Do Catholics Have to Work Their Way to Heaven?

Q. Would you explain to me the Catholic belief concerning the book of Ephesians chapter 2 verses 8-9.

A. I would be happy to explain Ephesians 2:8-9. First, lets read it.

Ephesians 2:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I am guessing that you are a Protestant and that the reason you have asked me to explain this verse is because you have been taught that no one can do any good work to earn their way into Heaven just as Eph. 2 says. But that Catholic believe that they must do good works to earn their way into Heaven. That Catholics believe in a Works Salvation rather than a Salvation by Faith in Jesus

I want to be very clear. I am an ex-Protestant. I was a zealous Sola Scriptura Protestant and was taught the “Catholic believe in works salvation” mantra.

What we were taught about the Catholic Faith is not True! Ok so what does the Catholic Church teach then?


Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Contrary to what you have been taught, no well formed Catholic believes that we must earn our salvation through good works. But many Catholics are not well taught and confuse the two issues of salvation and good works, which we were “created in Christ Jesus to do…”

And the Apostle James tells us

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself….”19 You believe that God is one You do well; even the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The stumbling block for Protestants is that they see obtaining Heaven as a one-step process–Salvation by Faith.

But Catholics are taught that obtaining Heaven is at least a two-step process.
1. Salvation by Faith.
2. Perfection/sanctification/ holiness/ purification.

As James says, faith is perfected, by works. Jesus did not just tell us to get our own souls to Heaven. He gave us a mission on Earth. But Salvation itself, becoming a part of the Body of Christ, is by Faith. But we believe, with James that FAITH MUST BE PERFECTED BY WORKS. The GREAT COMMISSION MUST BE ACCOPLISHED WITH WORKS.

But the possibility of salvation, the obtaining of salvation; and even Faith itself is a GIFT that cannot be earned.

Works Salvation/Works Righteousness
Do You Have to Be Baptized to be Saved?
Can We Lose Our Salvation?
Confession to God Alone? Scripture Alone?
Atonement, Salvation, & Temporal Punishment

9 Responses

  1. Hello whomever may be concerned,

    I agree that faith alone cannot save us. James is very clear. However, we do not need James’ statement in order to know this. Christ said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter into the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7: 21) Here Jesus is not speaking of Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, He is speaking of professing Christians and clearly says that they will not all enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So then, who does He say will enter the Kingdom? Those who have a real “Faith Only”? Absolutely not! Just look at what He in fact says, “…but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” It is necessary to obey God in order to go to Heaven, in other words, to be saved. Hebrews 5: 9 says that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all those who will obey the Father. In John 14: 23 Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will KEEP MY WORD; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”

    And I agree also that true, biblical, saving faith is a gift from God, because we cannot know the things we must believe and obey unless He teaches us. He said, “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10: 17) Faith in the Easter bunny won’t cut it. Faith in Santa Clause won’t cut it. Faith in the Traditions of men, which make the Word of God of none effect won’t cut it (The reason I say it this way is because the Scriptures give us all we need that pertain to life and godliness and are able to make us perfect, and complete, thoroughly equipped unto every good work [2 Tim 3: 16-17]. If we need it, it is in the Scriptures. Therefore, the Traditions cannot add anything necessary that are not given to us in the Bible, they can only take away by adding error. They make the word of God of none effect with such things as forbidding bishops to marry. 1 Timothy 3 is clear that a man must be the husband of one wife in order to be considered for the office of a bishop.). We must believe in God according to His revelation of Himself and His gospel, which is revealed to us in Holy Script.

    The Scriptures are very clear about what is necessary in order to receive salvation, as they are able to make us perfect, thoroughly equipped unto every good work (2 Timothy 3: 16-17). These things are:

    1. Hearing the Word of God that we might know what we are to believe. (Romans 10: 17; 1 Corinthians 1: 21, and others)

    2. Believing the Word preached. (John 20: 31; 1 Corinthians 1: 21; and many others)

    3. Repenting of our rebellion and choosing obedience to the will of God. (Acts 2: 38, Acts 17: 30 and others)

    4. Confessing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 10: 32-33)

    5. Being Immersed in water into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (baptized). (Mark 16: 15-16; 1 Peter 3: 21; Colossians 2: 11-12; Romans 6: 2-8 and others)

    6. Continuing in faithfulness until the end. (Hebrews 3: 6, 14; Revelation 2: 10; Revelation 3: 5 and many others.)

    The “continuing in faithfulness” includes obeying the Father in the things Jesus has commanded us. Note the great commission: “18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore[a] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

    Much more could be said.

