Are works necessary for salvation? The cry of the Reformation is sola fide which is faith alone! Surely no Protestant would answer yes to this question. But this is precisely the answer provided by Bradley Green in his new book Covenant and Commandment (IVP). In the Introduction he sets forth his premise. (All italics are Green’s.)
“My argument is that in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of the converted person, a constant theme in the New Testament. In short, ‘works’ are ‘necessary’ for salvation because part of the ‘newness’ of the new covenant is actual, grace-induced and grace-elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant. . . . The heirs of the Reformation have struggled at times to affirm the necessity of obedience conceptually while simultaneously affirming passionately sola fide. . . I suspect that some of our difficulty arises from simply saying that Jesus paid it all, while also saying that we must do something.” (pp. 17-18)
“Also, I am not arguing that these ‘works’ or acts of obedience are somehow autonomous. I argue, following Philippians 2:12-13, that we truly act, work and obey, and that at the same time it is God who is truly, efficaciously and actually eliciting and bringing about this obedience. I will also argue that this power for obedience is—ultimately—something that flows from the cross, from the gospel itself (cf. Heb. 10:10, 14), and is linked to our union with Christ. The New Testament teaches that members of the new covenant are marked by an actual obedience, a real internal change and holiness.” (p. 18)
An important note is made of the fact that Christ said our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes Pharisees (Matt. 5:17). Green writes, “It is tempting to say, ‘We don’t really have to be righteous. It is speaking of Christ’s righteousness!’ But Jesus’ point may be much simpler—all those persons who claim the name of Christ must have a great righteousness. It is not simply Christ’s righteousness on our behalf that is in view (no matter how radically important Christ’s righteousness is!). At other points in this monograph it is argued that our growth in righteousness flows efficaciously from God’s grace, and is tied to our union with Christ. A simply appeal to ‘alien righteousness’ may cause us to gloss over an important component of the New Testament—we must be righteous.” (29)
Green says the burden of his argument “is to explore why works are central to the Christian life, and how works relate to such truths as justification and to what Jesus has done for us.” (p. 39)
It is important to understand that he does affirm sola fide. The difficulty comes because he says we “have not always articulted what it means to live obedience-filled lives.” (p. 18)
These are important issues and Green is tackling them head on. I’ve only just begun but he has my full attention.
D.A. Carson writes in the series preface: “The canvas on which he paints is large enough to draw in a wide range of readers, all of whom will find themselves stimulated to think about these issues more precisely, even if they choose to demur from this or that element in his argument.” (p. 12)
Covenant and Commandment is paperback with 208 pages and sells for $22.00.
Bradley G. Green (PhD, Theology, Baylor University) is associate professor of Christian studies at Union University. His varied background includes serving as Latin instructor and Sunday school teacher, and he has written a number of articles for various publications including Churchman, Touchstone Magazine, Chronicles Magazine and The International Journal of Systematic Theology.
Green is also the author of The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life and Colin Gunton and the Failure of Augustine.