Fri May 1 Q 123: Means of Acceptable Works
123. By what means, the, are they made acceptable?
It is by faith. That is to say, that a person is assured in his conscience that God will not examine him harshly, but covering his defects and impurities by the purity of Jesus Christ, He will regard him as perfect.
When I was a teenager, my father allowed me to earn money for free spending by washing his car. It was a simple task, but one I could not ever seem to complete perfectly, (and the same could be said for cutting the lawn). For after I finished my washing, my father would come to inspect the car and find spots that I had not cleaned well, or sometimes, not at all (i.e., between the bottom of the front fender and the front door). The problem was not that my dad was a stickler, but that I was not a professional car detailer! Dad was trying to encourage me to be faithful. However, in the Lord’s grace, I also came to understand the need for humility in thinking a job was done perfectly.
Each believer needs humility about his own works, always saying, “not I, but grace” (I Cor 15:10; cf. Rom. 7:25; 12:6; 15:15; I Cor 3:10; 2 Tim 2:1). The catechism is correct to remind us that our assurance of the acceptability of our works before God – works wrought by the power of the Spirit, no less! – rests in the Father’s acceptance of Christ and his perfect, sinless, fully obedient work alone (Jn 8:29; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:20-21). We have this assurance by faith (cf. Gal 5:6). Never will our works be perfect in the sight of God. Even attempts to use “perfect” to describe exceptional athletic play or a sermon derived from a very meticulous and sound exegesis of a text of Scripture are out of place. For the “perfect” game might be riddled with mistakes only visible to the coach’s eye and player’s mind; the “perfect’ sermon might come with pride from the preacher – unseen to the preacher and the audience – about his own exegetical or theological skill, and/or a misapplication of the correct concept behind the tense or aspect of a Greek verb that is noticed only years later. There are no perfect dates, perfect school choices, or perfect meals; neither is there any perfect leading of worship services, perfect ministry to a widow in need, or perfect counseling sessions. All of our works are tainted with sin, inadequacy, pride, and meaninglessness (cf. Eccl 1:2-3). They might be complete, but never are they righteous. Only Christ alone acted in perfection before the Father and is accepted as such. We are accepted in him (2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:10).
The good thing about my dad is that after he would go back and wipe over a spot I had missed, he would still pay me for my incomplete job now made complete by him. I am grateful our Heavenly Father will do even greater for sinners on the basis of Christ’s blood and his sin-washing work on the Cross.