Does the Reformed tradition breed an unbiblical fear of works? Perhaps fear is the wrong word. Let me elaborate: When I write a particular sermon that I call the “If you’re a Christian, act like it” sermon, my Reformed cohorts can get kind of squirrelly. Eyes dart back & forth. Eyebrows raise. Thumb and index finger move to stroke the chin.
I preached one on Sunday evening. 1 Timothy 1:3-11. Paul’s charge for Timothy to live out true doctrine out of faith & love naturally leads for a call to repentance and obedience to the Christian and a proclamation of the Gospel to the unregenerate. But why the discomfort?
That works have no part in our justification is a doctrine clearly taught in the Scriptures (Ephesians 2, etc.). This truth was obscured by a hegemony in the church that valued tradition and non-biblical authority more than the Bible itself. It took a Reformation to give an unfiltered gospel to the masses. Reformed Christians today continue in the Reformation tradition, but perhaps we have become something of an overprotective mother when it comes to justification and works.
How so? Raise your hand if the mere mention of works made your doctrine alarms go off sending you into full apologist mode, scanning to see if I’m about to get all Pelagius up in this blog. Go ahead. I can see you through your webcam.
And that response is what I’m talking about. I’m thinking that we’ve become so careful to guard against the ever popular heresy of salvation (full or part) via works that we get all itchy whenever works are brought up. ESPECIALLY when works are brought up in conjunction with a call to, you know, actually do them.
As a result of this, we are constantly having to put caveats in our speech whenever we discuss works. Just like the good Calvinist knows to say “providence” and never “luck” so the good Reformed believer knows never to mention good works without adding “Not that [works] will provide you with salvation.” — Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’m a Presbyterian, so naturally I’m fond of precision. But too many caveats sometimes lead us to bend our thinking away from Biblical doctrine and into a warped theology that allows us to declare “We are not saved by works. Therefore, I don’t need ‘em!”
A few weeks ago I tweeted that I see far more Christians struggle with antinomianism (armchair definition: Faith in Christ makes the moral law irrelevant. Sin and be free, faith will bail you out). Several folks replied that they were shocked that such was the case, having grown up in churches where salvation was offered for those who ne’r took a sip of beer. They wondered where I was going to church. While a legalistic attitude (if not legalism) is common among certain groups — I think w\ us Reformed peeps it can be just the opposite. We get that we’re not saved by what we do. It’s a part of our heritage. Salvation by Grace alone through Faith alone is the gigantic belt buckle of the Reformed cowboy. In some cases the buckle is getting too big for the britches, and we overreact when someone points out that you still need to wear chaps when you’re riding the trail.
//end cowboy illustrations
Anyone seeing this, or am I making things up again? If you have noticed it, how do you deal with it?