As a matter of fact, it is one of the aspects of our own faith that is often misunderstood—not just by Protestants but even by Catholics themselves. The simple truth is that “works don’t save anyone.” We are saved by Jesus’ death on the cross and the gift of faith with which we have been blessed. No one “works” his or her way into heaven.
And it is absolutely true that “faith without works is useless.” Good works show our faith is true and sincere. We would never say, “Oh, I believe, therefore it doesn’t matter what I do.” That would be like one spouse telling the other, “Oh, I love you, but I don’t consider that requiring anything of me.” How absurd that would be, and how that would indicate that the first statement, “I love you,” was just a lie. As true Christians, we do not just need both faith and work. Our hearts tell us that we want both if we are to be authentic Christians.
Now this brings us to Lent. Lenten regulations today are very mild compared to those in the past. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and then abstaining from meat the six Fridays in Lent are hardly burdensome. In fact, for many, fish has become a staple of a healthy diet. So in terms of real penance, the restrictions are truly light.
But when it comes to fasting, we are dealing with much more than food. Look at Jesus. He fasted from the constant need to ensure his good name with the religious leaders. He fasted from his own security, putting himself at risk in preaching and healing. And, of course, he fasted from the power that was his as God— living on this earth “like us in all things except sin.”