Are good works necessary to salvation?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Travis Fentiman, Sep 11, 2019.

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  1. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    While maintaining justification by faith alone, the Reformed have historically answered this question: Yes.

    Many historic reformed resources are linked on the below webpage on this issue, including many in Latin from Reformed Orthodoxy with numerous quotes from those works translated.

    The Introduction on the webpage is rather full, is a gateway to these resources, and answers the issues Scripturally and in an orthodox manner inline with the distinctions of Reformed Orthodoxy, distinguishing the truth from modern errors such as the Federal Vision, New Perspective, etc.

    The many distinctions and categories that Reformed Orthodoxy made on the issue are delineated and I trust will be very helpful to people, and likely new to many.

    I believe this is the fullest resource on this topic that is available.

    I hope it is helpful to you.

  2. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    Rev. Fentiman,

    Thanks for the new resource. I have enjoyed your website for many years now.

    In your introduction, you teach that the orthodox, Reformed position on good works is that good works are:

    1) co-instuments with faith of salvation.
    2) active, inferior causes of our future salvation.
    3) necessary conditions in the Covenant of Grace.

    Regarding #2, that good works are an active inferior cause of our salvation, you remark that historic, orthodox Reformed writers used the term "cause" in various ways that are not necessarily equivalent to how we use the term today. You point the reader to Paul Barth for an analysis of the historic use of this term. I haven't taken the time to read Barth's work on this. Could you briefly summarize whether there was a single use of the term that the majority of the writers used, or was there a wide variation in usage?
  3. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    An additional question is whether you view the three items above as positively taught by Westminster or the Three Forms of Unity.
  4. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Travis, the thesis of this thread and the linked resource troubles me. I know you say you will have nothing to do with Federal Vision, but the language used is very much reminiscent of Federal Vision literature.

    I don't have time to go through everything, but it would be helpful to show how you are not following the Federal Vision error--the blanket statement that works are a condition of salvation seems to fly contrary to the Westminster Standards. For example, WLC Q 73:

    Q73: How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
    A73: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it,[3] nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification;[2] but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applies Christ and his righteousness.[3]
  5. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Good works are fruit of our salvation, but not part of it in sense of our Justification!
  6. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I have a question Nate. Did the following link not answer some of your question concerning cause?
  7. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    The link is a useful description of how to understand the concept(s) of cause. On my reading of the link, I do not see an an indication of whether the authors Rev. Fentiman quotes are typically using one of the forms of cause as opposed to the others in the context of works and our future salvation. Perhaps I just missed it if it is in there.

    One of the reasons I asked this is because some of the quoted authors seem to advocate some idea of cause, while others outright deny the idea of cause. Not all of the authors contextualize their usage of cause. Thus, I wondered if Rev. Fentiman had better insight to whether most of the authors were using one form of the concept.
  8. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Justification by faith ALONE.
    "When you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or of works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle." —Calvin, Commentary on Galatians 5:6, (1548)

    "There is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Not "We'll see whether there's condemnation when we review the whole case file one last time."
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  9. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman


    I am glad you have found the site helpful over the years, and hope it will continue to be so for you.

    The Reformed Orthodox (as quoted and linked on the webpage) speak of a variety of ways in which good works are an inferior 'cause' of salvation, not the least of which was Calvin himself.

    While there was some diversity on the subject, yet most of the ones I looked at were comfortable calling good works a 'cause of salvation'. Many of them affirm and were comfortable with speaking of good works as:

    - as an 'inferior cause' of salvation,
    - as an 'instrumental' cause of 'possessing' salvation,
    - as a 'positive' cause as opposed to a negative cause of salvation (where this was distinguished)
    - and Rutherford specifically speaks of them as an 'active' cause of salvation, following the Holy Spirit in 2 Cor. 4:17
    It is true that some of the Reformed Orthodox denied that good works were a 'cause' of salvation, instead preferring to speak of them as 'signs', a 'way' and maybe a 'means' of salvation.

