Erich clearly pointed out, “we can do NOTHING without sinning.” Hard to be more clear than that (although one could jest, “Ok, I’ll just do nothing and I should be fine – after all, I can do nothing without sinning! :) )
Anyway, Erich’s point raises a question I need help answering. What do we make out of the promises Scripture gives to reward Christians for our good works?
Let me try to explain:
I agree with
Later he says, “the good works in the reconciled, since they are acceptable through faith for the sake of the Mediator, have spiritual and bodily rewards in this life and after this life; they have these rewards through the gratuitous divine promise; not that God owes this because of the perfection and worthiness of our works, but because He, out of fatherly mercy and liberality, for the sake of Christ, has promised that He would honor with rewards the obedience of His children in this life, even though it is only begun and is weak, imperfect, and unclean.” (Examination of the Council of Trent I, 653)
Apology IV states, “Works are meritorious for other bodily and spiritual rewards, which are bestowed both in this life and in the life to come. For God defers most rewards until He glorifies saints after this life, because He wishes them in this life to be strengthened through mortifying the old creature. The gospel feely gives the promise that a person is justified and made alive on account of Christ. However, in the law rewards are not free; they are offered for works and owed to works. Since therefore works constitute a kind of fulfillment of the law, they are rightly said to be meritorious, and it is rightly said that a reward is owed them. And these rewards produce degrees of return, according to that passage in Paul [I Cor. 3:8], “Each will receive wages according to the labor of each.” These degrees are rewards for works and afflictions.” (Apology, Article IV, paragraph 366ff)
And Solid Declaration IV states, “It is God’s will and express command that believers should do good works which the Holy Spirit works in them, and God is willing to be pleased with them for Christ’s sake and He promises to reward them gloriously in this and in the future life. (Formula of
Okay, God promises to reward the works of those regenerate in Christ. Yes, our works are only begun, imperfect, and unclean, which we could call sin. And yes, the rewards aren’t offered because we are so good in and of ourselves. The rewards are offered to those redeemed by Christ – Christ makes works good. Having said that, I think “we can do nothing without sin” might be going a bit far (even if it is technically right). No offense to Erich.
Good works done by those redeemed by Christ are good because of Christ and will be rewarded. Yes, I am a wretched man who needs to be saved from this body of death, but I have been redeemed from the law of sin and death and have been given the Spirit. Certainly those controlled by the sinful mind cannot please God, but Paul says those baptized into Christ are “controlled not by the sinful nature.” We are controlled by the Spirit. And the Spirit works good works in us which fulfill the law. As Paul later says, “he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Yes, the good works are only begun, imperfect, and unclean (even sin), but in Christ our works are indeed good and will be rewarded. In fact, Jesus says anyone who has faith in Him will do “even greater things” than He did!
So, if in Christ our good works will be rewarded, aren’t they in some sense free from sin? If not, is God rewarding sin?
So, I guess I’m just trying to complement Erich’s picture. Yes, we’re hopelessly wretched, but we’re redeemed wretches with the Spirit of God who will be rewarded for the good works we do in Christ.