A Model of Justification and Works

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Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
I would like to some feedback on the particular model presented below concerning the relationship between justification and works. I plan to build on this, and as such, I want to check my thinking before I go any further. Thank you all for your consideration. To begin, I will try to make explicit my assumptions, which I do not intend to argue for.

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Assumption 1: Regeneration precedes faith.

Regeneration (def.): The sovereign act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life.​

Regeneration is referred to in the Scriptures as being born-again (John 3:3-8). It is also described as being given a new heart – the heart of stone being replaced by a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26-27).

Assumption 2: The God ordained instrumental means by which a sinner enters into the state of justification is faith alone (Rm. 3:28).

Justification (def.): A sinner is justified if and only if “the sinner, received into communion with Christ, is reconciled to God by His grace, while, cleansed by Christ’s blood, he obtains forgiveness of sins, and clothed with Christ’s righteousness as if it were his own, he stands confident before the heavenly judgment seat.” – Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 17, Section 8.​

Assumption 3: Good works necessarily follow regeneration.

Support Verses: 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 4:7; Matt. 7:15-20; etc…

Assumption 4: Good works justify (vindicate) one’s faith. That is to say, good works are a demonstration that one’s faith is genuine (James 2:14-ff.).

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Based on these assumptions, here is a diagram that I believe is consistent with the assumptions above showing the relationship between regeneration, faith, justification and good works.

justification_works1.jpg

The top darker portion of the diagram represents those things that we cannot see. Most would agree the God’s work of regeneration and justification is not something we see; yet, one might reasonable argue that they knew when they exercised faith, and in this sense could see it. My model attempts to account for the idea that a subjective experience of coming to faith does not make it objectively genuine. Assurance of genuine faith can come in a number of ways, one of which is the fruit in our lives over time, i.e., our good works (James 2:14-ff).

One will immediately see that everything flows out of God’s sovereign act of regeneration. From this we can clarify the relationships a little further.

Relation 1 (Faith and Justification): Faith is the instrumental means of justification.
Relation 2 (Regeneration and Faith): Regeneration is the efficient cause of faith.
Relation 3 (Regeneration and Justification): Regeneration is the efficient cause of the instrumental means of justification.
Relation 4 (Regeneration and Good Works): Regeneration is the efficient cause of good works.
Relation 5 (Faith and Good Works): Faith and good works have the same efficient cause.
Relation 6 (Justification and Works): The "instrumental means of justification" and good works have the same efficient cause.

Now, there are a lot of interesting logical relationships between all four of these theological ideas. However, what is glaring is that in this model nowhere do we see good works having any instrumental role in justification. There is only an indirect relationship between the two. So, I can affirm things like “if we do not grow weary in doing good works, then we will reap eternal life (Gal. 6:9)” by understanding Paul’s words here to mean that if we do not persevere in good works, then we are not regenerate, which is a necessary step for justification resulting in eternal life. (Perhaps, I should add eternal life to this model? It would spring from justification going below the line into the "seen" section.)

justification_works3.jpg

Notice, there is no direct connection between works and eternal life. One other point regarding this model is that good works do not flow from faith. Rather, good works flow from a regenerate heart. As such, when James says things like “Faith, if it has no works, is dead,” I take him to mean that a lack of good works is an indication of an unregenerate heart, which certainly entails that any claim to genuine faith is false.

Again, thank you all for your consideration. I am looking forward to your feedback, critique and correction.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
Wow, Brian. I'm impressed. Very good job.

One area which I would encourage you to invest further thought is the role of faith in works. Hebrews 11 lists many works "by faith," and the diagram could be interpreted as stating that regeneration produces faithless good works. Perhaps some distinction can be made between the principal act of saving faith which brings about justification, and later acts of faith (good works) stemming from that initial faith.
 

SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Can one be regenerated and have good works stemming from this new life but NOT have faith and be justified? I have strong objections to any notion that one can be regenerated without it leading to faith.

Your diagram implies that after regeneration there are two separate "tracks" : the track of good works (leading no where, but still stemming from true regeneration) and the track of faith, leading to justification and eternal life... along this track good works seem to have no place.

I'd encourage you to consider that since faith is "proved" by works, that any truly "good" work should necessarily be seen as following justification, in the process known as sanctification.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Brian, I agree with your very helpful diagram, for the most part. There is only one refinement I might add. Faith has relationship to sanctification, and thus to good works. The good works that we do certainly spring from faith, even if they play no role in our justification, which is by faith. At the moment, it might look like faith has no relationship to good works except that they are both caused by regeneration. In my opinion, faith results in justification and sanctification, the former without works, and the latter with works. So I would draw a line from regeneration to faith, and then from faith to simultaneous categories of justification and sanctification. And, this is where it gets complicated, sanctification does have a relationship to eternal life, just not a causal relationship. But this depends on how one defines eternal life. Eternal life as we have it in this life is obtained solely by justification. However, eternal life as defined by the glorified state is part of the complete salvation picture, which includes sanctification (although again, I am NOT saying that the glorified state is in any way caused by sanctification). What I am saying is that the glorified state is obtained after living the entire Christian life. This is salvation as viewed as a complete whole. The nature of the arrow, therefore, would have to be different, being drawn from sanctification to the glorified state.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Gentlemen,

Thank you so much for your feedback.

