[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Can Good Works Prove Salvation?

by Charlie Bing
This is the introduction of an article Solifidian referred to in the comments. Dr. Bing wrote it for his newsletter Bible study, GraceNotes, which is also on his website.

There is every reason to think that those who have believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and are consequently born into God’s family will experience a changed life to some degree. Some would say that this changed life is evidenced by good works which proves they are saved. If that is true, then the converse is true: if there are no good works, then there is no salvation. In this view, good works (sometimes called “fruit” or evidence of a changed life) prove or disprove one’s eternal salvation.

Some passages are used to contend that works can prove or disprove one’s eternal salvation. Probably the most common are James 2:14-26, John 15:6, and Matthew 7:15-20. But James is writing to Christians about the usefulness of their faith, not its genuineness. Likewise, in John 15:6 Jesus is talking about fruitless believers and compares them to branches that are burned, in other words, not of much use. Matthew 7:15-20 warns against false prophets (not believers in general) who can be evaluated on the basis of their evil deeds or heretical teaching (not an absence of works in general).
There is no passage of Scripture that claims works can prove salvation. In fact, there are many problems with trying to use works to prove salvation, or the lack of works to disprove salvation.

That was the introduction but I thought the first point of his study was very insightful:

Good works can characterize non-Christians. Works in and of themselves can not prove that anyone is eternally saved because those who have not believed in Christ will often do good things. In fact, good deeds are essential to many non-Christian religions. Sometimes the outward morality of non-Christians exceeds that of established Christians. In Matthew 7:21-23 we see the possibility of those who do not know Christ doing great works, but their works are useless in demonstrating their salvation; they are not saved.

posted by HK Flynn


  • This is a good article that does shows bad thinking.

    Even if we take the proposition:

    If a person has saving faith, then the person will exhibit good works.

    as true, there are various illogical conclusions from that proposition. The primary one is this:

    If I exhibit good works, then I am saved.

    No, logically speaking, that is not necessarily true. An If A, then B statement is only false whenever whenever A is true and B is false. In other words, there can be cases where A is false (such as not having saving faith) and B is true (having good works).

    At best, if the conditional: If a person has saving faith, then the person will exhibit good works. is true, then good works can be incomplete evidence of saving faith, but not conclusive evidence.

    After all, didn't Jesus tell about those who did great things but Jesus never knew them?

    By Blogger Earl, at Wednesday, October 04, 2006 9:18:00 PM  

  • Earl, why would good works be needed as evidence of faith?

    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 12:42:00 AM  

  • Earl,

    This is only a small part of of what Bing said on the subject. But even the one point has some bearing on the bigger issue. At some point we should ask ouselves how good of a test is it (works) if it is so inconclusive from so many angles.

    NonChristians can do good works. Christians can backslide.

    While testing for discipeship is far more effective because if works slide ecause of backsliding, one of course isn't a disciple and needs to be humbled and return to God.


    God bless

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 2:16:00 AM  

  • Matthew, I didn't propose that works were needed to provide evidence of faith. All I said is that it can be used as partial evidence of faith being present, but it is not conclusive.

    By Blogger Earl, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 6:10:00 AM  

  • Earl,

    To elaborate, the NT does encourage us to lack assurance on the topic of discipleship. The writers want us to test for discipleship in our life. And if we are even slightly drifting, we can say, no, at this instant I am not a disciple. This keeps with the absolutist language that tends to describe discipleship.

    If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt 5:46-48

    About the other issue you brought up, if someone is assured by Christ's Scriptural promise alone, and then is simply encouraged by evidence of God at work in his life, reminded that he is a true child of God, I think that is healthy. This is maybe slightly diff than what you're saying but not too different.

    God bless.


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 8:26:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 8:26:00 AM  

  • I managed to publish my comment twice, so I deleted the 2nd ...

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 8:28:00 AM  

  • Jodie, and everyone. Thanks, I get a better picture what you all are saying. I know I am often a pain, so I really appreciate your communication with me. Believe it or not, you're giving me a different slant on thinking about this.

    I'll cogitate on this for a while and give you all peace. Thanks!

    By Blogger Earl, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 11:54:00 AM  

  • giggles...

