But What About My Works?


I have been asked many times, in the context of biblical counseling, about the relationship between a person's faith and their good works. In most cases, the person asking the question was struggling at some level with their own sense of assurance of pardon from sin, or perhaps the security of their salvation in a broader sense. In my experience, there are more people struggling with a lack of assurance than some pastors would like to believe. Too often, if you listen carefully, many evangelicals today can affirm that we enter the kingdom by faith alone, but functionally act as of they stay in the kingdom by their good works. At Baylight, we will always be about the business of distinguishing bewteen law and gospel, faith and deeds, the confusion of which leads to fear of personal failure over confidence in Christ.

For the purposes of this short post, I'd like to offer just a few words from the Belgic Confessions of Faith, Article XXIV, which does a wonderful, at least in brief, of outlining for the reader what is the proper relationship of the above categories, so that they might rest in Christ with humility and confidence. This is all very important to the counseling process because even as we pursue biblically-generated heart change, we want everyone to know with  certainty where their hope is found in every way.

So, here's a brief quote for you from the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article XXIV, followed by a few followup questions for you to think about:

"It is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a faith working through love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word.

These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless they are of no account towards our justification, for it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works." Historic Creeds and Confessions, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997)

For Discussion

  1. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. Discuss what Paul seems to be saying here about the relationship of faith to works. How does Paul's brief (but important) explanation here support or correct what you've been inclined to believe?
  2. Some are afraid that to place an emphasis on justifcation by faith alone is to set aside entirely the good and proper place of works in the Christian life. How does the Belgic Confession mitigate against such a fear?
  3. If you've struggled with assurance of salvation issues, explain the difference in confidence one might hold when approaching the fruit of faith as the root of justification, versus embracing good deeds as the natural outcome of a life lived in union with Jesus by grace alone.
  4. Where has fear produced by an unhealthy understanding of faith/works actually affected your day to day life? What would it mean to you to have this burden lifted?
  5. While our good works are intended by God to bring him glory, and encourage us in our walk, they are never intended to be the source of our hope. J. Gresham Machen said, "Thank God for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it." Machen understood that it was Christ's obedience to the law, and not our own, that was and is the ground and substance of our righteousness. It can never be taken away or lost as an adopted child of God. How does this great truth begin to restore your confidence in the sufficiency of Christ and his gospel toward your salvation?
  6. What questions remain that you would like to discuss?

Digging Deeper