As noted in the last post of this series, I will here be discussing how doing good works is shown to be necessary by the Gospel accounts.
According to St. Paul, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3, NABRE). Yet, Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). How can this be, if no one can call Him “Lord” any other way than “by the holy Spirit”? But Jesus continued:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7:22-23).
Put together, these passages mean that the ability to act or speak “by the holy Spirit” (such as in proclaiming Jesus as “Lord”) does not in itself offer certainty of eternal life, or even of upright character. This makes sense in light of one of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching on ministers of the sacraments:
“This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel” (#1550).
What all of this shows is that a person can have great “belief in” God—enough to do great deeds in His name—but still have little or no goodness so long as they refuse to do good deeds. It shows that “The righteousness of the minister does not give the sacraments their power; God does” (In Persona Christi: The Concept Explained, p. 2 [http://www.ourladyofloreto.org/RCIA/03_DOCTRINES/in_persona_christi.pdf]). It demonstrates that “God must be true, though every human being is a liar” (Rom 3:4).
God’s allowing those who refuse to do His will to do great things in His name or to testify to His name is obviously possible; otherwise, Christ would have no reason to ask “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Lk 6:49). God can work great things through all people, not just those who do good; for they all fail to do good at some points in their lives, yet He’s willing to do great things through all of them if they’ll just give him the chance.
In the Gospel of John, Our Lord taught that “if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world” (Jn 12:47). This might seem to argue for a person not needing to heed Jesus’ words, only to hear and believe them; but Jesus continues:
“Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life” (Jn 12:48-50).
Here’s an interesting question: if doing good works—that is, showing obedience to the Commandments—is not necessary for salvation, then what was the purpose for all of Jesus’ teachings on morality? Wouldn’t that have been a waste of time, if good works were unnecessary? It would have been nothing more than preaching subjective ideals, rather than expounding real moral truths. But that is not the case; for as Jesus Himself confessed, “[the Father’s] commandment is eternal life” (my emphasis).
The third sentence spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). This makes it clear that only believing in the “Good News of Salvation” (as “Gospel” is defined by CatholicCulture.org’s “Catholic Dictionary”)—though that too is both good and necessary—is not all there is to salvation. To merit salvation, one must also turn away from evil (that is, “Repent”), which implies obeying the Commandments in order to merit the Kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:15) through one’s works.