Apologetics for the Masses, #390 - "You have been saved by faith..." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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Does Ephesians 2:8-9 "prove" Sola Fide?


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General Comments

Hey folks,

     Just a reminder that during Lent I am going to be doing a combination Bible/Catechism study, with a healthy dose of apologetics thrown in, on Monday nights, from 6:30 - 8:00 PM, at St. Theresa's parish in Leeds, Alabama (a suburb of Birmingham).  We'll be in the parish hall.  I'm going to do it for 5 weeks (Feb 22, March 1, 8, 15, 22) then take 2 weeks off, and then another 5 weeks after Easter. (Note: I had originally said Thursday nights, but it was changed to Monday nights during Lent.  I'll let you know the dates for the five sessions after Easter in the near future.)

     We will be livestreaming the study sessions on multiple platforms.  I'll be sending out more information on how to connect to the livestream sometime next week, once we have all of the details finalized, and also how to watch the recorded versions if you can't tune in to the livestream.   

     I'll be covering 1st Peter the first 5 weeks, and 2nd Peter the second five weeks.  We'll be talking Bible, Catechism, redemption, salvation, Christian prayer, Christian living, grace, faith, the Mass, Sola Fide, Once Saved Always Saved, love, Purgatory, time, the Sacraments, sin, the Pope, and much more!  All of that from just those two short books of the Bible. You'll see how the Catechism is inextricably linked to the Bible, how the Old Testament is linked to the New Testament, how the Bible is linked to the Magisterium, and how you can use both Bible and Catechism to deepen your faith and to learn how to share your faith with others. 

     I hope you can join us!


     Okay, the last three newsletters have each been on one verse of the Bible that Protestants use to "prove" this or that teaching of the Catholic Church to be wrong.  I'm going to do one more in that same vein before returning to a dialogue format in the next newsletter.  In this newsletter, I'm going to look at the one passage, consisting of two verses - Ephesians 2:8-9 - that is pretty much THE "go to" passage for Protestants to "prove" that Sola Fide is true and that works have absolutely nothing to do with our salvation.  I've mentioned this passage in several past newsletters, but thought I would highlight it here as a stand alone topic, so that you can send this newsletter to any of your Protestant friends you might be dialoguing with (or have in the past) on the topic of salvation by faith alone and show them that this passage from Ephesians not only does not "prove" Sola Fide, but actually fits perfectly with Catholic teaching on salvation.  

     So, I encourage you to forward this newsletter to your Protestant friends, and ask them this question: "Hey, can you look over this newsletter and tell me where this guy [me] gets this argument about Ephesians 2:8-9 wrong?  I'd really be interested in your opinion as to whether it makes any sense or not from your perspective.  Thanks!" 

     And then, I hope you will send me any responses that you get back so that I can publish some of the highlights (anonymously) in my next newsletter which will allow everyone to see what kind of answers they will get when they use the arguments I present here.


Ephesians 2:8-9

     For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.

     As long-time readers of this newsletter know, I always teach people that if you are ever shown a Bible verse, or verses, that supposedly “prove” the Catholic Church is wrong on any particular doctrine or dogma, there is one way to respond - you slam your hand down on that Bible and say, “AMEN!  I believe it!  I absolutely believe what that passage says.  As a Catholic, I believe every single verse of the Bible!"  Then, after a short dramatic pause, "I do not, however, necessarily agree with your fallible interpretation of that passage.”  Because that’s exactly what it is, a fallible interpretation - a private, non-authoritative, non-binding fallible interpretation - and a fallible interpretation that is wrong.

     There is nothing at all, in spite of what many non-Catholic Christians believe, in these two verses - Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 and 9 - that is contrary to anything in the Catholic Faith.  Nothing!  Let’s look at them closely: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.”  Catholics, like Protestants, believe in salvation by God’s grace alone.  It is only by God’s grace that we can be saved.  It is only by God’s grace that we can have faith.  It is only by God’s grace that we can do works.  It is only by God’s grace that we can do anything at all...even breathe!  So, yes, it is by grace that we have been saved.  Catholics are in 100% agreement.

