For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)
What is the place of good works in salvation? Is good works an "instrument" of salvation? After all, we have a certain Reformed pastor who opines as follows:
The instrumental cause of justification is faith alone. But Reformed orthodox theologians had no problem speaking of instrumental causes for salvation (broadly considered). Good works function as an intstrumental [sic] cause. They are part of the necessary path we walk on as we enter through the narrow gate to eternal life. (source)
That pastor, Mark Jones, in the same piece states that only those who have published peer-reviewed journals and books can disagree with him. The rest of us are ignorant simpletons who just have to accept his ex cathedra pronouncement that salvation is by the twin instruments of faith and good works, and that THAT is the real Reformed position. I guess that's that, isn't it?
Of course, quote-mining dead Reformers and Puritans who cannot talk back, and neither can they object if they were misquoted, is hardly a good way to begin an argument. After all, why should anyone assume that Jones has correctly cited the Reformers and Puritans he had cited, instead of actually misrepresenting them? After all, he actually misrepresents Michael Horton in his article, quoting a paragraph Horton had written out of context! Since he has misrepresented Horton, why should I or anyone actually have any confidence he did not likewise misrepresented William Twisse, "[Jerome] Zanchius, [Peter van] Mastricht, [Thomas] Goodwin, [John] Owen," and Zacharias Ursinus?
But more than the problems with his historical arguments (which are at best tenuous), the main problem with Jones is that his view is contrary to Scripture itself. Scripture abundantly teaches that faith is the instrument of salvation. After all, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith (Eph. 2:8), and "salvation" comes from the verb "to save." Believers are saved through faith, and thus faith is the instrument of salvation. But which verse claims that we are saved through good works? 1 Timothy 2:15 does not apply as it applies to only women and only by the work of childbearing (and it is therefore considered an obscure text because we know that child-bearing is not actually an instrument of salvation). 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 does not explicitly say that works save, and when interpreted in context, it does not say so (which you can hear in my sermon on 1 Corinthians 3 for those who desire to do so). And lastly, James 2 has been exegeted a thousand times over, and I do not want to re-invent the wheel, but in summary it teaches only that good works are the necessary fruit of salvation, as the believer shows forth his faith by what he does (Jas. 2:18).
[It must be remembered again what the term "instrument" and "instrumental cause" means. To claim that something, X, is an "instrument" or that it functions as an "instrumental cause" of Y, is to claim that doing X is the manner in which Y is effected. An "efficient cause" E is what causes (in the modern sense of the term "cause") or brings about Y. In soteriology, to say that we are saved "by grace through faith" is to say that grace is the efficient cause and faith the instrumental cause. For a non-theological setting, the switching on of my computer for example has electricity as its efficient cause, and proper flow of electricity to the CPU (and not elsewhere) as an instrumental cause.]
What does the Scriptures then teach? In Ephesians 2:10, the language states that, after being saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), God has prepared for us good works to do. Therefore, good works are the goal of salvation, at least one of the goals of salvation. Since we were unable to do any good works while still under sin (Rom. 14:23), now that we are saved by grace through faith, we can now do the good works (which proceed out of faith) that God has created us to do. Good works therefore is a final cause of salvation, because that is what God has called us to. And as a final cause, it cannot be an instrumental cause.
It is often pointed out that without works, a person is not saved. Or, to quote Scripture, without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). But the problem is that the line from works to salvation is not as simple as neo-nomians would like it to be. The Scriptures, speaking of those that fall away, state that "they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 Jn. 2:19). In other words, those who fall away never had true faith in the beginning. Therefore, the line of salvation is not "faith- works- salvation," such that the one without works is not saved despite having faith. Rather, the line of salvation is "faith - salvation -works," ad thus the one without works must imply he has no salvation and no faith either. Therefore, improperly for brevity's sake, we can and do say that without works, a person is not saved. But if we want to speak properly, we should be saying that without works, a person shows he has no faith, and thus is not saved. Therefore, the reason why a person without good works is not saved has never been because he has no good works. Rather, the reason why a person without good works is not saved is because he has no faith. It is and has always been that faith is the instrument of salvation, and the only instrument of salvation. Good works are always the fruit, and a final cause of salvation.
The Christian message has always been that salvation is to be achieved by placing our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior. It does not matter how many PhDs a person has, but no one no matter how brilliant can alter this Gospel message. We do not need to work for our salvation in any form, but salvation is free for us as we believe.
Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3b)