by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not from you;
it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9)
Baptist often quote this verse to show that we are saved by faith alone. Yes, salvation is the work of God who sent Christ to die for our sins. This is a free gift of God because we didn't do anything to earn it. But they fail to take into consideration St. Paul's letter to Titus where he states Christ "Saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit." (Tim 3:5) The ideology of "Salvation by faith alone" is responsible for their rejection of the Sacraments. "To grant that the act of Baptism itself, a "Work," has any sacramental power at all, that it washes away one's sins and gives new birth in Christ, is to admit that some other action beyond faith alone is necessary for salvation." (Webpage:Sacraments and "Works": Where Protestants get it wrong) This is why the two mandated sacraments they recognize, Baptism and the Lord's supper, are given only symbolical meaning. The Catholic Church insists that the sacraments work ex opere operato which means "by the work worked" intended to indicate that it is the power of Christ working in them independent of the one doing the work. The one receiving the sacraments must have the proper disposition and faith. For example, if one confesses sins before a priest and deliberately does not confess a serious sin, he of she is not forgiven. As a matter of fact he of she commits another sin. I define a sacrament as an action of Christ working through the signs the the Church uses.
should also consider what St. Paul means by "works".
St. Paul also says that a "person is not justified by works of the law" (Gal 2:16). What does he mean? Here he is speaking of the Mosaic Law which points to dietary and purification regulations including the Ten Commandments. Works of the Law also refers to actions done only with human willpower devoid of God's grace. The law made him aware of what was unlawful but did not give his the power to carry it out. (Webpage: Faith vs. Works? ...by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio)
With the letter of Paul to St. James we encounter a seeming contradiction. It reads:
good is it, my brothers,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them, Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,
but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
Martin Luther could not reconcile St. Paul emphasis on "faith" with St. James emphasis on "works". He wrote, "I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible, but I would not prevent anyone placing him or raising him where he likes, ...." (Webpage: Luther's Preface to James and Jude)
Faith and works are not contrary but complement each other. The two can be easily reconciled. Works done out of love for God are also necessary for salvation as opposed to works done for selfish reasons such as to be praised by men. The expression, "Salvation by faith alone" is not stated as such in the Bible. It is a Protestant ideology or a narrowing of the idea of salvation.