God Doesn't Need Your Good Works…But Your Neighbor Does

Pertinent to any discussion regarding justification and sanctification is the question of effort. In my recent back and forth with Rick Phillips on the nature of sin and its ongoing effect on the Christian, some have assumed that when I say there is no part of Christians that are sin free, I’m also endorsing a “why-even-try”, effortless approach to the Christian life–that I’m overlooking or understating the importance of “sanctification.” I suspect that one of the reasons for this is owing to my passion to help people understand the inseparable relationship between justification and sanctification.

Whether this was explicitly taught or implicitly caught, I grew up with the impression that when it comes to the Christian life, justification was step one and sanctification was step two and that once we get to step two there’s no reason to revisit step one. In my experience as a pastor, this is one of the reasons why it seems so new to people that the gospel is not just for non-Christian’s but for Christian’s too–that it doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, but fuels it as well. By giving people the impression that sanctification is progress beyond the initial step of justification, they have concluded that once God saves us (justification) he then moves us beyond his work into our work (sanctification): justified by God’s work, sanctified by our work. But justification and sanctification are both God’s work and while they can and must be distinguished, the Bible won’t let us separate them. Both are gifts of our union with Christ and within this double-blessing, justification is the root of sanctification and sanctification is the fruit of justification. Moralism happens when we separate the fruit from the root. Or, as I’ve said before, imperatives minus indicatives equal impossibilities. As G. C. Berkouwer said, “The heart of sanctification is the life which feeds on justification.” So, I think it’s fair to say that sanctification is the justified life.

Having said that, I think the best way to move this conversation forward is to introduce what was, in my opinion, one of Martin Luther’s most helpful contributions: his distinction between passive righteousness and active righteousness. This distinction was Luther’s way to describe the two relationships in which Christians live: before God vertically and before one another horizontally.

Luther asserted that our righteousness before God (coram Deo) is received and defined by faith. Our righteousness before one another (coram mundo), on the other hand, is active and defined by service. The reason this distinction is so helpful is because one of the insinuations whenever the doctrine of sanctification is discussed is that my effort, my works, my pursuit of holiness, my faith, my response, my obedience, and my practice of godliness keep me in God’s good graces. This, however, undermines the clear Biblical teaching that things between Christian’s and God are forever settled because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross (Romans 8:1; 31-39, Colossians 2:13-14). When we imply that our works are for God and not our neighbor, we perpetuate the idea that God’s love for us is dependent on what we do instead of on what Christ has done. We also fall prey to what John Piper calls “the debtors ethic”–paying God back for all he’s done for us.

However, when we understand that everything between God and us has been fully and finally made right–that Christian’s live their life under a banner that reads “It is finished”–we necessarily turn away from ourselves and turn toward our neighbor. Forever freed from our need to pay God back or secure God’s love and acceptance, we are now free to love and serve others. We work for others horizontally (active righteousness) because God has worked for us vertically (passive righteousness). The Christian lives from belovedness (passive righteousness) to loving action (active righteousness). His love for us begets love from us. As Jono Linebaugh puts it, “We are objects of love before we are subjects who love.” Because everything I need, in Christ I already possess (passive righteousness), I’m now free to do everything for you (active righteousness) without needing you to do anything for me. I can now actively spend my life giving instead of taking, going to the back instead of getting to the front, sacrificing myself for others instead of sacrificing others for myself. This is what Paul was getting at when he says in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith (passive righteousness) expressing itself through love (active righteousness).”

Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.

So, on the horizontal plane–in creature to creature relationships (active righteousness)–I’m happy to talk about effort, action, working out our salvation, practicing Godliness, etc. But the two crucial things I try to remember are:

  • It is the passive righteousness of faith that precedes and produces the active righteousness of love for others. Or, to put it another way, our active righteousness for others horizontally is the fruit of our passive righteousness from God vertically.
  • Also, be aware of the fact that our hearts are like a “magnet” that is always drawing the horizontal (non-saving) plane towards the vertical–we are always burdening our love for others (which fulfills the law) with soteriological baggage. In other words, we see our good works as a way to keep things settled with God on the vertical plane instead of servicing our neighbor on the horizontal plane.

