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Catechism Class H/C LD32, Q86. Works Cannot Save.


Catechism Class

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 32, Question 86. 

What the problem with works?  

  • Paul tells us that we are saved by grace alone, in Ephesians 2:8  
  • James tells us that ‘Faith without works is dead.’  James 2:14-18.  

At first when we read these two verses and place them side by side, there seems to be a contradiction.  Paul telling us that our works are of no value in our salvation, James telling us that we cannot be saved without our works.  In fact If we read on down the text in James, we discover that what he wrote in verse 14 is highly qualified and explained in verse 18. Where Paul is writing about how we are saved, how redemption is applied to our lives, James is writing about the outworking of that redemption in our daily life, in a changed attitude to others who live with us.


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Our instructor in the Heidelberg Catechism deals with all these matters in question 86,

Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works?

He offers two main reasons why a Christian should do good to others… 


1 Because redemption, having been already accomplished by Christ at the cross, has also been applied to our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit. 

Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit after His own image, that with our whole life we show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and that He be glorified through us, then also, that we ourselves may be assured by our faith by the fruits thereof; 

This is the key to understanding the seeming divergence between James and Paul.  The Catechist explains.  The Holy Spirit applies Christ’s saving work within us.  This will have three specific results,  

  • We will be always thankful to God for his redeeming work for us, and for every blessing he has so lavishly poured upon us.   
  • That God will be glorified through us.  Our lives will be pleasing to God, and will cause others to praise and glorify him too.   
  • That we will have assurance.  This is an interesting effect of our works.  As we live out our redemption in a practical manner before others our confidence in our salvation will grow!  Especially read 2 Peter 1:4-11 for the basis of this understanding.   


2 Because we are to be a Witness to Others. 

and by our godly walk win also others to Christ. 

Verbal witnessing to the faith is essential but if our works are rotten, who’s going to believe that we have been in any way changed or transformed by Christ. James 2:15  

So we are to do good to all men.  Paul agrees with James when he writes, in Galatian 6:10  

What are these Good Works that are to characterise the Christian life?  Ephesians 2:10  Good works is why we were made.  In the following chapters he then goes on to outline what these good works are… to live your everyday life humbly, and and in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord.   

Look up and Read:- 

Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; I Pet. 2:5, 9-10; I Cor. 6:20.   Mt. 5:16; I Pet. 2:12.  

Mt. 7:17-18; Gal. 5:6, 22-23.   Rom. 14:19; I Pet. 3:1-2;  II Pet. 1:4-11. 

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