XIII. Of Works before Justification.

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72 Responses

  1. Em says:

    as my Roman Catholic Texas business exec. uncle told me long years ago, “Em, the first thing you have to learn in this life is that people are no d*mn good.”

  2. Luther wrote in his Heidelberg Disputation in 1518 that the vast majority of our good works as Christians are sin.

  3. Xenia says:

    I don’t agree with any of this.

  4. Em says:

    Xenia, is right, of course … people are unreliable and flawed, unable to save themselves, but their price has been established at the cross

    MLD – i guess i would ask old Martin Luther if he didn’t mean that the vast majority of our good works are tainted by our old sin nature and give us no standing with God, but shouldn’t we press on anyway?

  5. Em, the thought is that even as Christians, we do our good works with the wrong motives.

    If I go mow the lawn of widowed lady next door because I think she will make me cookies, my “good work” has been done in sin due to my motives.

    Regardless, I am still to do the work – and repent of my sin

  6. If I give $5 to the guy on the corner, to please God, I have sinned in my motives – because I am not to do it unto God but in order to serve my neighbor.

  7. Em says:

    i agree with MLD, but … if i give $5 to the guy on the corner to please me because my conscience wont let me walk away from him, keeping that $5 prudently still in my purse because i don’t know if he really needs it or is just panhandling, avoiding working for a living?

    i have an unbelieving neighbor who hauls my empty trash barrel up the hill, can i ask God to bless him for that? do i have to ask God to bless him? because he does a lot of annoying things to serve his own interests, i.e., blowing snow onto my ornamental winter grasses, destroying them in preference to blowing the snow onto his lawn (which might destroy it, i guess) … i think the moral is … do good and don’t keep score at all …

    what’d she say? dunno …

  8. Em, I am sure that somewhere in their, there are blessings under God’s common grace. I know that I thank God for the folks who help out my aged parent, taking their trash down to the street for them each week among other things.

  9. Rob Murphy says:

    Interesting that God didn’t question Abraham’s motives, just his obedience. As a matter of fact, with all those blessings in Gen. 12, it’s obvious that Abram obeyed God for all the wrong reasons. Yet Abram pleased God . . .

    Of course God was quite shoddy in explaining even His Sovereign Choice of Abraham, even when He had a chance to clarify in Gen. 22, God’s Angel says:
    15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

    We all know Abraham should have been told that Abraham’s obedience had nothing to do with Abraham and that there was no real choice for Abraham. God should have said “Because I have chosen to make this to happen”. Too bad, God had a real good chance to clear up a lot of theology.

    Jesus even told a story of a guy who said he’d do something but didn’t and a guy who didn’t want to do the same something but ended up doing it – I can’t remember where Jesus came down on which guy was obedient . . .

    Seems like the Bible teaches that obedience to the Word of God is a chief means of the Holy Spirit instructing and shaping our heart’s motive. But I haven’t had much in the way of college book learnin’, so I might be missing the subtleties.

  10. Josh Hamrick says:

    The statement itself, I think I agree with. Seems to say that no amount of good deeds will save you. I agree and think that is not arguable.

    The comments afterwards and further implications seem to suggest that it is no different for a lost man to save a child from a burning building, than to punch a beggar in the throat. I, and I think the Bible, thoroughly disagree with that idea.

  11. Solomon Rodriguez says:

    RM Said:

    “Seems like the Bible teaches that obedience to the Word of God is a chief means of the Holy Spirit instructing and shaping our heart’s motive. But I haven’t had much in the way of college book learnin’, so I might be missing the subtleties.”


  12. This one denies plain scripture… I would cite the Good Samaritan as exhibit one… This rises as a logical derivative from a preset point of view… and it exaggerates the value of some scripture over others.

    Once again I would say that no one is justified by good works but good works are in no way unpleasant to God… Acts 10 ..

  13. The very best at doing good works were the Pharisees – Go Team Pharisee!

  14. Josh Hamrick says:

    MLD, Jesus disagrees with you Matthew 23:3

  15. “23:5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others.”

    Motive – which is my point. They do all the deeds – it’s just that Jesus does not recognize them at all – as if they were never done – because they are done for the wrong motives.

    So, you can feed all the hungry people you want and wash all the dishes in the shelter like Paul Ryan did – but if you are doing it for a photo op and not to serve your neighbor – you have not done a thing in God’s sight.

