Grace versus works?

Once again someone has attempted to confront me with the old issue of grace versus works, implying that her religion is biblical and that mine is not. The phrasing of the issue itself is misleading because it mistakenly sets grace and works against each other. as if grace and works were unconnected, even opposed to each other. Now it is true that we cannot earn grace by works or else grace would not be grace. Grace is gratuitous, freely given and not compelled by any means. God gives us grace freely in that He is not compelled, He is free to act and to bestow His blessings on us as He pleases. He is not required to give us anything, not grace or anything.

And we may freely accept His gift. Or just as freely reject it. We can even accept it now but decide freely to reject it later on. This is why St. Paul exhorts us to persevere until the end. He wouldn’t need to exhort us to persevere if there wasn’t a chance that we might not persevere. God’s faithfulness is assured. Ours is not. We are merely human. He is divine. He cannot and will not fail us. We can and often do fail Him.

As for works, there are works and then there are works. St. Paul speaks of “works of the Law” but he is referring to the rites and acts of the Law of Moses (which means “strictly observing all the Jewish traditions”*), which never did act as means of grace. The rites and acts of the covenant instituted by Christ do have the ability to confer grace, not in and of themselves, but because of Christ. He instituted them and He Himself pours His grace out for us through them. He tells the apostles over and over that they are to keep His commandments and to love one another. And to keep the Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper.

St. Paul also speaks of faith, hope and love. The actual word he uses is the Greek charis from which we get the English word “charity.” By charity we usually mean “works of love,” not mere feelings or sentiment but acts or works. And these works of love which we perform (at the command of Christ and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) dispose us to receive grace. The more we love, the more we show this love to others in our actions, the more grace God will pour into our souls and the more we will be able to receive. So faith and works are not the same thing, not in opposition, but they are very closely related.

St. James goes so far as to say that faith without works is dead. Grace and works of charity go together. God pours out His grace upon us and we respond by radiating His love from our hearts and souls into the world. The love we show comes to us from God. And when we show this love to others, we please God. I don’t see how we can please God if we do not do works of love. Works may not get us to heaven, but they do play a role in salvation. And our works just might lead us at the end of our lives to be standing on the wrong side of the pearly gates. Consider these words from St. Paul:

…[God] will render to every man according to his works… (Romans 2:6).

I think sometimes the problem is due to people wanting to believe that being a Christian is easy, just a matter of simple belief, no action required. But that is not what the Bible says. To quote St. Paul once again:

…[We are] joint-heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him…(Romans 8:17)

As a Christian, I am to suffer with Christ, hence the insistence in Catholic doctrine upon mortification and sacrifice. St. Paul writes of this when he says:

I die daily, I protest by your glory, brethren, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Cor 15:31).

What is this “dying daily” except mortification, the dying to one’s senses and to the spirit of the world? Works alone may not get me heaven, but they certainly play a role in God’s plan of salvation. So I’m going to cling to Christ, His grace, His teaching and the truth He revealed. And to my biblical Catholic Christian faith.

*Quoted from Catholic and Christian, An Explanation of Commonly Misunderstood Catholic Beliefs by Alan Schreck.

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