Grace, Faith, Love
... & Works
Salvation, at it’s core, is everlasting life in the presence of God. In other words, it is a relationship. Our relationship with God was damaged by original sin -along with our actual sin- in a way that we are incapable of repairing on our own. This relationship was renewed, however, through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We are thus justified through the merit earned by Christ, salvation that comes through Jesus alone (Acts 4:12), since he is the “one mediator between God and man” (1 Tm 2:5-6). The saving grace won by Jesus is offered as a free gift to us, accessible through repentance, faith, and baptism. This new relationship, called a “covenant”, can be compared to the modern relational concepts of marriage or adoption.
Our ‘marriage’ to Christ begins with our Baptism. Through our Baptism, we become members of the Church, which is the Bride of Christ. We also become adopted children of God the Father. Through this adoption in Baptism, God pours out His Holy Spirit upon us, declaring us His children, just as He did for Christ in Matt 3:17. Baptism thus renews us, filling us with the grace necessary to have faith and to live it. The graces given in Baptism are not something we earned by any actions of our own -we can not baptize ourselves. Rather, they are offered freely by God just as He offers His hand freely in marriage. However, it is up to us to respond to this grace and accept His hand in marriage. Just as we cannot demand salvation based on our own merits as something “earned”, neither will God force Himself upon us. Rather, both parties must offer their love freely.
However, just like marriage, we must continue to work and respond to the graces given to us by God. While a wedding is a one time event, a marriage is a life-long journey (Luke 15:11–32, Rom. 11:22, Rom. 13:11, Gal. 5:4, 1 Cor. 6:9–10, 1 Cor. 9:27). At Baptism, we were married to Christ, but we must continue to be married to Christ, and hopefully will remain married to Christ. In other words, we have been saved, we are still being saved, and hopefully will be saved. Nothing can snatch us from His hand (John 10:28), but -because God will never force Himself upon us- we can choose to leave His hand by either denying /losing our faith or by choosing sin over Him (see Romans 11:22). Also, like marriage, there are stipulations and expectations that God has placed on this gift that He offers. Simply because there are expectations placed on a marriage, it does not mean that the love offered by you is no longer a free gift… anymore than if those expectations are met by a person means that person has “earned” the right to your hand in marriage in the sense that it is “owed” thus forcing you to marry them. Such a marriage would be considered invalid. The idea that God requires something of us before granting us the gift of salvation should be obvious by the fact that, while God loves all of His children and wishes all of them to be saved (Acts 10:35, 1 Tim 2:4), not everyone will be saved. Christ merited salvation for all of us, -something we could not do on our own- and then offers salvation freely to us, but only if we are willing to accept the stipulations. He does not place these stipulations as something for Him to hold over us, but rather they are necessary in order for us to live in His presence and participate in His Kingdom, as nothing that is unholy can enter Heaven.
The stipulations God puts on salvation are the same as those in a marriage. First, that we are to have Faith in God. No relationship can begin, let alone last, without trust, or faith, in your partner. This faith is more than just acknowledging the existence of God, for even the demons have that (Jas 2:19). It’s also more than just believing that you’re saved, for even the Pharisees had that (Jn 5:39). True faith is one lived and exhibited daily: It is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6, cf. Jas 2:1-26). This Faith is twofold as not only should we have faith in God, but we should be faithful to God. This means that nothing should come before our relationship with God, especially unrepented sin. Next, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22:37-40). Without love, all of our faith and works mean nothing and earn us nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3), as they become just a means to an end and a way of manipulating our partner in order to receive that which we want, namely salvation. Love transforms our faith and works into something done for the good of others rather than just ourselves. However, merely saying that you love and have faith in someone doesn’t make it true, as the old adage goes ‘actions speak louder than words’. So how do we show our faith and love? Through action. Our actions show that we have trust and are willing to follow where our spouse leads us. We show our love by loving the things our spouse loves -namely eachother. We do this by performing good works. Without these works, our faith is dead (James 2:17) and our love is empty words. We do good works out of love because God requires obedience to his commands (Mt 6:1-21, 1 Cor 3:8, 13-15) and promises to reward us with eternal life if we obey (Mt 25:34-40, Rom 2:6-7, Gal 6:6-10, Jas 1:12). Therefore our works are given meaningful merit in the course of our salvation (Phil 2:12). Out of love for us, God has given our lives, and the work we do, meaning. But even our obedience would be impossible without God’s grace; even our good works are God’s gift (Rom 5:5, Phil 2:13). How does God give us the grace to live our lives as obedient spouses?