  16. Josh Hamrick says:

    You are wrong MLD. Jesus said they did not do what they said they do : ” so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.
    (Matthew 23:3 ESV)”

  17. Josh Hamrick says:

    So again, in your world, rape and serving at a soup kitchen are the same thing. That’s insane.

  18. Josh, you are an idiot if that’s what you walked away with. I have not once mentioned nor alluded to bad deeds.

    This is the trouble when we have discussions of good works – no one talks about the good works, but only throw up bad deeds.

    If you don’t think that motives make a difference, then fine, just say so. If I can work a program that I feed the poor so that I have bragging rights – that is no different from the person like Mother Teresa who does it at a personal sacrifice and for the benefit of her neighbor.

  19. Xenia says:

    A person may begin a good work for the sake of ego but as the person cooperates with God, his motives change. But this can never happen if one doesn’t begin.

  20. Someone should have versed Jesus on depravity as taught by this article…

  21. Josh Hamrick says:

    Again, MLD, what Mother Theresa did would not get her into heaven…but it was an awfully nice thing. I don’t think you like the ramifications of you theology. So you call me an idiot instead.

  22. Josh, if you go back and read my #2 and my #5 you will see that I am not speaking of “good works” to get to heaven. I am talking about the works of a Christian with the wrong motives

    My comments also related to Reubens last statement in his article “The article that follows, amplifies this for me. The statement is basically that even after you are working under the blessing of Christ, making a statement out of your works is also filth.” I was agreeing with this.

  23. Josh Hamrick says:

    I know, and I am disagreeing.

  24. Another Voice says:

    Don’t you guys believe in common grace? Are we really going to deny the role of the God-given conscience?

    Somehow if I see a crying, lost 4-year old all alone and I help the child, that my action is more noble than an unbeliever doing the same thing?

    I get the motive argument on some things. But there have been annonymous donors and helpers and I don’t know that we can assume that 100% of those cases are by Christians.

    And sorry…feeling good about doing what is moral, good, and right, is not a bad motive. It is the confirmation to conscience from God – and is possible for even an unbeliever.

    And none of this diminishes the obvious teaching that nobody is without sin or can earn their way to heaven. I am talking about the occasional, individual act.

    C.S. Lewis hits this well in Mere Christianity by the way.

  25. AV,
    Read my #8 – I speak directly to blessings under God’s common grace.

  26. Em says:

    good deeds are good and bad deeds are bad, no matter whether a child of God is acting in obedience to the Father or a self-justifying scorner of the Faith does the deed …

    why is this so hard to reach consensus on? it was obedience born of faith (involves the heart, i think) that pleased God (that placed him a justified position) when Abraham acted, not any deeds, in and of themselves … and, isn’t it interesting that God stopped him from the extreme act that an unquestioning obedient Abraham was headed toward on one occasion? Why do we hang up on how terrible it would have been for Abraham to do such a thing and completely miss the accompanying tearing of his heart that God was so graciously giving us to consider?

    for Xenia there is the possibility of a heart of faith taking over in the midst of the deed? – works for me – God knows the heart

    too many irons in the fire right now and i may not have said what i’m thinking, but it seems so simple … for us simple minded maybe – dunno

  27. Another Voice says:

    But you indicted those neighbors as having sinful motives by all your other posts…so which is it?

  28. Another Voice says:

    My last was directed at MLD’s reference to his parents’ neighbors..

  29. AV,
    I said at the end of my #5 “Regardless, I am still to do the work – and repent of my sin”

    Selfish motives should not stop my acts of charity, but I just need to realize that I may have done them for selfish motives… therefore I need to repent.

    Luther’s very 1st theses nailed to the Wittenburg door was “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” –

    that means in many cases, even for our good works.

  30. Another Voice says:

    The moment you insert “may” have done them for wrong motives, then we are all set and you join into agreement with most of the others who posted here.

    If your only point is that sometimes Christians do the right thing for the wrong reasons, and you agree that unbelievers can on occasion do the right thing under God’s common grace – then no argument from me.

  31. Xenia says:

    There is a form of belief that says:

    1. Eve eats the “apple” (and even this may have possibly been per-ordained) and God becomes an incredibly petulant Individual who holds a very very long grudge. God is filled with wrath and cannot even look upon the people He created.

