Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Justified by Works and not by Faith Alone

St. James teaches us in James 2:14-24:
14 What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, 23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
How is it that we are justified by works and not by faith alone? How can "faith" be "completed by works" as St. James teaches us?

There are many kinds of "works." Those works which lend themselves to strengthening and therefore "completing" our faith are what are called "meritorious works." Scripture calls them "worthy deeds." Same thing.

NT Greek: "axios" (worthy, meritorious)
NT Greek: "ergon" (deeds, works)

Acts 26:20 " they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds (ergon) worthy (axios) of their repentance."


Spiritual Works of Mercy:
  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtul;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offences willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.
Corporeal Works of Mercy:
  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbour the harbourless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.
There's a distinction between "meritorious works" and "natural works." To perform "meritorious works," one must already be in a "state of grace." In other words, meritorious works are not possible unless already previously justified and remain justified by God's grace. So, you can't do "meritorious works" to transition to a "state of grace," either initially or after haven fallen from grace by mortal sin.

Furthermore, natural works have no supernatural benefit. Without grace, one can perform all the natural works they desire, and yet they still will not have become justified in the eyes of God. Only by God's grace is one justified.

However, as Scripture tells us, the just can be "justified further still." Rev 22:11 "he that is just (dikaios) let him be justified (dikaioo) still (eti)".

The above translation of Rev 22:11 comes from the Douay-Rhiems Bible. Some of my Protestant friends have claimed that Rev 22:11 doesn't say that. I tell them that if they look at the original Greek, it does say precisely what is translated above.

NT Greek: "dikaios"; adjective, "righteous, just, used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God"

NT Greek: "dikaioo"; verb, "to justify, to render righteous, to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous"

NT Greek: "eti"; adverb, "yet, more, futher, still"

So, those made just by the grace of God can indeed be given more grace, such that they are "justified still."

Meritorious works strengthen our faith. It is God working in us, with us, and for us. Nothing can cause "little faith" to grow and strengthen such that it becomes "great faith" unless God himself adds grace upon grace. He crowns his own gifts with more gifts. In this way, the just are made justified still: through the gratuitous grace received when we care for the poor, counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, pray for the living and the dead, etc. God doesn't owe this grace. Yet out of his goodness, he gives his faithful grace upon grace as they do His will. This is what St. Paul calls the "obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; 16:26), or "faith which worketh love" (Gal 5:6). God blesses the faithful with further grace as they perform deeds worthy of their repentance.

God bless,