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How Many Good Works?

DAY 341

CHALLENGE

“Catholics can’t have assurance of salvation because the Church teaches justification by faith plus works, meaning that they will always have to be wondering whether they have done enough good works to be justified and enter heaven.”

DEFENSE

This is not what the Church teaches.

We elsewhere cover the fact that the Church does not use the phrase “justification by faith and works” (see Day 222).

What the Church does teach is that “in those who are born again God hates nothing, because there is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism unto death (Rom. 6:4), who walk not according to the flesh (Rom. 8:1), but, putting off the old man and putting on the new one who is created according to God (Eph. 4:22, 24, Col. 3:9–10), are made innocent, immaculate, pure, guiltless and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17); so that there is nothing whatever to hinder their entrance into heaven” (Trent, Decree on Original Sin 5).

Consequently, at the time a person comes to God and is initially justified, he does not have to do anything to enter heaven. There isn’t some magic number of good works he has to perform.

The only way to lose the state of justification is by mortal sin, which requires “full knowledge and deliberate consent” (CCC 1857; see Day 302). As long as people haven’t done that, they can be assured of their salvation.

If they do commit mortal sin, they need to repent and go to confession to be restored to the state of justification (see Day 45).

This is not to say good works have no role to play in the Christian life. They do. Thus Paul says, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Good works flow from the love God pours into our hearts (Rom. 5:5) at initial justification, and God will ultimately reward these good works (Rom. 2:6–7; see Day 312).

However, once a person is justified, he has what is needed to enter heaven. He doesn’t need to worry about not having done enough good works.

 

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