2/27/2008

Faith and Good Works

"We tell people that the cross means we are forgiven. Jesus has paid the penalty of our sins. And that Jesus' resurrection means we will have life after death and be with God in Heaven. That has been our message. But it has retained only two dimensions: we have neglected the Good News about the Kingdom in the here and now. The powerful experience and explanation of the inbreaking rule of God, in which people were being set free from sin, sickness, and spiritual oppression and even the spirit of a nation was being changed, has been largely lost. We've replaced it with a much more individualistic message about freedom from guilt and fire insurance after we die." - Rick Richardson, Reimagining Evangelism (InterVarsity, 2006)

I have long struggled with the role of good works in the Christian life. I have struggled with the issue, and this is obvious from reading some of my posts. I am of the opinion that good works done by the Christian are not meritorious, but at the same time, are absolutely necessary. (See John Gerstner here.) In other words, our good works do not earn salvation for us in any sense, but they are the result of the changes Christ makes in our life.

We never achieve perfection, but we do make progress. We may not make progress that is evident to those around us (you can’t always tell by looking). We may not bed better on one given day, but over time the general trend of our lives is onward and upward. (See Jerry Bridges here.)

What role should the necessity of good works play in the process of evangelism? How should we confront the unbeliever with their necessity?

An unbeliever must be confronted with the need for repentance. From the 1689:

The repentance that leads on to salvation is a gospel grace by means of which a person who is caused by the Holy Spirit to feel the manifold evils of sin is also caused by faith in Christ to humble himself on account of sin. This humiliation is characterized by godly sorrow, a detestation of the sin, and self-loathing. It is accompanied by prayer for pardon and strength of grace, and also by a purpose and endeavor, in the power supplied by the Spirit, to conduct himself in the sight of God with the consistency of life that pleases Him. (Ps. 119:6,128; Ezek. 36:31; Zech. 12:10; Acts 11:18; 2 Cor. 7:11)

He must be willing to turn from his sins to Christ. He must hold no sin so dear that he would not forsake it for Christ.

It has been well said that the Christian life is a life of repentance. We continue to sin; so we continue to repent. This is not just a one time event. Again from the 1689, it is, "…to continue through the whole course of our lives… (Luke 19:8; 1 Tim 1:13,15)."

This should cause a person who has felt the guilt that comes from finally realizing God’s requirements and failure to live up to them to turn away. Again the 1689: "…even the smallest of sins deserves damnation, there is no sin so great that it will bring damnation to them that repent. This renders the constant preaching of repentance essential. (Isa. 1:16-18; Rom. 6:23)."

Faith has been defined as trusting in Christ and what He did for us to earn our right relationship with God and our place in heaven. But saving faith has another aspect. From the 1689:

By faith a Christian believes everything to be true that is made known in the Word, in which God speaks authoritatively. He also perceives in the Word a degree of excellence superior to all other writings, indeed to all things that the world contains … In this way the Christian is enabled to trust himself implicitly to the truth thus believed, and to render service according to the different requirements of the various parts of Scripture. To the commands he yields obedience; when he hears threatenings he trembles ... (Ps. 19:7-10; 119:72; Isa. 66:2; John 1:12; 15:14; Acts 15:11; 16:31; 24:14; Gal. 2:20; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 11:13)

Faith requires trust in matters of this life as well as matters of the next (John 3:12). I think there is a simple way to say this: when we accept Christ as our savior, we also accept Him as our boss. He tells us what to do and what not to do. He governs thought and speech as well.

So there is an “inbreaking rule of God.” The Christian faith does make a difference. Trusting in Christ leads to a life of good works from the motive of gratitude for grace received.

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