There is one last thing required for a true marriage… intimacy. When a married couple loves each other, they give themselves entirely to each other and, in the marital act, they ‘become one body’. This leads to a whole new life of its own (either through procreation or growth in the marriage). This is true in our relationship with Christ as well. Christ makes Himself present to us in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Here, when we receive the Eucharist, our bodies become one with Christ and, by extension, one with each other. The grace we receive in that moment leads to a whole new life -namely Christ’s life within us (Gal. 2:20). In the intimate act of receiving the Sacraments, Christ gives us the grace we need to live up to the stipulations that He put on our marriage. In other words, not only does Christ offer His hand freely in marriage, but He also offers the assistance we need to be good spouses. With our cooperation, Christ aids us on our journey towards sanctification and obtaining the holiness without which “no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). That is true love.
For more, read Confessions by St Augustine.
Church Father Quotes:
Pope St. Clement I of Rome (Martyred 99 A.D.)
“Let us therefore join with those to whom grace is given by God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being humble and self- controlled, keeping ourselves far from all backbiting and slander, being justified by works and not by words….Why was our Father Abraham blessed? Was it not because of his deeds of justice and truth, wrought in faith?…So we, having been called through his will in Christ Jesus, were not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the almighty God justified all men.” –Letter to the Corinthians 30:3, 31:2, 32:3-4 (Written 96 A.D.)
“Give studious attention to the prophetic writings, and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. He who gave the mouth for speech and formed the ears for hearing and made eyes for seeing will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things, which neither has eye seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries and fornications and homosexualities and avarice and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, and in the end such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire” –To Autolycus 1:14 (Written 181 A.D.)
St. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.)
“When we hear, ‘Your faith has saved you,’ we do not understand the Lord to say simply that they will be saved who have believed in whatever manner, even if works have not followed. To begin with, it was to the Jews alone that he spoke this phrase, who had lived in accord with the law and blamelessly and who had lacked only faith in the Lord” –Stromateis or Miscellanies 6:14:108:4 (Written 202 A.D.)
Origen of Alexandria (184-253 A.D.)
“Whoever dies in his sins, even if he profess to believe in Christ, does not truly believe in him; and even if that which exists without works be called faith, such faith is dead in itself, as we read in the epistle bearing the name of James”. –Commentaries on John 19:6 (Written 225 A.D.)
St. Cyprian of Carthage (200-258 A.D.)
“You, then, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself from Christ gold purified in fire, for with your filth, as if burned away in the fire, you can be like pure gold, if you are cleansed by almsgiving and by works of justice. Buy yourself a white garment so that, although you had been naked like Adam and were formerly frightful and deformed, you may be clothed in the white garment of Christ. You who are a matron rich and wealthy, anoint not your eyes with the antimony of the devil, but with the salve of Christ, so that you may at last come to see God, when you have merited before God both by your works and by your manner of living” –Works and Almsgiving 14 (Written 252 A.D.)
St. Aphrahat the Persian Sage (280-345 A.D.)
“Great is the gift which he that is good has given to us. While not forcing us, and in spite of our sins he wants us to be justified. While he is in no way aided by our good works, he heals us that we may be pleasing in his sight. When we do not wish to ask of him, he is angry with us. He calls out to all of us constantly; ‘Ask and receive, and when you seek, you shall find’” –Treatises 23:48 (Written 336 A.D.)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 A.D.)
