We have seen that the relation between salvation and good works is not that good works are conditions to our salvation. We now face the question, What then is that relation? How are the good works of the child of God related to the salvation which He possesses? But before we answer this question we must say just a word about what we mean by the term “salvation.” We ask the question, “When are the elect saved?” Are they saved at regeneration; are they saved in a gradual process all their life; or are they only saved when they are finally brought into heaven? We say immediately that all three are true in a sense.
In the first place then, when the child of God is regenerated, he is really saved. We mean by this that at regeneration, the salvation of the child of God is essentially complete in every detail. That means that at the moment when the new life of Christ is implanted in the heart of the elect, that person already has all of his salvation. Essentially he has faith, essentially and principally he has justification, sanctification, preservation and glorification. He doesn’t have to wait for these things. He has them all at the moment he is regenerated. When God infuses into his heart that new principle of life, he has faith, he is justified, he is sanctified, he is preserved, he is glorified. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, that is the case. When God regenerates, God immediately gives faith so that a small child who is incapable of ever manifesting or exercising active belief already has faith. When God regenerates, He very really justifies and sanctifies and preserves and glorifies. That all takes place at the moment of regeneration. Essentially salvation is completed in regeneration.
But that salvation must grow. It must develop and come to manifestation and fruition. And that is exactly what happens in the life of the child of God. As he lives in the midst of this world that salvation becomes evermore richer in his life. He increases in it; he develops in it; he grows in all its riches. The older he gets the more that faith and sanctification and justification and glorification become the important part of his life. Not so that he becomes perfect here on earth. No, he continues to live with his old sinful nature. And he is never completely free from it, but nevertheless it continues to increase in all his way, until at last when he reaches that eternal shore, the body of his sin is put off forever, and his faith is perfected. His sanctification is then completed, his perseverance is made perfect, and he is glorified.
And it is important to remember that that actually does take place in regeneration, because it is only by denying that that certain ones have said that we must fulfill conditions for the next installment of salvation. They split up salvation into all kinds of different parts. And the fulfillment of one condition makes it possible for the next part of salvation to be completed. Over against that we maintain that salvation is really completed already at the moment of regeneration. The elect is saved. He is saved in every respect. Principally and essentially he is saved. Just as principally and essentially an oak is present in an acorn, so principally and essentially the child of God is saved at the moment of his regeneration. The acorn can never develop into anything else but an oak tree. Neither can the regenerated child of God ever become anything else but a perfect child of God in heaven when his salvation is complete in all its glory. Just as nothing is added essentially to the acorn to make the oak, so nothing is added essentially to regeneration to make the perfect elect who lives in the glories of the new creation. That is salvation. It can never be separated, it can never be divided into installments, and it is really complete already in a child that has just been changed by the power of God even though that child does not know it yet.
Now, good works are a fruit of that salvation. Because we are saved we do good works. We do not do good works in order to be saved, but it is just the other way around. Because we are saved we do good works. And that means that good works flow naturally and inevitably from that salvation. That means that a person who is saved cannot help but do good works. It is only natural that he should. It is inevitable that he should do good works. And the opposite is true; no person that has not been saved can possibly do good works.
It might be well that we now ask the question, What are good works? We must understand that if we are to understand that they flow from our salvation. Good works, says the Heidelberg Catechism, are “only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.” Lord’s Day 33, Q. and A. 91. We may say that probably the essence of a good work is that it is done to the glory of God. That is the criterion of all the works which a man may perform whether they are good or bad. A reprobate may zealously keep the law of the magistrate, he may give alms to the poor, he may be a beneficiary of many worthy causes, he may help his neighbor who is in dire poverty and ill health, but all these things are only abominations in the sight of God. And the reason is that he does them to his own glory and advancement. He is working for the cause of the Evil One and has not the glory of God in his heart. A child of God may, on the other hand, go about his daily duties whether that be in the shop, in school, in the armed forces or whatever and do his common menial tasks as good works. His motive and reason for doing them is the glory of God. He is seeking not his own glory but God’s. And therefore whether he has a shovel or hammer in his hand or whether he is only seeking relaxation and recreation, he does it to God’s glory and performs a good work.
This is the plain teaching of Paul in Ephesians 2:10. This text reads: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
It is evident first of all that Paul is speaking of regeneration. He says, “Ye are God’s workmanship, created…” Workmanship means the result of the “labor” of God’s hands. That is our regeneration. By the work of regeneration we become God’s workmanship. And he is speaking of the good works of a Christian in their relationship to that regeneration. And he has several things to say about that.
(1) You notice first of all that he speaks of regeneration as complete salvation. He implies that all of our salvation is included in this work of creation.
(2) That relation between good works and regeneration is expressed in the words “created unto good works…” And that means two things: a) that the purpose of our creation or regeneration is good works. God regenerates us so that we may show forth His glory or do good works which is the same thing. That is the reason that He creates us. That is why He makes us new creatures. We are made alive in order that we may do good works. b) In the second place it means that good works therefore flow from that regeneration. The natural fruit of regeneration is good works. Even stronger than that, the inevitable fruit of regeneration is good works.
(3) And that is true because as Paul says we are one with Christ, that we are members of His body, that we are an organic unity with Christ Jesus. Scripture often uses the illustration of the church as the body of Christ. It says that Christ is the Head of that body and the church comprises the various members. That is the teaching of Paul in I Cor. 12:27, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” The idea is that Christ is the Head of the body which is His church. Now the life of the body is in the Head. I may cut off my hand or arm or leg and not affect the life of the body. If my head is cut off, my body dies. So the life of the church is in Christ. If Christ is separated from the church, the church dies. But as long as Christ is united with the church it lives. And that life becomes manifest in the body. Life is always manifest. It cannot be hid. You can immediately tell a dead person. But even if a person is sleeping, you can see immediately that he is alive. You can’t hide life. Neither can the life of Christ in the church be hid. And that life as it becomes manifest is good works. That is Paul’s idea. The members of the body can do nothing to merit that life. It flows into them and becomes manifest in good works which they perform.
(4) But Paul has something more to say about those good works. Those good works are before ordained by God. Every single good work which the child of God performs is prepared by God in His eternal counsel before he is ever born. And that is an amazing thing. He does no good work which God has not decreed that he should do.
(5) Not only that but God has also foreordained that he should walk in those good works. It is not as though there is any ultimate doubt about whether we do finally walk in those good works or not. No, even that is foreordained by God. And no man would dare deny that that regeneration in which is our whole salvation is of God. So you see, it is all of God and nothing of man.
The “christian living” of the child of God is the fruit of the work of God within his heart, prepared by God as to its minutest details for His children to perform.