Where Do Good Works Fit In? Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32

86. Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works?
Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing,1 and that He be glorified through us;2 then also, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof;3 and by our godly walk win also others to Christ.4

[1] Rom. 6:13; 12:1–2; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9–10; 1 Cor. 6:20. [2] Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12. [3] Matt.7:17–18; Gal. 5:6, 22–23. [4] Rom. 14:19; 1 Pet. 3:1–2; *2 Pet. 1:10.
87. Can they, then, not be saved who do not turn to God from their unthankful, unrepentant life?
By no means, for, as Scripture says, no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like shall inherit the kingdom of God.1

[1] 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Eph. 5:5–6; 1 Jn. 3:14–15.

Where do Good Works Fit In?

“Be of sin the double-cure; cleanse us from its guilt and power.”  Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages”

In question 2 of the Catechism we discussed what we need to know in order to understand the gospel accurately.  We were told we have to know the nature of our sin and misery, the way God has redeemed us from that state, and how we respond in thankfulness.  Question 2 is the outline of the whole Catechism.  This week’s selection takes up the final element of that triple knowledge.  This is not just an appendix or something tacked on at the end.  The issues taken up by this final third are vital to our salvation, just as the other topics we have discussed.

One indication of the importance of this topic is the danger of getting it wrong.  On the one hand, legalism is the result when you view your salvation as dependent or caused in any way by your good works.  But antinomianism (the error of lawlessness) ensues when you think good works are irrelevant to your salvation.  Both of these errors are ultimately destructive to salvation.

Question 86 tells us first of all that sanctification (the process of being conformed to the image of Christ) is a necessary result of being justified.  The redemption of Christ’s blood never comes alone.  With it comes the Spirit of God who leads us in righteousness.  Not only are these two processes joined by the will and intention of God who decreed that it would be so, but they are joined in the very nature of the thing, for the faith which reaches out in trust to Christ for salvation is also going to believe what Christ says.  True faith can’t trust Christ when He says that He died on the cross for sins without also trusting Christ when He says we should love our neighbor.  So the faith which justifies also becomes the engine of our sanctification.  This shows us the goal of Christ’s death for us- not merely that our sins are forgiven, but that we ourselves are made Christlike so that we will be worthy inhabitants of the eternal kingdom.  Question 87 reminds us that no sinner will occupy the kingdom; thus, if we are not on the way to being free of sin, we are not on the way to that kingdom.  But it is always the grace of God which motivates and empowers this process.

Our good works are then motivated by an impulse toward God, toward our fellow man, and toward ourselves.

With regard to God, the desire of the one redeemed by Christ is to glorify Him.  This is the highest purpose of all, for the glory of God is the reason why all of creation exists.  To glorify God is to reveal Him to others and to ourselves as being glorious, which is His nature.  In the cross of Christ we see God revealed more clearly than anywhere else—we see His righteousness, His holiness, His love and His mercy.  We see His absolute rock-solid commitment to truth.  Our desire as Christians is to display His attributes to the world, and we do so by striving to live our lives in a way that accords with that truth.  Though we hope that glorifying God will lead to the desire of others to commit themselves to Christ as well, that is not the primary motive.  The highest motive of all is to glorify and praise God simply because He deserves it.  This is thankfulness—the acknowledgement that God has done us a great turn and that we should do what little we can to show our tremendous gratitude to Him for that.  What He has called on us to do in thankfulness is to be conformed to the truth of His law, living our lives in love and faithfulness (Romans 12:1, Ephesians 4:1).

Toward others, we do desire that others know Christ.  It is always Christ who draws people to Himself, and Christ promised to abide in His disciples (John 14:23).  As we repent of sin and do good works, people see Christ being formed in us.Seeing Christ in the lives of His people has always been one primary motivator to people believing the gospel (John 13:35, 1 Peter 3:15).  Christians are far from perfect, and there are many hypocrites, but compared to the darkness of the world without Christ, even a small candle is a bright light and makes a tremendous difference.

For ourselves, the process of sanctification confirms and strengthens our faith.  Our faith is never based on anything within ourselves, but as we see Christ at work in us, the truth of what He said is reaffirmed.  Ephesians 1:13-14 speaks of the Spirit of God as the “earnest” or downpayment on our salvation.  As we begin to experience the joy of being freed from the misery of sin by the power of the Spirit in our lives, it confirms what the Bible says about sin is true and that the promise of the gospel is true as well.  It also gives us a little taste of what eternity will be like when we are at last completely freed from the curse of sin, and all of this strengthens our commitment to the gospel.

So while we must remember that our salvation is always grounded on Christ’s perfect lawkeeping and not our own, we must also remember that being conformed to God’s law is the whole point of our salvation.  The process of being so conformed is one that carries great benefits for us.  How rich the grace of God that He not only forgave us our sins, but also is saving us from the power of sin!  This is the “double-cure” the hymn talks about, being cleansed from both the guilt and power of sin, to the glory of God.


All are welcome at Christ Reformed Church!  We worship at 10 AM Sunday morning at 600 W. 21st St, in College Heights Baptist’s old sanctuary.