Good works

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In Christian theology, good works, or simply works, are a person's (exterior) actions or deeds, in contrast to inner qualities such as grace or faith.

Views by denomination[edit]

Anglican Churches[edit]

The Anglican theological tradition, including The Church of England, The Episcopal Church (United States), and others in the worldwide Anglican Communion as well as those who have broken away from communion but identify with the tradition, contains within it both Protestant and Catholic perspectives on this doctrine.

On the Protestant side, the historic Thirty-nine Articles (1571) quoted in the Book of Common Prayer contain Article XI which states that "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith and not for our work or deservings" (BCP, p. 870).[1] Some Anglican Churches, such as the Church of England, still require clergy to affirm their loyalty to the Articles, while many others such as the Episcopal Church in the US do not see them as normative for clergy. In explaining this Anglican article of faith, John Wordsworth, former Bishop of Salisbury, says that "But by faith we understand not a dead but a living faith, which as naturally leads the believer to do good works for God as a good tree necessarily bears good fruit."[2]

On the Catholic side, the 19th century Oxford Movement re-incorporated a broader understanding of justification into Anglican theology. The publication Tracts for the Times concluded in 1841 with commentary on Article XI in which justification by faith is affirmed as the "'sole internal instrument, not to sole instrument of any kind.' There is nothing inconsistent, then, in Faith being the sole instrument of justification, and yet Baptism also the sole instrument, and that at the same time, because in distinct senses; an inward instrument in no way interfering with an outward instrument, Baptism may be the hand of the giver, and Faith the hand of the receiver.' Nor does the sole instrumentality of Faith interfere with the doctrine of Works as a mean also."[3] In this way, without denying the justification by faith alone in a particular sense, Anglicans may also affirm the necessity of the sacraments (particularly Baptism) as well as works present in a Christian's life:

"First, it is the pleading or impetrating principle, or constitutes our title to justification; being analogous among the graces to Moses’ lifting up his hands on the Mount, or the Israelites eyeing the Brazen Serpent,--actions which did not merit GOD’S mercy, but asked for it. A number of means go to effect our justification. We are justified by CHRIST alone, in that He has purchased the gift; by Faith alone, in that Faith asks for it; by Baptism alone, for Baptism conveys it; and by newness of heart alone, for newness of heart is the life of it.

"And, secondly, Faith, as being the beginning or perfect or justifying righteousness, is taken for what it tends towards, or ultimately will be. It is said by anticipation to be that which it promises; just as one might pay a labourer his hire before he began his work. Faith working by love is the seed of divine graces, which in due time will be brought forth and flourish—partly in this world, fully in the next."[3]

In 2017 the Anglican Communion affirmed the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) between the Catholic and Lutheran traditions.[4]

Catholic Church[edit]

The Catholic Church teaches that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation:[5]

Protestants and Catholics agree that faith is necessary for salvation. The Bible clearly teaches that it is. Good works alone do not merit salvation. No one can "buy" heaven with enough good works, or good enough motives. The ticket to heaven is not being nice or sincere or good enough; the ticket to heaven is the Blood of Christ, and faith is the acceptance of that free gift. But the [Catholic] Church insists that good works are necessary too. This means the works of love. Good works are not mere external deeds, but the works of love. And love is not mere feelings, but the works of love (charity, agape). That is why Christ can command them; feelings cannot be commanded. St. James clearly teaches that "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas 2:17). And some of Christ's parables teach that our salvation depends on charity (Mt 25:40: "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me"). —Peter Kreeft[5]

Eastern Orthodox Churches[edit]

The Eastern Orthodox Churches teach the unity of faith and good works as necessary for salvation:[6]