It is for these reasons that it is so important for us to exert effort to pray, read the Bible, sit under the preached Word, and partake of the sacraments. Not because, as is too often assumed (and taught!), these things increase God’s love for us, but because it’s in those places where God confronts our spiritual narcissism by reminding us that things between he and us are forever fixed. It’s at those “rendezvous points” where God reminds us that the debt has been paid, the ledger has been put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess. This vertical declaration forever secures us and therefore sets us free to see the needs around us and work hard horizontally to meet those needs. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to “imperatives”, not as conditions that have to be met in order to get more of God’s love, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. The law, in other words, norms neighbor love–it shows us what to do and how to do it. Once a person is liberated from the natural delusion that keeping the rules makes us right with God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving word precedes and produces loving action, then the justified person is unlocked to love–which is the fulfillment of the law.

Fruit of faith therein be showing

That thou art to others loving;

To thy neighbor thou wilt do

As God in love hath done to you. (Luther)

This is also why it is important to fight sin and resist temptation. Sin and temptation is always self-centered. It is, as Augustine put it, “mankind turned in on himself.” Failing to believe that everything we need we already have in Christ, we engage in “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21), desperately looking under every worldly rock and behind every worldly tree for something to make us happy, something to save us, something to set us free. The works of the flesh are the fruit of our self-salvation projects. The root of these deadly behaviors is unbelief. Luther said, “The sin underneath all sins is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.” Out for ourselves, we become selfish indulgers of the flesh. We become so obsessed with having to get for ourselves that we don’t have time to love and serve others. Real freedom in “the hour of temptation” happens only when the resources of the gospel smash any sense of need to secure for myself anything beyond what Christ has already secured for me. We, therefore, “preach the gospel to ourselves everyday” because we forget it everyday. We mortify the selfish misdeeds of the body, not because our sin blocks God’s love for us, but because our sin blocks our love for others. To affirm that Christian’s are capable of grieving the Holy Spirit when we look out for ourselves and not others (Eph. 4:30) does not mean that God’s love for Christian’s fluctuates depending on how we’re doing (Rom. 8:38-39).

So, I’m all for effort, fighting sin, resisting temptation, mortification, working, activity, putting off, and putting on, as long as we understand that it is not our work for God, but God’s work for us, that has fully and finally set things right between God and sinners. Any talk of sanctification which gives the impression that our efforts secure more of God’s love, itself needs to be mortified. As Scott Clark has said, “We cannot use the doctrine of sanctification to renegotiate our acceptance with God.” We must always remind Christian’s that the good works which necessarily flow from faith are not part of a transaction with God–they are for others. The Reformation was launched by (and contained in) the idea that it’s not doing good works that make us right with God. Rather it’s the one to whom righteousness has been received that will do good works.

There’s so much more that can be said, but I hope this serves to clarify that my understanding of the Christian life is not “let go and let God” but “trust God and get going”–trust that, in Christ, God has settled all accounts between him and you and then “get going” in sacrificial service to your wife, your husband, your children, your friends, your enemies, your co-workers, your city, the world.

I also want to thank my friends Rick Phillips, Ligon Duncan, Mike Horton, Jono Linebaugh, Scott Clark and many others for taking this conversation seriously and being willing to think these things through, not to prove a point, but to serve the church. These are important matters and I’m grateful for all my friends (even when we disagree) for being open to pushing the conversation forward. It’s an honor to stand side by side and back to back with you all on the field of battle.


  • jeremiah says:

    Thanks you Tullian for clarifying what you are not saying and what you are saying. Though I wish the passages that talk about us pleasing God were brought to the table, this is helpful.

  • theoldadam says:

    When God is at work in us there is a battle that rages. The Spirit within us brings about repentance. And we return to our Baptisms…daily, as Luther said.

    This keeps us off the religious ladder and grounded in reality (seeing the world and ourselves for what we really are). But returning again and again an again to the promises of God, in spite of what we see going on around us, or in us. That’s faith. Trust.

  • anonymous says:

    thank you.

    Matt 22:36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it,’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

  • Paul St Jean says:

    ” to encourage one another to love and do good deeds”…(and) to help one anothers faith.BeHebn 10

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    “…What are the fruits which Christ points out. Those who confine them to the life are, in my opinion, mistaken. As pretended sanctity, and I know not what masks belonging to greater austerity of life, are frequently held out by some of the worst impostors, this would be a very uncertain test. Their hypocrisy, I do own, is at length discovered; for nothing is more difficult than to counterfeit virtue. But Christ did not intend to submit his doctrine to a decision so unjust in itself, and so liable to be misunderstood, as to have it estimated by the life of men. Under the fruits the manner of teaching is itself included, and indeed holds the chief place.” John Calvin

  • Pastor Ben Sadler says:

    This is what I love about Christmas! God’s eternal plan put into action to save his people WITHOUT OUR HELP AT ALL. And every time the message of Jesus’ birth is announced people are lead to praise, worship, and love. Mary sings her song, the shepherds run to the manger and run into Bethlehem, etc. it’s time to proclaim good news of great joy. and trust the message enough to change lives.

