“Saving faith is not the enemy of good works” by Michael Horton

“Saving faith is not the enemy of good works, but their only possible source.

We never offer up our good works to God for salvation, but extend them to our neighbors for their good. As a result, everyone benefits.

God, who needs nothing from us, receives all of the glory; our neighbors receive gifts that God wants to give them through us; and we benefit both from the gifts of others and the joy that our own giving brings.

Reverse this flow, and nobody wins. God is not glorified, neighbors are not served, and we live frustrated, anxious, joyless lives awaiting the wrath of a holy God.

The gospel produces peace and empowers us to live by faith. We live no longer anxious, but secure and invigorated because we are crucified and raised with Christ.

We are no longer trying to live up to the starring role we’ve given ourselves, but are written into the story of Christ.

We have nothing to prove, just a lot of work to do.Good works are no longer seen as a condition of our union with Christ, but as its fruit.

We are no longer slaves, but the children of God– co-heirs with Christ, our elder brother.

The first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes this faith well:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death, 
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood,
and has set me free from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.
Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for Him.

As God’s creatures, made in His image, we are ‘not our own’ already in creation. Yet our redemption doubles this truth.

Created by God and saved by His grace, I am truly ‘not my own, but belong– body and soul, in life and in death– to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.'”

–Michael Horton, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 41-42.

“Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation” by Martin Luther

“The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh (Eph. 5:31–32).

And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage– indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage– it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil.

Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits.

Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation.

Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, He must take upon Himself the things which are His bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are His.

If he gives her His body and very self, how shall He not give her all that is His? And if He takes the body of the bride, how shall He not take all that is hers?”

–Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian (1520), in Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 31; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31: 351.

“His righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, His life stronger than death, His salvation more invincible than hell” by Martin Luther

“Christ is God and man in one person. He has neither sinned nor died, and is not condemned, and He cannot sin, die, or be condemned; His righteousness, life, and salvation are unconquerable, eternal, omnipotent.

By the wedding ring of faith He shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are His bride’s. As a matter of fact, He makes them His own and acts as if they were His own and as if He Himself had sinned; He suffered, died, and descended into hell that He might overcome them all.

Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow Him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by Him in a mighty duel; for His righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, His life stronger than death, His salvation more invincible than hell.

Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom.

So He takes to himself a glorious bride, “without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26–27) of life, that is, by faith in the Word of life, righteousness, and salvation. In this way He marries her in faith, steadfast love, and in mercies, righteousness, and justice, as Hos. 2:19–20 says.

Who then can fully appreciate what this royal marriage means? Who can understand the riches of the glory of this grace?

Here this rich and divine bridegroom Christ marries this poor, wicked harlot, redeems her from all her evil, and adorns her with all His goodness. Her sins cannot now destroy her, since they are laid upon Christ and swallowed up by Him.

And she has that righteousness in Christ, her husband, of which she may boast as of her own and which she can confidently display alongside her sins in the face of death and hell and say, “If I have sinned, yet my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned, and all His is mine and all mine is His,” as the bride in the Song of Solomon 2:16 says, “My beloved is mine and I am his.”

This is what Paul means when he says in 1 Cor. 15:57, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, the victory over sin and death, as he also says there, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).”

–Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian (1520), in Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 31; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31: 351–352.

“True faith in Christ is a treasure beyond comparison” by Martin Luther

“It ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him, as Peter teaches in the last chapter of his first Epistle (1 Pet. 5:10).

No other work makes a Christian. Thus when the Jews asked Christ, as related in John 6:28, what they must do “to be doing the work of God,” He brushed aside the multitude of works which He saw they did in great profusion and suggested one work, saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29); “for on him has God the Father set his seal” (John 6:27).

Therefore true faith in Christ is a treasure beyond comparison which brings with it complete salvation and saves man from every evil.”

–Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian (1520), in Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 31; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31: 347.

“You are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone” by Martin Luther

“The moment you begin to have faith you learn that all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful, and damnable, as the Apostle says in Rom. 3:23, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, “None is righteous, no, not one; all have turned aside, together they have gone wrong” (Rom. 3:10–12).

When you have learned this you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you so that, if you believe in Him, you may through this faith become a new man in so far as your sins are forgiven and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone.”

–Martin Luther, The Freedom of the Christian (1520), in Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 31; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 31: 346–347.

“It is a long, broad, deep stream of grace, and it bears the believers along from beginning to end into eternity” by Herman Bavinck

“It is a fulness which we receive in Christ, a Divine fulness, a fulness of grace and truth, a fulness which is never exhausted, and which grants grace for grace (John 1:14 and 16).

This fulness dwells in Christ Himself, in His person, in His Divine and in His human nature, during the state of His humiliation and that of His exaltation.

There is a fulness of grace in His incarnation: For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet, for your sakes, He became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

There is a fulness of grace in His living and dying, for in the days of His flesh He learned obedience from the things which He suffered, and being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him (Heb. 5:7–9).

There is a fulness of grace in His resurrection, for by it He was shown to be the Son of God in power and has begotten us again unto a lively hope (Rom. 1:4 and 1 Peter 1:3).

There is a fulness of grace in His ascension for by it He took captivity captive and gave gifts unto men (Eph. 4:8).

There is a fulness of grace in His intercession for by it He can perfectly save all those that come to God by Him (Heb. 7:25).

There is a fulness of grace in Him unto forgiveness, regeneration, renewal, comfort, preservation, leading, sanctification, and glorification.

It is a long, broad, deep stream of grace, and it bears the believers along from beginning to end into eternity. It is a fulness which gives grace for grace, grace instead of grace, which immediately supplants the one grace by another, exchanging it for the former one, interchanging them.

There is no desisting in this, no interim. It is all grace and nothing but grace which comes to the church in Christ.”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1909/2019), 381–382.

“Firmly rooted in the grace of God” by Herman Bavinck

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.

The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, the certainty concerning eternal salvation, do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.

Accordingly, the believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.

Such is indeed the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church. They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.

But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently. He has come to the humble acknowledgement that good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.

His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and His righteousness, and therefore can never again waver. His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the winds.”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1909/2019), 447.