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Thread: Joined at the Hip: Good Works and Salvation in the Reformed Faith

  1. #1

    Joined at the Hip: Good Works and Salvation in the Reformed Faith

    Good Works in the Reformed Tradition | Patrick’s Pensees

    The Lutheran branch of the Protestant Reformation settled this debate confessionally with the publication of The Book of Concord. It condemned Major’s teaching[3] while affirming “that good works were obligatory, in that they are commanded, as well as being an appropriate expression of faith and gratitude to God.”[4] By contrast, the Reformed, in the main, affirmed the necessity of good works to salvation. To be sure, differences existed, both verbal and real.[5] Nevertheless, numerous Reformed theologians did not hesitate to draw a necessary link between works and salvation.[6] Indeed, such teaching was given confessional status. The Waldensian Confession states that “good works are so necessary to the faithful that they cannot attain the kingdom of heaven without the same.”[7] It also avers that eternal life is the reward of good works.[8] According to the Westminster Standards, Spirit wrought obedience is “the way which he hath appointed them to salvation,” and good works are to be done “that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.”[9]

    This paper will attempt to unpack the Reformed understanding of the relationship between good works and salvation by examining the writings of numerous prominent Reformed theologians. In so doing we will discuss the salvific necessity of good works under three headings: the requirement of the covenant, the road to heaven, and the reward of eternal life.

    The Requirement of the Covenant

    Since the growth and development of covenant theology occurred primarily within Reformed circles[10] it is not surprising that the discussion of good works is often addressed in covenantal terms. Geerhardus Vos correctly observes that the Reformed, unlike the Lutherans, are not reluctant to include new obedience as a condition or requirement of the covenant of grace since they understand the covenant and salvation to be broader than justification.[11] As Turretin writes: “There is not the same relation of justification and of the covenant through all things. To the former, faith alone concurs, but to the observance of the latter other virtues also are required besides faith.”[12]

    John Ball (1585-1640) in his influential work A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace demonstrates from the Scriptures that though there are many postlapsarian redemptive covenants, there is, in substance, one overarching covenant of grace.[13] In this one covenant of Grace, God promises forgiveness of sins, spiritual adoption and eternal life, requiring on the part of man repentance, faith and obedience. With respect to the condition Ball writes:

    “The stipulation required is, that we take God to be our God, that is, that we repent of our iniquities, believe the promises of mercy and embrace them with the whole heart, and yield love, feare, reverence, worship, and obedience unto him, according to the prescript rule of his word.”[14]
    Ball, as well as the many other Reformed covenantal theologians, carefully distinguishes between types of conditions.[15] Generally speaking, conditions refer to whatever is required on man’s part in the covenant; they may either be antecedent, concomitant or subsequent to the thing promised; and they may or may not be causal....
    I found this paper that Pastor Patrick Ramsey did to be very informative from a Confessional and Reformed standpoint concerning good works as the way to salvation. It has plenty of good references and is well documented. Please enjoy it by clicking on the link above.
    ​R. Martin Snyder
    Second Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA)
    Indianapolis, Indiana

    RPCNA Covenanter's Blog

    "Our object should not be to have scripture on our side but to be on the side of scripture; and however dear any sentiment may have become by being long entertained, so soon as it is seen to be contrary to the Bible, we must be prepared to abandon it without hesitation."
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    1 member(s) found this post helpful.

  2. #2
    92 citations in a 5000 word paper, that's impressive.

    It looks good though; it'll go in the queue. Thanks for sharing.
    Douglas Padgett
    University Reformed Church (PCA)
    Lansing, MI


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The PuritanBoard exists to promote robust discussion of theology in a Confessionally Reformed context. The modern trend of short statements of faith belies the many places where the Scriptures teach with great clarity. Though our respective Reformed confessions sometimes disagree, we believe that Churches have been given the gifts of teachers and elders to lead to the unity of the faith and the result of that unity is a Confessional Church confessing together: "This is what the Scriptures teach." The Confessions are secondary to the authority of Scripture itself but they arise out of Scripture as a standard exposition of the Word of God.