Are Good Works More Than Fruit?

D. Patrick Ramsey regularly writes the most direct and helpful summaries of a view I disagree with. While most discussions on the role of good works quickly devolve into confusion and endless circles and talking past one another, Ramsey’s posts cut to the chase – which makes dialogue much more meaningful.

In a post over at Meet the Puritans, he explains that when he and others (like Mark Jones) argue against “Antinomianism,” what they are arguing against is the idea that our good works are only a fruit of our faith. The role of the law as a guide in the believer’s life is not the issue. Both sides agree on that. Rather, Ramsey argues “We don’t engage in good works merely because we live or are saved, we are to do them in order to live or to salvation.”

The “narrow way” is not Christ, but your good works (which they would say is Christ’s work in us).

Another common way the puritans articulated this same point was by covenant conditions. Sincere obedience is a consequent condition of justification and an antecedent condition of glorification… Good works, therefore, are more than fruit in that they are necessary for salvation as the way to eternal life and as an antecedent condition of glorification.

You will not merely have fruit when you are glorified, your fruit is a condition of whether or not you will be glorified. He says Tobias Crisp was wrong when he said that true Christians ought and will produce good works, but they are not required to and indeed they shouldn’t pursue holiness in order to avoid damnation and to possess heaven.

I don’t think it can be stated any clearer. Now go study Leviticus 18:5 and decide what you believe. Here are two posts that explain why I agree with Crisp and the “Antinomians”

12 thoughts on “Are Good Works More Than Fruit?

  1. markmcculley

    Matt Perman—Since works of the law are not faith (Romans 3:28) and whatever is not faith is sin, many theologians (like Daniel Fuller) conclude that works of the law are therefore sin. They argue that “works of the law” refers not just to sin in general, but rather to a specific kind of sin–the sin of trying to earn from God. They often point to Romans 4:6: “to the one who works his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due.” From this passage they infer that “works of the law”–are things that are done in our own strength with a view to earning merit from God in the sense of doing God a favor such that God is obligated to return the favor.

    Faith can be referred to as obedience in the sense that when we believe in Christ we are doing what God tells us to. Thus is why the Scriptures sometimes speak of “obeying the gospel.” But “doing what God tells us to do” is not the definition of obedience to the law. Moral obedience does not simply mean “doing what God says” but doing what is virtuous. Faith in the gospel is not love for our neighbor.
    Romans 9:11-12 …for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything GOOD OR BAD, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘the older will serve the younger.’”

    “Anything good or bad” explains the term “works.” Consequently, “works” are “anything we do, whether good or bad.” Works are not simply acts one does without faith or to put God in one’s debt. Rather, “works” is a term used to refer to human behavior in general. This behavior can then be classified as either obedience or disobedience.

    Since faith in Christ is not a “work of the law,” it must follow that faith in Christ as Savior is not a requirement of the law but of the gospel. This means that faith in Christ is not a morally virtuous thing (like telling the truth, etc), for virtue is that which accords with God’s moral law. Gospel faith is not commanded by the law, and so faith is not a virtue.”


  2. David Rothstein

    Do you deny that God rewards the good works of believers (e.g., WCF 16.6)? If not, then in this sense, good works are indeed more than fruit. I think that’s all Ramsey and Jones, etc. are arguing.


      1. David Rothstein

        Brandon, I saw that you’d asked me a couple of questions. Regarding degrees of rewards, I don’t really know, though that seems to be the prevailing Reformed opinion. But what I had in mind was simply what we confess concerning God’s rewarding of good works. In addition to WCF 16.6, there is Belgic article 24, for example. And WLC 32 gets at the same thing from a somewhat different angle when it says that obedience is “the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, AND as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.”

        The point is that after we deny that good works can merit anything from God or that they are causes of our salvation in any way, shape or form (as of course all Protestants must), there is still more of a role for good works to play than merely fruit and evidence.


        1. I really don’t see how the issue of rewards is what is being discussed here. So-called “Antinomians” don’t deny the idea that God rewards believers. That’s not what “more than fruit” refers to. What I appreciate about Ramsey is that he makes it black and white what is being affirmed. What Ramsey means by “more than fruit” is not simply that they result in rewards, but that they are a necessary antecedent condition for salvation.

          Note Belgic 24, which you referenced, says

          Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

          So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

          When discussing rewards for good works, writers typically make it clear that they are not referring to justification, glorification, salvation. Note (early) Murray

          While it makes void the gospel to introduce works in connection with justification, nevertheless works done in faith, from the motive of love to God, in obedience to the revealed will of God and to the end of his glory are intrinsically good and acceptable to God. As such they will be the criterion of reward in the life to come. This is apparent from such passages as Matthew 10:41; 1 Corinthians 3:8–9, 11–15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:7. We must maintain therefore, justification complete and irrevocable by grace through faith and apart from works, and at the same time, future reward according to works. In reference to these two doctrines it is important to observe the following:

          (i) This future reward is not justification and contributes nothing to that which constitutes justification. (ii) This future reward is not salvation. Salvation is by grace and it is not as a reward for works that we are saved. (iii) The reward has reference to the degree of glory bestowed in the state of bliss, that is, the station a person is to occupy in glory and does not have reference to the gift of glory itself.

          As I point out here Murray came to later reject this idea and instead argued that salvation is a reward for our works. That’s the issue here.


  3. Helpful post, Brandon, thank you. For Ramsey, et al, what do they consider a sufficient level of works for glorification, and how do people know they have met that standard?

    Also, do they believe that saving faith is union with Christ, by which the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to the person united to Christ by faith, the righteousness that satisfied the perfect obedience and full payment for our sin required by God’s unchanging rule of righteousness (Edwards’ phrase)? And if so, what more can be done to meet God’s standard? And if not, how are sinners justified? How do they avoid merit from other than the merit of Christ, alone, if indeed, they avoid it? And how do they avoid compromising God’s justice, or the standard of righteousness due to a holy God and required for eternal life, a standard (post Fall) that can only be met by Christ?

    It seems that once God’s standard and requirement of perfect obedience is compromised, one is marching toward Rome.


    1. Those are good questions Craig. I don’t know how they would answer the first. They make a categorical distinction between “works of the law” which are done in our unregenerate state and works of faith which are done in our regenerate state. They are utterly distinct. So they might say all you need is one work of faith… though they would also say those works of faith must continue until you die.

      Your question about the imputed righteousness of Christ is pertinent. That is why Shepherd rejected IAOC and argued that “justification” only refers to the forgiveness of sins. Of course they will argue they are not following Shepherd – but the reader will have to judge who is more logically consistent on that point, given their shared foundations (see recent posts on Murray and the Republication Report background).

      But yes, I agree that neonomianism by definition compromises God’s law by seeing a less than perfect obedience as sufficient.


  4. Pingback: Make Christ’s Work of Salvation Plain | Contrast

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