When discussing the way in which grace, faith, and good works work together for our justification, the following analogy may be helpful:
A rich man (God) with endless wealth tells people (us) in his town that he will give each of them one billion dollars (grace) if they come to his house, sign an agreement, and retrieve bank account information necessary for accessing the money (working faith). The rich man also tells those who can’t make it on their own due to some impairment that he will arrange for their transportation at no cost to them.
When the townspeople begin to arrive, the rich man informs them that the money is theirs and that they never have to pay him back. He states one stipulation though – they must use the money for good and never for evil (good works). If they use the money for evil, the owner will take everything they purchased with the money and seize the remaining money. But the owner also advises them that if they contritely repent of their evil purchases, he will return the money and the items to them. The people agree and depart with one billion dollars each.
The Scheme of Salvation
In the scheme of salvation, God gives us the grace necessary to have a working faith in Him. He tells us to journey, physically and spiritually, to the baptismal font with faith, trusting that He will wash away our sins. (Regarding infant baptism, the faith of the parents and the Church suffices, because an infant does not ask for Original Sin and, therefore, does not need to ask for baptism.)
Once we are baptized and exist in a state of grace, God tells us to do good and avoid evil. By violating this fundamental precept, we tell Him that we no longer want His grace, and He withdraws it from us. But He also gives us a way back to him via grace and the sacrament of confession. Here, we ask God to put us back in the same state of grace we abandoned through sin and to bring us back into Christ’s body, the Church.
Just as baptism is performed by ministers of the Church and brings people into it, confession is performed by minsters of the Church and brings backthose who have fallen away after baptism. Although I have a relationship with God, it must never be a relationship divorced from my brothers and sisters in the Church. God clearly designs us to be social beings, who contribute to the common good, within a family whose head is our Father.
Working Faith Vs. Works Alone
By the way, a working faith is different from working one’s way to God. One who adopts the latter position erroneously believes he can work from the natural to the supernatural without repentance and without God’s forgiveness and grace. The former adopts the position in which he takes hold of the grace God gives him to seek forgiveness, repents of his sins and receives forgiveness and grace. Then, this person obeys God (does good and avoids evil) in a state of grace.