How Much Endeavor Is Necessary?

Mark Jones responds to the question of how many good works are necessary for salvation. He thinks the question is a tad misplaced:

Such questions (i.e., “How many?”) may actually reveal a legal spirit, not a gospel spirit, that needs mortifying. From those who should know better, to ask “How many good works?” is not evidence to me that they are trying to guard something special (i.e., justification), but rather that they are trying to ignore something glorious, namely, that God accepts the sincere obedience of his children because they are pure in heart (Matt. 5:8; Ps. 73:1; 24:4), live by faith (Gal. 2:20), and obey in the Spirit (Rom. 8:13-14). God warns, promises, and commands for our good.

Do fear of punishment and hope of rewards cause servile fear in a Christian? John Owen asserts that such a reaction is a “vain” imagination. Only the bondage of our spirits can make what we do servile. Owen says, “a due respect unto God’s promises and threatenings is a principal part of our liberty.” Returning to the Scriptures themselves, Paul says we must put to death the misdeeds of the flesh if we want to live (Rom. 8:13). This we do by the Spirit. But it isn’t an option for the Christian. If you want to ask yourself whether good works are necessary for final salvation (“life”, Rom. 8:13), ask yourself this (via Owen):

What if a professing Christian does not mortify the misdeeds of the flesh? Will he or she live or die? To argue that good works are necessary for final salvation is to answer the previous question by saying, “die”. To ask how many? Well, that, it seems to me, is to ask God a question that his word, quite rightly, does not answer.

I concede theology is above my pay grade, but I do wonder if the catechism is clearer than the conversations the Obedience Boys encourage. Notice, for instance, the two-fold distinction in the catechism:

Q. 39. What is the duty which God requireth of man?
A. The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.

Q. 40. What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience was the moral law.

Q. 41. Where is the moral law summarily comprehended?
A. The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.

So God requires obedience. But the fall happened. Now what?

Q. 85. What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?

A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.

The catechism separates the discussion of the law as a rule for God’s dealing with humans before the fall from teaching about how those fallen escape God’s wrath and curse. It does not say that new obedience is part of the means why which Christians escape damnation. It says, precisely, “endeavor after new obedience.” Part of repentance is seeking to obey.

So then how much endeavor is necessary? That is a different question from how much obedience.

25 thoughts on “How Much Endeavor Is Necessary?

  1. dgh–So God requires obedience. But the fall happened. Now what?

    mcmark–if you were truly confessional, you would make it clear that God required obedience was not simply “law” but in fact “the covenant of works”

    Berkhof– “The great promise of the covenant of works was the promise of eternal life. They who deny the covenant of works generally base their denial in part on the fact that there is no record of such a promise in the Bible. And it is perfectly true that Scripture contains no EXPLICIT promise of eternal life to Adam. But the threatened penalty clearly IMPLIES such a promise. When the Lord says, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” his statement clearly IMPLIES that, if Adam refrains from eating, he will not die, but will be raised ABOVE THE POSSIBILITY OF DEATH. The implied promise CERTAINLY CANNOT mean that, in the case of obedience, Adam would be permitted to live on in the usual way, that is, to continue the ordinary natural life, for that life was his already in virtue of his creation, and therefore could not be held out as a reward for obedience….Adam was created in a state of positive holiness, and was immortal in the sense that he was not subject to the law of death.”

    mcmark–Romans 2 teaches us that the number of sinners justified by their keeping the law in Romans 2 is an “empty set”. Christ’s death for sinners is not hypothetical, because Christ died only for elect sinners and each elect sinner will be saved not by their works but by Christ’s death as satisfaction to law. The death of the first Adam in satisfaction to law could not bring salvation.

    John Zahl–being both justified and sinners is the LAST WORD for all Christians in this age until they are raised up on the LAST DAY.

    John Zahl–The question of justification (at least in Protestant circles) is often understood to be a non-issue. Melanchthon and others were quick to draw lines of separation between justification and sanctification. While justification was understood to be entirely based upon imputation, they assumed that sanctification was a process.

    John Zahl –Many traditions within Christianity have little room for the continued existence of sin within Christians. For them, being Christian is a process of attaining perfection, perfection that is marred primarily by lack of experience and lack of faith, but not by persistent habitual sin. The presence of sin in the life of Christians is understood to be, anomalous and containable, and, if it is not, then the question of whether or not the Christian actually is a Christian at all comes into play.

    Mark Jones—“A wise man once said, we should not turn the covenant of grace into a covenant of works. We should also not let our proper concern about legalism turn sanctification into justification. The moment that occurs, you are dead (i.e., a gospel threat)

    Mark Jones–”in saying that God accepts our imperfect obedience, we must be careful not to bring this “acceptilatio” into the realm of justification, but keep it in the realm of sanctification.”


