(Saint Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity)
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
“We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.” (Ephesians 2:10)
This note focuses on the importance of good works in the life of a Christian.
“There is no faith without good works” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran theologian who died in a German concentration camp; and so he is right since the scriptures tell us in no uncertain terms (in language as plain as the nose on your face) that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).
The great debate in the early Church was whether Christians were obligated to keep the Mosaic law, those ceremonial and ritual requirements that St. Paul referred to as the “works of the law.” In the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15 the apostles, with Peter taking the lead, declared that Christians were not obligated to observe the Mosaic law “because we are saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts l5:11). It is for this reason that St. Paul declared in Romans (at 3:28) that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the law, i.e., justified by faith apart from observing the`Mosaic law.
Some Christians have confused the phrase “works of the law,” which refers to the legal requirements of the Mosaic law, with the term “good works,” as if to say that we are justified by faith apart from good works, even though we have been assured that faith without works is dead. But when Christians talk about good works, they are talking about acts of love which proceed from the Holy Spirit. Without these acts of love, which more specifically are acts of charity, i.e., acts of selfless love, faith is dead. Paul agrees wholeheartedly with James that faith without works is dead, for he states at l Cor.13:2 that if I have faith without charity (love) then I am nothing. And at Galatians 5:6 the apostle Paul tells us that we are justified by a “faith which worketh by love” (KJV). Jesus’ Parable of the Final Judgment at Matthew 25 emphasizes in dramatic terms the critical importance of good works (see CCC 544), pertaining specifically to how love of the Lord is shown through our treatment of those who need our help.
St. John also tells us that faith without charity is dead: “He that loveth not, abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). And: “He that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). The new law which Christians are required to keep is not the works of the law contained in the Mosaic code, but rather the law of love. Thus, as Paul states, “Serve one another, rather, in acts of love, since the whole of the law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-15). And: “Anyone who does not look after his own relations … has rejected the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10) . We will be judged, according to Rev. 20:13, each one according to their works. Our good works evidence the presence of the Holy Spirit living within us, transforming us more and more into the image of Christ.
Jesus says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). It is Jesus Christ who produces good works in us. These works evidence the fact that our faith in Jesus is alive and that God is working in our lives. Otherwise, our faith is dead. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21.).
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24 KJV).
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Primary Reference: Various Scott Hahn Scripture Studies on tape; see also topical essay in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible entitled, “The Works of the Law” at Galatians 3, p.335.
Note: The key is to do our good works out of love for God (as sons, rather than as employees seeking to earn a wage). The question is not whether we have done enough good works, but rather what more can we do. The model for justification in the scriptures is divine sonship, whereby we cry out, “Abba. Father” in the POWER of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. It is an “inward process”. The “model is growth in relationship with God”. The more we love God, the more we will be willing to give ourselves to him.
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