On Necessity, Inevitability, and Finding a Basis

The Belgic Confession (Art. 24) says this about good works:

Therefore,
far from making people cold
toward living in a pious and holy way,
this justifying faith,
quite to the contrary,
so works within them that
apart from it
they will never do a thing out of love for God
but only out of love for themselves
and fear of being condemned.

So then, it is impossible
for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being,
seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith
but of what Scripture calls
“faith working through love,”
which moves people to do by themselves
the works that God has commanded
in the Word.

Faith makes good works inevitable and in a sense necessary. Without faith, the motivation for works changes.

Faith also affects the way we view good works. It allows Christians to look to Christ’s righteousness as the basis for salvation even while pursuing good works, rather than asking, “have I done enough?”

Moreover,
although we do good works
we do not base our salvation on them;
for we cannot do any work
that is not defiled by our flesh
and also worthy of punishment.
And even if we could point to one,
memory of a single sin is enough
for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt,
tossed back and forth
without any certainty,
and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly
if they did not rest on the merit
of the suffering and death of our Savior.

Even the language of saying works are necessary to, as opposed to for, salvation is to veer in the direction of making works one basis among others for our salvation.

Given the propensity of fallen human nature for self-righteousness, loose talk about good works is like what Mark Noll said about evangelicals and activism: “to urge activist evangelicals to get more active is like pointing an addict toward dope.”

To urge Christians to good works for final salvation, without lots of qualifications, is like encouraging a relapse.

14 thoughts on “On Necessity, Inevitability, and Finding a Basis

  1. Rick P—“Why would I put myself through the ordeal of discipline, sacrifice, and sweat, much less risk-taking business endeavors, if I can have a wonderful life without working for it?”

    Melanchthon—The Colossians do not do good to the saints as they were moneylenders, buying big profits with small favors . The world is generous in hope of getting back. As fits the greedy—-But the saints are not prompted by the desire to get something in return. For they know that all things have already been FREELY given and cannot be won through human effort. The magnitute of God’s reward to Christ’s death stirs the Colossians into doing good works, not to obtain future blessings, but because they believe themselves to have obtained so much already

    https://books.google.com/books?id=yixbDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=#v=onepage&q&f=false

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  2. DGHart says: To urge Christians to good works for final salvation, without lots of qualifications, is like encouraging a relapse.

    So don’t even try to teach what the Lord (the Bible) says? The Lord didn’t have any problem saying things like Rev 2-3 and I think He tells us why He didn’t have a problem with these encouragements – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says.”
    Of course for those without ears to hear, it’s a different story.

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  3. ‘Good’ works can as easily be a detriment and impediment with a preoccupation of such keeping us in the dark. The Christian life is as much of not being able to perform em outside of our union with Christ and degree of contentment in our inability. Our worship and gratitude will be enhanced if our spiritual understanding is sound (in heart & mind). https://www.renewamerica.com/columns/castellitto/191014

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  4. Not surprisingly, HC Q&A 86 makes much the same point: “86. Q. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works? A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image … .”

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  5. Beale, New Testament Biblical Theology, p 516—My view is compatible with Snodgrass (Justification by Grace–to the Doers:An Analysis of the Place of Romans 2 in the Theology of Paul) who holds that justification excludes ‘legalistic works’ done to earn justification but inclues an evaluation of imperfect works done by us through the Spirit…

    Lane Tipton—“The transaction of imputation is situated within the broader REALITY of union by Christ by Spirit-wrought faith.

    Bradley Green, Covenant and Commandment, IVP, 2014, p 63—-“ Some think that Christ’s work must be kept totally and utterly sequestered from Abraham’s work and from our work. But it is not necessary to say that
    there are no conditions where grace reigns. Does it not make more sense to simply say that within a gracious covenantal relationship God moves his covenant people to obey him more and more?

