A friend recently asked my opinion about a famous Bible teacher charged with heresy because of his view of the relationship between faith and good works. Here is the substance of my response:
I’ve spent hundreds of hours researching this very topic (exegetical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology), and I wrote two dissertations relating to this issue and have finally come to believe that most of our Puritan forefathers understood it (or at least expressed it) better than we often do.
The best answer in this case is the simple answer: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. We’re not saved by works, yet we are never saved without works. God does not look at our good works and justify us, but justification without good works is spurious.
We cast all of our faith, all of our hope, all of our expectations on the crucified and risen Jesus Christ who loved us, and gave himself for us. He accomplished our salvation at Calvary and from the empty tomb. When we are united him by faith (alone), we’re also united to resurrection victory, and that victory includes — in fact, necessitates — good works. If works are lacking, this omission only proves that we are not united to the crucified and resurrected Lord.
I’ve known people to go way, way into the weeds on this issue and come back no better than when they started — and often worse. Eternal life is not a reward for good behavior, but neither can there be a salvation minus good works.
As simple as it may sound, this is a good summary of precisely what I believe the Bible teaches.
6 thoughts on “A Note on Faith, Works, and Justification”
The most obvious thing that comes to mind is from the book of James. “Faith without works is dead.”
Thank you for this concise explanation of what can be a thorny issue. Do you have a reading list that you recommend on this issue? If so, will you share it?
Stephan, I don’t have the bibliography quickly at hand, but I would recommend works by John Murray, C. Fitzsimons Allison, Daniel Payton Fuller, C. van der Waal, Heinrich Bullinger, and CEB Cranfield. There are many, many more.
By this, you just said that good works are necessary for salvation:
“The best answer in this case is the simple answer: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone. We’re not saved by works, yet we are never saved without works. God does not look at our good works and justify us, but justification without good works is spurious.”
“Justification without good works is spurious”…really, if this true, then how can God know that we have faith if He does not look at our works and justify us, which is exactly what you just said he doesn’t do??? Do you even stop to think about what you are saying?
Read Lewis Sperry Chafer if you want to understand that Grace of God.
Chafer is almost classically antinomian. To argue that one can be a child of God without exhibiting a good works is ready to deny the transformational power of the gospel.
Question: Since (I agree) works are a necessary out-flow of justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit, a believer will be on the lookout for good works as evidence that s/he is saved. Ah, but it’s easy to see how the Devil would worm his way into our thinking on that front. So, how do we learn to depend on salvation for works, rather than depending on works for salvation…?