I don't have near enough time to surf the many blogs of my fellow pastors, so today, being at home until the plumber comes to fix a leaky shower faucet that has caused me to shut down the water to my whole house, I thought I'd check a few out. While perusing fellow seminary classmate Mark Horne's site, I was drawn to a great work of Calvin, a portion of which I will share here. Calvin wrote a catechism (question/answers on various doctrinal questions)in the early 1540's to help people learn sound doctrine. I found the entire catechism encouraging and helpful, particularly this important section on the relationship between faith and works. I hope it blesses you as it did me. Keep in mind, to Calvin (and according to Scripture), faith isn't something the individual believer conjures or musters, rather, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-10)- the instrument He uses to justify us. Too many Christians think that God does almost everything, we just need to have faith. Well, not quite- God does everything regarding our salvation, including the giving of saving faith to us. Anyways, check out Calvin-
Master. - What! are not men justified by good works when they study to approve themselves to God, by living innocently and holily?
Scholar. - Could any one be found so perfect, he might justly be deemed righteous, but as we are all sinners, guilty before God in many ways, we must seek elsewhere for a worthiness which may reconcile us to him.
Master. - But are all the works of men so vile and valueless that they cannot merit favour with God?
Scholar. - First, all the works which proceed from us, so as properly to be called our own, are vicious, and therefore they can do nothing but displease God, and be rejected by him.
Master. - You say then that before we are born again and formed anew by the Spirit of God, we can do nothing but sin, just as a bad tree can only produce bad fruit? (Matt. vii. 18.)
Scholar. - Altogether so. For whatever semblance works may have in the eyes of men, they are nevertheless evil, as long as the heart to which God chiefly looks is depraved.
Master. - Hence you conclude, that we cannot by any merits anticipate God or call forth his beneficence; or rather that all the works which we try or engage in, subject us to his anger and condemnation?
Scholar. - I understand so; and therefore mere mercy, without any respect to works, (Titus iii. 5,) embraces and accepts us freely in Christ, by attributing his righteousness to us as if it were our own, and not imputing our sins to us.
Master. - In what way, then, do you say that we are justified by faith?
Scholar. - Because, while we embrace the promises of the gospel with sure heartfelt confidence, we in a manner obtain possession of the righteousness of which I speak.
Master. - This then is your meaning-that as righteousness is offered to us by the gospel, so we receive it by faith?
Scholar. - It is so.
Master. - But after we have once been embraced by God, are not the works which we do under the direction of his Holy Spirit accepted by him?
Scholar. - They please him, not however in virtue of their own worthiness, but as he liberally honours them with his favour.
Master. - But seeing they proceed from the Holy Spirit, do they not merit favour?
Scholar. - They are always mixed up with some defilement from the weakness of the flesh, and thereby vitiated.
Master. - Whence then or how can it be that they please God?
Scholar. - It is faith alone which procures favour for them, as we rest with assured confidence on this-that God wills not to try them by his strict rule, but covering their defects and impurities as buried in the purity of Christ, he regards them in the same light as if they were absolutely perfect.
Master. - But can we infer from this that a Christian man is justified by works after he has been called by God, or that by the merit of works he makes himself loved by God, whose love is eternal life to us?
Scholar. - By no means. We rather hold what is written-that no man can be justified in his sight, and we therefore pray, Enter not into judgment with us." (Ps. cxliii. 2.)
Master. - We are not therefore to think that the good works of believers are useless?
Scholar. - Certainly not. For not in vain does God promise them reward both in this life and in the future. But this reward springs from the free love of God as its source; for he first embraces us as sons, and then burying the remembrance of the vices which proceed from us, he visits us with his favour.
Master. - But can this righteousness be separated from good works, so that he who has it may be void of them?
Scholar. - That cannot be. For when by faith we receive Christ as he is offered to us, he not only promises us deliverance from death and reconciliation with God, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we are regenerated to newness of life; these things must necessarily be conjoined so as not to divide Christ from himself.
Master. - Hence it follows that faith is the root from which all good works spring, so far is it from taking us off from the study of them?
Scholar. - So indeed it is; and hence the whole doctrine of the gospel is comprehended under the two branches, faith and repentance.