Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trent on Justification - Canon 31

The 31st canon addresses an error related to the good works that Christians must do.

If any one saith, that the justified sins when he performs good works with a view to an eternal recompense; let him be anathema.

It is no more sinful to hope for an eternal reward than it is for a child to hope to receive a reward from his father for doing good. Only a troll of a parent would say otherwise. Only a troll would send such a child away empty-handed, and our heavenly Father would not do that to us in return for our good deeds, done for love of him and in hope of his blessing.

Of course, if one does such works not out of love for God, but rather by way of hoping to extort something from God, he is gravely mistaken. We may not say, “I’ve done so many good things that God just has to let me into heaven.” We cannot merit initial justification by anything that we do, as we have seen repeatedly in this series. That is the gift of God, given solely by his grace (and nothing in canon 31 contradicts this).

That bad attitude reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Dad tells Calvin that he can earn a dollar (or some amount of money) by picking up sticks in the yard. Calvin, in high dudgeon, retorts that he won’t do it for less than two, or five, or some such amount (something a few times more than he was offered). Dad replies, “In a minute you’ll do it just because I say so,” at which point Calvin haughtily accepts the dollar.

We don’t deserve dollars from God, and it is ridiculous (and wicked) for us to start supposing that our good deeds are worth quite a lot, and we had best get it. With that attitude, our works are worthless.

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