Here allusion can well be made to the case so often cited, that of the good thief to whom Christ said on Calvary, "This day you shall be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Since that thief had done no good works, how can we explain his salvation, if faith alone is not sufficient? To say that the good thief did no good works is to take far too narrow a view of what good works mean. We must not think only of being good to the poor or of other forms of humanitarianism. After all, the good thief publicly proclaimed the innocence of Christ and equally, with deep humility, acknowledged his own guilt. These were already good works.From Catholic Answers
In any case, that the good thief did not have time to do further good works after his conversion could not affect the principle that good works are necessary, good works which the good thief would certainly have the will to do, had he had the opportunity. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "In doing good let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing. Therefore while we have time let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. 6:9-10).
It rests with God how much time each of us will have. But while we have it God expects us to do good, and our salvation depends upon our doing it. If we do it, Paul tells us that we shall reap our reward. And our Lord himself tells us, as we have seen, that our not doing it can result in the loss of our souls.
But even were we to grant that an exception was made in the case of the good thief, the exception proves the rule, and we cannot argue from the special dispensation in his case to what is normally required. But did not Paul expressly tell the Galatians that we are "justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified?" (Gal. 2:16). He did. But with what was he concerned?
Paul was refuting the Judaizing Christians, those early converts to the Church who claimed that, in addition to their acceptance of the teachings of Christ and the fulfillment of his law, those baptized were obliged still to observe the prescriptions of the Jewish or Mosaic Law. Denouncing that, Paul insisted that Christ had abolished the Mosaic Law, fulfilling yet transcending it and making possible by his death on the cross and the power of grace a righteousness which observance of the Mosaic Law of itself could give man no power to attain. But he did not by that intend that Christians, emancipated from observance of Jewish obligations, are to be saved merely by faith in Christ without observing the law of Christ himself in our daily conduct. Paul teaches, of course, that even for Christians good works, while necessary, cannot of themselves be the cause of salvation. They need a value derived from Christ. Divine grace is indeed a communication of the very righteousness of Christ to our souls, giving a new value to all the good works we strive to do. It is this grace which enables us to fulfill the law, not according to the letter, but in the spirit. Thus Paul writes that "the justification of the law may be fulfilled in us who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit" (Rom. 8:4).
James, well aware of the mind of Paul, wrote most strongly on this subject. "Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (Jas. 1:22). Again: "What shall it profit if a man if he has faith, but has not works? Shall faith be able to save him? . . . You believe that there is one God. You do well. But the devils also believe and tremble. But will you know, vain man, that faith without works is dead. . . . By works a man is justified and not by faith only. Even as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:14, 19, 20, 26).
Rightly, then, the Catholic Church insists and has always insisted that both faith and good works are required for righteousness in the Christian sense of the word and for salvation. Right beliefs and right conduct are necessary.
also from Catholic Answers
Christians have always interpreted the Bible literally when it declares, "Baptism . . . now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 3:21; cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6:3–4, Col. 2:11–12).
Thus the early Church Fathers wrote in the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381), "We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins."
And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Lord himself affirms that baptism is necessary for salvation [John 3:5]. . . . Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament [Mark 16:16]" (CCC 1257).
The Christian belief that baptism is necessary for salvation is so unshakable that even the Protestant Martin Luther affirmed the necessity of baptism. He wrote: "Baptism is no human plaything but is instituted by God himself. Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat. It is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted" (Large Catechism 4:6).
Yet Christians have also always realized that the necessity of water baptism is a normative rather than an absolute necessity. There are exceptions to water baptism: It is possible to be saved through "baptism of blood," martyrdom for Christ, or through "baptism of desire", that is, an explicit or even implicit desire for baptism.
Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, are saved even if they have not been baptized" (CCC 1281; the salvation of unbaptized infants is also possible under this system; cf. CCC 1260–1, 1283).
As the following passages from the works of the Church Fathers illustrate, Christians have always believed in the normative necessity of water baptism, while also acknowledging the legitimacy of baptism by desire or blood.
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