    I hope this answers your question. Blessings brother.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019
  10. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    The provided link to Barth's article was (as was made clear enough by the context, I thought, in my introduction) only to make the point that 'cause' was often used in many ways regarding inferior causes not equivalent to an efficient cause, which is usually how it is understood today.

    There is not necessarily overlap between Barth's article and mine beyond that, besides that the Reformed Orthodox on my webpage typically (with exceptions) deny that good works are an 'efficient cause' of salvation (and Barth spells out what an efficient cause is). Otherwise the RO on my page are defining 'cause' in a way wholly different, not even addressed in Barth's article; and they often define what that way is in their context.

    Regarding not all the RO writers defining their terms, that is precisely the issue one runs into in historical theology.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019
  11. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    The necessity of good works is nearly positively, explicitly taught in the Heidelberg Catechism. It is implicitly, in seed form, taught in Westminster, though Westminster does not explicitly state such.

    Regarding the other terms and 3 items you mentioned, they are not explicitly mentioned in Heidelberg or Westminster. Though as the substance of necessity is in those confessional documents, that is why I believe the majority of the Reformed Orthodox were willing to then flesh that out and clarify the implications of that in their theological writings, which inherently entails using such terms as 'condition', 'cause', 'instrument', etc.
  12. Travis Fentiman

    Travis Fentiman Puritan Board Freshman

    Victor, thanks for the questions.

    There is always going to be language that the FV uses which is reminiscent of the orthodox language of the Reformed Orthodox. The only reason I have not put a page of resources together against the FV is due to time.

    WLC 73 is about 'justification', which is often legitimately distinguished from 'salvation'. From near the beginning of my introduction:

    "The terms ‘salvation’ and being ‘saved’ are often used with respect to the first moment of our conversion in Justification (Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 16:30-31), wherein we are found legally righteous in Christ for no works of our own, but only for his righteousness imputed to us though faith.​

    However, ‘salvation’ may also refer to our whole salvation, from beginning to end (Phil. 2:12-13), including our future deliverance from this world (Rom. 8:23-24; 2 Cor. 1:6), our sinful flesh and our inheritance into future glory (Rom. 13:11; Phil. 1:9; WLC 154). As this encompasses our sanctification (1 Tim. 2:15), or our being made holy, it would be wrong to exclude the necessity of good works from the total picture of a person’s salvation."
    See also the subsection on the webpage entitled 'Westminster' where there are numerous quotes from the Westminster Standards supporting the thesis of the webpage, all of which were held together by Westminster.

    The Introduction, when you get time to look through it, if you so desire, also teaches against numerous of the key points that FV holds to.

    I hope this clears things up. Blessings brother.
  13. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    That last paragraph strikes me as how I feel someone like NT Wright presents Justification.
  14. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Our righteousness's are and continue to be filthy rags before and after conversion. They contribute nothing to our standing with God.

    It's like a car and exhaust. Is exhaust necessary to travel from A to B? No, but if you travel from A to B, the car will produce exhaust. The exhaust in no way helps you to get from A to B, but is simply a natural byproduct of the journey. So it is with good works and the life of the Christian.
  15. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    I really appreciate your thought in separating works from justification, but our good works are surely not seen as trash before our Father after we have been born again. He delights in them like a father would delight even in a sloppy piece of art brought to him by his son. Maybe you believe this already, and maybe I just interpreted you wrong. Please correct me if so. Thanks brother!
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  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Still piles of dung in regards to having any effect on our Justification before God.
  17. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    Maybe I need to think through these things a bit more, but I was not so much referring to the disposition of God towards our works, but rather the intrinsic worth of them and whether they have any bearing whatsoever on our standing with him.
  18. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Php.3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

    V13, Paul states that he lives presently as if, or as one who has not laid hold of the resurrection benefit concerning which Christ has already laid hold on him in order to give it to him. He counts what is his already as if it was not, and presses for the mark, v14. And in the following verse says:

    15 "Therefore, let all of us who are perfect, be so minded," that is he calls on all fellow Christians to adopt a similar attitude as his towards perseverance. Don't miss it: he's speaking to those who, at the level of the question of in-or-out of permanent union with Christ, are perfect "in Christ Jesus" (the final words of v14).

