Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Christian life and sanctification. Much of this discussion has included differing views on good works and the relation of the Christian and the Holy Spirit to these good works. Here are a few questions and answers to help in this discussion.

What are good works?

  • Only that which God has commanded us in the Bible to do may be called good works.

Why do good works? Because good works done in obedience to God’s commandments

  • are the fruits and evidence of a true and lively faith
  • manifest our thankfulness to God
  • strengthen our assurance of salvation
  • encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ
  • adorn the profession of the gospel
  • silence adversaries of the faith
  • glorify God
  • lead us on to eternal life

Who brings forth our good works?

  • We can’t do good works in and of ourselves.
  • Good works are wholly from the Spirit of Christ.
  • The Holy Spirit must work and will in us according to His good pleasure to produce them.
  • However, this does not mean the Christian can be negligent in seeking to do good works.
  • We are not to “let go and let God.”
  • Rather, we are to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is already in us.

How good are these good works?

  • The good works we do in no way exceed what God requires us to do.
  • Therefore, it is equally true that in no way can our good works earn pardon for sin or eternal life.
  • Whatever good works we do bring forth, we have still only done our duty.
  • In any way that our works are good, it is because they proceed from the Holy Spirit.
  • And any way that they are not good, it is because they proceed from us.
  • Ultimately, what we produce is always mixed with weakness and imperfection.

Then how are our good works acceptable to God?

  • Because we are accepted through Christ and God is looking upon us in His Son.
  • Therefore, our good works done in sincerity, are accepted  and rewarded though filled with these many weaknesses and imperfections.

**If you liked the above answers, there is good reason. You are resonating with Reformed Biblical thought through the centuries. And that isn’t because you agree with me. These aren’t my ruminations. The answers to these questions are the thoughts articulated in Westminster Confession of Faith chapter sixteen: Of Good Works. There is much biblical wisdom in our confessions. There is a reason they have stood the test of time.

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18 thoughts on “Good Works and Sanctification”

  1. mark mcculley says:

    Good works proceed from persons who are in a justified state before God. “Dead works” proceed from persons who are not yet justified before God. Those who are dead produce dead works which lead to death. A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit. A bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit.

    Hebrews 6:1– “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God”

    Hebrews 9:14–”How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

    Works done without assurance, works done to gain extra blessing from God, are not pleasing to God. The light of the gospel exposes what people think are their “good works” to be “dead works”. And “dead works” are sins.

    John 3:19– “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

  2. mark mcculley says:

    Brother Martin Luther, Master of Sacred Theology, will preside and Brother Leonhard Beier, Master of Arts and Philosophy, will defend the following theses before the Augustinians of this renowned city of Heidelberg in the customary place. In the month of May, 1518.

    Distrusting completely our own wisdom, according to that counsel of the Holy Spirit, “Do not rely on your own insight” [Prov. 3:5], we humbly present to the judgment of all those who wish to be here these theological theses, so that it may become clear whether they have been deduced well or poorly from St. Paul, the especially chosen vessel and instrument of Christ,

    The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him. Much less can human works which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
    Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
    Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really for good and God’s glory.
    The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.
    The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.
    By so much more are the works of man mortal sins when they are done without fear and in unadulterated, evil self-security. To say that works without Christ are dead, but not mortal, appears to constitute a perilous surrender of the fear of God. Indeed, it is very difficult to see how a work can be dead and at the same time not a harmful and mortal sin.
    Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.
    In the sight of God sins are then truly venial when they are feared by men to be mortal
    Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin…and so on

  3. Mark D Cain says:

    Jason: 1 q: Why do we insist on declaring
    Good works are wholly from the Spirit of Christ.
    I am a pastor who has wrestled w/ the Divine/human relationship for 30+ yrs. Yes, I would say I am reformed. I did my master’s thesis on the contribution of Philippians 2:12-13 to the Pauline doctrine of sanctification. Even Berkhof uses the word “cooperation” between the believer and God in progressive sanctification.
    I certainly agree that God is always primary and initiatory and grant the full weight of Phil 2:13 – God IS at work ‘energizing’ (present tense).
    But as I have reflected pastorally, it seems to me that to then declare that good works are ‘wholly’ from the Spirit of Christ in a pure effort to protect from any Arminianism creeping in…confuses most lay people.
    I

  4. Great thoughts on good works but I question whether the word “sanctification” refers to progressive moral perfection http://re2podcast.com/2014/01/21/episode-21-holiness-sanctification-and-net-neutrality/

  5. LOVE IT!!!
    a lot of christians today believe in justification but not sanctification which means to set a part.
    God doesn’t just want to save you in your sins but He was to take the sin away from you all together.
    Remember “Faith without works is dead”.
    God bless

  6. anaquaduck says:

    I am the vine, you are the branches. John 15:5.

    Regarding the let go & let God, There is an element of that in the sense that we wait on the Lord & His leading.Granted we are to be diligent but also patient?

  7. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Yep… this confirms it. Glad I’m not a Calvinist.

  8. a. says:

    anaquaduck,you mention vine..
    also vineyard .. a lovely song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-vSGoJtB0M):foxes in the vineyard..the Lord’s word ever profitable: http://desh412.blogspot.com/2008/05/foxes-in-vineyard.html

  9. Matthew says:

    Good stuff. Not sure how anyone could disagree with something so simple and biblical. Sadly, many in the reformed camp have developed “low sanctification aspirations” ( J.I. Packer’s phrase), all in the name of “law kills.”

  10. I really like the part of of being diligent and stirring up the grace that God has given us.

    I am confused as to why some are not liking this post…¿

    -Justin

  11. Peter Overduin says:

    I have such a hard time with this. Let me clarify that it is not the blog post, but my relation to it, especially when the last para comes into focus, as follows:

    •Therefore, our good works done in sincerity, are accepted and rewarded though filled with these many weaknesses and imperfections.

    When is sincerity, sincere enough? I truly don’t know, but I am also learning that looking into myself to gauge the level of my sincerity is also futile and destructive. So, when I examine myself as per Paul, am I looking at the degree of my sincerity? I know it can never be enough, as my repentance must also be repented of. So I am left agonizing with the thought of how to know when I am indeed being sincere and not simply deceiving myself.

  12. a. says:

    comment just above (Peter) “I am left agonizing”

    do not let your heart be troubled, peace He has left with you; sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart and with testimony of your conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, you have conducted yourself in the world. May your soul boast in the Lord.
    and may the goal of all instruction be love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith

  13. Jason Helopoulos says:

    Peter,

    It is incredibly important to note that the Westminster Confession’s chapter on Good Works is immediately followed by chapters on the Perseverance of the Saints and Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

    I would also encourage you to remember that Christ, as our High Priest, is interceding for us. The Westminster divines are making this point by starting the paragraph with, “Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him.”

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  15. mark mcculley says:

    Harold Senkbeil, “In its most blatant form heresy claims that we must place our own good works into the balance to give us a favorable standing before God. Its subtle form seems more attractive. God does all the work in justification, but we finish the work in our sanctification.

    “We may be declared right by God’s judicial decree through faith
    alone, but then it is up to us to perform the works of love and
    obedience that true holiness requires. This error makes justification merely the first stage of sanctification. God get us on the path of holiness and then we continue. God starts and we finish…” (Justified;
    Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification, p 96)

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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