The brief for one of our subjects this semester was to take a couple of the 39 Articles and turn them into something we might put in a monthly or weekly pew sheet.  I was given number 13 and 14.  This is number 13.  Enjoy and comment. (See part 2 here)

The Articles of our Faith.  Shaping Us Then and Now
We are continuing our monthly series on the foundation documents of our church.  This month it’s Article 13.  How did it shape our church then and how does it shape us now? (For a full list of the articles see here)

Article XIII (13)
Of Works before Justification
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Everyone likes to be rewarded for what they do.  If we work hard, we like to see the fruit of our labour.  If we do something nice for our friends, we like them to say thank you, or perhaps even to pay us back sometime when we are in need.  Nobody enjoys the thought that their good deeds don’t earn them some sort of favour.

But perhaps one of the most scandalous tenants of the Christian faith is that, without a relationship with God, available only through faith in Jesus, our works cannot please God, they cannot win his favour, they cannot make Him be gracious towards us.  The starting point for us as Christians is to admit we don’t deserve God’s forgiveness but by his grace he gives it to those who trust Him.

Way back in the day (1500s) when the articles were first prepared, people thought that if a person did good things, then that person could start the process of returning themselves to God; That by doing good works they would be able to earn or ‘merit’ their salvation.  This article was written against such a view.

So how does this article shape us and our church life today?  Well, when I was in high school I used to look at my friends and those who didn’t seem to get drunk at parties that much, or who came from good homes, or who worked hard in class, and think to myself, these guys might be getting close to Jesus, to trusting Jesus.  I thought that they were ready to receive grace.  But this article reminds us of the scandalous truth of our faith.  That no one deserves grace, but that God gives it freely to those whom He choses.  Our job is not to work out who is ready, but to simply step out in prayer and faith and tell everyone the good news that has so captured our heart and life.  Jesus saves!

And secondly, we must remember that the start of our walk with God is repentance, turning away from our old life towards Jesus.  For before we put our faith in Jesus we have no good works for which God owes us a favour.  All our ‘good works’ (like walking the old lady across the street, or mowing the neighbours nature strip) if done outside, or prior to, our relationship with Jesus cannot win us favour before God.  If they are done for that purpose, then they are attempts at self-righteousness and must also be repented of.  When we come to God, we repent of our whole life that was lived for ourselves, putting ourselves in the place of God.  Whether we did good or bad in our eyes, or the eyes of this world, before meeting Jesus, we must repent of it all.

We are justified through faith in Christ alone, not by our good works.  This good news frees us from fear of failing God and enables us to take our message to the lowest of the low.  Jesus saves.

Further thinking and reading
If you would like to go more in-depth we recommend the following books