Dear Friends in Christ,
The Fourth Principle of Evangelical Catholicism states that “Through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus, and having been justified by faith we are called to sanctification and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the good works of the new creation. We must, therefore, learn to live as faithful disciples and to reject whatever is contrary to the Gospel, which is the Good News of the Father’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
When Protestants want to explain what they perceive as the primary mistake in Catholic teaching on salvation, they often charge that we believe in “works righteousness,” by which they mean that Catholics falsely believe we can earn the favor of God and be rewarded with eternal salvation by doing good works as opposed to being justified by faith. But to frame the conversation in this way presents a false choice between faith and works because we are not saved by either faith or works; rather, we are saved only by Jesus Christ, and his work of salvation is pure grace – the free and unmerited favor of God. The question, then, is how Christ extends to us this offer of salvation by grace and how we respond to that offer. To answer this question we must first acknowledge that all grace is mediated, meaning that God’s grace is given to us through instruments that correspond to our nature: words that we can hear and read, food that we can eat, the touch of human hands that we can feel. This is what it means to say that “through Word and Sacrament we are drawn by grace into a transforming union with the Lord Jesus.”
The fourth principle goes on to insist that having been justified by faith, we are then called to holiness of life – a call for which we are equipped by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Lord Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father…” And what is the will of Our Father? We are commanded to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the immigrant, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned. Those who do these things will be welcomed into the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, while those who do not do these things will be cast away into eternal punishment. (cf. Matthew 25.31-46)
This is not works righteousness; this is living by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only because we have first received God’s gift of faith in Jesus Christ (justification), do we strive to live the life of the new creation in Jesus Christ (sanctification) so that we may inherit everlasting life in Jesus Christ (glorification). Justification must lead to sanctification which is made perfect in glorification; only together do these three moments of grace constitute what we mean by salvation: sharing by the grace of adoption the life and glory of the Triune God by our communion with the Lord Jesus Christ.