Why Are Reformed Christians So Afraid of Good Works?
I'm a member of a reformed Presbyterian church. If you attend a church that is like mine you are probably being told that you are not excepted before God on the basis of your "good works". Now, before I get lambasted from every corner of the Christian blogosphere for being a pharisee, let me say this clearly:
People are saved ONLY by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and not on the basis of anything they do.
Now, before going on, I want you to go back and read that again.
Read it again? Good.
One of the reasons reformed Christians like to harp on this topic is because it is a real problem. We live in a guilt laden culture. Many people, including Christians, feel better about their guilt when they pass certain self-prescribed spiritual tests. I do it. You do it. We all do it. Because of this we need to be told that this has nothing to do with the good news of the Gospel of God's lavish grace.
The problem I've come across with this emphasis against good works is that it doesn't believe in God's grace nearly enough. We are all so quick to say that God is able to forgive the most grievous of sins.
"Are you an adulterer? God's grace covers your sins."
"Are you an addict? God's grace covers your sins."
"Are you a democrat or neo-con? God's grace covers your sins." (this last one is perhaps the most grievous!)
However, when it comes to doing good works without the purest of motives we tend to tap the brakes on God's grace.
"Do you ever do good works for any reason other than glorifying God? You might not be under God's grace."
While the need to inform Christians that their good deeds do not put them in a right standing with God is essential, we must understand that God's grace also covers our sin of "self-righteousness".
We can all be self-righteous. I can be self-righteous about how much I read my Bible or other Christian books. I can be self-righteous about tithing "even when it hurts". I can be self-righteous about not sinning. I can be self-righteous about sharing the gospel with a non-christian. I can be self-righteous about helping someone in need. In all these things I can be tempted (and sometimes believe) that I am somehow in a better standing with God.
Yet this sinful impulse toward self-righteousness never excuses me to not act ethically. The answer to being self-righteous about reading the Bible is never to stop reading the Bible. The answer to being self-righteous about sharing the gospel with someone is not to stop sharing the gospel. The answer to being self-righteous about not sinning is not to start sinning.
The answer is the same for all the other (non-self-righteous) listed earlier. What do we tell people to do with their sins of adultery, addiction, anger, pride, etc.? We tell them to repent and sin no more (John 8). The sin of self-righteousness is not in the acts of reading your Bible or helping the poor.
Christians, especially reformed Christians, have honestly taken an apathetic approach toward the sin of self-righteousness. Rather than dealing with the sin we have given external prescriptions. We have allowed people to stop acting in accordance with God's word because they are tempted toward self-righteousness when they do so. This is foolishness and unbiblical. We need to repent of our laziness and do the hard work of discipling both hearts and hands to submit to God.
Food for thought.
This YouTube video was the inspiration for today's post.