Turretin: Works Are Signs Of Justification

Although our justification will be fully declared on the last day (our good works also being brought forward as the sign and proof of its truth, Matt 25:34–40), still falsely would anyone maintain from this a twofold gospel justification—one from faith in this life (which is the first); the other (and second) from works on the day of judgment (as some hold, agreeing too much with the Romanists on this point) . . . Thus it is nothing else than an adjudicatory sentence of the possession of the kingdom of heaven from the right given before through justification. And if works are then brought forward, they are not adduced as the foundation of a new justification to be obtained then, but as signs, marks, and effects of our true faith and of our justification solely by it.

Francis Turretin | Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, 3 vol. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 2:687.


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  1. I’m honestly in doubt here, not trying to be argumentative.

    One thing that sometimes make me confused is: should we look at our (or others’) works as evidence of our (or theirs) justification? I frequently see Reformed saying that we should not look at our works, our repentance and not even the intensity of our faith for assurance, but only to Christ. And I agree with that.

    We are saved by Christ’s blood and merits and we receive everything by grace alone. But what about the works as signs of justification as a means of assurance?

    How we can understand text like Matt 25:34–40? Is this text teaching the Law or the Gospel? And what about Matt 7:16? Can we seek assurance in works, since they are a sign of justification? Why would I seek assurance in works and not on God’s promises (in the Word and the Sacraments)?

    I’d greatly appreciate insights from a Reformed perspective on this. Thanks!

    • The difference is in how the moral law is used. In Reformed theology the law serves three different functions. First it functions as a mirror to show us our sin and misery, in light of God’s perfect righteousness required by the moral law, and our inability to obey it perfectly. Secondly it functions, generally, as a civil curb against moral evil, informing us of what is right and wrong behaviour. The third use is a norm for the Christian, to guide his behaviour toward God and man in a way that gives evidence of his gratitude and love for God for salvation. The third use is what Christ is informing us about in the quotations.
      Our confidence of acceptance with God is in the perfect active and passive righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In His perfect obedience and sacrifice for our sin, Christ provides all that is required for our justification before God. If we truly believe this, we will want to please God out of love and gratitude. So it is evidence, to ourselves and others, that we ARE justified, through trusting in Christ alone.

  2. “Why would I seek assurance in works and not on God’s promises (in the Word and the Sacraments)?”

    I think you just answered your own question. Two of Dr. Clark’s sayings always helps me out here. “If we are in Christ, God is no longer our Judge. He is our Father.” The other is “Faith is extrospective, it looks at what is outside of oneself.”

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