June 13 – LD 24, Day 3: The Uselessness Of Our Works
by Prof Herman Hanko

Read: Psalm 10

Our teacher is very patient with us and tells us in some detail why it is impossible for our works to be in any way the basis for our justification.

The first reason is that if our works must serve as a ground for our justification, they must be “absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law.”

This clearly is true. God is, in His own divine being, a righteous God. He created man in true knowledge and holiness, but also righteousness. As all God does is in perfect conformity with His holiness, so he made man able to do all things in perfect conformity with God’s holiness. That is the righteousness approved by God.

Where someone is found who is as righteous as God demands, you will find a person whose whole life is in conformity with the law of God. His thoughts and desires, his words and deeds are all perfectly in conformity with the law that God has given for man.

But we must not forget that that law is: “Love the Lord thy God. And love him with all thy heart, mind, soul and strength.” An outward conformity with the law will not do. It must be a conformity to the law of God that characterizes our entire nature.

But where can such righteousness be found?

The answer to that question is the second reason why our good works can never be the ground of our justification: “Our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.”

That is the indictment of Scripture.

Notice that our teacher is not now talking about wicked people; he is talking about God’s people, who through the power of God’s grace, actually do good works. He is talking about our worship of God, our prayers, our instruction of our children, our care for the poor, our refusal to indulge in all the sinful activities of the wicked world in the midst of which we live.

Our teacher is talking about our works in this life. Another day is coming, for which this life is the preparation. But we live in this life as God’s people. Can we claim, in this life, to keep God’s law perfectly? We cannot!

Worse yet, it is true we do good works, but every good work is imperfect. We sing God’s praises, but not from the heart. We pray, but our minds wander during our prayers. We pray for God’s grace to escape a particular sin, but we add in our hearts, “Not yet, Lord. I want to enjoy this sin a while first.” We help the poor, and hope to gain glory for it. We witness to others, but do so very imperfectly. Our best works are still imperfect.

In a striking passage, Isaiah calls our “righteousnesses”, that is, our very best works, like “filthy rags”; that is, like menstrual rags. That certainly does not say much for them.

How often we must ask God for forgiveness for our “good” works, for our best works are still corrupted and polluted by sins!