Relating Works to Justification

Posted by

My friend Bill Evans has responded to my earlier post concerning the "efficacy" of good works, and I am grateful for the clarity that he contributes.  In responding to Evans, I hope to clarify what I wrote and perhaps move us a step closer to agreement on how we should speak about the necessity of good works in salvation.  As I write, I am aware of a pending response from Mark Jones, to which I eagerly look forward.  My purpose in writing now is not to preempt Mark but rather to capture some of the issues brought up by Evans.

There are some who might look upon this discussion as in-fighting among the "sanctification" crowd.  I would disagree, however.  It is not enough for us to join in criticizing what we see as antinomian tendencies on the one side.  We must also make clear what we mean by what we are saying, in this case by the necessity and/or efficacy of good works in salvation.

First, Evans raised a couple of questions about what I had written that I gladly clarify.  He cites me as saying that we must "pointedly separate [the necessity of good works] from justification," and thus concludes that I am willing to speak of the necessity of works only as they pertain to sanctification.  I understand how Evans draws this conclusion, so let me respond that this was not my intent.  What I meant was that good works must be isolated from the instrumentality of justification, not from justification in an absolute sense.  I would fully agree, for instance, in works as necessary evidence of saving faith and thus of justification, in a James 2 manner. 

Second, in complete agreement with Bill's emphasis on union with Christ and the duplex gratia, I would enthusiastically agree that through union with Christ faith and works are not isolated but are joined (even while they remain distinct).  Far from being "separate," through union with Christ, faith and works are inseparable though distinct.  So I agree with this and clarify that I was referring to works being excluded from the instrumentality of justification.  I would like to think through some of Evans' arguments regarding the role of works in passages like 1 Cor. 6:9-11 and Gal. 5:19-21.  But, in general, I would greatly commend his summary of Vos and Gaffin with respect to the dynamic nature of justification and the organic relationship of faith and works through union with Christ.  Those desiring to think deeply about these matters can hardly do better than to plumb the material that Evans presents.  Two good starting places would be Vos' "The Pauline Eschatology" and Gaffin's "By Faith Not By Sight."

With real appreciation for and agreement in Evans' piece, I would still, however, plead against the expression "efficacy of works unto salvation."  It is true, properly circumscribed and exposited.  But the word "efficacy" is a strong one, as the doctrine of "effectual calling" makes clear.  Effectual calling refers to the mighty call of Christ that effects or achieves regeneration.  When we speak of works as "efficacious" or "effectual" we are saying that they effect or achieve something.  The word "salvation" simply is not precise enough accurately to describe what this is.  Nor should we expect general readers to assume the context of our rarified Vosian explanations, compelling and rich though they are.  Evans accurately expresses my whole intent when he states that we must not only recognize the necessity of works but do so "in a sense that must be carefully defined and circumscribed."  In full agreement with this aim, I would assert that "efficacy of works unto salvation" generates more heat than light and would be better avoided in our efforts to combat antinomianism.

Posted June 2, 2014 @ 10:56 AM by Rick Phillips
TOPICS:
1709 What Every Christian.jpg
reformation21 is the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting reformation21 and the mission of the Alliance. Please donate here.


Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc. © 2005-2016   |   alliance@alliancenet.org   |   800.956.2644   |   Frequently Asked Questions   |   Login