Faith and Works


I was recently talking to someone who brought up the question, “How we should understand the need to obey God and the fact that when we do obey we experience blessings without turning our salvation into a works based program?” Do you get the question? In other words, how do we reconcile the fact that we are saved totally by grace with the fact that God calls us to live a radically holy life and only when we walk in holiness do we experience the full blessings of salvation? I was read something in Francis Turretin today that I think spoke to the issue.

First a little background. Turretin lived in the 17th C. He wrote a 3 volume systematic theology that is wonderful, but somewhat dense. His goal was to provide a teaching curriculum to train theological students. I love the story of how and why his work was translated into English. Theologian Charles Hodge used his book in the original Latin when he taught systematic theology at Princeton Seminary in the 19th C. At the beginning of his teaching career, all the students knew Latin, so using the book was no problem. But, he realized this wasn’t going to last. So he asked his friend George Giger in the Classics department at Princeton to translate Turretin’s 3 volume work for him. Sixteen years later, George Giger plopped an 8,000 page hand written manuscript onto Hodge’s desk—task finished. I wonder if Giger ran the other way whenever he saw Hodge coming (Hodge: Oh, Giger, I wonder if you could do a little favor for me? Giger: AHHHHH. Hodge: Giger, where did you go?). For years the 8,000 page manuscript sat in the library for students to use as their assigned text book for Hodge’s classes. Then, in the mid 1990’s—long after Giger and Hodge have gone to glory—the book was edited and published. I’m thankful for Giger’s painstaking effort because I realize I benefit from it. It’s also a reminder to do one’s work well, because who knows what will ever become of it. That was a long introduction. Here’s the quote:

God wishes that inasmuch as he promised to be our God, we in turn should be his people—”I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33). Here the relation between God and us is designated, implying a mutual exchange of benefits and duties, so that if God is our husband, we should be his chaste and faithful spouse; if he is our Father, we should be sons; if a King and Redeemer, we should be his peculiar people who live as the ransomed of the Lord. However as all God’s blessings towards us are comprehended in this one promise alone, so all man’s duties towards God are prescribed in this single condition (which indicates together at once both what they ought to be and what they are bound to do).

What’s that actually saying? I know, the language is a little dense. He’s saying that the essence of our salvation is that God is our God and we are His people. Remember, we are created in God’s image, so we are made for a relationship with God. We will only experience true freedom when we live out the purpose for which we were created. I recently heard Mark Dever give an illustration related to this. One is, in one sense, “free,” to try to use a grand piano as a vacuum cleaner. There’s no law on the books prohibiting that. But there is an entirely different freedom that comes when one uses the grand piano for the purpose in which it was created—to play beautiful music. We are created in God’s image, for God’s glory. To use God’s “image” for sinful use is like trying to use the piano for a vacuum. But, coming into a right relationship with God where we respond to Him as we were created to do, is true freedom. That’s what Turretin is describing here. When God saves us, He saves us into a relationship with Himself. It is an I-am-yours-you-are-mine relationship. God becomes our Father, our Husband, our Redeemer-King. And when God becomes our Father, Husband, and Redeemer-King, we become His bride, son, and subject. Our true freedom, our greatest good, is to live out the new identity that we have in our relationship with Him.

So how does this address the original question? How does the need to obey God and the blessings that follow when we obey not turn our relationship with God into a works contract? The obedience that God requires is, not counter to, but actually part of the gracious relationship He has established with us. In other words, we would experience less grace if we didn’t have to work. Because God has graciously become our Father, Husband, and Redeemer-King, it only makes sense that we experience him most fully a Father, Husband, and Redeemer-King when we act like a “his chaste and faithful spouse..[his] sons…[and] his peculiar people who live as the ransomed of the Lord.”

(Picture above taken from website: http://www.apuritansmind.com/Baptism/McMahonCovenantConceptsTurretin.htm)

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About mike

As a result of God's sovereign grace, Mike is--first and foremost--a Christian. He is the husband of a beautiful wife, father of five wonderful kids, and pastor of Greenbelt Baptist Church, in Maryland.
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One Response to Faith and Works

  1. Matt Christ says:

    Well spoken truth. It occurs to me that the obedient son might never ask the question.
    Always living in the balance of our Fathers design. Yet who but Christ could not ask

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