    Rick Phillips —”I am a WTS union-with-Christ guy. Sanctification does not begin with justification or an appreciation of justification. Sanctification begins in the effectual call of Christ and its effect of regeneration within me….Union with Christ is by faith, so we must not put justification in the place of the real presence of Christ….just as it would be wrong to say that justification is the status gained from your sanctification, it is also wrong to say that sanctification is living out your justification…. Romans 2:6-7 is not hypothetical but actual. Paul means it when he writes, “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. Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The context in which this statement is made – Romans 8:13 – is one focused on sanctification. So in pointing out the necessity of good works we must pointedly SEPARATE IT from justification..
    Sanctification is INSEPARABLY joined to justification, of course, through my union with Christ in faith, so
    that sanctification is never abstracted from justification

    http://heidelblog.net/2014/05/berkhof-on-the-necessity-of-good-works/

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  6. I think a ‘good’ way to look at it would be to remove the ‘works’ aspect. We do good, we choose good, we desire what’s good because our hearts have been renewed. It’s not work but rather a delight and a true desire. Nothing we would use to gauge our own ability or our own righteousness or any type of reward.

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  7. AJ says: I think a ‘good’ way to look at it would be to remove the ‘works’ aspect.

    But why? don’t you think disciples can hear the word of God and understand it. Have you noticed some seem to filter His word for others alot, to their personal liking?

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  8. “don’t you think disciples can hear the word of God and understand it”

    Scripture suggests that in general, the answer is no. For example, upon return from captivity the Law was read to the people. But that wasn’t all: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. – Nehemiah 8:8”

    Teaching is essential. That is why some believers are given the gift of teaching, the Egyptian Eunuch needed Phillip to explain what scripture meant, Timothy, and by extension elders, are called to rightly divide the word of truth, Hebrews tells us to submit to and obey our elders leadership and teaching, Peter tells us that Paul is hard to understand and that his words are twisted, and so on. If all we needed to do was hear the word and understand it, this would all be superfluous.

    A constant threat we are warned against in the NT is works righteousness. The idea that we could merit favor with God by doing good works. Moralism is a constant threat even (especially) in our licentious age. The only way to please God is perfection, so only Christ’s righteousness can meet his standard. The solution to sin is not to try harder, it is to lean wholly on Christ. In our culture where we valorize the “self made man” who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and follows 7 effective habits to success, a teacher is wise to carefully qualify the place of good works in the life of the believer.

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  9. Ali says: don’t you think disciples can hear the word of God and understand it”
    sbd says Scripture suggests that in general, the answer is no.

    I’m not sure scripture suggests that in general, sdb. Why do you think Jesus talked about those who have ears to hear; and who is it that gives us understanding?

    Sdb says:Teaching is essential.
    Agree and never said it wasn’t

    If all we needed to do was hear the word and understand it, this would all be superfluous.
    There is more we need to do than hear the word and understand it? What is that? Oh, you mean do it.

    sdb says: A constant threat we are warned against in the NT is works righteousness. The idea that we could merit favor with God by doing good works. .
    AJ says: I think a ‘good’ way to look at it would be to remove the ‘works’ aspect. We do good, we choose good, we desire what’s good because our hearts have been renewed. It’s not work but rather a delight and a true desire. Nothing we would use to gauge our own ability or our own righteousness or any type of reward.

    I don’t think AJ’s suggestion was solving this, do you? He said 1)remove works aspect 2) talk about doing, choosing, desiring good (does doing, choosing, desiring good earn one salvation?)

    sdb says: a teacher is wise to carefully qualify the place of good works in the life of the believer.
    I agree. That’s why I commented on a suggestion to “‘remove’ works aspect”

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  10. “I’m not sure scripture suggests that in general, sdb. Why do you think Jesus talked about those who have ears to hear; and who is it that gives us understanding?”
    The Holy Spirit. How does the Holy Spirit do this? He gives gifts to the church including elders and teachers.

    “Sdb says:Teaching is essential.
    Agree and never said it wasn’t”
    Sure you did: “don’t you think disciples can hear the word of God and understand it.” You generally can’t just hear the word and understand it. Scripture teaches that the means by which we understand scripture is by the Holy Spirit working through teachers.

