Is there such a thing as a shibboleth of good works? What seems like a mouth full of gummy bears might actually have some importance for contemplative practice.


It would be easier to be tossed into the proverbial briar patch of religious concepts than it would be to untangle the Gordian Knot surrounding these two words, “good works.” Depending on which side of the Catholic or Protestant Reformation you find yourself, it is indeed a Tower of Babel with very strongly held beliefs about its meaning on both sides. And, might I add, misunderstandings. Several years ago, I had occasion to talk with an Army Chaplain colleague about the concept of Faith Alone, the idea that only Faith can save someone. I told this Chaplain that I believed that I am saved by Faith alone, understood as a totally undeserved gift from God that allows each of us to say Jesus is Lord. He told me that I did not actually believe what I told him but that Faith Alone could save a person through their belief. He was telling me what his interpretation was of the words, good works, i.e., that they are not necessary for salvation, just Faith. I kept trying to tell him that my concept of good works did not include the idea that I could work my way to salvation but that good works were the result of a dynamic Faith. When I used the verse from James 2:14-26, he got very angry with me and stormed off muttering something about my lack of Faith. I bring this up to point out that there are great difference in beliefs about what Faith is, how we can be saved and what our role is in the salvific plan of God. I must admit to being a little miffed over being told that I believed something that I had just told Chaplain I did not hold to be true.

The following ideas came in one of my Lectio Divina meditations on the subject of good works as necessary for salvation and where they fit in the scheme of things. I will share with you three elements that make up what I think about the notion of good works. Realize that I do not speak authoritatively as a representative of any religion or Lay Cistercian group. I am only a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian making his way down the rocky road of life, trying to make it to the next rest stop on the way to meet Christ. Most of the time I find myself short of breath and having to rest along the way.

THE RULE OF ST. BENEDICT — Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict is entitled “Instruments of Good Works”. It lists activities that we can do to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus. I pray this Chapter 4 every day, at least in part, because I want to become what I pray. I am conscious that these practices and values are only a means to an end and not an end in themselves. St. Benedict calls Chapter 4 the ‘Instruments for Good Works.” What is important here is the notion that these works are not the end but merely the tools to reach the end, the end being “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” If you become what you read, you will be loving others as Christ loves you.

THE BALANCE OF JAMES CHAPTER 2 The purpose of Scriptures, according to John 20:30 is that you may believe that Jesus Christ is Son of God. This is not a dead Faith but one that makes present in you the very life of God, so that you may have life in his name. Good works are the product of Faith. Good works by each of us are making Christ present on the earth in our particular time frame. The living body of Christ is us, imperfect as we are. Is there such a thing as losing your Faith? Can you stop believing in Christ? Faith comes from God. Belief comes from humans. Both are different sides of the coin.

WHAT IS GREATER THAN FAITH? How could there be anything greater than Faith, if Faith is a gift from God to enable the mind and heart to say, Abba, that is, Father? Faith has three dimensions. Faith, Hope, and Love. The Church calls it the three theological virtues. All of one, yet all are separate.

MATTHEW 25 NRSVCE – Matthew points out an important about Faith, one that is uncomfortable. Faith is not an entitlement nor a right, but the power from God to complete the purpose of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to care for all reality, including to love others as Christ loves us. When we die, we have a particular judgment about how well we loved. Faith comes the responsibility to implement and produce something with that Faith we first received in Baptism. It is nourished with Eucharist (Christ’s own body and blood) and sustained through the forgiveness of our sins by making all things new. There is accountability, according to Matthew. We are bid to show mercy to others if we want mercy for ourselves. We are judged according to our works or the product of Faith. Dead trees don’t produce good fruit. It is a warning that we must DO what we promise in our Baptismal commitment. We must love others as Christ has loved us.

The Judgment of the Nations31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


It would be a big mistake to think that there has been no dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans on the subject of good works as necessary for salvation. Read the document for yourselves and make up your own mind as to the progress taking place.


Good works are what we do to help us move from self to God.

Faith has three dimensions: Faith (God’s energy), Hope, Love.

Love is the product of good works.

You can not buy or pray your way to Heaven without Faith.

There are only three types of works: good works, bad works, and no works.

In Marriage, saying you love someone is not enough to sustain a relationship.

We are all saved by Faith, but that Faith, must be demonstrated by its product, love.


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