We are first "justified by faith" and then "empowered by God for good works and deeds of righteousness." Orthodoxy believes one has to acquire faith then become righteous so that he can do good works. In essence, one follows the other. However, we do not discuss the one versus the other, as we look at them as a total unit. We believe that they are in union with one another; one cannot exist without the other in order to achieve salvation. It is up to us to commit to and acquire faith through God's mercy, so that we will see the need and have the will to do good works and deeds of righteousness, in the hope we will obtain God's final grace as the last Judgment. Good works is "a necessary consequence of a faith-filled heart," but it is only part of the requirement of salvation. One cannot skip from justification of a faith-filled heart directly to the final step of being saved without performing good works and deeds of righteousness. The two are intimately linked, which allows believers to be assured of salvation through a changed heart and changed actions. —A.S. Bogeatzes[6]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ("LDS" or "Mormon")[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints view respects both faith and good works as essential, however it sees salvation as free, a gift from God based on the merits of Christ for ‘there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise’ (2 Nephi 2.8). As such salvation cannot be earned. Indeed, one purpose of writing the Book of Mormon was ‘to persuade our children…to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). Accordingly, faith is seen as a pre-requisite for this reconciliation opening the door to salvation. The LDS view of salvation is seen as life in one of the mansions or kingdoms Jesus prepared for his believers (Jn. 14.1-2). As Paul, they view the heavenly estate as divided into three glories likened to the sun, moon and stars (1 Cor.15.41). Though resurrection is seen as a gift for all mankind, no exception (1 Cor. 15.22), eternal life is conditional: ‘And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God (Doctrine & Covenants 14:7). Once again, salvation is a gift, however, the quality of that gift or the degree of glory one attains to in the afterlife is determined by each individual here and now by the way he or she lives (Doctrine & Covenants 176.111). Of this earth—and subsequently all who eventually live on it—modern revelation declared: ‘Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power [light, eternal law] by which it is quickened, and the righteous [that is, those made righteous or justified] shall inherit it’ (Doctrine and Covenants 88:11, 21–24, 26–28, 49). Some denominations dispute the "christianity" of members of The Church of Jesus Christ because the Church denies the traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity.[7][8][9] Members of the church do however believe in the absolute divinity of Jesus Christ as "one in purpose" with God the Father and the Holy Ghost, referring to the three individuals collectively as the "Godhead".[10][11]

Lutheran Churches and Reformed Churches[edit]

The Lutheran and Reformed principle of sola fide states that no matter what a person's action, salvation comes through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8–9 reads, "For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." (KJV) According to the Lutheran and Reformed tradition, salvation is God's gift at God's sole prerogative. Were it achieved by works, men could take pride in their efforts toward holiness, and God's gift of grace would be diminished in contrast to man's efforts.

On the other hand, Paul says that God's chosen one who has been made holy by grace must show faith by actually loving (see Galatians 5:6) and in this way obeying the law, i.e., the law or commandment of Christ and his Spirit (see Romans 8:2).[12] In line with this, a more works-orientated perspective is presented by the Epistle of James, which concludes that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26). By works the author here appears to include both acts of charity and righteousness according to the "laws of the Spirit" (Romans 8:2), as opposed to Mosaic Law. The sola fide view holds that James is not saying that a person is saved by works and not by genuine faith, but that genuine faith will produce good deeds, however, only faith in Christ saves.[13]

Methodist Churches[edit]

With regard to good works, A Catechism on the Christian Religion: The Doctrines of Christianity with Special Emphasis on Wesleyan Concepts teaches:[14]

...after a man is saved and has genuine faith, his works are important if he is to keep justified.
146) James 2:20-22, "But wilt thou known, O vain main, that faith without (apart from) works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou faith wrought with works, and by works was faith made perfect?[14]

The Methodist Churches affirm the doctrine of justification by faith, but in Wesleyan–Arminian theology, justification refers to "pardon, the forgiveness of sins", rather than "being made actually just and righteous", which Methodists believe is accomplished through sanctification.[15][16] John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Churches, taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments,[17] as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensable for our sanctification".[18]

Wesley understood faith as a necessity for salvation, even calling it “the sole condition” of salvation, in the sense that it led to justification, the beginning point of salvation. At the same time, “as glorious and honorable as [faith] is, it is not the end of the commandment. God hath given this honor to love alone” (“The Law Established through Faith II,” §II.1). Faith is “an unspeakable blessing” because “it leads to that end, the establishing anew the law of love in our hearts” (“The Law Established through Faith II,” §II.6) This end, the law of love ruling in our hearts, is the fullest expression of salvation; it is Christian perfection. —Amy Wagner[19]

