Since I’ve been studying and writing on the law, justification, and sanctification, I wanted to use Zacharius Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism to explain how Reformed theology talks about good works in the Christian life. On this topic, Ursinus has a helpful exposition of Q/A 86 of the Heidelberg Catechism. The question is this: “Since we are delivered from our misery, merely out of grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?”
In other words, it is certainly true that by faith alone in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, we’re delivered from our sin and misery. It’s certainly true that God accepts and adopts us because of what Jesus has done in our place. But why must we still do good works? Here are Ursinus’ answers, based on Scripture.
1) “Because good works are the fruits of our regeneration by the Holy Spirit, which are always connected with our free justification (Rom. 8:30, 1 Cor. 6:11). Those, therefore, who do not perform good works, show that they are neither regenerated by the Spirit of God, nor redeemed by the blood of Christ.”
2) “That we may express our gratitude to God for the benefit of redemption (Rom. 6:13; 12:1).”
3) “That God may be glorified by us (Matt. 5:16, 1 Pet. 2:12).”
4) “Because they are the fruits of faith – that by which our own faith, as well as the faith of others, is judged of (2 Pet. 1:10, Matt. 7:17, Gal 5:6, 22).”
5) “That we may bring others to Christ (Luke 22:32, 1 Pet. 3:1, Rom. 14:19).”
Ursinus also has a brief note to preachers after #5, which is also relevant for us today:
“These causes, now, must be explained and urged with great diligence, in our sermons and exhortations to the people; and here we may cite, as being in point, the whole of the sixth chapter, and the first part of the eighth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, down to the sixteenth verse.”
Zacharias Ursinus is a great example of how Reformed theology discusses good works in the Christian life. In this commentary, Ursinus clearly distinguishes between law and gospel and he clearly explains justification by faith alone. But these truths don’t cause him to avoid the topic of good works in the Christian life. Rather, these truths are the basis for his discussion of them. Grace always leads to gratitude. Salvation has to do with service, and sanctification follows justification.
rev shane lems