  • theoldadam says:

    That’s a good word, Pastor Sadler!

  • C. Donofrio says:

    This little piece is a delightful breath of fresh air, even for those who are well ensconced in the doctrines of the Reformation. Our preachers often retreat into a pietism that tries to preach the third use of the law after the Gospel has been proclaimed to sinners. You have grasped well the realities of the all inclusive nature of the Gospel that has its way with sinners, the Gospel that delivers nothing but the grace and mercy of Christ to set burdened hearts free to serve God in the serving of our neighbors.

    When we fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus has the first and last words, those words are redeemed and sanctified – for HIS sake and by His doing. What joys and blessings we share when we are but tools in the hands of the Master.

    Thank you for this wonderful piece of monergistic justification and sanctification.

    God’s Peace

  • Jason Dollar says:

    I’m delighted with what you have written. I read slowly and thankfully. Thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thankful for your skills of clarity and communication. Thankful for the fellowship of believers (even when they disagree).

    As a pastor of a smaller (Baptist) church, may I say that when you guys on the upper leadership rung handle these matters with grace and clarity, it helps us underlings do the same. You have provided a great example for us (exemplifying the grace of Christ) and I appreciate it.

  • Truth found!! says:

    Finally!! Why didn’t you clarify all this in the first place?!? Whew. Thanks a million. This is the exact explanation I have been looking for and trying to articulate here. Amen. Pressing On in Love and faith. Secure in His love. Awesome. I feel like doing a jig! I really loved this teaching here but felt strongly something was missing and many were misapplying what you had been saying here for last year or so. All is well. Hurrah.

  • Richard says:

    I’m wondering how Tullian would assess his fellow Gospel Coalition teacher D. A. Carson when he speaks of an aspect of God’s love in this way: “Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way–conditioned, that is, on obedience.” Carson’s comments are from his discussion in his short book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” which is available in its entirety on-line here

    I quoted page 19. I would be interested to see interaction with Carson’s treatment.

  • Scott Leonard says:

    Awesome post, and Richard, a good question. On the heels of that I would ask whether we give God more pleasure when we love our neighbor in the power of the Spirit, and do we give him less (grieve?) when we don’t?

  • theoldadam says:

    “Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way–conditioned, that is, on obedience.”

    Well…then why the cross? What was that all about?

    Jesus didn’t have to die if God’s love is dependent on ‘what we do’.

  • Paul says:

    Our neighbors do need our good works. Our hearts being overwhelmed by Jesus + nothing= everything will swell love and works for our neighbors. Here is the problem, we forget the Gospel and revert to being selfish until we believe the Gospel again. That is when we sin. That is why I need a Savior. If we focus on anything except Jesus and His Finished Works…other people’s works…we become selfrightous, and intolorant of people. Maybe even to the extent of thinking they…those who don’t do the works you think a Christian should do… are not even saved. I have heard Pastor Tullian preach on this several times. God Bless

  • Richard says:


    I would encourage you to read D. A. Carson’s first chapter in the book I cited and linked to. The fact that you ask the question you do demonstrates that you have yet to interact with Carson’s scriptural presentation–brief as it is in that book.

    I chose this quotation from Carson because I believe that he is trying to do exegetical justice to a certain strand of language throughout the Scriptures–both OT and NT. Dr. Carson is fellow promoter of the gospel with Tullian. He has a deep and abiding interest in the gospel and its proper definition as is evidenced by his recent essay: “What Is the Gospel Revisited” which is available here:

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    The world was judged at the cross where God’s full wrath was poured out against sin, my sin, which had been cast upon Christ. All that is left is the unbelief against this truth. Every failure to love God with all my heart, every failure to love my neighbor as myself, every ____________ (fill in the blank). It has been bought and paid for! Now the issue is “Do you believe it?” Unbelief is what sets God off. Unbelief that we have an advocate with the Father who pleads for us on our behalf. What better confidence can one have than to know the one who paid for everything in the first place, who has already asked the Father to “forgive them” while he died, is the one pleading your case in your favor… because he is the Son of the Father. Believe… and you’ve got it!