CharlieJ said:
Hebrews 11 lists many works "by faith," and the diagram could be interpreted as stating that regeneration produces faithless good works. Perhaps some distinction can be made between the principal act of saving faith which brings about justification, and later acts of faith (good works) stemming from that initial faith.

I see your point. In Hebrews we find statements in the form of "By faith person A did actions X, Y and Z." These actions X, Y and Z presumably are good works. What about those good works called fruits of the Spirit? Would it be proper to say that my exhibiting patience towards someone is by faith? I have always thought of the fruits of the Spirit as results of regeneration just like my faith is a result of regeneration. Is there a distinction here that needs to be made?

Sola said:
Can one be regenerated and have good works stemming from this new life but NOT have faith and be justified?

Good question. I would say that they cannot. I was not intending to communicate two different tracks per se. My thinking was that both faith and good works necessarily follow from a regenerate heart. I want to affirm that you can't have good works without faith. They are a package deal with the wrapping paper being regeneration.

Sola said:
I'd encourage you to consider that since faith is "proved" by works, that any truly "good" work should necessarily be seen as following justification, in the process known as sanctification.

My thinking here was that sanctification is a result of regeneration rather than faith. Could someone say that faith is the first fruit of santification?

greenbaggins said:
In my opinion, faith results in justification and sanctification, the former without works, and the latter with works.

I think you, along with Charlie make a good point about certain good works being "by faith." However, I am not sure about sanctification being "by faith" in the same sense Abraham left his county "by faith." As I asked Sola above, could my faith be simply the first fruit of sanctification?

greenbaggins said:
What I am saying is that the glorified state is obtained after living the entire Christian life. This is salvation as viewed as a complete whole. The nature of the arrow, therefore, would have to be different, being drawn from sanctification to the glorified state.

Can we table this for the moment? This is very good, but I would like to clear up the other issues before digging into this one.

Thank you all for your help! :up:

Brian
 
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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Echoing the criticism of others concerning the dichotomy created by the model presented for consideration, it must also be pointed out that good works can bear no relationship to justification in this model. Reformed theology states that good works are a "consequent condition" of justification. He who "is" righteous "doeth" righteousness according to 1st John.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Matthew,

...it must also be pointed out that good works can bear no relationship to justification in this model.

Not to take away from your concerns, but this feels too strong. Under the given model, the relationship between justification and good works is that both come from regeneration. So, at least in this sense, there is some relationship. Now, you probably have some type of causal relationship in mind. If you do, can you make it a little more explicit?

Reformed theology states that good works are a "consequent condition" of justification. He who "is" righteous "doeth" righteousness according to 1st John.

Fair enough. Consider this line of reasoning...

(1) If someone is justified, then they have saving faith.
(2) If someone has saving faith, then they are regenerate.
(3) If someone is regenerate, then they will have good works.

Based on (1)-(3) it follows that...

(4) If someone is justified, then they will have good works.

In (4) we have good works as the consequent of justification and (4) logically entailes "He who is righteous doeth righteouness". All of this is consistent with the model under discussion.

What my model assumes is that all good works come from regeneration. Is exercising saving faith a good work? If so, it seems that there is at least one good work prior to justification. Saving faith and justification may be temporally prior to the rest of good works, but it seems to me that regeneration is the efficient cause of good works - not justification. The idea being here that out of a good (new) heart comes good fruit - regeneration being the act of God where He takes out our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. From this new heart springs the good work of saving faith which results in righteousness. From this new heart springs forth other good works as well. Now, I am open to this idea being wrong, and some have brought forth some good points. But I think there still is some discussion to be had.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Brian, here is the fundamental concern: what makes a work "good?" You have good works issuing from regeneration, but it is only on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers and received by faith alone that their works and services can be accepted in the sight of God.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Matthew,

Brian, here is the fundamental concern: what makes a work "good?" You have good works issuing from regeneration, but it is only on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers and received by faith alone that their works and services can be accepted in the sight of God.

This is a great point. Allow me to make sure I am understanding you correctly. Are you saying something along these lines? When the sinner saved by grace does the good work X, the doing of X is tainted by sin. As such, when God accepts X as good, He does so on the basis that the one doing X is in a state of justification (as I defined it in my first post in this thread).

Brian
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Brian,
I think that is stated basically correct.
The "state" of justification is correlative to "being in" union with Christ.

My work is accepted as if Jesus did it. His Spirit of sanctification in fact wrought it in me, Php.2:13. He sanctifies the humble believer's sin-tainted efforts to God's glory.

