The Catholic Church wrongly teaches that we can be saved by works and sacraments. Penance and rosaries are of no avail. We can gain no merits by crying to heaven, lengthy prayers, periods of fasting, required church attendance, pilgrimages, the monastic life, or the sacraments. Works are only the fruit of faith. The believer does not work for salvation; it is precisely because he is already saved that he does good works. If he remains in his sins, then there has been no change, and his faith is a pretense.
Romans 3:28: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
Galatians 2:16: . . . yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by the works of the law shall no one be justified.
Anti-Catholics often purposely quote verses while leaving out adjacent words which might nuance matters more in the favor of Catholicism. Take for example the citation from Romans, we read in Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” It would seem that Hebrew customs and traditions (including the works of the law and the commandments) could very well be a element in their newfound faith in Jesus. The dichotomy is between those who place works over faith, as if the latter is inconsequential. Faith and works are as two sides of a single coin. However, it should be mentioned that the law mentioned here is particularly the Jewish Law; an exact parallel cannot be drawn by works as they emerge under the New Covenant of Christ. Catholics understand works as a participation in Christ’s meritorious or saving activity. Christ lives in the believer through grace and anything the Lord does in us belongs essentially to him. All saving merit belongs to Christ, yes; but greater is he who lives in me than he who lives in the world. Our faith in Christ is necessarily realized and actualized, not only manifested, in the life of charity and obedience. It is not simply a stagnant profession of faith in response to the Word.
The core of his contention is that works possess no saving merit. The Catholic would agree, if such works were separated from our faith in Christ. The Scriptures render a view quite different from what the critic of Catholicism contends:
Matthew 6:4: [Giving alms] “. . . so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:6: [Prayer] “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:18: [Fasting] “. . . that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 16:27: [Deeds] “For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.”
Romans 2:6-10: [Works done] “For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
1 Peter 1:17: [Works done] “And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”
2 Timothy 4:8: [Righteous life] “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
While Catholics follow a contextual approach, we can still quote verses back to those who use Scripture proof texts in a fundamentalist manner. Here are two of my favorites:
“All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:12-13).
“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
This second citation so troubled Martin Luther that he extracted the entire book of James from his bible! Later Protestants restored it while ignoring its content.