  • theoldadam says:


    Over 20 pages by DA Carson, to water down the gospel.

    No thanks. He can have the Pipers and the Taylors and their ‘a lot of God and a bit of me’ theology.

    “Your sin is forgiven for Jesus’ sake”…is all I need.


  • Richard says:

    Thanks for the response, theoldadam–it gives me some perspective on where you are coming from theologically.

    Now, I await with bated breathe to see if Tullian so quickly dimisses Carson as someone who is seeking to “water down the gospel.” I’m a bit new to this blog and I’m wondering if your viewpoint is reflective of Tullian’s or if he is a bit more nuanced in his approach to fellow Gospel Coalition bloggers.

  • PAUL says:

    A good point Richard. In any Coalition or what ever group you have Jesus+A little something=Everything. My family has been set free and radically change by the Gospel as preached by Pator T but a little “Grace but” teaching is tolarated by some of his GC buddies under “we are all on the same team” banner when in reallity some of these buddies question if you are even on the team (saved). I say give up the control and point toward the finished work of Christ only and let the Holy Spirit change us without your thoughts on how that should look. Its His work not ours. God Bless

  • Richard says:


    Thanks for the comments. I’m still wondering though if Tullian thinks “his GC buddies” are “watering down the gospel” and are pushing a “Grace but” teaching.

    I didn’t understand your comment: “I say give up the control and point toward the finished work of Christ only and let the Holy Spirit change us without your thoughts on how that should look.”

    I haven’t given any thoughts “on how that should look.” I asked about how Tullian would interact with D. A. Carson’s thoughts in his book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.” I do hope you are not judging me and how I approach the Christian life, gospel, etc. on that basis only!

  • PAUL says:

    Lack of communication. I was not referring to you at all. “You” was generic. Sorry for that. I am in 100% agreement of what your asking. I ask the same question about Pator T’s debate with K. DeYoung a few months ago (no response from Pastor). I thought Deyoungs comments was opposite of Pastor T’s teachings. I even called it another Gospel. So much for my cred. God Bless

  • Todd Christensen says:

    It is my firm belief that there are certain esteemed teachers and theologians that have not had their eyes blown wide open by the radical, freeing grace of the Gospel. Richard, I don’t know how Tullian would answer, but I do know that he constantly stresses that the very people that have been redeemed by God’s unconditional grace often perpetuate a “yes grace, but” attitude. I have not read D.A. Carson’s post, and to be honest with you I won’t because his writing has often caused my sensitive conscious to delve into doubt. I would simply note the lack of conditions on God’s love in Romans 5:8. Pretty hard to argue the unconditionality of that kind of love. I maintain that these guys often have good things to say but do not use pastoral discernment in how they say it.

  • Richard says:

    Just so I’m keeping up…Tullian’s fellow Gospel Coalition ministers:

    water down the gospel…

    proclaim a “grace but” gospel…

    lack pastoral discernment…

    and one has preached “another gospel.”

    So the question I have: Are these thoughts birthed out of Tullian’s views, consistent with Tullian’s teaching, or simply a rhetorically reckless over-extension of Tullian’s views?

  • Todd Christensen says:

    I’m sorry you can’t take a critique of your heroes in the faith, but mine is Christ who says plainly Whoever believes is not condemned! I rest in that, and yes I maintain that being a blogger for the Gospel Coalition does not set you above reproach or a gracious disagreement. My views have been developed in my own life by a more thoughtful consideration of the reassuring scriptures at our disposal. I simply love to read Tullian’s columns because it is refreshing that he (and many, many others) are refocusing on the radical grace of God. I’m sorry if I have offended you Richard, but there are truly many Christians with a sensitive conscious that have been raked through the coals of despair as a result of focusing on the changes that take place in us at the expense of the free unconditional grace of God in Christ. Please realize that many of us who read this blog are falling in love anew with the grace of Christ!

  • Todd Christensen says:

    Richard, I apologize and ask you to forgive me for my last post. I overreacted to your post, and did many of the things that I accused you of. So easy to become ungracious in these discussions. I think I should stick to reading the articles and leaving the comment sections alone. I was wrong, Sorry.

  • Richard says:


    Thanks for the apology–be assured of grace from me.

  • theoldadam says:


    I do appreciate the graciousness of your tone, while I do disagree with you and those you have cited as to what the gospel actually is.

    We Lutherans are bulldogs for the complete grace of Christ for the ungodly. People like you and me.

    Thank you, friend.

