I received a question about how a Catholic can reconcile Eph. 2:8-10 with the Catholic understanding of faith and works being involved in our salvation. Here is the citation “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as 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 so that we would walk in them.” http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians%202:8-10&version=NASB
It doesn’t say what many evangelicals think it says. You can interpret it one of two ways. Here is the first:
It says you can’t work your way to heaven so that no man can boast. In other words, you can’t compel God to let you into heaven. But the Catholic Church doesn’t teach that you can work your way to heaven. It teaches that we must respond to God’s grace with faith and works. God’s grace is the key. I would add that you can’t believe your way into heaven either, again, not without God’s grace at least. This is why the demons can’t enter heaven, even though they believe. You can only be saved by the grace of God. Without responding to God’s grace, good works or faith can’t get you saved. With God’s grace, our faith and works can save us.
Suppose a person who is an atheist listens to rational arguments and comes to believe in God. He now has faith. But he hates that fact. It makes him angry that he’s going to be held accountable. He hates God. He commits terrible crimes against Christians in anger. Does he get saved? In this argument, I’m removing the possibility that he “didn’t really believe” because this is the exact position that Satan is in. He truly believes because he has seen God since before the fall, yet he refuses to serve (or work). This is why James can say, “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (emphasis mine) http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=james%202:20-21&version=NASB Again I think James 2:24 makes the point as clearly as can be, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (The only place in the Bible where the words “faith” and “alone” appear together) Scripture here takes the view of not faith alone, or works alone, but both, just like Catholic teaching.
Here is the second way it can be interpreted: It says you can’t build up your own faith enough on your own to get saved. Read carefully. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” Keep in mind the numbering system was added later and the punctuation is slightly different in different translations. The phrase “it is the gift of God: Not of works” is meant to go together. The phrase contrasts how you get “it”, from God, not from your work. So what is the “it” that is the gift of God? According to the first part of the passage, it is saving faith. So faith that comes from our works that is not a response to God’s grace cannot save us. That’s the message. “it is the gift of God: Not of works” reiterates the phrase right before it, ” and that not of yourselves” referring to faith.
So either way, it does not say that works plays no role in salvation. If it did, it would directly contradict other areas of Scripture. God would be a very confused God.