Friday, May 27, 2011

Distinguishing Faith from Good Works

I don't dispute the idea good works are caused by God's grace rather than having proceeded from ourselves or by a cooperation between necessary grace and an equally necessary free choice. That said, we are still able to perform good works as believers.

The definition of [good] works is something I think needs to be defined more clearly in Reformed theology. There are some parameters for such a discussion.

Defining the question:

- In what sense can our good works be entirely caused by God's grace, still be thought of properly as our good works, and what is faith such that it is distinguishable from a good work?

Introductory observations:

- Saving faith is not a work (Romans 4:5).

- A believer can do good works (Ephesians 2:10).

- Saving faith is understanding and assent to Scriptural propositions pertaining to the gospel as true (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).

- Therefore, understanding and assent are insufficient conditions for what constitutes a good work.

Towards a definition:

- Intentions refer to why or for what reason we will or choose.

- A necessary precondition for discerning whether or not a work is good hinges on an understanding of one's intentions (1 Corinthians 10:31). E.g. one may refuse to steal, but if he refuses for some selfish reason or, generally, any reason other than that such refusal is right obedience to God's authoritative law which thereby shows right respect for God's glory, such an intention connotes a work which is sinful rather than good.

- Contrarily, one cannot “intend” to understand or assent to a proposition as true; he either does or does not. Both understanding and assent, then, do not hinge on the exercise of one’s own will.


- There seems, therefore, to be at least one way in which saving faith differs from a good work: both may be caused by God’s grace, but only works proceed from our [determined] purposes.


James said...

So what identifies a good work subjectively speaking? The good things you do that you don't feel like doing, the ones that you seek to do because it strikes an emotional chord or the ones you do instinctively?

Ryan said...

I wouldn't ever predicate good works on emotions or feelings. A work is good if done correlative with the intension (a type of thought) to bring God glory in submission to His authority.

Mary Palshan said...

This is interesting, Ryan. When you mentioned the word "thought" in response to an action taken to glorify God, it made me think of how God works through me many times.

Many times I find myself taking no thought about my good deeds, they just seem to be spontaneous, as though God has taken the reigns and is working solely through me. The reason I say this is because I find myself doing good deeds where before I was regenerated, I would NEVER do. But they always seem to be spontaneous without any forethought. Now I do know that these good deeds do bring glory to God, and there are times I am conscious of that happening, but most seem to be spontaneous, as if He is the pilot.

Does this happen to you, as well? This just struck me as interesting.

Ryan said...

Hi Mary. I think that giving into a temptation is generally a more conscious process than obeying God, but that makes sense because we know we shouldn't be disobeying God.

I think your experience may be referring to the rapidity of the process of reasoning. Sometimes we seem to move from A (opportunity) to Z (action) without stopping to consider B (should I do this?), C (would doing this be right?), D (what is right?), E (that which is done in obedience to God), F (evaluation of whether or not doing Z is in conjunction with B-E), etc. until we already have done Z.

I don't think this is in opposition to the idea of intention set forth in my post. Though we will stumble at times - too often for our liking or God's - doing good should come naturally to the regenerate. If asked why we do something, we may have to fill in some B's, C's, and D's that we intuited at the time, but I don't believe that we do good works completely unthinkingly.

If that isn't representative of the sort of experience you have, I may not be able to give you an answer. It may be we have a different understanding of what are necessary conditions for something to be a good work.