  • theoldadam says:

    One drop of ink in the pure, clean glass of water, wrecks it.

    There is a pure gospel. And that is worth defending.

  • Philippe says:

    Keep it up Pastor Tullian. Don’t let the David Murrays and Tim Challies and others keep you from “digging deeper” as Murray says. Alarmed by unconditional Grace and the Gospel? What foolishness. Keep preaching the Law and the Gospel and the monergism of justification and sanctification.

  • […] our thinking. I understand that those in teaching positions have a greater burden. What I believe Pastor Tchividjian is trying to do is remedial help for Christians like me who have spent years raking our souls over coals. My […]

  • Richard says:


    Thank you for your kind words.

    Not to belabor the point but when you write about how you disagree with me “as to what the gospel actually is” I need to point out that I have not defined the gospel in these posts. So what exactly are you disagreeing with?

    My initial point was to bring up D.A. Carson’s discussion of God’s love and his statement that there are passages that speak in a certain manner. I wondered how Tullian would interact with that. What happened in response was that a number of people began to speak disparaging remarks about Carson, Piper, Taylor, and DeYoung–up to and including one of these men being accused of preaching “another gospel.”

    I had hoped for more interaction–especially from Tullian–and not mere dismissal and name-calling. As some have recognized there does seem to be a difference among some of the Gospel Coalition writers. The question to reckon with is whether this difference is one of substance, emphasis, tone, or what?

    Hopefully, Tullian and the other Gospel Coalition writers could help model for us all the interaction that is needed on these crucial issues.

  • Bernard says:

    Well said, Richard, I couldn’t agree more with everything you have written and I admire your amiable and peaceful tone. We will have to wait to see if Tullian responds.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    These questions that Tullian, DeYoung, Carson and others have/are debating are part of a historical debate that will continue for another 2000 years. As a Lutheran I can come to terms with a Calvinist or Baptist as to what the Gospel actually is and concede that we will agree as to what it is… err… probably agree. What seems to me to be, at least a couple of the differences, is in 2 areas: How the Gospel is proposed and what that specific truth actually means in the life of those who believe it. What drove me out of the SBC and Calvinism are these fine points.
    In regard to Richard’s comment I think one has to take each person’s proposal of the Gospel independent of another’s and investigate it primarily in relation to substance and emphasis. Tone is really irrelevant to me… Good News brings a tone of its own as does the Law. We all know Good News when we hear it. It doesn’t have to be trained into the hearer any more than needing to learn to “low crawl” on the battlefield. It is inherent in the context in which you find yourself.
    If one’s proposal of the Gospel ends with an emphasis in the wrong place I will respond in one of 3 ways: Sarcasm, honest debate (completely dependent upon the content), or be amazed at a repeatedly stupid answer I’ve seen before and simply leave myself amazed without responding.
    I find myself to be extremely empathetic with Todd Christensen’s responses above. Many who find their way to these blogs are searching for serious answers to questions regarding assurance. It is in the final analysis – the question that lurks in every single mind. There are many authors who – for good intentions no doubt – miss the mark in their presentation of the Gospel. Again, in conversation we would probably agree as to what the Gospel is – but how it’s presented to the hearer and what it means in reality is where I find the irreconcilable differences. It’s Good News vs. Moralism or some other ism.

  • theoldadam says:


    I was going by what Carson said, and your seeming approval of that. Sometimes I don’t read as carefully as I ought (because it seems I’m always pressed for time), but that no excuse. I’m sorry if I mistook took you for a ‘grace plus, a little bit of something that we do’, kind of guy.

  • Todd Christensen says:

    Amen Mitchell. That was exactly what I was trying to say. I overreacted in my second post but was kind of offended at the insinuation some of us were being “reckless” and taking Tullian’s comments to far. As I have heard Tullian say before in his blog about pastor’s testing whether their preaching passes the grace test, “The litmus test that I use for myself is that if people walk away from my sermons thinking more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done, I’ve failed to preach the Gospel.” This casued my wife and I to choose another church. Just because the word “grace” is used in a sermon, doesn’t mean that the true grace of the gospel is being proclaimed. You can call it a matter of tone or emphasis, but sometimes I fear it is a more serious problem than that.

  • theoldadam says:

    “The law (what ‘we do’) is for the proud. The gospel is for the brokenhearted.”

    I think that was Forde. Or Luther. Or Nestingen. Or Mark Anderson. Or Tullian Tchividjian.

  • Anna says:

    So… what’s the point of this parable again?

