Not By Faith Alone: Understanding the Catholic Doctrine on Faith and Works


Many times, we hear the phrase “faith alone” floating around in discussions about how to have a relationship with God. But for Catholics, the issue is more nuanced. We believe that faith is the starting point, but it’s not the entire journey. Why do we think this way? Let’s dive into the teachings of the Catholic Church and see what the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church say about this matter.

What Does “Faith Alone” Mean?

The concept of “faith alone” comes from the Reformation, spearheaded by figures like Martin Luther in the 16th century. The idea is that faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient for our salvation, without the need for good works or following specific religious laws.

But, the Catholic Church has a different perspective. Let’s explore that.

The Role of Faith in Catholic Teaching

Faith is absolutely important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation” (CCC 161). This echoes what Jesus himself said: “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” (John 3:16).

So, faith is our entryway into a relationship with God. But is it the whole story?

Faith Must Be Alive Through Works

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote in his letter, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14). James goes on to say, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

According to the Catholic Church, our actions—our works—flow naturally from a true faith in Jesus Christ. The CCC captures this when it states, “Faith without works is dead” (CCC 1815).

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats

Jesus makes this point abundantly clear in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the story, Jesus separates the people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the “sheep” who cared for the hungry, the sick, and the needy, he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). The point is that their actions—their works—demonstrated their faith.

Not a Checklist, But a Relationship

Now, it’s essential to understand that the Catholic Church is not saying you earn your way to Heaven by ticking off a checklist of good deeds. That would be missing the point. Instead, good works are a natural outpouring of a loving relationship with God.

The CCC highlights this by saying, “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (CCC 1816). Faith is like a seed planted in good soil; it naturally grows and bears fruit (Matthew 13:23).

Grace: The Fuel Behind Faith and Works

This relationship of faith and works is made possible by grace, the free and unmerited favor of God. The Church teaches, “Our justification comes from the grace of God” (CCC 1996). By grace, we have faith, and by faith, we can do good works pleasing to God (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Sacraments: Channels of Grace

In Catholic teaching, Sacraments like Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confession are not just rituals but channels of God’s grace. They help sustain and grow our faith, nourishing it so that good works can follow. According to the CCC, the Sacraments “sustain the Christian on the journey of faith” (CCC 1210).


The Catholic doctrine of “Not By Faith Alone” is not a rejection of the importance of faith but rather an enriched understanding of how faith and works co-exist in a fruitful relationship. Faith gets us on the path to God, and works of love and charity are the footsteps that mark that path.

By engaging deeply with both faith and works, nourished by God’s grace, we can fulfill what Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). For Catholics, these two commandments are not separate but two sides of the same coin. And that coin is neither faith alone nor works alone but a harmonious and grace-filled blend of both.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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