In Christian theology, good works, or simply works, are a person's (exterior) actions and deeds that align with the moral teachings, emphasizing compassion, charity, kindness and adherence to biblical principles, in contrast to inner qualities such as grace or faith. Rooted in the belief that faith should manifest in positive actions, the concept underscores the importance of living out one's faith through generosity. Adherents emphasize the significance of engaging in altruism as a demonstration of their devotion to God. These actions, guided by the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible, are viewed as tangible expressions of love, obedience and righteousness within the framework of the Christian worldview. The concept of good works is intricately linked to the theological belief in salvation through faith (sola fide) rather than a means of earning salvation, as Christians seek to manifest their gratitude for God's grace by actively participating in acts of service to others. This theological perspective places significance on the transformative power of good works in fostering a life reflective of Christian values. Christians are often encouraged to love their neighbors, care for the unfortunate, and promote moral values in their communities.

This concept transcends denominational boundaries, reflecting a shared commitment to social responsibility and the pursuit of a virtuous life guided by Christian principles. The theological understanding of good works continues to be a subject of discourse and interpretation within the broader Christian community.

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 between the Catholic and Lutheran traditions.[4]

Baptist Churches edit

According to evangelical Baptist theology, good works are the consequence of salvation and not its justification.[5][6] 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.[7] They will be rewarded with the grace of God at the last judgment.[8] Good works are claimed by some theologians as evidence of true faith versus false faith from the Epistle of James.[9][10] 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.[11] This approach reconciles the views of Paul and James on faith and works without appealing to Augustinian Calvinism's "evidence of true faith" view.

Catholic Church edit

The Catholic Church teaches that both faith and good works are necessary for salvation:[12]

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" (James 2:17). And some of Christ's parables teach that our salvation depends on charity (Matthew 25:40: "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me").

Additionally Matthew 16:27 states that the Son of God shall reward every man according to his works.

Eastern Orthodox Churches edit

The Eastern Orthodox Churches teach the unity of faith and good works as necessary for salvation:[13]

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

Lutheran Churches edit

The Lutheran Churches, in the Augsburg Confession, teach that repentance consists of contrition and then faith, which finds its origin in the Gospel and absolution.[14] Good works are the fruit of repentance and are characteristic of the regenerated.[14] The Christian thus declines in sin and "incline[s] to virtue".[14] Lutheranism condemns as heresy antinomianism—the view that Christians are not obligated to keep the moral law—and a father of Lutheranism, Martin Luther, stated:[15]

Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever.[16]

The Large Catechism specifies:[17]

Here, then, we have the Ten Commandments, a summary of divine teaching on what we are to do to make our whole life pleasing to God. They are the true fountain from which all good works must spring, the true channel through which all good works must flow.[17]

In Lutheran theology, the Smalcald Articles teach that those who commit mortal sin "when they have fallen, lose faith, the Holy Spirit, the grace of God, and life eternal, and render themselves subject to divine wrath and eternal death unless, turned again, they are reconciled to God through faith."[18][19]

Reformed Churches edit

The Reformed principle of sola fide states that no matter what a person's action, salvation comes through faith alone.

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:[20]

...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?[20]

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.[21][22] John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Churches, taught that the keeping of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments,[23] as well as engaging in the works of piety and the works of mercy, were "indispensable for our sanctification".[24]

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[25]

Methodist soteriology emphasize the importance of the pursuit of holiness in salvation.[26] Thus, for Methodists, "true faith...cannot subsist without works".[24] Bishop Scott J. Jones in United Methodist Doctrine writes that in Methodist theology:[27]

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.[27]

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."[27] Methodist evangelist Phoebe Palmer stated that "justification would have ended with me had I refused to be holy."[28] 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."[29] Methodism, inclusive of the holiness movement, thus teaches that "justification [is made] conditional on obedience and progress in sanctification"[28] emphasizing "a deep reliance upon Christ not only in coming to faith, but in remaining in the faith."[30] 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."[31]

Richard P. Bucher, contrasts this position with the Lutheran one, discussing an analogy put forth by the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley:[32]

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).[32]

Oriental Orthodox Churches edit

The Coptic Orthodox Church teaches:[33]

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)

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." Additionally, good works are "evidence of God's sonship". For Coptic Orthodox Christians, neither faith alone nor works alone can save, but both together, are required for salvation.[33]

See also edit

References 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. ^ "Of Good Works". 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Retrieved 27 March 2022. These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.
  6. ^ Robert Paul Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, Kregel Academic, USA, 1995, p. 214
  7. ^ Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Academic, USA, 2001, p. 524
  8. ^ Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker Academic, USA, 2001, p. 1296
  9. ^ MacArthur, John (1998). The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  10. ^ MacArthur, John (1993). Faith Works. W Publishing Group. pp. 171–192. ISBN 0-85009-588-3.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Kreeft, Peter (2011). Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ignatius Press. ISBN 9781681490700.
  13. ^ Bogeatzes, A. S. (2010). Knowing and Living Your Orthodox Christian Faith: A Guide to Faith and Worship. WestBow Press. p. 145. ISBN 9781449704766.
  14. ^ a b c Ball, Ben (19 November 2018). "To Decline from Sin and Incline to Virtue". Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy. Retrieved 7 November 2023.
  15. ^ Failinger, Marie; Duty, Ronald W. (17 April 2017). Lutheran Theology and Secular Law: The Work of the Modern State. Taylor & Francis. p. 81. ISBN 9781351996075. Retrieved 8 November 2023.
  16. ^ Anderson, Russell F. (1996). Lectionary Preaching Workbook: Series V.. Cycle B. CSS Publishing. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-7880-0821-4.
  17. ^ a b Godfrey, W. Robert (1994). "Martin Luther: The Law and the Gospel | Christian Library". Christian Study Library.
  18. ^ Martin Chemnitz (2007). Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion; The Lord's Supper; The Lord's Prayer. Concordia Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-7586-1544-2.
  19. ^ Curtis, Heath (8 July 2015). Things you may have forgotten you believed in: Mortal Sin and the Loss of Salvation. Gottesdienst: The Journal of Lutheran Liturgy.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Campbell, Ted A. (1 October 2011). Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials, 2nd Edition. Abingdon Press. pp. 40, 68–69. ISBN 9781426753473.
  24. ^ a b Knight III, Henry H. (9 July 2013). "Wesley on Faith and Good Works". AFTE. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  25. ^ Wagner, Amy (20 January 2014). "Wesley on Faith, Love, and Salvation". AFTE. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ a b c Jones, Scott J. (2002). United Methodist Doctrine. Abingdon Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780687034857.
  28. ^ a b Sawyer, M. James (11 April 2016). The Survivor's Guide to Theology. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 363. ISBN 9781498294058.
  29. ^ Langford, Andy; Langford, Sally (2011). Living as United Methodist Christians: Our Story, Our Beliefs, Our Lives. Abingdon Press. p. 45. ISBN 9781426711930.
  30. ^ Tennent, Timothy (9 July 2011). "Means of Grace: Why I am a Methodist and an Evangelical". Asbury Theological Seminary. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  31. ^ KMHA Handbook. Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association. 15 September 2020. p. 5.
  32. ^ a b Bucher, Richard P. (2014). "Methodism". Lexington: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Archived from the original on 25 July 2014.
  33. ^ a b "Faith and Works". Coptic Network. 2011. Retrieved 1 May 2019.