Depravity and Regeneration (8): "Created in Christ Jesus Unto Good Works"
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is the eight entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. The seventh entry is Depravity and Regeneration (7): Good Works.
Sanctified sinner: are you able to do works that are good, works with which God is pleased? Mind you, I am not asking whether these works justify you. I am not asking whether these works merit anything in God’s sight. I am simply asking you if you are able to do works that are good? The answer to this question is, according to Scripture: yes! Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Or again, Titus 2:14: “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” These good works the sanctified believer performs. God does not perform them for us. The Spirit of Christ that works in the hearts of his people does not perform them for us. That Spirit who has cleansed us in the blood of Christ and who restores to us the image of God has renewed our minds and wills in order that we are able to perform good works.
But are these works we perform truly good? Well, do they find their source (1) in true faith? Yes. Belgic Confession, Article 24: “This holy faith . . . is called in Scripture a faith that worketh by love, which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in his Word. These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God.” Are they done according to the standard (2) of God’s law? Yes. Psalm 119:32: “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” Are they motivated (3) by the glory of God and not the glory of man? Yes. Psalm 105:3: “Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.” These, as we found in our last blog, are what defines a good work. Surely, we may never separate these works from the power of God’s grace in us, from salvation in Christ, or from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. If we did, a work would no longer be a good work, though to human eyes it might appear so. By God’s grace, however, the sanctified sinner is able to do good works.
The Belgic Confession in Article 24 also speaks of another all-important reason these works are good: they are “good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by his grace.” We understand well that our best of works are still polluted with sin. Even the holiest of men in this life can only achieve a small beginning of the new life in Christ. To put it plainly, our good works are far from perfect works! That old man of sin has a powerful influence on us yet. The good that we would, that we truly desire from a heart that loves God, we do not. The evil that we would not, because we truly hate and eschew sin in us, this we do. Good works are not synonymous with perfect works. But God views our works in the blood of Christ. Christ’s blood sanctifies us, that is, cleanses our works so that when God views our works in Christ they are good. Our works can be called good as they flow out of a true faith and a true love for God that the Spirit works in us. But they truly can be called good because Christ washes away in his blood all impurity from our works.
So, is the regenerated, sanctified sinner able to do good works? Yes! The new life of Christ in him enables him to think, will and do the good. Perfectly? Not at all, but still, he does good works.
Those who insist that total depravity yet defines the sanctified child of God that, as a result, either his good works are so depraved they are worthless, or that good works are not his own but Christ’s, actually deny the purpose of God in creating us in Christ unto good works. This purpose of God is already established in his counsel. The eternal purpose or good pleasure of God in all things is to glorify himself. He does this in all that he does. Even the ravings of the wicked serve in the end to bring glory to the name of God. But God has chosen to bring glory to his name in particular through a people whom he has chosen to that end. Ephesians 1:4-6: “According as he (God) hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” The point of this passage is God has chosen or elected us that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. We were chosen for that purpose. Or the last part of the passage, “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” God planned to bring glory to his name through a people elected from eternity to a life of consecration and dedication to him for the praise of his glory.
For this reason, God sent Jesus Christ into this world to save and sanctify us. Through his workmanship we are created unto good works, the very works God ordained with our election that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). By means of his work on the cross our Savior delivers us from the slavery of sin purifying unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works (Titus 2:14). God’s purpose in our salvation is that he might glorify himself in the way of our good works. Through the internal calling of the Spirit in our hearts Christ accomplishes this work in us. 1 Peter 2:9: “ But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God has called us out of the darkness of the depravity of this world and into the marvelous light of salvation in order that we might show forth God’s praises! That is God’s purpose in saving us: to show forth the praises of God. Such praise is given by our words and deeds. In other words, good works are not arbitrary. They are not a by-product of salvation. They are not merely the fruit of faith that must be eyed suspiciously because of sin that yet cleaves to them. God uses the good works of his people to glorify himself.
For example, when Christ’s church gathers in worship on the Lord’s Day paying homage unto God by singing praises, offering prayers of thanks, and rejoicing in the preaching of the precious gospel unto salvation, the church shows forth the praises of him who has called her members out of darkness and into his light. These are good works. God glorifies himself through these praises. Now combine the worship of the local church with that of the universal church of Christ, the church everywhere in the world, combine the praises of all of God’s saints together in their worship on the Lord’s day and God’s name is glorified in all of the earth! Certainly, it cannot be said that good works have no value! Surely, they do not save us. They do not justify us. They do not even sanctify us. But God uses them in a powerful way to bring glory to his name.
In our next blog I hope to write concerning the nature of good works as well as the obligation to perform them.