Coming from a Protestant background, reconciling faith and works has at times been difficult. The debate of what it takes to be justified is ongoing and both sides can be confusing at times. But in the middle of the night, I finally had a moment of clarity. So I got up and wrote it down so I would be able to remember it in the morning. This is what I have finally come to understand along with a little background to the story.
I have found that Protestants often quote the verse in Isaiah about works being like filthy rags to God as evidence that works have no bearing on salvation. But I have come to see that the people to whom it is referring have turned from God, and so no good deed they do is truly good. So here is the clarity God showed me in the middle of the night:
With out Christ’s perfecting work on the cross, our works are absolutely useless, like filthy rags. But in light of the cross, our works are beautiful to God and absolutely necessary.
I feel like I may have heard this somewhere before, so I don’t want to claim it as my own new “revelation.” But I finally truly grasped the difference between the works in Isaiah and the works we are required to do because Christ commanded us to.
Because I’m a visual learner I also made a few pictures to help me understand and in the future hopefully help others understand.
So because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, we as humans are separated from God. Everything we do (the arrows), no matter how good, will fall short. Our works alone will never be able to bring us to the same side as God. But there is good news!
Christ’s perfecting work on the cross gives us the ability to meet God on His side of the chasm sin created. Our faith in what Christ did holds the cross in place as a bridge of sorts. But works (again the arrow) bring us fully to the other side. Without the works we would still be just chilling on our side. Our faith would keep that cross where it is, but we wouldn’t be using the opportunity it provides us. The cross allows our works, which may be the same exact things we had tried before, to bring us closer to God. If we lose our faith (which according to many Protestant denominations would mean we never truly had faith to begin with), the cross bridge disappears and we go back to the first image of trying to be good (or maybe not) and falling short every time.
I am not an expert of the Catholic Church, so if anyone finds that any of this goes against what she teaches, then please let me know so I can correct it. I do not want to add to any misconceptions about what the Church teaches, so please feel free to correct me if I am mistaken.