Q 62. Why can’t our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of our righteousness?
A 62. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s judgment must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. But even our best works in this life are imperfect and stained with sin.
Q 63. How can our good works be said to merit nothing when God promises to reward them in this life and the next?
A 63. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.
Q 64. But doesn’t this teaching make people indifferent and wicked?
A 64. No. It is impossible for those grafted into Christ through true faith not to produce fruits of gratitude.
One of the chief complaints about the notion that our works have nothing to do with our personal salvation, or for that matter, somehow taking us out of God’s grace after we come to faith, is that that it then lends itself to promoting a life of apathy, indifference, and wickedness.
On the surface, this would seem like a valid argument. Most of the time, when humans are left to their own devices, will pretty much always be selfish, living contrary to God’s call on our lives. Yet, when it comes to encountering God’s love, grace, and forgiveness, there is something drastically different that takes place.
Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 24 asks a question that, at some point in our lives, we have all asked: “why can’t I do it?” Whether you asked this as a kid about something that was either too large or too grown up for you to do or whether you ask this as a theological question, the same point remains, we almost always want to do things on our own. This is even truer in the U.S. where this is culturally engrained within us.
Yet Scripture wholly and completely denies our ability to contribute anything to our own salvation… except sin. There is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God. Sin itself separates us from God, no matter how little or seemingly insignificant. We are born into sin, something that is present within us since the day of our conception.
With sin as an ever-present reality in our lives, the barrier is formed and there is nothing that we can do to overcome it because the barrier is us. As we have said before, we cannot save ourselves; we need a Savior and that Savior is Jesus. Belief in Him and trusting Him as our Lord and Savior is the only way to receive God’s gift of grace.
This grace, free as it is, also has a secondary effect: it transforms who we are from the selfish, self-serving humans that we once were into a new creation that follows after Jesus Christ. Essentially, if we truly receive Christ into our hearts, we can’t not live a changed life.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Christians will be perfect all the time or that we will never encounter sin or temptation again. What it does mean is that our will and our desires are no longer bent solely to ourselves but that they lean into the will of God and seek to live a life of gratitude and thanksgiving for the free gift of grace that we have been given.
The reality that we experience as those who are in Christ is one of grace and freedom. No longer are we bound by our need to perform or the sin that we are trying to make up for, instead, we are freed to love both God and each other as we both experience and communicate God’s love in Christ to everyone around us.
One other thing that is very important to this topic: As there is nothing that we can do to earn our way into God’s favor, there is nothing we can do to remove ourselves from it either. This doctrine, known as “preservation of the saints,” has often been criticized as a “free pass” to do whatever we want in life and still claim faith and salvation in Christ. Sadly, this is a distortion of a beautiful reality that is God’s grace.
The purpose of this doctrine is not “freedom” in the sense that we can do whatever we want, it is a reassurance of the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. This hope is an eternal state that we live in and cannot be separated from. If we fall into sin once again we must not despair, but instead be comforted in knowing that He who did not spare His own Son, will also never foresake us in our time of need either. Thanks be to God.