     We also agree, as Catholics, that it is also through faith that we have been saved.  Either our own faith, if we come to Christ after we reach the age of reason, or by our parents’ faith, if we are baptized as babies or infants.  Now, someone might object regarding baptizing babies and the efficacy of Baptism and such, but those are separate arguments.  A more relevant objection would be if they protest in regard to being saved by someone else's faith - as in babies being saved through the faith of their parents.  But, we have firm biblical precedence for one person being saved through the faith of another person.  In Matthew 9 (and also Mark 2), we read the story of the paralytic who is brought to Jesus by four men.  Scripture tells us that when Jesus saw "their" faith - not "his" (the paralytic's) faith - but their (the men's) faith, He said to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven."  In other words, the paralytic was saved through the faith of others.

     You can, of course, make an argument that the word "their" includes the 4 men AND the paralytic, maybe so.  That still doesn't change the fact that it was "their" faith - plural - that caused Jesus to forgive the sins of the paralytic. The faith of others played a role in the salvation of that one person.  If that is not, however, convincing enough, then one need only look to the Old Testament.  How did one come into covenant with God in the Old Testament?  The males came into covenant with God by being circumcised when they were eight days old (Genesis 17:9-14).  Was it merely the act of circumcision that brought one into covenant with God?  No, because other cultures in the ancient world practiced circumcision, yet, they were not in covenant with God.  It was circumcision, combined with faith in God, that brought one into covenant with God.  Whose faith?  Obviously it couldn't be the baby's faith, so it had to be the faith of the parents of the baby. 

     So, the 8-day old males were brought into covenant with God through the faith of their parents.  Just so, babies are saved - brought into covenant with God - through the faith of their parents, in the New Testament era, via the Sacrament of Baptism.

     Okay, we’re good so far.  We are saved by grace through faith, just like it says in Eph 2:8.  Catholics agree!  (Quick note: Notice that nowhere does the word "alone" appear - as in "faith alone".)  Catholics also agree that being saved by grace through faith is a gift of God, as verse 8 tells us.  Moving on to verse 9, which says it is not because of works that we are saved - we, as Catholics, agree on that as well.  This might cause some non-Catholics a little confusion, though, because aren't we arguing that, according to Catholic theology, works play a role in our salvation?  Yes, we are.  Then how can I say that Catholics agree that we're not saved because of works?  Isn't that a contradiction?  No, it's not.

     It's not a contradiction because Catholics believe salvation is a process, not a one-time event as do many Protestants.  Yes, Catholics believe works play a role in our salvation, but this is the thing - our works don’t count for diddly squat until after we’ve already been saved, or justified, through Baptism.  So you can’t say that we believe our works will save us, when our works aren’t worth a hill of beans until after we’ve been justified...until after we’ve been saved through Baptism...until after we’ve been saved by grace through faith.  

     Let me give you a couple of quotes from the Council of Trent - official dogmatic teaching of the Church - and then I’ll explain a bit more about what I’ve said.  Council of Trent: “We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God...we are therefore said to be justified gratuitously, because none of those things that precede justification, whether faith or works, merit the grace of justification.”  Here’s another quote from Trent: “If anyone shall say that man can be justified before God by his own works which are done either by his own natural powers, or through the teaching of the Law, and without divine grace through Christ Jesus: let him be anathema.

     The dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church, as just stated from the Council of Trent, is that we are justified by grace, through faith, and not by our works, just as Ephesians 2:8-9 says.  Which means there is nothing in that passage that in any way, shape, or form contradicts Catholic teaching (which is true of every passage of Scripture!).  Catholics are in 100% agreement with the Sola Fide folks regarding Ephesians 2:8-9.  Then why don't Catholics believe in Sola Fide, seeing as how we agree with the Sola Fide folks on Ephesians 2:8-9?  Well, we don't agree, because we don't stop reading at Ephesians 2:9.  We also read Ephesians 2, verse 10.  Catholics will have Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9 brought up to them over and over and over again.  We almost never hear someone who believes in salvation by faith alone bring up Ephesians 2, verse 10.  I wonder why?  

     Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should [we should!] walk in them.”  After Paul tells us in verses 8 and 9 that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, not of works, he then proceeds to tell us that God has prepared certain good works for us to do and that we SHOULD walk in them.  This is very interesting.  Ask this question of any Sola Fide believer: “As a Catholic, I agree we are saved by grace through faith, but, what if we don’t do these works that God has prepared for us and which God’s Word says we 'should walk in them'?  What happens to us if we don’t do those works?  Are we still saved?”  Good question.   

