Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Efficacy of Good Works

Jim at recently posted a thought provoking article (link) entitled "Am I Doing Enough To Get God To Forgive Me?" (although he posted it, it appears it may have been written by a contributing author)

Jim's (or perhaps Chad's?) message responds to a Roman Catholic view that it is necessary to do something positive (good works/acts of penance or contrition) to counteract the negative (sin) in one's life. The view itself (whether actually the official view of Rome or not, I leave for the reader to decide) is based on a faulty premise, namely that good works and sins are somehow together on the same ledger book.

As discussed in a previous post (link) sin is any failure to follow God's law. In contrast, righteousness is following God's law. If one is to construct a ledger book regarding obedience to the law of God, therefore, sin is a violation and righteousness is no violation.

Thus, from the standpoint of the sin ledger book, any righteous deed is a zero, and any sin is a negative. In the garden, before the fall, Adam was innocent. He had not yet sinned, and consequently, his sin ledger book was zero. Once he sinned, he was negative, and nothing he himself could do could ever restore him to a zero position, because perfect righteousness is required by God.

Nothing that we do can negate the effect of sin, namely guilt. The only negation for the guilt of sin is punishment, either of the sinner himself or of an acceptable substitute. Furthermore, the penalty for any sin is death. Thus, eternal life is beyond the reach of anyone who has any sin to their account.


Some may object that, from a moral perspective, there is a difference between sleeping and preaching the gospel. This difference, however, is not based on one being more righteous in ipse than the other. As Solomon wrote, there is a time for everything (Ecclesiates 3:1). There is an appropriate place for both ministry of the Word and sleep in the life of a Christian. Failing to sleep at an appropriate time is vain (Psalm 127:2), and sleeping too much is folly (Proverbs 6:6-11).

Some may object that it is possible to do more than what the law of God requires, and consequently earn positive merits. As to righteousness, the answer to this objection is an emphatic "certainly not." The law of God requires perfect righteousness, as I have discussed in a previous post (link) and consequently it is not possible to be more righteous than one is required to be. Accordingly, one cannot be more righteous than the law of God requires and consequently obtain merit on account of superfluous righteousness.

Others may object that although it is not possible to be more righteous than God requires, it is possible to provide a sacrifice that God will count in place of righteousness. Thus, for example, one may sacrifice one's money, desires, health, or even life. This mindset is not completely new: note how Paul makes oblique reference to it in I Corinthians 13:3.

But the bottom line is this, no amount of personal sacrifice can take away sin. The ordained sacrifices of the Old Testament could not please God so as to take away sin (Hebrews 10:6, 8, and 18). In contrast, Christ by one offering has taken away the guilt of all the sin of his people forever.

God may reward our sacrifices, but not with remission of sin. For remission of sin, only one sacrifice satisfies God, and that is the sacrifice of His Son.

Praise be to our Great High Priest and Mediator.



Anonymous said...

I agree with you overall, but I want to point out that sometimes people go to too far of extremes and make all obedience to God as 'good works' or 'works' and ignore that some things although seemingly works are in fact part of faith. Take Noah for example. Did Noah save himself by 'works' because he built an ark? Nay, but God saved him by grace. But he also would not have been saved had he not built the ark, because it would have shown that he did not hold God to be credible in his warning and his revealed plan to escape the danger. He would have been spitting on grace. So also, under the New Testament, baptism (for example) should not be treated as a 'good work' or 'work' at all, but as part of faith, just as Noah's building the ark was not a work but part of faith. The act of building the ark did not negate Noah's sins nor earn brownie points with God, and so also the act of being dunked under water does not counteract our sins on our part nor earn us brownie points with God. But inasmuch as God placed the building of the ark as a stipulation to Noah's salvation, as part of faith, it had to be done. So also God has made baptism a stipulation of faith when he said "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." This is generally overlooked (possibly on purpose) in order to maintain a lazy-beliefism that requires zero obedience to God, and generally people tend to label EVERYTHING as 'works' even things that are clearly part of faith, even of grace since they are given to us by God and since God is active in them, as he is in baptism, for Paul was told to get up and be baptized and have his sins washed way--by whom would they be washed away? By God, of course. Yet the stipulation of faith preceded God's doing so, as in the case of Noah also.

Turretinfan said...

Interesting perspective. I'm inclined to view Noah's building the ark as an instrumental means of his physical salvation, and the result and byproduct of his faith in his Creator.


Turretinfan said...

P.S. your comments may have something to do with my upcoming (D.V.) comments on some recent posts by Doug Wilson on Baptism and the Reformed doctrines. I guess we'll see. The problem will be finishing the many posts I've been beginning.