    “This is what the story means: The seed is God’s teaching. Some people are like the seed that fell beside the path. They hear God’s teaching, but then the devil comes and causes them to stop thinking about it. This keeps them from believing it and being saved. Others are like the seed that fell on rock. That is like the people who hear God’s teaching and gladly accept it. But they don’t have deep roots. They believe for a while. But when trouble comes, they turn away from God. “What about the seed that fell among the thorny weeds? That is like the people who hear God’s teaching, but they let the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life stop them from growing. So they never produce a crop. And what about the seed that fell on the good ground? That is like the people who hear God’s teaching with a good, honest heart. They OBEY it and patiently produce a good crop.
    (Luk 8:11-15)

    Obviously we are saved by grace. That’s clear, but perhaps the greatest sign of true salvation is a joyous, obedient response to Jesus’ teaching. Not because it saves us, but because we’re aware of how good He is and how bad we are, and we know that it is through obedience that we become more like Him.

  • Matthew Jolley says:

    My question in response to this debate, is do you believe good works are necessary for salvation?
    Having been justified by grace through faith alone, do we also absolutely have to have good works and holiness in order to obtain eternal life, and without them we are lost?
    My answer would be yes, holiness is essential as the fruit of grace and justifying faith. What I find a little confusing about some of Pastor T’s comments is that this seems to be downplayed.
    Insisting that there must be change, repentance, good works, and obedience, is not legalism. It is a vital part of the call of the gospel. Our good works are not just about passing on God’s love to our neighbour, but also surely a vital condition of our eternal salvation? Our good works do not merit anything before God, but they are still a condition of entering heaven. Without them we do not have true faith.
    I imagine Pastor T would agree with that – but it is just as important to teach this side of the truth surely, as it is to teach free grace? i think there needs to be a balance.
    Is the concern some have raised about Pastor T. simply a concern about a lack of balance? That he is rightly teaching free grace, but not also teaching the need for good works in order to enter heaven with as much force? Is it just a case of a missing emphasis?
    Or does he and others not believe good works are necessary as a condition of eternal life? What do commentators on here believe?

  • John Murphy says:

    Philippians 4:18
    I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    The “seed” more specifically is the Gospel of Christ. To “obey” primarily is to “believe it.” The primary sign of being regenerate is believing. “What is it to ‘do’ the works of God? Believe on the One is sent.” It is through obedience that we serve those around us and indirectly those we don’t come in direct contact with as a farmer would raising crops or a soldier on the battlefield. God is fashioning/conforming us to be like Christ to be sure. This isn’t something one will be measuring and taking stock of the way they would measure a workout routine.
    “Good works?” Absolutely! They just aren’t our good works – they are Christ’s works imputed to us.

  • Matthew Jolley says:

    Dear Mitchell Hammonds,
    I’m afraid I am still a little confused by your most recent comment. What you say is true of our justification -that Christ’s good works are imputed to us. But what about our sanctification? Are not our own good works, apart from those of Christ’s imputed to us, also absolutely necessary?
    Are you saying that the command to obey and the only sign of regeneration is faith?
    Surely to obey Christ is to believe in Him, but must also include obeying all His other commandments and HIs law? Surely obedience cannot simply be reduced to believing in Christ?
    I think I have misunderstood you – could you please clarify what you mean for me?

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    The quote should read “What is it to be doing the works of God? Believe on the One who He has sent.”

  • Michael Kennedy says:

    I pray someone can answer my question here. When did we take scripture and just throw it out the window? What I’m getting at is this. A pastor will write a blog and another pastor would have to write another blog about the same topic to try and prove a point.

    3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
    4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
    5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
    Phil 2:3-5

    I believe this is a pride issue, it’s about I’m right and your wrong: hmm satanic. We need to remember that we are all part of the body (even if we don’t agree on everything)

  • GeoffC says:

    @Tullian, Thanks for helpful post, a really great clarification.

    As for Carson’s quote @Richard and @theoldadam, is Carson is talking about the difference between the benevolent and complacent love of God? God is always benevolent to us, but we experience his complacent love when we are “actively righteous” in loving our neighbour (John 14:23 etc.), An example would be that I always act lovingly toward my children (I wish!), but they experience that love differently depending on their behaviour.