Methodist soteriology emphasize the importance of the pursuit of holiness in salvation.[20] Thus, for Methodists, "true faith...cannot subsist without works".[18] Bishop Scott J. Jones in United Methodist Doctrine writes that in Methodist theology:[21]

Faith is necessary to salvation unconditionally. Good works are necessary only conditionally, that is if there is time and opportunity. The thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43 is Wesley's example of this. He believed in Christ and was told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." This would be impossible if the good works that are the fruit of genuine repentance and faith were unconditionally necessary for salvation. The man was dying and lacked time; his movements were confined and he lacked opportunity. In his case, faith alone was necessary. However, for the vast majority of human beings good works are necessary for continuance in faith because those persons have both the time and opportunity for them.[21]

Bishop Jones concludes that "United Methodist doctrine thus understands true, saving faith to be the kind that, give time and opportunity, will result in good works. Any supposed faith that does not in fact lead to such behaviors is not genuine, saving faith."[21] Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy."[22] While "faith is essential for a meaningful relationship with God, our relationship with God also takes shape through our care for people, the community, and creation itself."[23] Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification"[22] emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith."[24] As such, in addition to entire sanctification, the Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association (a Methodist denomination in the holiness movement), affirms a belief in "the progressive growth in grace toward Christian maturity through a consistent Christian life of faith and good works."[25]

Richard P. Bucher, contrasts this position with the Lutheran one, discussing an analogy put forth by the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley:[26]

Whereas in Lutheran theology the central doctrine and focus of all our worship and life is justification by grace through faith, for Methodists the central focus has always been holy living and the striving for perfection. Wesley gave the analogy of a house. He said repentance is the porch. Faith is the door. But holy living is the house itself. Holy living is true religion. “Salvation is like a house. To get into the house you first have to get on the porch (repentance) and then you have to go through the door (faith). But the house itself--one’s relationship with God--is holiness, holy living” (Joyner, paraphrasing Wesley, 3).[26]

Oriental Orthodox Churches[edit]

The Oriental Orthodox Churches teach:[27]

The absence of good works means that faith is dead and fruitless. Therefore, good works are the fruits of faith and the evidence of its presence, and with such, faith is perfected. Good works, however, are not from our volition only. We need the support of God's grace and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, for Jesus said "Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)[27]

The Coptic Orthodox Church says that a living faith should demonstrate good works, which are "the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit within us and are the fruits requisite for the life of penitence which we should live."[27] Additionally, good works are "evidence of God's sonship".[27] For Oriental Orthodox Christians, neither faith alone nor works alone can save, but both together, are required for salvation.[27]

Evangelical Christianity[edit]

