Good works and commandments.

I was raised a Catholic so we didn’t delve into the mysteries of Protestant doctrine.

But I’m in the middle of a book of the Reformation and it’s got me wondering. One of the central tenets of Protestantism is that a person cannot be saved by good works. Salvation is by faith only and nothing else you do in your life will have any effect on salvation.

If that’s the case, then why did God issue all those Commandments? There’s apparently only one real rule - Believe in God - and nothing else matters. So why tell people to respect their parents and not bear false witness and not commit murder and not eat pork? Aren’t all these Biblical rules on things we’re supposed to do show that works do matter to God?

Take the number of Protestant denominations. That’s the number of different answers you’ll get to your query, at a minimum.

If you truly love God you will obey what God tells you to do out of love for Him and since the commandments are good out of love of other people.

So are you saying that Biblical commandments are just a means of showing willing obediance to God? That it’s not the conduct being regulated which matters as much as it is the willingness to obey the law? God could have ordered people to not eat beef instead of pork because the real point was to create a dietary restriction?

As I said, this is one of the earliest and most central tenets of Protestantism.

No, I think Protestants would say that God does have a plan as to how we should live, and that it is good to live in accordance with that plan; hence the commandments. Beef and pork may not be central to the plan, but avoiding murder, theft, adultery and falsehood certainly is.

Living in accordance with God’s plan may not bring you salavation - only faith does that - but it is intrinsically good, and therefore you should want to do it for its own sake, and not as part of a transaction for some reward. It is a mistake to reduce Protestantism (or Catholicism or Orthodoxy or . . . ) to an essentially mercantile transaction in which we trade something in order to secure salvation.

So you feel that biblical commandments are essentially the equivalent of a secular law code? Breaking a commandment is a bad thing to do to other people but it has no consequences to my relationship with God?

The commandments were provided to show that we could never follow them and needed another route to God that of the Grace of Jesus. We were never meant to follow the commandments, such as King David and Jesus violate the written code yet found blameless.

The works of faith comes from Christ in us, and not our own effort (as our own efforts are like filthy rags in the sight of God (literally menstrual rags).

Not me; I’m not a Protestant. I’m trying to explain the Protestant position as best as I can understand it, but an actual real live Protestant might authoritatively disagree with me.

I doubt that a Protestant would say that breaking the commandments has no consequences for one’s relationship with God.

Leave aside pork for a moment - unrelated arguments about, e.g. supersession could
be advanced to suggest that this is not a commandment addressed to Christians - and consider a commandment that all Christians accept as directed to them, and binding on them; you must love God with all your heart and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.

I think a Protestant (or other) Christian would say that more specific commandments to acknowledge God, not to murder, etc can be understood as amplifications or applications of this great commandment.

I think he would also say that fidelity to that commandment, and its more specific corollaries, is the natural outcome of faith in God. “Faith”, remember, is more than simple assertion, and more than simple belief. It calls for a lived, realised belief. Thus, although I may say that I have faith in God and I believe that Jesus Christ is his son, but I am murdering and adultering away to my heart’s content, I don’t actually have life-giving faith. I may have some belief or conviction, but I’m not working it out, or attempting to do so, in how I live. Nor is my life of murder and excess, gratifying as it may be in other respects, calculated to build on my belief and turn it into a realised faith.

So, my avoidance of adultery and giving of alms don’t in themselves save me. But in so far as they are a working out in my life of my belief in God, they not only show but give life and reality to the faith that saves me. Conversely if I engage in adultery and avoid almsgiving, that way of living is a barrier to the realisation of my faith so, yes, it does adversely affect my relationship with God.

An interesting take.

But the Commandments are clearly written to be obeyed. If God put them in the Bible as a form of deception, then how can we judge whether any part of the Bible is true? Maybe following the Commandments is the real means of salvation and it’s the scripture that says we can be saved by faith alone that’s the lie.

I wouldn’t say that it has no consequences - repeated, deliberate and/or habitual breaking of commandments will damage your relationship in the same way that breaking your marriage vows will damage your relationship with your spouse. You may technically still remain married, but the chances of the relationship surviving diminish.

Ultimately, most Protestant denominations teach that salvation comes through God’s Grace alone - nothing we do can earn it. Not good works, not obedience to the commandments, not even (IMHO) a declaration of faith. SeeEphesians 2


When you were a kid, did your parents ever have any rules or commands they expected you to follow? If you broke those rules, would they disown you, so that you weren’t part of the family any more? If not, then why did they issue the rules, and why did you follow them?
The basic Protestant Christian view is that you aren’t saved by what you have done but by what God has done. You might even get Catholics to agree on that. What the different denominations, and/or the different individual Christians, disagree over is matters relating to what you can or must do to receive or reject that salvation. At least, that’s my non-expert understanding.

Actually the commandments of the “old testament” are not commandments to christians. They are part of the covenant between God and the Isrealites. When Christ came, he established a new covenant and there are only two commandments:

  1. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
  2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Live up to those expectations, and pretty much everything else will fall in place.

Wilbo523 has the mainstream Christian answer. There was a thread a few months back about the biblical basis for Christians’ belief that the covenant in the Old Testament has been superseded. Note that this is not a specifically Protestant belief. No Christians keep kosher, for instance.

Moreover, “good works” in terms of Catholicism refers to the sacraments, doesn’t it? Someone who has broken the Commandments or otherwise sinned against God can still be saved through confession and absolution, right?

If the Ten Commandments are not relevant to Christians, why is it the Christians who keep shoving them in the public’s face?

Because, while all christians are enlightened, some are more enlightened than others. :wink:

Seriously, many christians are not real good theologians, and just parrot back what many uneducated ministers squawk at them.

This is the central contradiction I’m asking about. If faith alone is sufficient then faith alone is sufficient. But if you say that you also have to obey the Commandments then you’re saying that faith alone is not sufficient - that obeying the Commandments (good works) is a necessary step towards salvation.

Protestants would typically say that good works are a manifestation of one’s faith, a sign that the Holy Spirit is working within you. See, e.g., question 86 to this creed. In other words, if you’re sinning, you should consider that a sign that your faith may not be as strong as it should be.

Except that Jesus & the Apostles both reiterate the commandments to honor parents, not murder-steal-adulterize, and more. The Two Commandments, both of which are in Torah, are just considered a summary of the Ten & the other moral commands of Torah.

The Catholic, Orthodox & Protestant Churches all teach we are saved through the Grace of God thru Jesus Christ, and that we should first, entrust ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and second, live out that faith through striving to grow in loving obedience to God’s moral standards. Christians, including Protestants, differ in the degree that the latter is required. Some believe that once a person truly commits oneself to Christ in faith, that nothing- including rampant disobedience or later denial of the faith- will break that eventual salvation. Others believe that one sin totally undoes one’s tie to God & that repentance/recommitment is needed all over again. Most hold that if you keep faith in God/Christ, keep striving to do better & don’t wallow in sin, you’ll be OK.

The commandments are not all good.