    2. Humanity is rotten rotten rotten and God is totally offended with us, all the time. Nothing we do pleases Him or ever will. He’s the arch typical abusive father.

    3. Any attempt to do good either before or after salvation is rotten, rotten, rotten. Deeds are only “good” if we manage to muster up the proper motive which, of course, is impossible.

    4. God picks a few of these rotten humans to save, the rest of them will bring glory to God by suffering eternal torment in h3ll.

    5. God really doesn’t even look directly upon His elect but instead must view them through the filter of His Son.

    6. All this being the case, why bother trying to become good, much less holy? It’s a rat’s maze, we’re caught in it, and all we can do is follow along till we die.

    Christianity teaches:

    1. God is good and is the lover of mankind, each and every person. He has created them all in His image and they are good.

    2. Because of Adam’s transgression, sin and death have entered our world. God warned Adam and Eve, but using their free will they chose to sin and the sorrowful consequences have been passed down to us. We have become a race of sinners.

    3. The image of God that Adam and Eve had at their creation has been marred. Not destroyed but marred. We yearn for the days of Eden when we had perfect fellowship with God. We are homesick for our homeland. God is calling us home: some answer the call and some prefer to assuage their homesickness with the things of the world.

    4. Christ came down to earth on a rescue mission to destroy death and to make it possible for us to recover the image of God. Mankind is sick and Christ brought us the medicine of life. Whoever believes on Him will be saved and we can restore the marred image of God if choose to walk closely with Him. (He does all the heavy lifting.)

    5. God does not despise mankind, he truly loves us, each and every one. He has no list of people He plans to rescue and those He plans to abandon. What kind of father would do that? No, he offers salvation to us all. We can say Yes or No. The more we say Yes, the more He reveals Himself to us. The more we cooperate with Him, the more we become like Him.

  32. The X-woman is good… real good.

  33. Xenia,
    “6. All this being the case, why bother trying to become good, much less holy? It’s a rat’s maze, we’re caught in it, and all we can do is follow along till we die.”

    I have never run into a single person who thinks like this – are these more of your crazy relatives you speak of? Do you really know Christians who make no attempt at being good / holy?

    But then again, I think our holiness is developed through repentance.

  34. Lutheran says:


    Kudos to you for citing common grace. Without it, Christians can look pretty foolish.

    I see examples all the time of folks who don’t profess to be Christians doing oodles of good works. Lots of oodles!

    Bill Clinton is just one out of many examples. Bill Gates. Etc. Etc.

    (I know you’d appreciate this, AV)

    🙂 🙂

    If one wants to get into an “I’m a Christian so I do more good works than you, the nonXn..nyah, nyah” battle, I say knock yourself out.

    It’s a colossal waste of time.

  35. Lutheran says:

    I also must agree with AV about Mere Christianity. What a wonderful book! I think every Christian should read it at least once a year.

    Of course, we Lutherans like it for many reasons. Among them, the Man from Oxford uses Law and Gospel in the first section.


  36. Xenia says:

    We Orthodox love CS Lewis, too. His books are the only non-Orthodox books you will ever find in an Orthodox bookstore. He is quoted often.

  37. Lutheran says:

    Many Anglicans really are great writers and communicators.

    I’m here thinking of the “What Color is Your Parachute” guy, I think his name is Bolles.

    Another Episcopalian. He’s an Episcopal priest.

  38. Under the sun, a non christian can out good works a christian – no issue there. It’s about what God counts as good works…. and even to that end, I think God holds Christians to a higher standard – which includes motives. A non christian is not told to not let his left hand know what his right hand is doing.

    Look, as a confessional Lutheran and a 0% Calvinist, I look to nothing but God’s mercy for goodness and holiness.Any unadulterated good works that come out of me are actually just flowing through me.

  39. Another Voice says:

    Lutheran, I almost cited Bill Gates’ charitable works in my example! 🙂

    The Lewis example I believe (without looking it up) spoke of how we go against our own self-interest when we hear a drowning man crying for help. It is a powerful point. What is the motive there other than the common grace of God.

    Xenia’s summary above is excellent. Excellent!

  40. Reuben says:

    As an 86.6% Calvinist, I agree with 38 100%.