According to evangelical theology, good works are the consequence of salvation and not its justification.[28] They are the sign of a sincere and grateful faith. They include actions for the Great Commission, that is, evangelism, service in the Church and charity.[29] They will be rewarded with the grace of God at the last judgment.[30] Good works are claimed by some theologians as evidence of true faith versus false faith from the Epistle of James.[31][32] A more recent article suggests that the current confusion regarding the Epistle of James about faith and works resulted from Augustine of Hippo's anti-Donatist polemic in the early fifth century.[33] This approach reconciles the views of Paul and James on faith and works without appealing to Augustinian Calvinism's "evidence of true faith" view.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Don S. Armentrout, Robert Boak Slocum. "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America". The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  2. ^ John Wordsworth (27 June 1900). "Some Points in the Teaching of the Church of England, by John Wordsworth". Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. p. English. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b John Newman. "2.Justification by Faith only, Remarks on Certain Passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles, Tracts for the Times #90". Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  4. ^ International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (28 April 2016). "Anglicans affirm Lutheran-Catholic agreement, endorse Reformation anniversary". Retrieved 11 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b Kreeft, Peter (2011). Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press. ISBN 9781681490700.
  6. ^ a b Bogeatzes, A. S. (2010). Knowing and Living Your Orthodox Christian Faith: A Guide to Faith and Worship. WestBow Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781449704766.
  7. ^ "The FAQs: Are Mormons Christian?".
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "The Kingdom of the Cults" Walter Martin (Revised 2003) Bethany House Publishers, Grand Rapids Michigan
  10. ^ "Jesus Christ". Retrieved 2021-07-06.
  11. ^ "Godhead". Retrieved 2021-07-06.
  12. ^ New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition published 1985, introductions and notes are a translation of those that appear in La Bible de Jerusalem—revised edition 1973, Bombay 2002; footnote to James 2:14-26
  13. ^ Zondervan NIV (New International Version) Study Bible, 2002, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; footnote to James 2:14-26.
  14. ^ a b Rothwell, Mel-Thomas; Rothwell, Helen F. (1998). A Catechism on the Christian Religion: The Doctrines of Christianity with Special Emphasis on Wesleyan Concepts. Schmul Publishing Co. p. 53.
  15. ^ Elwell, Walter A. (1 May 2001). Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker Reference Library). Baker Publishing Group. p. 1268. ISBN 9781441200303. This balance is most evident in Wesley's understanding of faith and works, justification and sanctification. ... Wesley himself in a sermon entitled "Justification by Faith" makes an attempt to define the term accurately. First, he states what justification is not. It is not being made actually just and righteous (that is sanctification). It is not being cleared of the accusations of Satan, nor of the law, nor even of God. We have sinned, so the accusation stands. Justification implies pardon, the forgiveness of sins. ... Ultimately for the true Wesleyan salvation is completed by our return to original righteousness. This is done by the work of the Holy Spirit. ... The Wesleyan tradition insists that grace is not contrasted with law but with the works of the law. Wesleyans remind us that Jesus came to fulfill, not destroy the law. God made us in his perfect image, and he wants that image restored. He wants to return us to a full and perfect obedience through the process of sanctification. ... Good works follow after justification as its inevitable fruit. Wesley insisted that Methodists who did not fulfill all righteousness deserved the hottest place in the lake of fire.
  16. ^ Robinson, Jeff (25 August 2015). "Meet a Reformed Arminian". TGC. Retrieved 19 July 2017. Reformed Arminianism’s understanding of apostasy veers from the Wesleyan notion that individuals may repeatedly fall from grace by committing individual sins and may be repeatedly restored to a state of grace through penitence.
  17. ^ Campbell, Ted A. (1 October 2011). Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, 2nd Edition. Abingdon Press. pp. 40, 68–69. ISBN 9781426753473.
  18. ^ a b Knight III, Henry H. (9 July 2013). "Wesley on Faith and Good Works". AFTE. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  19. ^ Wagner, Amy (20 January 2014). "Wesley on Faith, Love, and Salvation". AFTE. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  20. ^ Joyner, F. Belton (2007). United Methodist Answers. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780664230395. Jacob Albright, founder of the movement that led to the Evangelical Church flow in The United Methodist Church, got into trouble with some of his Lutheran, Reformed, and Mennonite neighbors because he insisted that salvation not only involved ritual but meant a change of heart, a different way of living.
  21. ^ a b c Jones, Scott J. (2002). United Methodist Doctrine. Abingdon Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780687034857.
  22. ^ a b Sawyer, M. James (11 April 2016). The Survivor's Guide to Theology. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 363. ISBN 9781498294058.
  23. ^ Langford, Andy; Langford, Sally (2011). Living as United Methodist Christians: Our Story, Our Beliefs, Our Lives. Abingdon Press. p. 45. ISBN 9781426711930.
  24. ^ Tennent, Timothy (9 July 2011). "Means of Grace: Why I am a Methodist and an Evangelical". Asbury Theological Seminary. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  25. ^ KMHA Handbook. Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association. 15 September 2020. p. 5.
  26. ^ a b Bucher, Richard P. (2014). "Methodism". Lexington: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Archived from the original on 25 July 2014.
  27. ^ a b c d e "Faith and Works". Coptic Network. 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  28. ^ Robert Paul Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Kregel Academic, USA, 1995, p. 214
  29. ^ Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Academic, USA, 2001, p. 524
  30. ^ Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Academic, USA, 2001, p. 1296
  31. ^ MacArthur, John (1998). The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  32. ^ MacArthur, John (1993). Faith Works. W Publishing Group. pp. 171–192. ISBN 0-85009-588-3.
  33. ^ Wilson, Kenneth (2020). "Reading James 2:18–20 with Anti-Donatist Eyes: Untangling Augustine's Exegetical Legacy". Journal of Biblical Literature. 139 (2): 389–410.