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    No you didn’t misunderstand me. Sanctification is just as much of a gift as justification. There is no difference. It’s as if God creates what he demands. “Fear not” when confronted with God. Who can actually not be fearful before God? None of us can. So God must give us what He says. Rejoice always – who does this? Tell this to someone who isn’t joyful – probably for good reasons – and you may get a face full of colorful language that you earned. But be sure – God will cause the rejoicing He wants.
    What “good work” are you going to lay at the feet of Christ worthy of His acceptance? I can’t think of one thing I’ve done that has been done with the perfection and absolute unselfish nature required to do such a thing. I’m a husband – but not a very good one. I’m a father – but not a very good one. I’m a son – but…. you get the point.
    Good luck on obeying the law – isn’t that what got us into the fix we are in initially.
    And “believing” is simply nude trust in God – it’s all we’ve got. The Pharisee vs. the Tax Collector illustrates this point. Your problem is you think faith in the One who is sent” is a matter of simply doing it. However, it’s not easy – but impossible – but not for God. Go watch the debates between Christopher Hitchens and others. He was an ardent non-believer. That’s you and I apart from God creating what He demands. A non-believer. Imagine telling Hitchens to simply believe what he didn’t believe in. He would not because he could not. You have entirely too great of a view of yourself.
    Here’s a command for you “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to.” Makes us want to do the opposite – “no we will think of ourself in a good light” we say because we think God has fixed us rather than simply forgiven.

  • Austin says:

    Thanks for this post! Good reminders.


  • Anna says:

    Jesus is the One Foundation, but our works as believers will be judged. I, for one, do not want to only make it into heaven “as if I had escaped through fire” (see below). Perhaps that is those who believe in Jesus for salvation but never learn how to be obedient to what He taught? (Not saying I’m not one of those, but I’m learning.)

    “For we are partners working together for God, and you are God’s field. You are also God’s building. Using the gift that God gave me, I did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire.” (1Co 3:9-15)

  • Todd Christensen says:

    Anna I do agree with the fact that our works will be judged and we will receive rewards or suffer loss. (Not salvation – rewards.) However I love this Gerhard Forde quote that I think sums up what so many of us are trying to say, “What is a truly good work, one that might qualify as the fruit of sanctification? One, I think, that is free, uncalculating, genuine, spontaneous. It would be like a mother who runs to pick up her child when it is hurt. There is no calculation, no wondering about progress, morality or virtue. There is just the doing of it, and then it is completely forgotten. The right hand doesn‟t know what the left is doing. Good works in God‟s eyes are quite likely to be all those things we have forgotten! True sanctification is God‟s secret.” Our point is that the more we focus on the “it is finished” the more we will do good things naturally. God is not interest in just any kind of work, but also the motive. If the motive is to earn his favor it’s not a good work but an idol. The gospel in all it’s freeness, frees us to at least start in the way of this kind of spontaneous living.

  • […] Liberate and he blogs there and at the Gospel Coalition. Three days ago he wrote a post, “God Doesn’t Need Your Good Works But Your Neighbor Does.” This post has provoked quite a […]

  • Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Todd and Anna,
    I’m not sure being judged by our motives is a “good thing.” By the way, we (Christians) suffered the judgment of God at the crucifixion of Christ. There is no further judgment. If we are shown to be righteous before God it will have to be in accordance with what God demands and Christ is the only one I know of who has fulfilled that – imputation. As far as rewards go I would say doing a good deed because you think it gets you another “jewel in your crown” isn’t a motive I want God to judge me for. It’s still falls under selfishness by definition. We are, even as Christians, a mixed bag at best… I know my motives aren’t always pure nor am I prepared to say most of the time. It would be great to say we “do” out of spontaneity and without regard for how it will benefit us… because it’s the right thing to do. And maybe we do at times… I’m not willing to say.

  • Jack Miller says:

    Excellent post, Pastor Tullian!

    We mortify the selfish misdeeds of the body, not because our sin blocks God’s love for us, but because our sin blocks our love for others. To affirm that Christian’s are capable of grieving the Holy Spirit when we look out for ourselves and not others (Eph. 4:30) does not mean that God’s love for Christian’s fluctuates depending on how we’re doing (Rom. 8:38-39).

    Well said…

  • Brian Fitch says:

    In the book Saved by Grace by Anthony A. Hoekema he has a chapter on sanctification. He defines sanctification as follows…
    as the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us from the POLLUTION of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him.
    For some reason the word pollution was a big eye opener and made perfect sense concerning sin in my life. God Bless

  • Anna says:

    If sanctification requires NO self-effort, what did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27? Why did he compare the Christian life with that of an athlete in strict training– one who has to be disciplined and fight against his own body?