  2. Mark Jones–The more I actually read the Early Modern Reformed Orthodox the more I realized that what was passing for Reformed theology in America was, in fact, a bastardization of Reformed orthodoxy. Slogans, scare-words (“Sounds FV”), and the like were used, but very few people wanted to actually engage the sources. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard: “We can’t talk that way now because of Norman Shepherd….As for the “right” versus “possession” distinction– quite frankly, I hadn’t heard many talk about until years ago when I and a few others started writing on this distinction

    RG– while a large number of Reformed exegetes have understood the scenario in Romans chapter 2 verse 7 and 10 and 13 in a hypothetical sense – as a genuine offer of the law – not the gospel which no one, in fact, can fulfill. While that is an established reformed understanding, there have also been other exegetes, within the reformed tradition, that have questioned that understanding. And you see that at least for verses 6 to 11 very clearly in John Murray’s Romans commentary…. Murray understands that to be describing what will actually be the case for believers. At the day of judgment they will … when God’s righteous judgment will be … when God will give to each person according to his works … that will, in terms of verse 7 … believers will be those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality. And they will receive eternal life. That is John Murray’s teaching on that passage.

    AW : John Murray on Romans 2:13 …It needs to be noted, however, that at this point the apostle restricts himself to the judgment of condemnation. And this advises us that he is dealing now with the equity of God’s judgment of damnation as it is brought to bear upon men who fall into these two categories. This is significant. Whatever is meant by those who are “without law’ there is no suggestion to the effect that any who are “without law’ attain to the reward of eternal life.… can you reconcile the two statements by John Murray here?

    RG –from page 71 on 2:13. Let me read it, what Murray says and then comment.–“It is quite unnecessary to find in this verse any doctrine of justification by works in conflict with the teaching on this epistle in later chapters. Whether any will be actually justified by works either in this life or at the final judgment is beside the apostle’s interest and design at this juncture.”

    RG– I think Murray is leaving it an open question here. whether or not there will be anyone at the final judgment justified by works .. I think really it’s regrettable we don’t have Professor Murray here to ask this question because I think … my own view in the light of what he has said, and said so clearly about the judgment according to works in chapter two …would argue for understanding verse 13 here in the same way as describing an actual positive outcome. But he does, as you are pointing out, back away from that….. in my own view … it is Professor Murray that is in a bit of a tension here … And I would just accent again that in his understanding of verses 6-11, he has broken with a large number of Reformed interpreters in arguing that that describes a real judgment scenario with a positive outcome.


  3. and in studying it all from His word , reminder: God cannot lie. And the Spirit leads and testifies.

    Mark 1:15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

    John 3:5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

    Matthew 18:3and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Luke 12:32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.

    Matthew 7:21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.

    1 Corinthians 6: 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. [and Galatians 519 b immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.] 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.


  4. We used to have that nut on here who boasted about his holiness because he only stepped 60 paces on Sundays.

    Well, I have a lot of friends who probably do that as well when they watch football and move only to go to the beer fridge and the bathroom on Sundays.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jack Miller says: Ali,And your point is…?

    oh, I was just saying that when dgh says “the catechism is clearer” and when Susan says (from other post ) “that contradicts tradition”, only dgh also says – examine the Scriptures daily to see whether these things are so; reason from the Scriptures
    That is why as Susan says (from other post) we will always “get stuck once again”


  6. “endeavor after obedience” = grace excludes merit but not effort
    Which still seems contradictory while true.
    Which sounds like Catholicism’s “not either/or” but “both/and”


  7. mcmark—Since “the covenant” is conditional, even 100 percent God and 100 percent you might not be enough. Try 110 percent….

    William Evans–Number Four: In order further to separate the forensic and the transformatory and to portray the forensic as independent of other considerations, you place enormous emphasis on the theme of covenant—especially on constructs such as a “covenant of redemption” between the first and second Persons of the Trinity (never mind that such a notion implies two divine wills and is thus implicitly tri-theistic) and a “covenant of works” in the Garden (never mind that, as John Murray pointed out, the term “covenant” is not used until Genesis 6:18). Your attachment to the covenant theme is due in large measure to the fact that it gives you a vocabulary and conceptual apparatus for expressing the purely extrinsic, nominal relationships that will, you think, safeguard the doctrine of justification. Of course, it is difficult to completely expunge the notion of conditionality from the concept of covenant and you may be dimly aware of the way that foregrounding the covenant theme has placed the Reformed tradition on the horns of the conditionality/unconditionality dilemma, and so you may eventually feel the tug of Lutheranism.