“Paul, joining righteousness to faith and weaving them together, constructs of them the breastplates for the infantryman, armoring the soldier properly and safely on both sides. A soldier cannot be considered safely armored when either shield is disjoined from the other. Faith without works of justice is not sufficient for salvation; neither is righteous living secure in itself of salvation, if it is disjoined from faith” –Homilies on Ecclesiastes 8 (Written 335 A.D.)
St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.)
” ‘He that believes in the Son has everlasting life.’ ‘Is it enough, then, to believe in the Son,’ someone will say, ‘in order to have everlasting life?’ By no means! Listen to Christ declare this himself when he says, ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord! Lord!” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven’; and the b.asphemy against the Spirit is alone sufficient to cast him into hell. But why should I speak of a part of our teaching? For if a man believe rightly in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, but does not live rightly, his faith will avail him nothing toward salvation” –Homilies on the Gospel of John 31:1 (Written 391 A.D.)
St. Jerome (345-420 A.D.)
” ‘But since in the Law no one is justified before God, it is evident that the just man lives by faith.’ It should be noted that he does not say that a man, a person, lives by faith, lest it be thought that he is condemning good works. Rather, he says the ‘just’ man lives by faith. He implies thereby that whoever would be faithful and would conduct his life according to the faith can in no other way arrive at the faith or live in it except first he be a just man of pure life, coming up to the faith by certain degrees” –Commentaries on Galatians 2:3:11 (Written 386 A.D.)
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.)
” ‘He was handed over for our offenses, and he rose again for our justification.’ What does this mean, ‘for our justification’? So that he might justify us, so that he might make us just. You will be a work of God, not only because you are a man, but also because you are just. For it is better that you be just than that you are a man. If God made you a man, and you made yourself just, something you were doing would be better than what God did. But God made you without any cooperation on your part. You did not lend your consent so that God could make you. How could you have consented, when you did not exist? But he who made you without your consent does not justify you without your consent. He made you without your knowledge, but he does not justify you without your willing it” –Sermons 169:13 (Written 400 A.D.)
” ‘But we know that God does not hear sinners; but if any man is a worshiper of God and does his will, that man God will hear.’ He still speaks as one only anointed. For God does listen to sinners too. If God did not listen to sinners, it would have been all in vain for the publican to cast down his eyes to the ground and strike his breast saying: ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And that confession merited justification, just as the blind man merited enlightenment” –Homilies on the Gospel of John 44:13 (Written 416 A.D.)
St. Caesar of Arles (470-542 A.D.)
“I beg you, beloved brethren, let us consider more attentively why we are Christians and bear the cross of Christ on our forehead. For we ought to know that it is not enough for us that we have received the name Christian, if we do not do Christian works. If you say a thousand times that you are a Christian and continually sign yourself with the cross of Christ, but do not give alms according to your means, and you do not want to have love and justice and chastity, the name of Christian will profit you nothing….Above all, as I already said before, give alms to the poor according to your means. Present offerings to be consecrated on the altar; a man of means should blush to communicate in the offering of another. Those who are able should give either candles or oil which can be put in lamps. Know the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer yourselves and teach them to you children. I do not know how a man can call himself a Christian…when he neglects [this]” –Sermons 13:1-2 (Written 540 A.D.)
Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604 A.D.)
“Neither faith without works nor works without faith is of any avail, except, perhaps, that works may go towards the reception of faith, just as Cornelius, before he had become one of the faithful, merited to be heard on account of his good works. From this it can be gathered that his performance of good works furthered his reception of faith” –Homilies on Ezekiel 1:9:6 (Written 593 A.D.)
Pope Benedict XVI
“Luther’s phrase ‘faith alone’ is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St. Paul speaks of faith that works through love” –General Audience, Nov. 19, 2008