What Good Works Do: Show Thankfulness, Confirm Faith, Win Others To Christ

170 Q. You are not saying, then, that good works are useless?

A. They do not serve to make us right with God, either wholly or in part, but they do serve this purpose: after we have been freely and graciously justified through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, we show with good works that we are thankful to God the Lord, so that God might be praised through us. That is the reason we were originally created and then redeemed, as Zachariah teaches in Luke 1 [:74, 75]: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness that is pleasing to him all the days of our life.”

Good works are also useful because by them as the fruit of faith it is confirmed that we have not a hypocritical but a true faith.

Third, they are useful because by the example of our good works we win others to Christ and keep those already won from falling away. The longer they are kept close to Christ, the more they are built up.

Caspar Olevianus, Firm Foundation (1567), 116–17 (HT Chad Vegas)

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  1. One little word! In the ‘Aquila Report’, Guy Prentiss writes;
    ‘In summary, the Reformers rejected not only the view that authority in matters of faith and practice lies ultimately in the church but also the view that such authority lies ultimately in the individual. This authority, rather, is the Scripture alone. In rejecting the teaching that people are justified, even in part, on the basis of their good works, the Reformers also insisted that people who are justified by faith alone must pursue good works as the fruit and evidence of their justifying faith.’
    My comment is why do such writers say ‘must pursue good works’ – when they should say ‘will pursue good works’– just as in ‘A living thing will grow,’ and not ‘must grow’. What puzzles me is why do such writers with the word ‘must’ thus inculcate in their readers just what they are denying them? If they are talking to the plainly unregenerate, they are wasting their breath, while the true saint is made to look to self, rather than to the ‘author and completer’ of their life of faith.

  2. A living person must do certain things BECAUSE he is a living person, not in order to BE a living person. For a Christian, he does good works BECAUSE he is a Christian, not in order to make himself into a Christian. I think that is what Christ meant, by their fruits you will know them. It is in the nature of a Christian to do good works, that is why he must do them. If someone shows no desire to do good works, we may conclude that person is not a Christian, even though he might profess to be one. That is why it is said, that a Christian must do good works, it is in his regenerate nature to want to please God by doing good works, as the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, gradually recreating him in the image of Christ. The good works are a “must” IF this is already true.

  3. One of the reasons the Reformers use “must” rather than the weaker “will” is because it is an absolute necessity that Christians must do good works, not to save themselves, but because that is the reason for which God saves them. Eph. 2:10 “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Titus 2:11-14 He gave Himself to purify a people who are His very own, eager to do what is good. I Cor. 6:20 “You were bought with a price, therefore honor God with your body.”

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