If faith is like an apple tree, then salvation is like apple cider. Apple cider is not a mere product of an apple tree; apple cider requires the work of both the tree and the apple farmer.
Let me restate, the fruit of an apple tree is not a jug of apple cider, the jug of apple cider does not appear until the apples have been picked and prepared and pressed and… well, whatever else an apple cider maker has to do.
Salvation is not something that we do. We are like the apple trees in the sense that, as important as our faith and works are to salvation, there is no equation, in fact: faith + works ≠ salvation—more specifically, faith + works < salvation.
Faith alone is not enough for salvation, especially when we are using faith in the sense of something that we do. Believing itself is a kind of doing. The supernatural gift of faith also requires a response, so it doesn’t change the question.
For faith to produce salvation is beyond what is humanly possible, we need the Farmer—our holy Father. Salvation is a gift given by God, but for which God seeks our cooperation because it is not merely a fruit from us, nor a reward for us, but is an action of healing and ultimately health to be lived out in the presence of God.
A farmer who wants to make apple cider wants the whole tree to be in good order. It has to have wood, bark, leaves, apples, roots and many other pieces and processes. To take the analogy one step further, an apple tree needs both wood and bark. The wood is the strong supportive part of the tree that keeps the apples off the ground, and the bark is the outer part that comes in contact with the world, but also carries water and soil nutrients to the leaves and fruits. For an apple tree to bear fruit, both wood and bark are necessary. Moreover, without both of them there would be neither apples nor apple cider.
So, also, for a life of sanctity and for salvation, both faith and works are necessary and interdependent. Faith is necessary because it is the underlying and supporting reality which shapes all of our actions. Works are the point of contact between that faith and the world. Works express the shape of the established faith, but they also nourish and form a growing faith.
This response to the question is not to avoid the scriptural or apologetic arguments made by others. In fact, there are very good arguments made about the necessity of both faith and works. Nor is it to deny that certain kinds of works, like circumcision, are not necessary to salvation. This column is rather to put the question into a larger context, the whole tree or the whole farm, because the life of the Christian is much richer than either this or that or even both.
Fr. Streifel is pastor of the Church of St. Joseph in Dickinson. If you have a question you were afraid to ask, now is the time to ask it! Simply email your question to
with the “Question Afraid to Ask” in the subject line.