Are we judged by our work?
We aren’t saved by works in themselves, we will be judged according to them . . .
Our salvation isn’t fixed by once “accepting Christ as our personal Savior.” It’s made certain by continuing to obey him lovingly as our Lord. “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2:26).
The Catholic Church doesn’t teach salvation by works but rather, to use St. Paul’s phrase, salvation by grace through faith working in love (Gal 5:6). The faith that brings us into right relationship with God and makes us adopted sons and daughters of God is also a working faith.
Christians aren’t saved by works in themselves, they’ll be judged according to them. Jesus promised, “I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds” (Rev 22:12). Faith is made complete by expressing itself in action. Works are crystallized faith. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). And his commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3); we need only pray as St. Augustine prayed: “Command what you will, and give what you command.”
God created us in his image and likeness to rule as co-regents of his creation. We were created for good works (Gen 1:27-28; Eph 2:8-10). His purpose in redeeming us isn’t different from his purpose in creating us. Grace builds on nature. Consequently, it’s misleading to say that we are working to get to heaven. More accurately, we are given the gift of salvation so that we might fulfill our natures. Thus we are commanded to “not grow weary in well-doing” (Gal 6:9). People cannot absolutely deserve any rewards from God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2007). But in God’s gracious plan of redemption, he invites us to receive his gift of eternal life and become his friends who love and labor with him freely. If we do anything good and virtuous it is because he, in his mercy, empowers us to perform such good works.
When we flourish in our efforts, He blesses us with eternal union with him. As the theologian and catechist Fr. Ronald Lawlor puts it: “We are said to merit eternal life, then, because we freely do the saving deeds that God makes it possible for us to do. But all this is in the context of grace. ‘When God crowns our merits,’ St. Augustine remarks, ‘is he not crowning precisely his own gifts?’”
This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” by Al Kresta, CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon on Ave Maria Radio.