Monday, October 19, 2015

The Vision of Christ and the Necessity of Good Works

The first thesis in Luther's famous 95 states that all of the Christian life is characterized by repentance. Repentance, by its very nature, necessarily includes faith in its exercise. This faith, to be true faith, can only have one object of focus, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. Putting faith in Christ is synonymous to looking unto Him (Heb. 12:2), and this vision of Christ transforms the beholder into His image and likeness (faith now conforms progressively [2 Cor. 3:18], while actual sight in glory conforms instantly [1 John 3:2]).

As John Owen says in "The Glory of Christ":

"That which at present I design to demonstrate is, that the beholding of the glory of Christ is one of the greatest privileges and advancements that believers are capable of in this world, or that which is to come. It is that whereby they are first gradually conformed unto it, and then fixed in the eternal enjoyment of it. For here in this life, beholding his glory, they are changed or transformed into the likeness of it, 2 Cor. iii. 18; and hereafter they shall be 'for ever like unto him,' because they 'shall see him as he is,' 1 John iii. 1, 2. Hereon do our present comforts and future blessedness depend. This is the life and reward of our souls. 'He that has seen him has seen the Father also,' John xiv. 9. For we discern the 'light of the knowledge of the glory of God only in the face of Jesus Christ,' 2 Cor. iv. 6."

"No man can by faith take a real view of this glory, but virtue will proceed from it in a transforming power to change him 'into the same image,' 2 Cor. iii. 18."

"Some men speak much of the imitation of Christ, and following of his example; and it were well if we could see more of it really in effect. But no man shall ever become 'like unto him' by bare imitation of his actions, without that view or intuition of his glory which alone is accompanied with a transforming power to change them into the same image."

"But herein it is required that we rest not in the notion of this truth, and a bare assent unto the doctrine of it. The affecting power of it upon our hearts is that which we should aim at. Wherein does the blessedness of the saints above consist? Is it not herein, that they behold and see the glory of God in Christ? And what is the effect of it upon those blessed souls? Does it not change them into the same image, or make them like unto Christ? Does it not fill and satiate them with joy, rest, delight, complacency, and ineffable satisfaction? Do we expect, do we desire, the same state of blessedness? It is our present view of the glory of Christ which is our initiation thereinto, if we are exercised in it, until we have an experience of its transforming power in our souls."

So if, as Luther says, all of the Christian life is faith and repentance, and this faith is nothing but looking unto Jesus Christ, and this looking unto Christ necessarily conforms the beholder into His image and likeness, then we can say that all of the Christian life is a growth in the good works brought about by conformity to the image of Christ. The absence of good works implies that one is not looking unto Christ, for it is precisely by looking unto Him that good works are produced, and if you are not looking unto Christ, you are not saved.

Who can deny that looking unto Christ is necessary unto salvation? As Jonathan Edwards writes:

"Perseverance is acknowledged by Calvinian divines, to be necessary to salvation. Yet it seems to me, that the manner in which it is necessary has not been sufficiently set forth. It is owned to be necessary as a sine qua non: and also, that though it is not that by which we first come to have a title to eternal life, yet it is necessary in order to the actual possession of it, as the way to it; that it is as impossible we should come to it without perseverance, as it is impossible for a man to go to a city or town, without travelling throughout the road that leads to it. But we are really saved by perseverance; so that salvation has a dependence on perseverance, as that which influences in the affair, so as to render it congruous that we should be saved. Faith (on our part) is the great condition of salvation; it is that by which we are justified and saved. But in this faith, the perseverance that belongs to it is a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation. Perseverance indeed comes into consideration, even in the justification of a sinner, as one thing on which the fitness of acceptance to life depends. For, God has respect to perseverance as being virtually in the first act. And it is looked upon as if it were a property of that faith by which the sinner is then justified. God has respect to continuance in faith; and the sinner is justified by that, as though it already were; because by divine establishment it shall follow; and so it is accepted, as if it were a property contained in the faith that is then seen. Without this, it would not be congruous that a sinner should be justified at his first believing; but it would be needful that the act of justification should be suspended till the sinner had persevered in faith. There is the same reason why it is necessary that the union between Christ and the soul should remain in order to salvation, as that it should be begun; for it is begun to the end that it might remain. And if it could be begun without remaining, the beginning would be in vain. The soul is saved no otherwise than by union with Christ, and so is fitly looked upon as his. It is saved in him; and in order to that, it is necessary that the soul now be in him, even when salvation is actually bestowed, and not merely that it should once, have been in him; and therefore God, in justifying a sinner, even in the first act of faith, has respect to the congruity between justification and perseverance of faith. So that perseverance is necessary to salvation, not only as a sine qua non, or as the way to possession; but it is necessary even to the congruity of justification." ('Of the Perseverance of Saints')

And Stephen Charnock:

"The reason why God puts his Spirit into the heart is to preserve us from departing from him, Jer. 32:40. As Christ was true and faithful to God in the end of his coming, so will the Spirit be faithful to God in the end of his being put into the heart. It is the same Spirit which, being upon Christ, enabled him to the performance of his charge, Isa. 11:1, 2, and made him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, to establish him in faithfulness and obedience to God in his mediatory work. The same Spirit is in us, to establish us in the fear of God, to keep that principle of God’s fear put into our hearts alive. And as the Spirit performed his office fully upon the human nature of Christ, so it will not be deficient in us according to our measure. Consider the Spirit every way, and this work of preserving grace will appear to be his business. What Christ doth by his proxy may well be interpreted to be his own act." ('A Discourse Proving Weak Grace Victorious (Mat. 12:20)')

What is perseverance but the Spirit constantly invigorating the faith that incessantly looks unto Christ, which looking always produces the good works of the image of Christ.

The necessity of good works unto salvation is predicated upon the necessity of persevering in looking unto Christ.

"Moreover, when Scripture intimates that the good works of believers are causes why the Lord does them good, we must still understand the meaning so as to hold unshaken what has previously been said—viz. that the efficient cause of our salvation is placed in the love of God the Father; the material cause in the obedience of the Son; the instrumental cause in the illumination of the Spirit, that is, in faith; and the final cause in the praise of the divine goodness. In this, however, there is nothing to prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how so? In this way: Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works." (John Calvin, Inst. 3.14.21)

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