    I agree that the Protestants will not teach these things as they too go by the traditions of men, but as I have maintained, I am not a Protestant.

    • Joseph,

      You said:

      the Scriptures give us all we need that pertain to life and godliness and are able to make us perfect, and complete, thoroughly equipped unto every good work [2 Tim 3: 16-17].

      You added the 2 Tim citation which would make many readers think they had just read a line straight out of scripture. And, I know from experience that this is how you have been taught to interpret this verse. But let’s take a look at what scripture actually says:

      II Tim.3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

      The difference between what you said and what the Scriptures actually say is significant. The Timothy passage does NOT say “the Scriptures give us all we need that pertains to life…”

      All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

      The sacred scriptures NO WHERE teach anything like your assertion that”

      ” If we need it, it is in the Scriptures.”

      Sola Scriptura is a tradition of men. It is not Scriptural.

  2. Here is a letter on the topic:

    Hello Mr. Hanagraaff,
    My name is Joe, and I am a very serious gospel preacher. For this reason, I do not believe that to adhere to human creeds is legitimate. I believe we should go by the Bible only. I have noticed you are very sincere and yet you make a number of serious errors. It is worth noting that sincerity is not a pardon, as Paul persecuted the church with all sincerity and was not to be pardoned.
    I will only mention a couple of your errors here. First, you say that we should hold Mark 16:15-16 with an open hand, because it may not be Scripture. In this, you recognize that it may very well be Scripture, but overall you earnestly contend to the contradiction of this passage as if you are certain that it is not Scripture. You ought to recognize that Mark 16:15-16 is not necessary to prove the necessity of baptism, as commanded by Jesus in the great commission and by Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, just ten days later in fulfillment of said commission.
    Second, you teach that certain passages that speak about the mechanism of action of our salvation, such as Eph. 2:8-10, are teaching that God does not use criteria in deciding upon whom He will bestow His grace. This is incorrect because He does not do anything in a random, chaotic fashion. He does all things according to wisdom and with a good purpose. This being true, He does not bestow His grace upon mankind in a random way as a “modern artist” splashes paint across a canvas.
    God paints a picture of the saved and the lost that is incredibly clear and consistent. In fact, He plainly commands certain things of us that, if we obey in the way He commands, He promises to bestow His grace upon us. However, make no mistake about it; His grace alone, in the work of Jesus Christ, saves us! That is the mechanism of action! Nevertheless, He does indeed use criteria to determine upon whom He will bestow His grace. Furthermore, He does not leave us in the dark about what those criteria are. He plainly tells us what they are, so that we may choose to conform to them.
    All people are capable of achieving the criteria, all one must do is choose to. These are things like Believing, Repenting, Confessing that Jesus is Lord, submitting to Baptism for the remission of sins, and holding the beginning of our confidence and the rejoicing of the hope, firm to the end.

    • Did Hank Hanagraff actually suggest Mark 16:15-16 may not be scripture????!!!

      This is inevitible. Because the Scriptures are not a book of systematic theology. Only the Teachings of the Apostles as contained in Sacred Tradition can make cohesive sense our of every scripture.

      All non Catholic theologies eventually come up against scripture that contradicts it.

      Joe, it seems to me that you are truly seeking God and Truth. Keep it up. “Come Holy Spirit!”

  3. Hello BFHU,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I can hardly imagine a better compliment than the one you have paid me, that you think that I am sincerely seeking God’s truth. I am. I hope that you and many others on this blog site are also.

    Concerning what you said about the 2 Tim 3: 16-17 passage. You are correct that it does not contain all of what I mentioned in the sentence for which I used it in reference. I did not intend to imply that it did. That was a mistake on my part, at least in part due to laziness. Please forgive my error.

