Works of the Law vs. Love: A Catholic Salvation Proof Text

Catholics sometimes struggle with Protestant “proof texts” – single verses that appear to support certain teachings. While proof texts are often taken out of context and sometimes are used to support unbiblical teachings, they are not all bad. While knowing the teaching of Scripture as a whole is best, it doesn’t hurt to have a few proof texts at the ready when needed.

Galatians 5:4-6 is the closest thing to a single “proof text” I’ve found that sums up Catholic salvation theology. What might surprise many Protestants is that it is from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Here is the passage (in the ESV so as not to offend my separated brethren haha):

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Note that St. Paul is not simply contrasting works with faith. Rather, he is saying that while the Law cannot save, faith can – but not just any faith. Saving faith is one that works – through love. Luther’s unbiblical Sola Fide doctrine (which is directly contradicted by James 2:24) is actually true if “fide” = “faith expressed through love.” The Reformation’s separation of saving faith from loving works is a theological construct the Church simply doesn’t support (and neither does Scripture).

Luther made a basic error in conflating “good works” and “works of the law” (which is why he had to add to Romans and subtract from James to appear biblical). If exegetes would take the time to notice how those terms are used, the disagreement might be settled (see Between Moralism and Legalism).

More on “works of the law” here: