The Basics: Good Works and the Christian Life

The Basics: Good Works and the Christian Life

Since our sanctification is every bit as much an act of God’s grace as is our justification, all those who have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, will (as the Catechism says) live according to all of God’s commandments. Since our efforts at obedience (like our sin) are covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ (making even the worst of our works pleasing to God), our heavenly father delights in our feeble efforts to do good.

Closely related to the doctrines of justification and sanctification is the subject of good works. One of the most common objections raised by critics of the doctrine of justification by faith alone is this: “If we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone, what place does that leave for good works?” Even the apostle Paul had heard a similar objection raised among Christians in Rome. “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1).”

Questions like this one arise from the concern that if God’s grace is stressed too much, Christians will become lazy and indifferent to the things of God and will not demonstrate a sufficient zeal for good works. After all, what incentive remains to do those works God commands us in his word, if our standing before God depends upon the good works of another–Jesus Christ? More importantly, as the critics contend, if the doctrine of justification is true, and we are justified sinners even after we become Christians, then why do good works at all, since they are still tainted by our sin?

Paul’s answer to these questions in Romans 6 is emphatic. In response to the charge that stress upon grace makes Christians indifferent about how they live, Paul writes, “by no means!” The apostle’s explanation is simple. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:2-4).

After arguing that sinners are justified by faith alone, and not by works (Romans 3:21-28; cf. Galatians 2:16), the apostle can make the point that those who are justified through faith have also died to sin. Christians no longer desire to live under sin’s dominion because they have been buried with Christ, and subsequently raised to newness of life.

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