The distinction between grace and works


My last post quoted Spurgeon on the false teaching of alloyed gospel and law (mixed grace and works). The question is, if the two should not be mixed then how do we keep them separate yet together?

Francis Turretin makes an important distinction between the status and the purpose or desire of the believer. In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology Topic 17 Question 3 he asks “Are good works necessary for salvation?” He answers by stating that the believer’s status is due to the merit, causality and efficiency of salvation, which are all actions by God to man. God causes sinners to be merited in his eyes with a new status. The believing Christian can say “I am saved by God”. This is the work of God alone (efficiency). Turretin goes on with respect to the believer’s purpose or desire:

the question [are good works necessary for salvation] concerns the necessity of means, of presence and of connection or order – are they [good works] required as the means and way for possessing salvation? This we hold.
…This can be demonstrated more clearly from the nature of the thing and the state and condition of man, whether we look to the covenant of grace entered into with him and attend to the doctrine of the gospel which he professes; or to the state of grace in which he is placed; or to the benefits which depend on it, past as well as present and future. All these draw after them the absolute necessity of good works.
…all the benefits of God tend to this, whether regarded as to the past in eternal election or as to the present in grace, or as to the future in glory. For all these are destined to or conferred upon us for no other reason than to promote the work of sanctification. On this account, good works are set forth to us as the effects of eternal election (Eph 1:4); the fruit and the seal of present grace (2 Tim 2:19; 2 Cor 1:21-22; Jn 15:4; Gal 5:22); and the “seeds” or “firstfruits” and earnests of future glory (Gal 6:7-8; Eph 1:14; Rom 8:23).

Turretin is not here encouraging us to assess our good works and try harder if we are not producing any. Instead, he argues that if a man finds himself hating his sin and believing in Christ for salvation then he must consider his new status as one elected by God, under grace, forgiven and heading to glory. As he considers this then good works will follow as the obvious effects, fruit or purpose of salvation. Good works are like melt waters. When the spring sun returns to warm the slopes of Ben Law on the north shore of Loch Tay the melt waters from the winter’s snow can do nothing except flow down into the crystal clear loch. So it is with good works. When the warmth of the gospel melts the heart of the sinner the desire and ability to do good works will follow. All Christians need the constant flow of gospel warmth to keep the heart soft. If we take our eyes off Christ on the cross and focus instead on our works, good works will not take long to dry up as the heart freezes over once again.

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2 Responses to The distinction between grace and works

  1. Eric Hyde says:

    Well done Neil, some great thoughts.

    Though I agree that works is a natural outflow of one’s love for God; having come into relationship with Him. However, if works were as easy and natural as the “melt waters” flow from the warming of the sun it makes one wonder why so much emphasis is contained in the NT encouraging believers to enter into the “labor” of the faith. I’ll save you the Scripture quoting as you’re undoubtly aware of them already. I think ministers need to learn how to encourage their congregants just as the Apostles did. Today you get one or the other: Works preaching to the exclusion of Grace, or Grace preaching to the exclusion of Works. Both are perilous.

    Anyway, just some thoughts. Great blog. Cheers.

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Eric, welcome to Transforming Grace and, from a visit to your blog, to the wonderful world of blogging. Your comment is really helpful in that melt waters have no volition, do they? Our good works are an act of the will, a will set free by the gospel of grace. All illustrations break down somewhere and you’ve helpfully pointed out the weakness in mine above, though of course the melt water was to illustrate the state of our hard hearts rather than the will. Point taken. Neil

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