  41. I am always looking for these illusive people who are working their way to heaven. More than that I am always hoping that someone will tell the Gospel without an obsession with heaven and hell but with an obsession with the kingdom of God.

  42. Reuben says:

    “Xenia’s summary above is excellent. Excellent!”

    There is almost an art to spinning peoples beliefs in such a way that it looks like you killed their dog.

    First 1-6 is a mischaracterization of Calvinists, presented from the biased position that Calvinists believe in a false god.

    The good news is, I am not offended, because it does not represent me. 😛

    I believe that God does not help those who help themselves. God helps those. Period.

  43. Reuben says:

    BD, I worked my way to heaven for most of my “saved” life. I gave up about two years ago. I am here every day.

  44. Reuben says:

    Pelagius – He denied the doctrines of original sin and predestination, defending innate human goodness and free will.

    “Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and conduct of a holy life, it is my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what it is capable of achieving…”

    But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building…

  45. Paul A. Lytton says:

    This is my own opinion, for what it is worth:

    I am reading many different versions here as to what “Good Works” are; and what they are not. I think there is too much concentration on the humanistic understanding of verbiage and not enough on the “Godly understanding” of what good works are. What comes to mind is Matt: 11-16 (KJV).

    11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,

    12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

    13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

    14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.

    15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

    If a “Good” work becomes a “Bad” work, then it obviously is no longer a “Good Work”. The one to decide what is good and what is bad (and when the good turns to bad or the bad turns to good) belongs to the payer of the work to be done.

    16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

    Here again (as everywhere else in the Bible), it is in reference to Salvation.

    Salvation is only through Christ and He alone has the right to determine good from bad.

    John 14:6 King James Version (KJV) 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, (the determiner of what is good and what is bad – emphasis mine) and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

  46. Reuben says:


  47. Another Voice says:

    The first step I take to determine what the Bible teaches about good works is to get the concordance and look up the words “good work(s)”

  48. The first step I take is to check out AV’s podcasts to see if he has taught on it. 😉

  49. Another Voice says:

    Good for you, MLD. You cut out the middleman that way and save yourself some study time. Go right to the source! 😉

  50. Reuben says:

    I used to teach from the concordance quite a bit.

  51. Rueben

    You are telling me that you believed and taught that your salvation depended upon your merit through good works? Pray tell more because I am unpersuaded … likely you realized that though you preached grace you pressurized your own life with a steady diet of trying to do all the right things… Likely you simply realized that in your head you were full of wrong thinking… Help me out here because I think you are doing hindsight on the matter.

  52. Reuben says:

    How can I explain to you what I believed when you tell me that I am looking at it wrong? We don’t make hindsight the devil first, there, BD. Aint playing.

  53. Another Voice says:

    I used to teach from the concordance quite a bit.

    That was before you knew me. Now you can proceed as MLD does…

  54. Reuben says:

    No, I copied Courson after the concordance days. Doth not everybody?


  55. Another Voice says:

    WOuldn’t know. Never read a word.

  56. Reuben says:

    AV, you have to be so far withdrawn from the CC culture that at times I wonder if you know who Lonnie Frisbe is!

    For years after Coursons entire Bible sermon series came out, CC pastors the world over simply listened to him on the way into church for all the cute insights and powerhouse applications. That is not a joke. I downloaded and listened to more CC guys than I can count. Any book I was in, I started at Chuck, and ended at Jon, with Ries, Fotch, Guzik, and Adams somewhere in-between. Everyone copied Courson! It was like a CC distinctive for a while, and a running joke among heavy hitters for years that was not so funny!


    AV, I don’t care what they say about you, you are not CC!

  57. Reuben says:

    HOLY COW! Do you even own a Tommy Bahama shirt?

  58. Reuben says:


  59. Reuben says:

    I sat in the back of a church one night, and a guest speaker was scheduled to talk. As soon as he walked in, I knew he was from Applegate. His topic that night was based on a passage that I had heard Courson teach on a week or so before. He sat down and did verbatim for an hour. Voice inflection, laugh, and everything.

    I waited till the end of the service, and let him do all the handshakes, and praises, and walked up when nobody else was there, and said, “I listen to Courson too.”

    The expression was priceless.

