Heidelberg 91: What Are Good Works? (Part 2)

Any work that does not proceed from true faith, is no good work at all.

True faith is said to be the sole instrument (sola fide) of justification and salvation. True faith is also the instrument of union and communion with Christ and it is the headwaters of the believer’s new, Spirit-wrought life in Christ. In other words, true faith is essential to good works.


In part 1 we focused on the contrast between an objective standard for Christian ethics and a subjective approach to Christian ethics. The historic Christian view, in contrast to Romanism and modern evangelical subjectivism, is that God’s moral law, revealed both in nature and in Scripture, is that objective standard for the Christian life. That there is a fixed, revealed, objective moral standard for the Christian life is a source of great joy to believers, or it ought to be, because it is the charter of Christian liberty. There are too many examples, some of which we observed in part 1, in the history of the church where Christian liberty has been held captive to nothing more than mere human opinion. It is easy to make a list of ways in which personal opinions and preferences have been elevated to law and imposed upon the consciences of other Christians. In the medieval period it to the church calendar. In the 19th and 20th centuries, among evangelical revivalists, the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco became marks of Christian piety. That Scripture says the opposite about alcohol—the case against the use of alcohol is remarkably weak—and nothing about tobacco seems not to have much influenced this view in the least.

The moral law is essential to the Christian life but there is something even more basic. Before we get to the law, however, we should start where the catechism starts: true faith.

91. What are good works?
Those only which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the Law of God, unto His glory; and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men (Heidelberg Catechism).

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