Invariably, one of the verses, if not THE VERSE, you will hear most quoted from our Protestant brothers and sisters is:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing it is the gift of God.
This verse is often used to justify the Protestant doctrine of salvation by “faith alone.” There is exhaustive writing on the meaning of this verse, but I’m always flummoxed by the simple notion that on its face this verse does not say we are saved by faith, it plainly states that we are saved by grace. Salvation by Grace has always been Catholic teaching. We can do nothing without grace. It is God who gives us the grace to have faith. It is God who gives us the grace to empower our free will to accept his gift of grace to have faith. It is grace that keeps us in faith, deepens us in faith, and keeps us going. It is grace that gives me my next breath. It is grace that makes me want to do good works, to decide to do them, and then to empower me to go forward in action. Everything is grace.
That being said, what does mean to be saved by grace THROUGH faith? I think the answer is simple … through your faith, you will receive more grace. So what happens when you live your faith? What happens when you do good works because of your faith? We see the answer in this verse from Romans:
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
So living your faith, i.e., doing good works, rebounds back to you in, “glory and honor and peace.” In other words, lived faith begets grace. This is where the sacraments come in.
First, what is a sacrament? The Church defines a Sacrament as, “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” These “outward signs” are things we are directed to do by God as an act of faith. Since we are doing them as an act of faith, it necessarily follows that in doing this prescribed act of faith we receive grace. Let’s look at the seven sacraments.
Baptism: We are commanded to do it:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
And just as Romans says that be “are saved by grace through faith” the Bible says that the act of faith at is Baptism brings us saving grace:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you….
1 Peter 3:21
Communion: We are told to do it:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
And, it gives eternal life:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Confirmation: We see it is necessary even after Baptism and it directly confers the Holy Spirit:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Confession: We are told to do it, and it heals you:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Anointing of the Sick: We are told to do it, and it forgives sins:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Holy Orders: are conveyed a “gift” (of grace) by the laying on of hands (similar to Confirmation):
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, WHICH WAS GIVEN TO YOU by prophecy when the Council of Elders LAID THEIR HANDS ON YOU.”
1 Timothy 4:13-14
Marriage: Of all the sacraments, marriage is the only one we are not specifically instructed to do. This is probably because even though marriage is a well known natural state, not everyone is called to it. Therefore, a direct charge in Scripture for all people to participate in marriage is unwarranted. However, it is clear that marriage conveys a special grace:
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.
1 Corinthians 7:14
We see from scripture that each Sacrament is an act of FAITH conveys GRACE to us for our SALVATION. Thus, we can see that it is through the Sacraments by which we can best understand Ephesians statement that we “by grace you have been saved through faith.”