Today, we will continue with our response to Dave Armstrong and his book, “The Catholic Verses,” in which the Catholic apologist presents ninety-five Bible verses or passages that allegedly validate Catholicism and are claimed to “confound” Protestants.
Citing the verse below, Armstrong makes the case for “faith and works: two sides of one coin”:
#29) “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” – James 2:24 (RSVCE)
Beneath the verse, Armstrong writes, “Catholics believe in an organic relationship between faith and works. Far from being intractably opposed to one another, they are in fact, inseparable. Faith is necessary to produce truly good works, and works in turn are the evidence of a true faith. This verse would appear, on the other hand, to present a problem for the fundamental Protestant notion of sola fide, or faith alone. The Bible here precisely expresses the opposite proposition: one is not justified by faith alone.” – p.63. A few lines later, Armstrong argues that the Protestant assertion that man is justified by faith alone is “an idea that never appears in a single verse in Holy Scripture, nor is it taught in the Bible as a whole.” – pp. 63-64.
I have discussed the great and unbridgeable chasm between the Roman Catholic view of salvation and the Biblical Christianity view many times. Once again and very succinctly, Catholicism teaches that its members must regularly receive sanctifying grace from its sacraments, enabling them to better obey the Ten Commandments and become increasingly sanctified so as to be able to be in a subjective/intrinsic “state of grace” at the moment of their death in order to hopefully merit Heaven. Bible Christians believe that we could never merit Heaven because, by ourselves, we are sinners without hope, but when we repented of our sin and accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior by faith alone, His perfect righteousness was imputed to us. We are saved by our faith in Him alone. Good works and charity are the fruit of a genuine conversion to Christ, but they are never the basis of it.
One of the most helpful passages in the Bible regarding the relationship between faith and works is found in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Our good works are evidence of genuine salvation in Christ, they do not merit salvation.
Catholics profess that they also believe in salvation by God’s “grace” through “faith.” What they really mean is they believe in the power of sacramental grace and have faith in the Catholic sacramental system. A Catholic will NOT say they believe in salvation by God’s grace through faith alone because they believe they must “cooperate with grace” and merit their salvation by obedience. Catholics always pull out James 2:14-26 as their “ace in the hole” as an irrefutable proof text for merited salvation, and by doing so, assume to stump their Protestant friends. But evangelicals actually have no problem with this passage. Genuine conversion to Christ will produce spiritual fruit, the evidence of salvation in Christ. If a person has no fruit, they didn’t genuinely accept Christ, which is what James is saying.
Outside observers might comment, “Catholics and Protestants are quibbling over minor details! You both believe ‘faith’ and ‘works’ are essential to salvation.” Although both sides use similar terminology, the difference is vast and irreconcilable. Once again, Catholics believe in becoming increasingly holy in order to possibly merit Heaven. Bible Christians believe they were innately unholy, but at some point they accepted Christ as Savior by faith alone and received His imputed perfect righteousness, and subsequently follow Him in obedience, albeit imperfectly.
Contrary to Armstrong’s fallacious boast that justification by faith alone is “an idea that never appears in a single verse in Holy Scripture, nor is it taught in the Bible as a whole,” the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone is the red thread that runs through the entirety of God’s Word.
“And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” – Philippians 3:9
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” – Romans 4:5
For 101 Bible verses that teach salvation is NOT by works, see here.
The two camps holding to these conflicting teachings on salvation; Biblical, God-centered faith in Christ alone vs. man-centered faith in works, have opposed each other since the church began in 33 AD. One side is right and one is wrong. They cannot both be right. One leads to Heaven and one leads to Hell.
While Armstrong points to James 2:24 as an irrefutable “Catholic verse” that supports Catholicism’s claim for salvation via faith in sacramental grace plus works, we find instead that James is exhorting those saved in Christ to the good works “God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
For more information, see the two articles below:
In this segment of Armstrong’s book regarding faith and works, he follows James 2:24 with eighteen additional verses from various books of the Bible. We’ll examine the first five of those verses next week.