    “If all we needed to do was hear the word and understand it, this would all be superfluous.
    There is more we need to do than hear the word and understand it? What is that? Oh, you mean do it.”
    No. You have to be taught what that word means. As we see in Nehemiah, they read the word to the people, but that wasn’t enough. They also gave its sense. I don’t understand why you are arguing about this.

    sdb says: A constant threat we are warned against in the NT is works righteousness. The idea that we could merit favor with God by doing good works. .
    AJ says: I think a ‘good’ way to look at it would be to remove the ‘works’ aspect. We do good, we choose good, we desire what’s good because our hearts have been renewed. It’s not work but rather a delight and a true desire. Nothing we would use to gauge our own ability or our own righteousness or any type of reward.

    I don’t think AJ’s suggestion was solving this, do you? He said 1)remove works aspect 2) talk about doing, choosing, desiring good (does doing, choosing, desiring good earn one salvation?)

    I do. This is the structure of the Heidelberg catechism. You’ve misconstrued point 2. The key phrase you left out of your summary is,
    ” because our hearts have been renewed”. Clearly that answers your question. Gratitude is the driver not a sense that I need to earn something (or make up for flaws by doing good works).

    “sdb says: a teacher is wise to carefully qualify the place of good works in the life of the believer.
    I agree. That’s why I commented on a suggestion to “‘remove’ works aspect” ”
    Your comment wasn’t helpful.

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  11. Morning sdb, I’m pretty sure you would say you can’t just “remove the works aspect” of James 2:17 for example, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself”, unless you want to edit God’s word; but instead must understand it.

    I guess I would add to “read and understand” the word, also study it :
    2 Tim 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

    And my former pastor always said, after 3 years, everyone ought to teach to some degree:
    Hebrews 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

    We (except maybe those who love to filter God’s word) (and maybe those who think it’s all about only them) want what the Lord wants:
    EPH 4: the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftinessin deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

    Sdb says: This is the structure of the Heidelberg catechism.

    And btw, ‘confessions’ are helpful, but it’s God and His word of God that we love.
    Establish Your word to Your servant, as that which produces reverence for You.The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. (vs.38,130, and all of Psalm 119)

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  12. “Morning sdb, I’m pretty sure you would say you can’t just “remove the works aspect” of James 2:17 for example”
    Right, but that isn’t the claim here. Rather, we should “remove the works aspect” from discussion of justification. There are reformed bible teachers saying that works are necessary for justification. In the sense that good works necessarily follow from those who are justified, this is more or less correct. But such a claim is far from clear – rather the plain meaning of that claim is that one’s justification is in part merited by the good works one does. Jones writes in his defense of Piper, “Good works are the way to salvation”. In my reading of his description, faith opens the door and gives us the right to earn salvation by our works. Perhaps there is a more subtle reading of his language, but I find this incredibly unhelpful and agree that when talking about justification, it is best to “remove the works aspect” and focus on works as a consequence rather than a cause of anything.

    “except maybe those who love to filter God’s word”
    Look Ali,I hope I don’t come across too harsh here, but these kind of passive-aggressive insinuations are not becoming a follower of Christ. You’ve assumed the worst of what someone has said (indeed totally misread him and have selectively edited his words to make your point). I don’t see why you think that’s OK.

    “And btw, ‘confessions’ are helpful, but it’s God and His word of God that we love.”
    I take the confessions to be the fruit of our teachers who we are to love and submit to as well:
    ~Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Heb 13:7
    ~And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 1 Peter 5:5
    ~Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 1 Tim 5:18

    I don’t see why you find the need to set the confessions up against the scriptures. The early reformers spent a lot of time thinking carefully about how to synthesize what the Holy Spirit gave us through the NT writers. The HC is quite helpful for clarifying the relationship between good works and salvation – good works flow from a renewed heart.

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