    2 Peter 1: 2-4 contains the reference to that part of my statement: “2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” I explain my use of it in the way in which I used it by pointing out that he says, “…THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of Him who called us by glory and virtue,…” Essentially, he is saying that God did the work through Jesus Christ and we may be partakers of the grace which that brings through the knowledge of and faith in Jesus Christ, True faith requiring obedience also. This knowledge is attained through the Word of God recorded in the Scriptures, which are able to make us perfect, thoroughly equipped unto every good work.

    Now, since 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God MAY BE COMPLETE, THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED FOR EVERY GOOD WORK (NKJV).” It is accurate to say that if we need it, it may be found in the Scriptures. Because, if it is not in the Scriptures and we do in fact need it, then the Scriptures are neither able to make us complete nor are they able to thoroughly equip us unto every good work. Therefore, it necessarily follows that we have no need for Traditions, because all that we have need of may be found in the Scriptures. Lest Paul be found to be lying in 2 Timothy 3: 16-17.

    A syllogism may be formulated from these facts:

    1. To be perfect and complete in spiritual things is to have all that you need in spiritual things.

    2. The Scriptures make us perfect and complete thoroughly equipped unto ALL good works in spiritual things.

    3. Therefore, The Scriptures are all that one needs in spiritual things.

    I am sorry if you do not like that, but it is the truth. Just as the practice of compelling a man to swear an oath of celibacy to become a bishop is contradicting God’s Word in 1 Timothy 3: 1-7, because you are telling a bishop that he may not marry when God clearly authorized that bishop to marry. Your Tradition makes the Word of God of none effect.

    The case is actually much worse than that however, because I was being generous. God’s word actually says that a man must already be the husband of one wife before he may be considered for the office of a bishop. I pray that some day you will come to love the truth also.

    Much more could be said,

    Thank you for your time.

    • Dear Joseph,

      Sola Scriptura or Scripture + Apostolic Teaching (Sacred TRADITION) is not a matter of what I like or not. In fact, one of the very best things about being Catholic is that my ego is not annoyed or offended or even ruffled when others reject my beliefs. It is such a blessing of Peace and serenity, unknown to me as a Protestant.

      I was fervently attempting to have my faith align with scripture ONLY for a good 20 years. It just did not work. One would always come upon verses that just did not quite fit or make sense according my own theology. Or nagging doubts and wonderings; like:

      How could sola scriptura really have worked all those centuries before the printing press, when one hand lettered Bible cost tens of thousands of dollars? Before 80% of the world population could read, and what about that other 20% who are still illiterate right now?

      Have you ever realized that the 2Tim passage was written before the NT was canonized so St. Paul must then have meant only the OT?

      Have you ever thought about the fact that the Table of Contents of the OT and the NT are Traditions of Men since the Bible itself does not reveal a list of the inspired books?

      And what about all those souls, for the nearly four centuries before the Bible as we now know it was canonized? Were they free of the sola scriptura doctrine? And if so, when did sola scriptura become binding upon the Christian? Can you find the answer in scripture alone?

      How can you trust the canon of scripture, but denounce the Church that gave us the canon, as heretical?

      How can you trust the OT canon of the Jews who rejected Jesus thus removing 7 books from the Christian OT canon?

      Joseph, tell Our Lord that you will follow the TRUTH no matter where it leads and ask Him to guide you.

      Pray this Prayer:

      Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in me the fire of Your LOVE.Enlighten my understanding in order that I may know your commands; strengthen my heart against the snares of the enemy; enkindle my will. I have heard your voice and I do not want to harden my heart and resist saying, “Later…tomorrow…” Right NOW! Lest there be no tomorrow for me.

      O Spirit of Truth and Wisdom, Spirit of Understanding and Counsel, Spirit of Joy and Peace! I want what you want, because you want it, as you want it, as long as you want it. Amen.

  4. BFHU,

    Yes, Hank actually has said that Mark 16: 15-16 may not be Scripture.

  5. Here is an article I wrote on Ephesians 2:8 and why it can only support the Catholic side:

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