Good works – a bone of contention

Many Christians from the Protestant tradition develop an allergic reaction when they hear the subject of ‘good works’.  It seems to be programmed into our DNA to run a mile from anything that smacks of ‘works righteousness’ whatever that is.

Let me be clear, Luther and his fellow reformers were right to react against the corruption and dry ritual of the Church in the sixteenth century.  They recovered the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, the article upon which the Church stands or falls.

The problem is that we Protestants often so over-react that we are unfortunately the last ones found doing any good works for fear of sinking back into some sort of pre-reformation ritualism.  We have too often rejected our social and ethical responsibilities, when if anything, we should be at the forefront of such endeavours, if what we say about our faith is true.

It is frankly unbiblical to divorce faith from works; works flow out of faith but are never separate from it.  Look at some biblical texts in case you were in any doubt:

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (John the Baptist, Luke 3:8)

‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father…‘ (Jesus, Matt 7:21)

‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26)

‘The dead were judged according to what they had done…’ (Rev 20:12)

The last one is particularly interesting.  It occurs in John’s vision of the judgment day when Jesus judges the world.  Notice it is not faith, or confession, or tight doctrine that he looks for, but works.  We will be judged by our works.

Does this mean faith has nothing to do with it?  Of course not.  It has everything to do with it.  Read the rest of Revelation and that much is clear.  But the marker of true faith, the one that Jesus uses to judge every person, is their good works.