Tag Archive for 'Good Works'

Reading Luke to Understand James

Luke 3:8-9
“Do those things that prove that you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act. Don’t say, ‘Abraham is our ancestor.’ I guarantee that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones.

9 The ax is now ready to cut the roots of the trees. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire.”

10 The crowds asked him, “What should we do?”

11 He answered them, “Whoever has two shirts should share with the person who doesn’t have any. Whoever has food should share it too.”

12 Some tax collectors came to be baptized. They asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He told them, “Don’t collect more money than you are ordered to collect.”

14 Some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He told them, “Be satisfied with your pay, and never use threats or blackmail to get money from anyone.”

If you were to read starting from verse 10, it would just look like commands of what people need to do to please God and be one of his children, as opposed to the fact that they are descendants of Abraham being the only thing necessary.

Although James seems to make is clear in what he’s explaining regarding good works–writing that it’s the kind of faith that saves us (James 2:14), how good works show that our faith is genuine (James 2:22), James and John the Baptist using the word or metaphor of deadness (Luke 3:8-9, James 2:26 [stones, bad or dead fruit]) etc., some still seem to have a hard time with this. So we can go to other parts of the Bible like Luke, which happens to be written after James (did Luke know what James wrote?) to find more explanatory material. Luke explains that these good works are proof (as in God’s Word Translation, NET and NLT to name a few) while most say, Bear fruits in keeping with repentance as does ESV, NASB and NIV. If it wasn’t for the former, I’m not sure I would understand the latter, looking at that part of that verse by itself.

Joel B. Green, in his commentary on Luke, makes some very interesting (to me anyway) parallels on the current (in the narrative) descendants of Abraham who feel their pedigree is enough, to some of what’s written in the Old Testament. Since Luke’s narrative here is describing John the Baptist speaking to a specific nationality and religion, he can utilize their own heritage and knowledge to convict them of their prideful and incorrect view of their standing before God.

Such an understanding is repudiated by John, who insists that children of Abraham are not identified by birth into the covenant community but through response to God’s gracious initiative. The crowds are like the wilderness to which they have come to hear John — empty, unproductive, lifeless — and so they must become fruitful, producing in their lives behaviors that demonstrate their relation to God (cf. Acts 26:20).

John produces two warnings to the crowd, both of which follow hard upon his declaration that their privileged status is now insecure. First, he reminds them that they can be replaced by stones! John draws on a number of pertinent images — Abraham, the father of many nations; the ability of God to give Abraham a child (Genesis 18:14); the portrayal of “stones” as inanimate, used as a metaphor for lifeless gods and humans (cf. Acts 17:29); the election and shaping of a nation, God’s people, in the exodus and crossing of the Jordan, together with the stones to memorialize the event; the fact that God’s promises to Abraham have been coming to realization in the Lukan narrative (Luke 1:55, 73)…

As in the Scriptures, the behaviors for which John calls are not themselves the basis for membership in God’s covenant people; rather, they are manifistations of that relatioinship. To put it differently, these are the natural outgrowth of lives reoriented around the God who is himself merciful (cf. Luke 6:36).

Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, pgs. 176; 178

Many other things could be written about like the Beatitudes, what Jesus Himself said about these things etc.

The Holy Spirit and Good Works in Reformed Theology

N.T. Wright, Interview with N.T. Wright – Responding to Piper on Justification

Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?

N.T. Wright:
What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again).

Michael A. G. Haykin, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (to be reviewed here in the future):

Historically, the Reformed tradition has had a passionate interest in the Holy Spirit. A key source for this pneumatological passion was John Calvin himself, who had ‘a constant and even distinctive concern’ with the person and work of the Spirit. B. B. Warfield, the distinguished American Presbyterian theologian, even spoke of Calvin as ‘preeminently the theologian of the Holy Spirit.’

In the English-speaking world, Calvin’s deep interest in the Spirit and His work was passed on to that Reformed tradition associated with the names of the Puritans and their successors, and the Calvinistic Dissenters and evangelicals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In discussing the work of the Spirit, Calvin’s heirs emphasized the Spirit’s sovereignty in every area of the salvation of sinners. The early Stuart Puritan, John Preston, for instance, maintained that spiritual fortitude comes from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, who is ‘the only means to strengthen the inward man.’ But he also could argue that there are various means of godliness that the Christian must be diligent in using to attain this spiritual strength, such disciplines as ‘hearing the word, receiving the sacrament, prayer, meditation, conference, the communion of saints, particular resolutions to [do] good.’

ARTICLE 24, Belgic Confession:


We believe that this true faith, worked in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit,1 regenerates him and makes him a new man.2 It makes him live a new life and frees him from the slavery of sin.3 Therefore it is not true that this justifying faith makes man indifferent to living a good and holy life.4 On the contrary, without it no one would ever do anything out of love for God,5 but only out of self-love or fear of being condemned. It is therefore impossible for this holy faith to be inactive in man, for we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls faith working through love (Gal 5:6). This faith induces man to apply himself to those works which God has commanded in His Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless, they do not count toward our justification. For through faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do any good works.6 Otherwise they could not be good any more than the fruit of a tree can be good unless the tree itself is good.7

Therefore we do good works, but not for merit. For what could we merit? We are indebted to God, rather than He to us, for the good works we do,8 since it is He who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). Let us keep in mind what is written: So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty (Luke 17:10).” Meanwhile we do not deny that God rewards good works,9 but it is by His grace that He crowns His gifts.

Furthermore, although we do good works, we do not base our salvation on them. We cannot do a single work that is not defiled by our flesh and does not deserve punishment.10 Even if we could show one good work, the remembrance of one sin is enough to make God reject it.11 We would then always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be constantly tormented, if they did not rely on the merit of the death and passion of our Saviour.12

1. Acts 16:14; Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 12:3. 2. Ezek 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; John 3:5; Eph 2:4-6; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:23. 3. John 5:24; John 8:36; Rom 6:4-6; 1 John 3:9. 4. Gal 5:22; Titus 2:12. 5. John 15:5; Rom 14:23; 1 Tim 1:5; Heb 11:4, Heb 11:6. 6 Rom 4:5. 7. Mat 7:17. 8. 1 Cor 1:30-31; 1 Cor 4:7; Eph 2:10. 9. Rom 2:6-7; 1 Cor 3:14; 2 John 8; Rev 2:23. 10. Rom 7:21. 11. James 2:10. 12. Hab 2:4; Mat 11:28; Rom 10:11.

Question 86, Heidelberg Catechism:

86. Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?

Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits,[1] and He may be praised by us.[2] Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits,[3] and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ.[4]

[1] Rom 6:13; Rom 12:1-2; 1 Pet 2:5-10. [2] Mat 5:16; 1 Cor 6:11-20. [3] Mat 7:11-28; Gal 5:22-24; 2 Pet 1:11-21. [4] Mat 5:14-16; Rom 14:17-19; 1 Pet 2:12; 1 Pet 3:1-2.