    “All who compete in the games use strict training. They do this so that they can win a prize–one that doesn’t last. But our prize is one that will last forever. So I run like someone who has a goal. I fight like a boxer who is hitting something, not just the air. It is my own body I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it.” (1Co 9:25-27)

  • Tullian Tchividjian says:


    Perhaps you didn’t read the post. The purpose of this entire post is to affirm the need to “make every effort”–to “trust God and get going.” As I say above, we need to fight sin, resist temptation, work, put off the old, and put on the new, as long as we understand that it is not our work for God, but God’s work for us, that has fully and finally set things right between God and sinners.


  • Jack Miller says:

    Eph. 2:8-10. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    Salvation is completely of God, by God’s grace, through faith alone in Christ alone. None of our own doings contribute to this gift from God. Not one of our best works adds to the saving work that Jesus completed on the cross for His people. Yet we work. Yet in sanctification, we do acts of goodness that are pleasing and acceptable in Christ to God; works He prepared way back in the counsel of His will that we should walk in. So there is effort, there is resisting sin, there is walking in new paths of righteousness, loving God and neighbor. But those efforts are the fruit of His Spirit, the result of an already graciously and completely secured salvation in Christ Jesus for us.

    Thanks again, Tullian for unashamedly and clearly proclaiming the gospel of God; “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Rom. 1:16)

  • Jack Miller says:

    By the way, I think the words of the English reformer Thomas Cranmer are apt:

    “Nor the faith also does not shut out the justice of our good works, necessarily to be done afterwards of duty towards GOD (for we are most bounden to serve GOD, in doing good deeds, commanded by him in his holy Scripture, all the days of our life): But it excludes them, so that we may not do them to this intent, to be made good by doing of them. For all the good works that we can do, be imperfect, and therefore not able to deserve our justification: but our justification doth come freely by the mere mercy of God…” (Thomas Cranmer – Salvation of Man – Homily of Justification)

  • Having read Murray’s critique, I think there is some confusion about what Tullian is presenting related to the justification/sanctification issue. If I’m reading Tullian correctly, he is saying that our works no more work for righteousness in sanctification than they do in justification. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any works, but the good works produced are for the benefit of others not as brownie points for ourselves.

  • Thanks Tullian. Great article. I love the quote from Luther. “The sin underneath all sins is the lie that we cannot trust the love and grace of Jesus and that we must take matters into our own hands.”

    I hope I am on the right track when I explain it..

    Declared righteous (justification) – Who I am in Christ
    Recreated righteous (regeneration – the start of sanctification) – Who Christ is in me
    Live righteous (ongoing sanctification) – Who Christ is through me.

  • […] God Doesn’t Need Your Works…But Your Neighbor Does – Tullian […]

  • FedExMOP says:


    Right on,

    You are pretty much echoing the words ofPaul in Galatians 3, it is foolish to think that having started out by faith(salvation), that we can be made perfect or completely mature(sanctified) by the work of the flesh. Galatians 3, in fact, the entire book of Galatians, makes it abundantly clear that sanctification comes through Faith in God, not through keeping the Law.

    Another place where Paul clearly speaks of this is in 1 Thes 4:3-5:24. The only place in the bible that actually uses the words “this is God’s will for you” twice, in 4:3 it says, this is God’s will for you, to be sanctified(made holy), then Paul goes on to list a lot of things that at first glance look like things we need to do to be made holy. But then we come to chapter 5, and Paul makes it fairly clear that the purpose of all this is for the benefit of those around us, and then caps it off with 5:24, saying that God is faithful, who has called us to become Holy, and will also Himself make it happen.

    Your post title, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does” could just as easily be the title of 1 Thes 4-5. Thank you for preaching the “true Gospel” message as Paul calls it in Galatians. That sanctification is not moving beyond faith, but moving deeper into faith, not moving from Christ’s work for us into our works, but rather learning to fully trust in Christ’s work and allowing Him to live His life through us.

    May God bless you and your family this season,

    Edwin “FedEx” Aldrich
    Associate Pastor,
    Set Free Ministries,
    Colorado Springs

  • […] Tchividjian has written a great post on how God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbour does: So, I’m all for effort, […]

  • […] one has been stirring for a while. Tullian’s recent post saying that Christians’ good works are for the benefit of others, not to please God, […]

  • […] one has been stirring for a while. Tullian’s recent post saying that Christians’ good works are for the benefit of others, not to please God, finally […]

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