (and required) to provide his own merit to achieve his own salvation. He can do things that provide atonement and freedom for his own sin.
Further, he can also provide merit for the sins of others through indulgences. These indulgences are “a remission…of temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” [§ 1471.]
In this “Treasury” are the works of Christ and
“…the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.” [§ 1477.]
How are these indulgences received?
“An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins.…
“Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.” [§1478-9.]
So the self-sufficient, self-righteous, meritorious work of sinners that Luther and the other Reformers fought against, as a form of Pelagianism is alive and well today. The popular belief is that man is scarred by sin, but not mortally wounded and dead. He has a form of life that enables him to achieve merit before the Lord. And he has enough merit left over that he can even attribute some of his righteousness to the accounts of others so that they can be released from their temporal punishment in Purgatory more quickly.
Can our works do this? No. Then what is the role of works in salvation (or is there a place for works)? Works are an essential part in the equation of salvation — but not in the manner suggested by Roman Catholicism. Here is how Paul says it in Ephesians 2:10 —
God has saved us by an act of re-creation to live holy lives.
God has saved us not by means of our good works, but He has saved us — who are incapable of good works — so that we might live a life of godliness and good works. This passage is Paul’s definition of what it means to be a Christian. This verse offers three hallmark declarations of our salvation — three reformation truths (not of the Reformation, but for the reformation of our own lives and hearts).
- God Saved Us
- God Saved Us to Do Good Works
- God Saved Us for the Purpose of Living Holy Lives
Download the rest of this sermon on Ephesians 2:10.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website by tomorrow.