  8. mcmark—Since we will never be certain enough about if effectual calling has happened , we need to welcome everybody into “the covenant” and then on the basis of that covenant grace, we can begin to command them if they are “antinomian” about the consequences of not sufficiently keeping covenant If there is no assumption of grace before a profession of effectual hearing, then there can be no “threats of grace”. Everybody knows that the power of sin is something different other than the guilt of law. Everybody knows that Romans 6 is not talking about being legally placed into Christ’s death but rather is talking about becoming regenerate like Jesus was….

    Williams Evans– Number Ten: You define the “gospel” primarily in terms of freedom from the condemnation of sin (justification) rather than freedom from both the condemnation and the power of sin (justification and sanctification).
    Number Nine: You are much more much more concerned about legalism than antinomianism.
    Number Eight: You view sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that concession to necessity might be potentially legalistic) rather than as grace parallel to justification that comes with our union with Christ and that is essential to the walk of faith and the path of salvation.
    Number Seven: You sense a tension between the Christ pro nobis (Christ for us) and the Christ in nobis (Christ in us). Thus, you are very suspicious of those you deride as “unionists” who want to see justification as communicated to the Christian through spiritual union with Christ.


  9. Mencken–This is the essential fact of …Puritanism—its recognition of the moral expert, the professional sinhound, the virtuoso of virtue…. a tendency to put moral considerations above all other considerations, and to define morality in the narrow Puritan sense–. the sinner has no rights that any one is bound to respect, and he is prone to mistake an unsupported charge of sinning, provided it be made violently enough, for actual proof and confession. What is more, the puritan takes an intense joy in the mere chase. “I am against capital punishment,” said Mr. Dooley, “but we won’t get rid of it so long as the people enjoy it so much.”


  10. Have you ever been pursued or found guilty by a sin-hound? It is not a pleasant experience to go through. I guess you just need to embrace the suck without much resistance- this is a hard thing to deal with; one of those hard sayings of Jesus.


  11. Be propitious to me, prayed the guy trying to sequester Christ’s righteousness into merely Christ’s alien work and forgiveness, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in us

    Thank you I am not like those who give evidence of a legal spirit by asking questions about how much. Thank you that you have enabled me not to ignore the difference Christian effort can make in staying in “the covenant of grace”.

    Lee Irons —In nominalism, the covenant becomes a way of circumventing strict justice, making possible the arbitrary acceptance as meritorious of that which is not actually meritorious…. the nominalist seizes on the notion of a condescension expressed by way of covenant. The nominalist definition of merit must be qualified as a lesser merit that cannot even exist apart from God’s gracious acceptation….Kline’s understanding of covenant is different. It is not a voluntary condescension of divine grace but a revelation of divine justice. …

    Click to access redefining_merit.pdf

    Luke 18: 8 When the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?” 9 He also told this parable to some who TRUSTED IN THEMSELVES THAT THEY were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

    But the politician who confessed to having been inappropriate, standing far off…

    ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this sinner went down to his house justified RATHER THAN the other sinner

    Liked by 1 person

  12. And don’t forget WLC 72, included, I assume, to precisely counter the worry that we may not have repented, endeavored, or done enough to be sure of “final” salvation:

    Q. 72. What is justifying faith?
    A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

    And last I checked, if I am justified by such a resting faith, I will be glorified, period. Romans 8:29-30. Of course, I will have ongoing repentance and good works which follow, as surely as Ephesians 2:10 follows 2:8-9, but what is the point in trying to figure out if I have endeavored enough in them? God ordained each one for me to walk in. Rest in that.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Bill Evans—Number Three: You are firmly committed to the notion of “immediate imputation” as an adequate description of the mode of imputation whereby both the sin of Adam the righteousness of Christ ) are credited. This “immediate imputation” involves a purely extrinsic legal or forensic divine act that is independent of any realistic relationship between the persons involved (e.g., Christ and the Christian).

    Chris Bruno–Apart from insisting that our union with Christ is in fact a “real” union it is not clear to me that our union with Adam is the same kind of “real.” Our union with Adam is a seminal reality–the entire human race really was in his DNA, so to speak. While this is certainly a parallelism of sorts, I remain convinced that the language of Romans 5 requires a more precise parallel and that the federal headship view better accounts for this parallelism. Just as all who die in Adam are united to Adam as their federal, covenantal representative, so also all who live in Christ are united to Christ as their federal, covenantal representative. While granting the real danger of objectifying salvation, we must also let the text speak for itself. My concern …is letting our definition of union with Christ color our interpretation rather than letting the text guide his definition.

    We were never “in the loins of” Christ. When God imputes Adam’s guilt to people who are not guilty, God on that basis declare those people guilty. When God imputes Christ’s death to people who are condemned, God on that basis declares those people righteous and does not impute sins to those justified people. The imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ was a purely extrinsic divine act independent of any “real union” between Christ and the elect. The elect were born by nature ungodly sinners, but Christ (before and after the divine imputation of sins to Christ) was never a sinner by nature nor did Christ ever need regeneration. The guilt imputed to Christ was as mediator of the new covenant, and despite incarnation, Christ did not bear the sins of non-elect humans.