    Thanks for hanging out while you mull this over. That other word had to many syllables to repeat :)

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Thursday, October 05, 2006 4:40:00 PM  

  • This debate was going on within British Calvinism as early as the 1540s, and flared up frequently. Puritans who favored the scholastic approach to understanding the process of regeneration (e.g., Shepherd, Hooker, et al) asserted that good works were a necessary "preparation" for justification. They also taught that godly behavior was the inevitable result of having been justified.

    Unfortunately for English Calvinism, when they began to press the question of "how much of good works" or "what quality of good works" to the reductio ad absurdum they invented and taught the doctrine that a person could think they believe, and could demonstrate all the good works required, but still remain reprobate!

    When one's assurance of salvation is grounded in anything other than the revealed promises of God's word, irrationality is always the end result.

    Other of the puritans like John Cotton, Wheeler and others rejected all of this. They rejected the view that preparatory works were necessary, and that good works would inevitably result from justification, thereby proving that it had occurred.

    There was within English Calvinism a strong undercurrent of grace theology which taught that no works of man, either before or after justification, could serve as a reliable guide to whether one was justified. They cautioned their puritan brethren about looking to one's works for proof of justification because (1) the Bible taught that believers may never do any good works, (2) the unbeliever's good works were indistinguishable from the believer's good works.

    By Anonymous Bud Brown, at Saturday, October 07, 2006 10:31:00 AM  

  • Thanks Bud,

    Very helpful and interesting.

    Bobby Grow talks of Richard Sibbs being an early proponent of similar ideas. Would you say he would fit into the flareups you're describing?

    Actually saying that justification inevitably results in good works seems to me to be better than treating faith like it has god-like wonder-working power.

    (Also, Bud, I've never been able to commetn on your FG network blog. My mouse "arrow" never will turn into a cursor and nothing I type appears in the text box.

    And also, I assume you've been busy but when you get a chance check out the no-debate-allowed [giggles] Pyro series and the quite good-natured if distorted Pulpit Magazine series, both on Lordship Salvation. Your learned critiques would be very nice.)



    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Saturday, October 07, 2006 11:19:00 AM  

  • Richard Sibbes had a profound influence on Cotton and may have been instrumental in his personal salvation. I haven't read enough on that to know for certain.

    I'll have to look into the problem with the comments on the FG blog. Are you registered there as a participant?

    As for Pyro and the rest, it's a waste of time trying to dialog with them. Enjoy their writing because they are good, but don't bother trying to interact with them. They deliberately misunderstand.

    What I do find interesting is that in all likelihood, had the theological nitpicker Thomas Shepherd not managed to outmanuever John Cotton, Harvard would never have been founded, the analytical/introspective wing of puritanism would have disappeared, and the MacArthurites would not exist.

    By Anonymous Bud Brown, at Sunday, October 08, 2006 6:03:00 AM  

  • Joh 13:35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

    By Blogger nathaniel adam king, at Sunday, October 08, 2006 9:22:00 AM  

  • Bud,

    Your research on the milue surrounding Cotton sounds like a book. Even if you don't have time for that type of research and work, I look forward to seeing/hearing the result.

    I am regsitered in Wordpress with Grace Network.


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Sunday, October 08, 2006 6:41:00 PM  

  • Hi Adam,

    Thanks for stopping...

    We take that to mean that by this all people will know that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another.


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Sunday, October 08, 2006 6:43:00 PM  

  • I know I'm reaching a bit

    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Sunday, October 08, 2006 6:50:00 PM  

  • Cotton indeed was influenced by Sibbes. Bud is describing the "Anti-nomian" controversy--which I would proudly wear the label of "anti-nomian" in its historical understanding.

    By Anonymous bobby grow, at Monday, October 09, 2006 1:33:00 AM  

  • h k, I like you.

    By Blogger nathaniel adam king, at Monday, October 09, 2006 4:04:00 AM  

  • hey Adam ;)


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, October 09, 2006 7:23:00 AM  

  • Hi Bobby :)

    Yeah Sibbs!

    Rah Rah ! ! Against-the-Law-as-a-means-of-determining-Election !!


    By Blogger H K Flynn, at Monday, October 09, 2006 7:26:00 AM  

  • Bobby;

    If Cotton had been a man of courage it would not have been labelled the "antinomian controversy." It would have been labelled the "lordship salvation controversy." But alas, good theologians are not always men or courage, nor are the winners always good theologues. Nor, for that matter, are the guys with the snazziest graphics and sharpest wit.

    By Anonymous Bud, at Tuesday, October 10, 2006 12:05:00 PM  

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