     Ephesians 2:10 tells us that God has prepared some works for us to do, in other words, it is God’s will for us to do these works.  And, these works are undoubtedly different for each and every person, in accord with your talents and abilities.  So, it is God’s will for us to do these works, but, if we don’t do them.  Are we still saved?  If I believe in salvation by faith alone, I have to say, “Yes, you are still saved,” because works have no role whatsoever in my salvation.  The problem is, though, that the Bible tells us the answer is, “No, you are not saved.”  

     In Matthew 7, verse 21, it says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father Who is in Heaven.”  So, if it is God’s will that you do these works that He has set aside for you, as it says in Ephesians 2:10; yet, you choose not to do those works, you choose not to do God’s will; are you still able to get into the Kingdom of Heaven?  The answer, quite plainly, is NO!  The very passage that Sola Fide believers go to first, almost every time, in order to “prove” their case and to “prove” the Catholic Church wrong on Sola Fide, actually deals a devastating blow to the case for salvation by faith alone, especially when you view it in light of Matthew 7:21 and God’s will.

     You might ask, if Catholics believe that works do indeed play a role in our salvation, as I just explained with Ephesians 2:10 and Matthew 7:21, then how can I say, as the Council of Trent says, that we are not justified, or saved, by our works?  Again, am I not contradicting myself?  Not at all, and here’s why: Catholics believe, as the Council of Trent teaches, that nothing we do before our justification...nothing we do before we are justified, or saved...can justify us.  Nothing.  No amount of works, not even faith.  We are justified, we are saved, “gratuitously” Trent says - solely by the grace of God.  We can see this most explicitly in the Catholic belief and practice of infant baptism.  The infant can do absolutely nothing that would affect his or her salvation - whether by doing a work or even by an act of faith.  Yet, through Baptism, we believe this infant is saved...saved by the grace of God alone. 

     For Catholics, it is through Baptism that we receive our justification...it is through Baptism that we are saved...as it says in 1 Peter 3:20-21.  So, we are justified gratuitously by God’s grace through Baptism - through our individual faith as adults, or through the faith of our parents, if we are baptized as infants.  We have grace and we have faith, but how do works come into play?  Once we have been saved, once we have received our initial justification through Baptism, by grace through faith, we then have to set about doing those works that God has prepared for us beforehand, as Ephesians 2:10 tells us.  These works do not justify us, since we are already justified, but they can increase our justification - they can make us holier, in other words.  

     Does Scripture support this notion?  Indeed it does.  2 Cor 3:18, “And we all…are being changed from one degree of glory to another…” So, we can increase in justification, increase in glory.  However, just as we can increase in justification, so, too, can we decrease in justification.  How does that happen?  It happens if we do not do the works that God has prepared for us beforehand.  Some scriptural examples of what form these works could take: Matthew 25 - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned; Romans 2:6-7 - seeking for glory and honor and immortality thorugh patience in well-doing; Matthew 6:14-15 - forgiving men their trespasses; John 6:51-58 - eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus; Luke 9:23 - denying yourself and picking up your cross daily; and so forth. 

     If we do not do the works which God has prepared for us...if we do not do the will of God...then we could lose our salvation.  We could end up on the outside calling, "Lord, Lord," only to have our Lord say to us, "I never knew you, depart from Me," (Matt 7:21-23). 

     To wrap this up, Ephesians 2:8-9 is in perfect accord with Catholic teaching and, when you include Ephesians 2:10, it is easy to see how these verses are not at all in accord with the dogma of Sola Fide.  To sum up Catholic teaching on salvation, we could say: We are saved, in Baptism, by the free gift of God's grace through faith; but, once we are saved, if we do not do the works that God's will has prepared for us to do, then we can indeed lose the free gift of salvation that has been given to us.  Good works do not justify us, but not doing good works after we have been justified, can cause us to lose our justification...to lose the free gift of salvation that has been given to us by the grace of God.  We have been given a great gift.  If we do not open it and do not put it into action, we will have squandered it.

     Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love."

Closing Comments

     I hope all of you are staying healthy, and that you have a great week!  We will be keeping you in our prayers, please keep us in yours...


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Apologetics for the Masses