  60. Rob Murphy says:

    Reuben – AV is a pastor at a CC, not a CC Pastor – though whatever the order, neither is a byword. And I know you’re not saying it is. But It’s not just an internet name for “Another Voice”, it’s an embrace of God’s imprint on his ministry. I can tell you first hand that AV is not a celebutard pastor. He’s the real real deal. He’s the distinctive pastor at a CC.
    He’s no imitator, he teaches (and serves) in the voice God gave him and to the people God gave him and serves them with faithful joy. (no matter how motives are painted in this thread, wink, wink)
    And there are many like him, and I hold to his example and others in our area who have not bowed their knee to some other spirit. These are the guys I look at when folks list “everything” that’s wrong in the church and can say with confidence “Not everything”.

  61. BrianD says:

    Is it fair to say that, in the field of pastors, some are imitators and some find their own voice?

  62. BrianD

    YES … the way we say it is this … SOME are echoes and some a VOICE. … The difference is not that hard to tell… usually the crowd likes familiar

  63. “For years after Coursons entire Bible sermon series came out, CC pastors the world over simply listened to him on the way into church for all the cute insights and powerhouse applications. ”

    pastors used to have volumes of sermons written by other pastors – for inspiration or delivery, i’m not sure – i know that Martin Luther King was criticized for plagiarizing other pastors long gone, but back then Baptists and, i suspect others, did that with no guilt – it spared their congregations poor sermons and perhaps the good pastors thought they were supposed to do that, maybe taught to? – dunno

    God keep

  64. Another Voice says:

    Wow..what did I start there??

    (Thanks Rob for the nice words)

  65. Lutheran says:


    Believe me, I’ve known plenty of Catholics along the way who are trying and work their way to heaven — the operative word being worked. Always a little more and a little more, and sadly, never any certainty that they’re “in.”My guess is that you haven’t encountered them, being in the circles you’re in.

  66. Josh Hamrick says:

    I once copied a large portion of an R.A. Torrey sermon I had read. It just struck me as very poignant and profound, and I wanted other people to hear it. Even though, I mentioned several times through the sermon that I was taking a lot of ideas from an RA Torrey sermon, I still felt weird about it.

  67. I know people of all stripes in Christianity who in the back of their minds think they are working their way to heaven or think that it is their works that keep them saved – even Lutherans… even Lutherans at my church.

    Every once in a while, in the Sunday morning adult Bible study class I teach, someone will chime in – “but don’t we have to….?” My spirit drops low, but then perks up as i realize, I have jut been given an opportunity to preach the gospel back to them.

  68. Reuben says:

    Rob, you misunderstood. I poked fun to flatter, not criticize.

  69. Josh Hamrick says:

    Something I think relates here is that I really do think the way of life that Jesus preached and lived is the very best way of living. Even if there is no God, even if there is no afterlife…it is still the best way to live. So for me, an atheist, or a Muslim, it is still better to give than to take. Better to show mercy than vengeance.

    I really believe that. So yes, whatever the motive, I still think it is a good thing to help the poor, or mow an old ladies grass, etc. That’s just the best way for humans to live.

  70. Another Voice says:

    Josh @69 – I spoke recently on God’s ideal of marriage between one man, one woman, for better or worse (sickness/health, rich/poor), until death. The vow is faithfulness physically, forsaking all others – and thus to break the vow (adultery) is to allow for divorce. (I mentioned the other allowances – abandonment, abuse too). Reproduction is actually secondary, but an important secondary, purpose for the physical act of intimacy within marriage.

    But I did so in the context that this is the plan for all humanity, and has been from the beginning. It is not a Judeo-Christian thing. It is God’s design for how humanity is to live. That was my POINT (didn’t even mention homosexuality).

    This is BEST for all people – God wants the best, knows what is best for us as individuals and for society as a whole.

    And so yeah, whatever the motive, it is good for people to live this way.

  71. Em says:

    AV’s #70 raises an interesting point that has been danced around all day yesterday … can’t we all agree that good behavior is always good even when done by a Samaritan or a Universalist or even a Mormon? … justification or the hope of it before God is a separate matter entirely – one that we’ve seemed to extrapolate into some confusions for centuries now

  72. Nonnie says:

    I remember hearing Billy Graham tellling of how he and his wife Ruth, were driving and listening to a preacher on the car radio. As the radio preacher went on, Billy exclaimed, “That’s MY message…He stole my message!” Ruth looked over at him and said, “Well, who did YOU steal it from?”

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