In his article titled “Good Works” in the October 1, 2016 issue of the SB, Rev. R. Kleyn wrote in the section “The Place of Good Works:”
Although the Bible teaches good works, there is always an order: first salvation, then good works. Salvation is not based upon works, but rather salvation is the sovereign work of God by His grace and Spirit and it produces good works. Good works are a part of the salvation that God works in us.
Then later in that same section, after writing of “salvation from God’s point of view,” he writes in the next paragraph: “On the other hand, looking at salvation from our perspective, we see the same order: first salvation, then good works follow.”
As I see it, Rev. Kleyn is saying in regard to salvation and good works, on the one hand, “there is always an order: first salvation, then good works,” and on the other hand, “Good works are a part of salvation that God works in us.” So my question is: which is it? Are our good works separate from our salvation or part of our salvation?
It looks to me that either I missed something that was in the article, or something was missing from the article. Please note: I am not questioning the orthodoxy of the article, but rather asking for some clarity.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Dear Mr. Kalsbeek, Thank you for your question. I believe it helps us to think through the relationship of our good works to the grace of salvation.
When I speak of an order, first salvation, then good works, I do not mean to separate good works from salvation. Rather, by that order I mean these three things:
1. That our salvation is not based on any good works that God sees in us. In grace God comes to a depraved and unworthy sinner and brings salvation.
2. That good works are impossible apart from the sovereign saving work of God’s grace. All our doing of good works is a result of the grace of regeneration.
3. That in our conscious experience of God’s saving work, we first know, by faith, that we are in Jesus Christ and justified, and then in the response of gratitude, we begin to live in good works.
So, it is proper to say that good works follow our salvation, or to restate that, our doing of good works follows God’s saving of us.
Perhaps it helps, here, to see that Scripture does speak of salvation in the past tense.is an example of this: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” ( ).
Three things are notable from this verse:
1. “He saved us” is past tense, describing something that has taken place in the past.
2. This “past” salvation is identified as the work of regeneration, the renewing of the Holy Ghost.
3. This initial work of God is wholly of grace, “not of works…but according to his mercy.”
It is subsequent to this work of grace that we begin to live in good works.
This, however, does not mean that our good works are separate from salvation. Rather, good works are a part of our salvation. They are part of our election (); they are merited for us on the cross by Jesus Christ ( ); they are one of God’s purposes in saving us ( ); and they are included in our regeneration.
In regeneration we are made new creatures; we are given the life of Jesus Christ; we are given the spiritual abilities to love and believe; and we are given new desires and powers to obey God. In the seed of regeneration is included all the potential to grow into a fruit-bearing Christian. This, in part, is what John means when he says “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” ().
…it is impossible that those who are implanted into Christ by a true faith should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 64).
—Rev. R. Kleyn