Catholic / Protestant Dialogue

“Believe” Is A Verb (A Work), Part I

Protestantism tells us there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation– that we must only believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior to be saved. The contradiction is that “believe” is a verb, an action word. It is something we must do.

By Grace Alone

Catholics and Protestants agree that salvation is by grace alone, but disagree that salvation is by faith alone. Let’s first look at grace alone. The only reason any human comes to faith is by God’s grace in drawing that human in.   

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him… ~ Jesus Christ, John 6:44

This agreement between Catholic and Protestant is great news. And there is more. Catholic and Protestant agree that belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is necessary for salvation. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ Jesus Christ, John 3:16

This is more great news. But here is where the agreement ends and the need for gracious but honest dialogue begins.

Not By Faith Alone

Just as Jesus tells us that believing in him is necessary for eternal life, he tells us that eating his body and drinking his blood is necessary for eternal life.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. ~  John 6:54

So which is it? Do we believe in Jesus for eternal life, or eat his flesh and drink his blood for eternal life? It’s both. I respectfully suggest that the Protestant principle of Sola Fide (faith alone) is nowhere in the Bible. In fact, the only time the term “faith alone” appears in the Bible, it is preceded by the words “not by.”

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ~ James 2:24

“Believe” Is A Verb

I estimate that as a Protestant, more than 90% of the sermons I heard contained the message that there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, and that we must only believe in Jesus to be saved. But as I mentioned at the beginning, “believe” is a verb, an action word. It is something we must do

Not By Works (Of The Jewish Law)

As a Protestant, I often pointed out that Paul told us salvation is by faith, not by works. But what I neglected was that Paul was talking about works of the Jewish law. 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast [Protestants tend to quote this verse often, broadly generalizing “works” to mean any action, without quoting what comes next]… you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision[circumcision is a work of the Jewish law].. you were… without hope and without God… But now in Christ Jesus you… have been brought near through the blood of Christ. ~ Ephesians 2:8-13

The uncircumcised got saved despite being uncircumcised. Works of the Jewish law did not save them! These are the “works” Paul is talking about. Within the word “works,” Paul is not including every single verb in every single language. There are over 600 Jewish laws in the Torah, and Catholics agree with Paul that we are not saved by them.

Jewish Law Cartoon - Copy 1

If, when Paul used the word “works,” he meant every single verb in every single language, then the Protestant method of salvation by believing in Jesus is invalid because to “believe” is to perform a work. As a Protestant, when I quoted Paul saying we are not saved by “works,” I completely neglected the context of what he was saying. I neglected that he was talking about works of the Jewish law, not every single verb. 

To believe is to perform a work.

The Bible is always proven true.

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