    Live righteously as if your salvation did depend on that urgent striving for godliness. Simultaneously regard those same efforts as of no account, for in Christ they are swallowed up in his perfection and contribute nothing to your salvation unto God. For in him you are perfect already. Your works will not mark your entrance to glory on Judgment Day.
  19. RJ Spencer

    RJ Spencer Puritan Board Freshman

    This reminds me of a debate on faith. Faith is a gift from God, it is required for salvation; but if we are debating someone that believes that their faith originates with them it is dangerous to tell them that their faith is all that is needed for salvation. A 'faith' that originates in us is mere intellectual belief and it can Not save.
    In the same way, works that originate in us have no benefit whatsoever, but works that come out of regeneration are of the utmost benefit. We cannot tell the unreformed that Faith does not save, but we must draw a distinction between belief and saving faith. So to, we cannot tell the unreformed that works save but we must draw the distinction between works that originate within us and works wrought through regeneration.
    Regeneration is what saves since it occurs before faith.
    Regeneration is what saves since it occurs before good works.
    But both of those things save as well because they are direct results of regeneration.
  20. cmt72

    cmt72 Puritan Board Freshman

    How many works did the thief on the cross have I wonder? Any? If we can save ourselves by our own works, Why did Jesus have to come to the cross?
  21. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Good works are, in no sense, necessary for our salvation.

    Good works, however, are evidence that our salvation is genuine.

    Ephesians 2.8-10.
  22. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I wish people would read the resource of an Original Post before they start commenting in a thread out of ignorance on the subject presented.
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  23. Ryan&Amber2013

    Ryan&Amber2013 Puritan Board Junior

    I agree, but this may take a long long time to read. I know I don't have the time to. But I do agree our approach could be a bit different in some ways.

    "Many historic reformed resources are linked on the below webpage on this issue, including many in Latin from Reformed Orthodoxy with numerous quotes from those works translated."
  24. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I understand and my comment was not directed toward you. There are conditions set up in Scripture concerning our Salvation. Salvation is not just topically related to our justification alone. Good Works are the path we are to tread. They are laid out in front of us as the way toward heaven also. If we do not walk in that way we are not His. Salvation is about reconciliation to God. Christ was our full propitiation for sin so that we could be conformed to His image and be reconciled to the Law and the Lawgiver. Reconciliation is more than justification. It is a repair of the chasm that caused the rift that tore us apart.

    At the same time let me iterate that salvation on this side looks differently for each of us. We could be like King David or many of the saints who made miserable choices but always were reeled back in or caused to repent by God. They obviously persevered due to God's love and faithfulness. Or our walk may resemble good men who have not had the deviations into sin and life such as St. Paul. Perseverance against persecution seems to be a condition to glorification according to the Revelation of John. Holiness seems to be a condition to seeing God in Hebrews 12:14. There is a lot to distinguish sometimes when we speak of these things.

    A lot of this discussion had to deal with the topic of Antinomianism. I see conditions and warnings all through the scriptures and they do have attachment to how God views us. I found Mark Jone's book on antinomianism to be very helpful. In John 14:21 we are told by Jesus, " He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." That is conditional. So is John 15:7 when Jesus says, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." God hears us when we love him. King David recognised this when he penned Psalm 66:18, " If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:" Our path of Salvation has some work in it as Paul noted that we are to work out our Salvation in God who works in us.

    I really liked Mark Jone's piece on the Love of God. He shows what is meant by loving God and God loving us in various ways. I recommend it to you.
  25. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Here are a few quotes I have appreciated.

    Joined at the Hip
    It is not contradictory to say that the principles “Do this and live,” and “Live and do this,” equally apply to the believer. Witsius writes: (PR)

    “In fine, it is not inconsistent to do something from this principle, because we live, and to the end, that we may live. No man eats but he lives, but he also eats that he may live. We both can and ought to act in a holy manner, because we are quickened by the Spirit of God. But we must also act in the same manner, that that life may be preserved in us, may increase, and at last terminate in an uninterrupted and eternal life.”