    Romans 6:9–”Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all time..

    The justification of the elect sinner is different from the justification of Christ. The legal merit of Christ’s death is shared by God with elect sinners, as Romans 5 and 6 teaches, when God places those sinners into Christ’s death. This is NOT the Holy Spirit baptizing us into Christ. Nor is it Christ baptizing us with the Holy Spirit. In the case of the justified elect, that one death is legally shared, and that one death is enough. Counted to all those for whom Christ died , that accomplished endeavor (His death) completely satisfies the law for righteousness. (Romans 10:4)



  14. How much do we need to ” truly understand”? Mark Jones has assured us that Arminians who believe that their faith is the righteousness do not need to understand that what they believe is not true (it’s something known perhaps by those who have read and comprehended enough of the right books). But the question remains–even if God saves sinners without them knowing the gospel (even if Arminianism is the gospel), HOW MUCH CHANGE does one’s life to need to demonstrate for sinners to find assurance?

    If sinners can’t find assurance in the water baptism of their sect, and if there must be a measurable before and after even for those “born in the covenant” in terms of “changed life”, then the quantity/ quality questions become urgent….

    Tim Keller–Germany had lost hold of the brilliant BALANCE of the gospel that Luther so persistently expounded: “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone.” That is, we are saved by grace, not by anything we do, but IF WE HAVE TRULY understood and believed the gospel, it will CHANGE WHAT WE DO AND HOW WE LIVE.

    Tim Keller–if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us, then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. So anyone who TRULY understands how God’s grace comes to us WILL HAVE A CHANGED LIFE That’s the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace, but by costly grace. Costly grace CHANGES YOU from the inside out.


  15. Mark Jones—What a perversion to treat the law as a burden when we are talking in the realm of having been redeemed. Notice the rewards: prosperity, life, and righteousness! … Moses is assuming belief and thus they are in a position to be righteous as they keep his commands.

    Scott Clark–There is no satisfying the moralists. They will only be satisfied with total victory. That’s why they’ll never give up. They do not love the gospel of an unequivocal, free, justification because they do not believe that they are wretched sinners utterly hopeless before the face of the all righteous God who is a consuming fire…..How then to reply to the moralists? First, preach the law. The first thing that every moralist needs to hear is the law. People become moralists because they do not really believe that they are sinners…..The moralists will be back. They will be back because they never really go away. They go dormant for a while. For this reason, let us never say, “We all know what the gospel is, now let us go on to the Christian life.”

    Mike Horton—Even if it is granted that justification is an exclusively forensic declaration, the rest of the order of salvation has usually been treated in Reformed theology as the consequence of an entirely different event the implantation of new life in regeneration.” (Covenant and Salvation p 216)


  16. Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are those who boast about not being sectarians. They are happy to compare themselves to sectarians in order to boast about being less sectarian. They compare themselves against those who value atonement for the elect over against infant baptism which replaced circumcision in Galatians. But in measuring themselves against the hyper-protestants, their catholic spirit fails to understand the irony

    Unlike your view of sanctification as a more or less optional add-on to justification (or maybe as an evidence of justification, though you are concerned that even that qualification might be potentially legalistic), our view is in a full gospel in which synergism teaches us to be more catholic and inclusive. Being infused and imparted with the grace and ability of the Holy Spirit, we are taught that some of you who were born at home in the covenant will fail to do as much as you needed to do (but could have done)


  17. Calvin thought that Christ descended to hell and got the endeavor done before Christ physically died. Romanists think that Christ did not descend into hell until after Christ physically died and that now the satisfaction continues in the re-enactment of the mass and also the endeavors of sinners in purgatory . Most Protestants agree with Billy Graham that your accepting what Jesus did makes that work for you, if you get your own endeavor done before you die.

    Philip Cary—Catholics don’t worry about whether they have saving faith but whether they are in a state of mortal sin—so they go to confession. Reformed Protestants don’t worry about mortal sin but about whether they have true saving faith—so they seek conversion.

    Philip Cary—-“For Augustine and the whole Christian tradition prior to Calvin, it is perfectly possible to have a genuine faith and then lose it. Apostasy from the true faith. For Calvin, on the contrary, there is a kind of faith I can have now which I am sure not to lose, because it comes with the gift of perseverance. What is more, I can know that I have such faith rather than the temporary kind…“f Augustine is right about predestination, it is logically impossible to know you are saved for eternity without knowing that you are predestined for such salvation. That is precisely why Augustine denies you can know you are predestined for salvation…


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