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Dan Copes wrote:

HI, guys —

My name is Dan. I do not have a strong theology back ground and occasionally I'll get challenged on my Catholic faith by a fellow worker. He keeps challenging me on his belief of faith alone and, in doing so, sent me his response (below) to the Romans 2:2-8 verse — eternal life by perseverance in good works — I sent him.

2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,

Romans 2:2-8

I could use your help.


If we start reading in Romans Chapter 1, we see Paul is addressing the church in Rome. He greets them and then proclaims justification through faith alone in verse 16; then he describes horrible sinners and what God does to them in verses 17-29 followed directly by Chapter 2 where he says that the church in Rome (strange coincidence) is just like those horrible sinners.

Paul was addressing their pride that stemmed from their Jewish heritage, and letting them know they were just like everyone else. Their salvation is not through their heritage but by faith and the evidence of that faith is a changed life (good works).

Your friend

Thank you,


  { Can you help defend my reply taken from Romans against his view on justification by faith alone? }

Eric replied:


Thanks for writing. This is an exciting topic and you'll find there is a lot to learn about the Catholic position. You might be surprised on some points.

First, you must get this CD set by Dr. Scott Hahn if you want to be educated about what St. Paul really means in Romans (Hint: It wasn't what the Reformers claimed). His series is called:

Romanism in Romans

This eye-opening set will go into detail that we can't go into here. Romans is a theologically dense book which assumes a lot of Jewish background that most people don't have so it takes time to pick through it.

Second, be sure to go through answers where we've already addressed this, in particular:

Third, here is an excellent explanation of things at:

The Nazareth Resource Library
Information on the Gospel, Salvation and other hot Catholic topics

There are several articles there on justification which you may find relevant.

Fourth, here is what I have to say:

He says, Paul proclaims justification through faith alone in Romans 1:16, but verse 16 says no such thing. I'm not even sure where he gets this from at all, since this verse says:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

In fact, Paul never says anywhere in Romans that we are justified by faith alone. Not only that, the only place in the Bible when the words faith alone are used in reference to justification is in James 2:24, when the idea is condemned!

24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The thrust of Paul's argument is that we are justified by faith apart from works of Law. We have to get to the heart of what Paul means by works.

  • Some people think he means good deeds — this was the main Reformation idea.
  • Some extend this to sacraments, so that baptism is considered a work.
  • Some even go so far as to consider cooperation with God a work and condemn any belief that we can cooperate in our own salvation.

Different translations will render this phrase works of Law differently but according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is a technical term that refers to the ceremonial rites of Judaism, especially circumcision. Paul is refuting Judaizers (i.e. those who want to force Gentiles to adopt the Jewish law, especially circumcision — see Acts 15:1) by proving that we are justified, not by the Mosaic Law, but by faith. Whenever Paul uses the term works in connection with salvation or justification, substitute Mosaic Law or circumcision, and you'll understand what he's referring to.

Paul's central argument is an illustration from Abraham's life and the time line it runs on in (Romans 4). It centers on two events:

  1. When it says Abraham was justified ("Abraham believed him, and it was credited to him as righteousness" — Genesis 15:6) and
  2. When it says he was circumcised (Genesis 17:10).

    Paul's argument to refute the Judaizers?

    Abraham was justified in (Genesis 15) before he was circumcised in (Genesis 17), ergo, justification is by faith apart from circumcision (Romans 4:10).

There are two things to note here. One is that Abraham starts following God in Genesis 12. God calls him, and Abraham, (here Abram), follows. He moves out of his country into a foreign land at God's command. Several times along the way, Abram builds an altar to the Lord (and presumably sacrifices, since that's what an altar is for). Abram gives a tenth of all his owns to a priest of God (Genesis 14:21). then, in Genesis chapter 15, it says that Abram was justified.

So let's go over the sequence:

  1. God calls Abram to move to a foreign land and he obeys.

  2. Abram sacrifices to God several times.

  3. Abram gives a tithe.

  4. Abram is justified.

If your friend is trying to prove that all we have to do when we hear the Gospel is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and we are, by that fact, justified. This is not the text to do it! and Paul, being a rabbi, a Pharisee, and a Jew would not take Scripture out of context.

The second thing to note is that James brings up another event on Abraham's life: when he offers his son in sacrifice (Genesis 22). James says that he is justified by that act (James 2:23-24).

Your friend's argument is that Paul is saying we are justified by simple trust in Jesus apart from good deeds, or sacraments, or cooperation with grace, or maybe all of these, but if you read Romans, you can see that he is not referring to any of these.

This also neatly handles the apparent contradiction between Paul and James. If you understand Paul's works to be good deeds, then naturally it is going to appear contradictory that Paul says we are justified apart from works, and James says we are justified by works but if Paul's works are works of the Mosaic law, James's works are clearly good deeds, and so there is no contradiction.

Now before I close, I have to be sure to set something straight. We, as Catholics, do not believe that we need to do a certain number of good deeds before we can be saved. Nor should we say we are saved by our good works. These are examples of the heresy of Pelagianism.

We believe, in the first place, that all is due to God's grace. We cannot be saved without God's grace, and God's grace goes before us to enable us to take every step along the path of salvation.

We believe that the justification of the wicked (which is the only type of justification spoken of when discussing this with Protestants), which we believe takes place in Baptism (John 3:5, Titus 3:51 Peter 3:20-21), is independent of any good deeds that we do. This is demonstrated by the fact that we believe that babies are justified by Baptism. They have done nothing to deserve their salvation, yet they are justified so if anyone accuses you of believing in salvation by works, point that out to them.

We also, however, believe in the justification of the just, which Protestants do not believe in.

As I pointed out, Paul says Abraham was justified when he believed God's promise, and James says he was also justified when he sacrificed Isaac. An argument can be made that this is the type of justification James is referring to.

I hope this helps!


John replied:


I'd like to add a few comments to the great answer Eric provided.

The Faith Alone verses Faith and Good Works argument usually boil down to semantics.

First and foremost, we are justified and saved by Grace alone. That Grace comes from Christ alone. Salvation is a free gift which we access through faith. Now the question becomes:

  • What is faith?

    • If by faith, we mean a belief which brings about obedience, then the terminology Faith Alone is acceptable. Although as Eric has said, it's not a formula taught in Scripture. If faith is, what faith does, we can say faith alone.
    • If by faith we mean a mental ascent to a proposition, then faith alone is not an acceptable formula to describe the mechanics of justification.

We should also acknowledge that many Catholics are misinformed with regards to this doctrine. They are under the impression that being a good person is sufficient to be justified before God. This is very much a works gospel which the Catholic Church condemns.

All our good works and obedience are themselves Grace.

We don't do good works in our own human righteousness, rather it is the righteousness of Christ which is infused in us when we are justified that brings about these good works, while all the time we retain our free will. We can choose to cooperate with Grace and do good works or we can choose not to avail ourselves of Grace and refuse to do good works. 

  • If we choose the former, we continue to grow in faith and our justification/sanctification matures.
  • If we choose the latter, our faith weakens and we, indeed, jeopardize our eternal destiny.

Paul writes the following in Romans 8:

12 So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — 13 for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Romans 8:12-16 (RSV)

Notice that Paul is writing to believers, calling them brethren. He then warns them not to live according to flesh, exhorting them to put to death the flesh by the Spirit. In other words, he urges us to respond to the on going grace being poured into our lives so that we might live.


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