Christ's righteousness covers ALL my sin. He covers my penalty by his blood and righteousness. He answers to my failure to produce good by his life of holiness.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
This is a great point. Allow me to make sure I am understanding you correctly. Are you saying something along these lines? When the sinner saved by grace does the good work X, the doing of X is tainted by sin. As such, when God accepts X as good, He does so on the basis that the one doing X is in a state of justification (as I defined it in my first post in this thread).

Yes, that is it. As in Gen. 4, God had respect unto Abel and to his sacrifice -- the person is accepted and thus his work.
 

Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Gentlemen,

Thank you all for your help. Please bear with me just a little longer.

My work is accepted as if Jesus did it.

OK, I get this. Thank you all for making this point explicit. This clearly creates a relationship between justification and works that the model presented above does not capture. Before I go back to the drawing board, allow me to propose one more thing. Please do not throw stones. I am just exploring an idea. Do you see anything wrong with the following account?

When I perform the good work of patience towards my brother, this good work is the fruit of the Spirit. That is to say, there is some part of this work that truly is good, acceptable and pleasing to God; namely, that part that is properly the fruit of the Spirit. At the same time, we know this work is tainted by indwelling sin. This part of the good work is not good; yet, because of the work of Christ, God forgives me of the sinful portion. In other words, God does not accept the sinful portion as good anymore than He accepts my impatience towards my brother as good. Rather, He forgives this sinful portion, and accepts that portion rightly called the fruit of the Spirit as pleasing and good in His sight.
Again, thank you all for your insight and wisdom.

Sincerely,

Brian
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Belgic Confession:
Article 24 - Man’s Sanctification and Good Works

We believe that this true faith, worked in man by the hearing of God’s Word and by the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man. It makes him live a new life and frees him from the slavery of sin. Therefore it is not true that this justifying faith makes man indifferent to living a good and holy life. On the contrary, without it no one would ever do anything out of love for God, but only out of self-love or fear of being condemned. It is therefore impossible for this holy faith to be inactive in man, for we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls faith working through love. This faith induces man to apply himself to those works which God has commanded in His Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless, they do not count toward our justification. For through faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do any good works. Otherwise they could not be good any more than the fruit of a tree can be good unless the tree itself is good.

Therefore we do good works, but not for merit. For what could we merit? We are indebted to God, rather than He to us, for the good works we do, since it is He who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Let us keep in mind what is written: So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” Meanwhile we do not deny that God rewards good works, but it is by His grace that He crowns His gifts.

Furthermore, although we do good works, we do not base our salvation on them. We cannot do a single work that is not defiled by our flesh and does not deserve punishment. Even if we could show one good work, the remembrance of one sin is enough to make God reject it. We would then always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be constantly tormented, if they did not rely on the merit of the death and passion of our Saviour.



Westminster Confession of Faith
Chapter 16 Of Good Works

16:5 We cannot, by our best works, merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins 1, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants 2; and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit 3; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment 4.

16:6 Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him 5, not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreproveable in God’s sight 6; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections 7.

1) Rom. 3:20. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Rom. 4:2, 4, 6. For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.… Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.… Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works. Eph. 2:8–9. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Titus 3:5–7. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Rom. 8:18, 22–24. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.… For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? Ps. 16:2. O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee. Job 22:2–3. Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him that thou makest thy ways perfect? Job 35:7–8. If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.

2) Luke 17:10. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

3) Rom. 8:13–14. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Gal. 5:22–23. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

4) Isa. 64:6. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Gal. 5:17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Rom. 7:15, 18. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.… For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. Ps. 143:2. And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. Ps. 130:3. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?

5) Eph. 1:6. … to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 1 Pet. 2:5. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. See Ex. 28:38; Gen. 4:4; Heb. 11:4.

6) Job 9:20. If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Ps. 143:2. And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified. 1 John 1:8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

7) Heb. 13:20–21. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Cor. 8:12. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. Heb. 6:10. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. Matt. 25:21, 23. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.… His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 1 Cor. 3:14. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 1 Cor. 4:5. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
 
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Brian Bosse

"The Brain"
Hello Bruce,

Thank you for your references to the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession of faith.

These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, since they are all sanctified by His grace.

This seems to contradict the proposed model. And I accept that. However, I may have been misunderstood in my last post. I would like to clear this up.

I was trying to describe a good work in terms of that portion which properly springs forth from the Holy Spirit (the part properly called the fruit of the Spirit), and that part defiled by our flesh. God accepts that portion of the work springing forth from the Holy Spirit (the good portion), and forgives that portion coming from my flesh (the sinful portion). In other words, the origin of that part which is acceptable to God is fully attributed to Him - not me.

Bruce, are you aware of a passage of Scripture that contradicts what I just said above? If so, can you share it and explain where this is off? Again, thank you so much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Brian
 
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