|By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©1999|
|This four-part series examines some of the differences in belief regarding the doctrine of Justification, especially as it relates to the Catholic church. Key question answered is: Is “faith” a “work” in Catholicism?|
In this series of articles we have looked at six comparisons between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of the doctrine of justification. These are: “Forensic” vs. “Legal Fiction”; “Synthetic” vs. “Analytic”; “Imputation” vs. “Infusion”; No Human Merit vs. Congruous Merit; Security vs. Insecurity of Justification; and finally, Faith Alone vs. Faith and Works.
We conclude our discussion this week with an intriguing question:
For Protestants, the person’s faith is not a meritorious work that contributes to or helps provide justification. Rather, faith is only an “instrument” which allows a sinful person to reach out to Christ, who is the sole reason, grounds, and basis upon which God justifies.
In Catholicism, faith seems primarily to be a supernatural gift from God which holds out the truths of Revelation, begins the process of salvation and is carried through life by the supernatural power of God—unless certain sin intervenes.
But there are also some statements by Catholic theologians which could be interpreted to mean that faith per se is something meritorious. For example, after speaking of faith as “a free gift twice over” John A. Hardon, S.J., of the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago writing in The Catholic Catechism nevertheless declares, “the act of faith is a work that pertains to salvation” (Hardon, 36, emphasis added).
In that Trent and Rome teach that salvation is clearly by works (in part), it would seem difficult to separate faith from merit. If other non-faith works are meritorious, then one would logically assume that faith is also—since faith, even though instituted by God, clearly requires a natural human response. Thus, in part, faith does provide our justification in that the work of baptism produces faith which then begins the process of justification, which itself is the first part of salvation, the start of sanctification, etc.
If faith is meritorious from the Catholic perspective, it is not so from the Protestant view. So from the Protestant perspective, let us try to illustrate how faith is only the instrument by which we are saved, and is not deserving of merit on our part. Now picture a burning building and a man trapped on the third floor. He is urged to jump—in other words, to have faith in the firemen below that they will catch him in their net. If the man jumps, his faith will only be that belief which caused him to jump. It will not be that which actually saves his life. Rather it will be the firemen holding the net who actually save him.
In a similar manner, concerning salvation, it is not the instrument of faith which saves us; rather, it is Christ in whom our faith is placed that saves us. Our faith merely reaches out to Christ who rescues us because faith places us into Christ’s hands. As a result, Christ tells all those who believe in Him, that “they shall never perish” because “no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
To clearly understand that faith in no way provides the basis of our salvation, nor is it an action deserving of merit on our part, consider once again the man jumping off the burning building. Do you think the man’s “faith” would save him if, after he had jumped off the third floor, he discovered on the way down that the firemen were only standing in a circle and weren’t holding any net? At that point, it would be very clear that his faith could not save him. To save a man who could not save himself, what is needed is a real net with real firemen holding it. The same is true spiritually: we need a real Savior who accomplishes salvation for us since we could not accomplish it on our own—even in part.
So, it isn’t our faith that actually provides salvation; rather, it is Christ who paid for all our sins on the cross: only He has the strength to do all the saving. Faith is nothing more than our belief that Christ can save us, and our petition for Him to save us. No one should think that if they place faith in Christ’s power—and call to Him for rescue from sin—that this is in some way helping Christ to do the saving or is in some way deserving of merit.