    Conciliatory Animadversions, 163-164.

    The New Testament lays before us a vast array of conditions for final salvation. Not only initial repentance and faith, but perseverance in both, demonstrated in love toward God and neighbor are part of that holiness without which no one shall see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) Such holiness is not simply definitive-- that is, it not only belongs to our justification, which is rather an imputed than imparted righteousness, but to our sanctification...

    Holiness, which is defined by love of God and the indispensable condition of our glorification: no one will be seated at the heavenly banquet who has not begun, however imperfectly, in new obedience...

    Too often we use justification and salvation interchangeably so that the suggestion we are justified without any other condition of faith leads some to conclude that it is the only condition of salvation. However, salvation is understood broadly that encompasses the whole work of God.

    Introducing Covenant Theology
    Michael Horton
  26. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    When dealing with recognized legalists (i.e. Rome and suchlike), the Reformers made statements that addressed and refuted the charge of "antinomianism." That was what we were accused of, by the Pharisees of the 16th Century.

    Are those same charges being leveled at the Reformed churches today? I don't see it. I see a great lot of legalism in churches that formally deny the relevance of the 10C, while instituting a host of rules and "advice" and "best practices" that cumber their members, and make a bunch of them quite satisfied with their religious expression. But not much accusations thrown our way about how "antinomian" we are. No, we're the ones accused of legalism, because formally we don't reject the 10C (though, there's other forms of legalist baggage that we too carry).

    The crying need of the hour is for the Reformed and Presbyterian churches to proclaim the truly crushing burden of the unkeepable 10C, and how everyone is condemned in themselves by their inability to uphold them. And then to proclaim the glorious freedom and full salvation that comes by grace through faith in the gospel. Certainly, help Christians see how the Moral Law becomes for them a light for their way, having repaired to the cross.

    But knowing the place, necessity, and utility of Good Works for the Christian in an age where we are not so much accused of antinomianism, but legalism--to rehearse that place in terms that state: "necessary to salvation," using rusty and disused scholastic categories of causation, in an age of profound ignorance; this strikes me as contributing to confusion, to encouraging those secret legalists that we are actually in common with them (only more open about it).

    By all means, do understand and reckon with the Reformers of the first few generations and their true heirs, as they teach the place of Good Works; attending carefully their older terminology and usage--which could at times stand for some improvement! However, when it comes to the unnuanced modern hearer, don't let him hear you claiming that there are Good Works he should do to inherit eternal life. Because that's what "Good Works necessary to salvation" sounds like to the open-antinomians/secret-legalists in the majority today.

    Thy works, not mine, O Christ,
    speak gladness to this heart;
    they tell me all is done;
    they bid my fear depart.

    To whom, save thee, who canst alone
    for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?

    2 Thy pains, not mine, O Christ,
    upon the shameful tree,
    have paid the law's full price
    and purchased peace for me. [Refrain]

    3 Thy cross, not mine, O Christ,
    has borne the awful load
    of sins that none in heav'n
    or earth could bear but God. [Refrain]

    4 Thy righteousness, O Christ,
    alone can cover me:
    no righteousness avails
    save that which is of thee. [Refrain]
    [Horatius Bonar]​
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  27. Nate

    Nate Puritan Board Junior

    Randy, I have read the Introduction and made my way through much of the linked material. Hopefully my previous posts and this one that follows don't come off as me commenting out of ignorance as I do still have sincere questions even after reading and considering the content.

    Even having read the material, it should not come as a surprise that some statements are provocative on a Confessional board. For example, the quotes from the introduction
    are provocative given our understanding of the the Westminster Standards, the 3FU, and Reformation history in general. I acknowledge that I did not quote the qualifying content around the quotes which caution that, even though the phrase is accurate, it is not recommend for use, and that much careful explanation is necessary prior to positing the phrase. Yet, I would contend that it is exactly the qualifying explanations around these phrases that make them so provocative and worthy of further discussion and critique in a place like the PB.

