Dr. Jones: There is an Answer to “How Many Works Are Necessary?”

So, we see that good works are in fact necessary for salvation—perfectly performed and constant good works, with no derelictions of duty, all done from a pure heart of love for God and neighbor. This is what faith grasps, by the grace of God, in our only Savior Jesus Christ. And His works become our works, His merits our merits, His obedience our obedience, and His holiness our holiness.

 

In the recent post, “But How Many Good Works are Necessary?”, Dr. Mark Jones responds to what has probably become a common retort to his insistence that good works are necessary for final salvation. Jones simply believes it is the wrong question altogether, and may even “reveal a legal spirit, not a gospel spirit, that needs mortifying.” I for one think it is a pretty obvious follow up question to being told that good works are necessary for salvation. And I don’t believe this because of “a legal spirit,” or because I am “trying to ignore something glorious” as “one who should know better”; I believe it’s a good question because it is addressed clearly in the Scripture.  Yes, as a matter of fact, it is not only an acceptable question, but it has a Biblical answer.

How Many Good Works are Necessary for Final Salvation?

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ”

And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:18-22)

And we read earlier in Luke:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’”

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (10:25-28)

So, what is our Lord’s answer to “How many works are necessary for final salvation?” Well quite frankly, all of them. Every good work possible. Every commandment, every precept, every statute, as well as perfect and complete love for God and neighbor. Jesus did not change the conditions for salvation. Just like Adam, we owe “perfect and personal obedience” (WCF 7.2); that is the condition for life. We read in Herman Witsius’s Economy of the Covenants that the condition “is perfect obedience only; this the law requires: nor does the gospel substitute any other.” But fortunately, Witsius continues: “but [the Gospel] declares that satisfaction has been made to the law by Christ our surety” (Bk. 3.VII.LII).

This is the whole point. Perfect righteousness, perfect obedience, all good works are required for salvation, whether it be salvation past, salvation present, or salvation future. God did not relax the required conditions, He met them in the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him alone are all the conditions met. And faith alone grasps this condition keeping righteousness and makes it our own:

Q/61: Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

A: Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only. (Heidelberg Catechism)

Is this righteousness enough, being that it is not actually our own, but alien? The Catechism Q & A just prior answers this admirably:

Q/60: How are you righteous before God?

A: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and that I am still prone always to all evil, yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me, if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

But there must be more. Are our good works not even a part of our salvation?

Q/62: But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

A: Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and wholly conformable to the divine law; whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

That’s pretty straight forward. Let’s look at one more from the Heidelberg:

Q/30: Do such then believe in the only Savior Jesus, who seek their salvation and welfare from “saints,” themselves, or anywhere else?

A: No; although they may make their boast of Him, yet in act they deny the only Savior Jesus. For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior, must have in Him all that is necessary to their salvation.

So, we see that good works are in fact necessary for salvation—perfectly performed and constant good works, with no derelictions of duty, all done from a pure heart of love for God and neighbor. This is what faith grasps, by the grace of God, in our only Savior Jesus Christ. And His works become our works, His merits our merits, His obedience our obedience, and His holiness our holiness.

Good Works Are Nevertheless Necessary

Now of course, once the Holy Spirit has worked Christ-embracing faith in our hearts, all conditions of salvation having been met in Him, do good works then cease to be necessary? Of course not—why would they? Good works are glorifying to God, comforting to the soul of believers, and are used by God to win others to Christ (HC Q&A 86). But good works are necessary in a different sense.

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