R. C. Sproul: Why Can’t We Say That Good Works are Necessary As Evidence?

Thesis #23 illustrates the problem: “…good works…though not the ground of his justification, are nevertheless necessary for salvation from eternal condemnation and therefore for justification.” This thesis is replete with the confusion of formulation that I’ve already mentioned. The good works are not the ground of, yet are necessary for, justification? Which justification? If they are necessary of are they thereby a condition? If they are necessary as a condition would they have at least congruous merit?

What’s the matter with the traditional view that good works are necessary for sanctification or are necessary as evidence of authentic faith? We acknowledge that our reward in heaven will be distributed according to works, not by merit which imposes obligation upon God to reward them, but by a gracious act of God “crowning his own works” (Augustine). The wording of Thesis #23 is seriously misleading and I would appeal to Norman to alter it.

—R. C. Sproul, quoted in O. Palmer Robertson and Paul G. Settle, “Report of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary by the Special Board-Faculty Committee on Justification: Minority Report” (May 13. 1980), 13.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Ryle’s “Christ’s Greatest Trophy” (on the good works performed by the dying thief) shows us what the essence of good works is.

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