    The qualifying explanations and quotes surrounding the phrase "faith and works are co-instruments of salvation" are intended to educate the reader that "instrument" is used in important and critically different senses when "instrument" describes faith versus when "instrument" describes good works. To me, this makes the phrase "faith and works are co-instruments of salvation" unnecessarily confusing. When I see the prefix, "co" joined to a word which then describes two items, my understanding is that the two items represent the co-_____ in the same way. They may represent it to different levels or to a greater or lesser extent, but they still both represent the word in the same way. For example, "co-pilots" are both considered pilots because they are engaged in navigating a vehicle to a destination. They may have more or less responsibilities in their piloting, but they are both appropriately called co-pilots because they are doing the same thing.

    Therefore, in my line of thinking, it is confusing to call faith and works "co-instruments" to salvation, because the introduction and quotes are used to discriminate between two different senses of the word "instrument".

    Most of what I just wrote is explained more eloquently by Rev. Fentiman himself in his introduction, yet the fact remains that is some sense he subscribes to faith and works being co-instruments of salvation. I find this section to be less well-reasoned than is typical of his content on his website.
  28. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    We live in two different worlds Bruce. I probably have more friends who would not respond to you because they grew up in a different world. I actually have friends who want to hear about being a new creation. That is a condition God does for us as we are reconciled to him. They want the promise of being reconciled and being able to grow and struggle in Christ. They want to know how to deal with the warning passages as they are being discipled. They shouldn't want to just gloss over them as they are disciples of Christ. If the old terminology can be learned and understood it is very valuable. Heck, I started out reading a KJV. I struggled for years but worked my way into growing and understanding it. I know of many other examples where people had to learn and better themselves. If a new Convert is going to deal with the hard sayings of Jesus or Paul it helps to have context and helps to understand. Jesus has many hard things to say about entering the Kingdom of God. Should we just make it sound like you say a prayer and it is going to be okay in their heart and mind?

    Sure Antinomianism may be addressed here but it involves so much more than that Bruce. Neonomism is addressed also. But you can't swing the pendulum to far away from the whole Gospel message of reconciliation to God to make it something it isn't. I live amongst a people who do that constantly. One of my best friends is a lady Elder. Her divorced lady friend is a Pastor. Homosexuality is rampant in our area. Two of my good friends are a lesbian married couple who grew up in the Church. The Church is in a war here in Indianapolis over homosexuality. The Catholic Church here has been the main target so far. Just google it. The minutia of sub laws have run rampant here and the decalogue has been hidden. Therefore I make statements like this often. The Ten Commandments are Eternal. The Gospel reconciles us to the Law and the Lawgiver. And it is a daily practice.
  29. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Thank You brother. I understand it is confusing. I understand it is hard. It is hard to think we are co-labourers with God in his work also. I think we should hash this out and work through this again and again and see what the scriptures say and what God wants us to know. It is hard to hear St. Paul to tell us to work out our Salvation. I also know that our obedience can save us from the downfalls and chastisement sin causes. I also think things like this should be considered. I also believe Salvation is much more that justification as you may note. I also believe the definition of Gospel has been truncated for a long time to only mean justification.

    I agree with you. I do believe that these things are tied together in ways many may not understand and it may be confusing and even offensive to the palet. I appreciated the work done from a historical perspective. I am not endorsing it as anything that it isn't. It is historical theology. Men working things out. I appreciate it.
  30. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    From memory, I think that Zacharias Ursinus warns against this very thing in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. While he acknowledged that there was a sense in which we could say that good works are necessary to salvation, he warned against casually dropping this point into sermons, which would only sow confusion in the minds of the unlearned.

    I fear that the contemporary obsession with telling us that good works are necessary for salvation is falling into this very trap. Mark Jones has written some useful stuff on Antinomianism, but, to be truthful, I find the tendency to look for Antinomianism around every corner to be a bit on the silly side of things.
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