In August 2017, Kevin DeYoung posted a short article on the Gospel Coalition website titled “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones.” It was short, he began, “because the issue doesn’t seem all that complicated.” How wrong he was, if the responses have anything to say! DeYoung noted that the Game of Thrones TV series is replete with sex and nudity, yet so many Christians—some highly respected—seem to both watch it and openly rave about it. DeYoung doesn’t understand it.

There are many ways in which professing Christians might excuse being entertained by something like Game of Thrones, but one of them, which might be unique to Reformed Christians, is an appeal to grace and liberty. Grace always forgives and liberty, we are told, pretty much sets us free to do whatever we want. Paul anticipated this attitude in his letter to Rome (6:1–4ff), and the Confession 5.5 directly confronts this attitude.

Saving faith and justification will, however, always result in a life of good works characterised by supreme love for God and for one’s neighbour (Romans 6:4, 14; Ephesians 2:10; 1 John 5:1–5). According to Scripture, good works proceed from true faith, conform to the law of God, and are motivated by a desire for God’s glory (Psalm 112:1; Romans 2:7; 14:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Timothy 1:5). Whereas unbelievers are unable to perform such works, believers have been and are increasingly sanctified by God’s word and Spirit to their performance (Romans 8:3–11). Though the war with remaining sin continues as long as life in this world, the power of Christ enables believers increasingly to mortify sin and to grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (John 15:5; Romans 7:14–15; 3-4; 1 Corinthians 9:24–27). Therefore, while good works are not the root of true faith or the ground of justification, they are the necessary fruit—and evidence of the genuineness—of saving faith and justification (James 2:17, 26). Sanctification is so inseparable from justification that a person who fails to produce good works (as defined above) as a habit of life has no grounds for considering himself a believer (Matthew 7:21–23; 1 John 2:4). (Sola 5 Confession 5.5)

Having affirmed that justification is entirely by the grace and merit of Jesus Christ, the Confession continues: “Saving faith and justification will, however, always result in a life of good works characterised by supreme love for God and for one’s neighbour.”

Romans 6:1–14 says something about what “good works” look like. In this context, good works are about far more than doing good things for other people. While this is certainly one form of good works, the context of Romans 6 suggests that good works are works by which we overcome sinful tendencies. You can do all sorts of good works for people in public and yet violate the spirit of this text by persisting in works of darkness in private.

Ephesians 2:10 offers further support to the claim that “saving faith and justification will … always result in a life of good works.” There, Paul tells us here that “God prepared” good works those whom he saves. Immediately, Paul applies this by showing the need for reconciliation between those who, naturally, are at enmity with each other. Reconciliation between Jew and Gentile was a radical concept in the first century, but it is a necessary good work that God had prepared for those whom he saved. If our profession is not attended by genuine love for God’s people, there is every reason to examine whether our profession is genuine.

Our obedience should not be rote and grumbling. John clearly tells us that God’s people do not find his commands burdensome and therefore they obey gladly (1 John 5:1–5). If our obedience is always half-hearted and grudging, there is good reason to examine our profession. John tells us that Christian obedience “overcomes the world.” In this context, overcoming the world has to do with sanctification—with increasingly being characterised as one of God’s joyfully obedient children, and decreasingly as one who is characterised by conformity to the patterns, thinking, and behaviours of the world. Being different as a Christian is about deliberately pursuing holiness.

The Confession defines what biblical “good works” look like: “According to Scripture, good works proceed from true faith, conform to the law of God, and are motivated by a desire for God’s glory.”

Psalm 112:1 pronounces a blessing on the one who “fears the LORD” as evidenced by delight in his commands. We are often told that, for Christians, “fear” is nothing more than reverential respect. While reverence is an important element in fearing God, there is a sense in which even Christians should have a healthy terror of what God might do to them as the consequences of sin. Ask Ananias and Sapphira. Ask the Corinthians, who faced very real consequences for their abuse of the Lord’s Supper and their lack of consideration for the body.

Romans 2:7 speaks of “good works” being pursued with “patience.” “Patience” speaks of consistency or endurance. It implies that a life of good works must be pursued with perseverance. Good works are not a once-off thing that we manifest and then forget about. When God saves a person, he produces in that person a life of persistent good works.

Paul writes in Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Contextually, Paul means that good works must proceed from confidence (faith) that we are doing what is pleasing to God. If we act while there is doubt in our mind as to whether or not we are doing pleases the Lord, or while we inwardly know that what we are doing does not please the Lord, we stand condemned—that is, we have no excuse for our actions. First Corinthians 10:31 echoes this exhortation to actively pursue God’s glory in the exercise of our liberty.

The confession states that our obedience must “conform to the law of God.” While we are free from striving to obey the law as a means of justification, God’s standards have not been entirely voided for Christians; on the contrary, Christians exclusively have the ability to joyfully and God-glorifyingly obey those standards.

The Confession draws a distinction between unbelievers and believers when it comes to obedience to God’s law: “Whereas unbelievers are unable to perform such works, believers have been and are increasingly sanctified by God’s Word and Spirit to their performance.” Unbelievers may be able to do good things (i.e. humanitarian deeds), but they are not able to perform works that “proceed from true faith, conform to the law of God, and are motivated by a desire for God’s glory.”

The Confessions offers Romans 8:3–11 as support for this aspect of the salvation. Paul clearly states that a mind set on the world is hostile to God. Christians should become increasingly uncomfortable, rather than comfortable, with the world. While we should become all things to all people to by all means save some, there is a difference between contextualising for the sake of the gospel and embracing sin.

The Confession speaks of the necessity of good works: “Though the war with remaining sin continues as long as life in this world, the power of Christ enables believers increasingly to mortify sin and to grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (John 15:5; Romans 7:14–15; 3-4; 1 Corinthians 9:24–27). Therefore, while good works are not the root of true faith or the ground of justification, they are the necessary fruit—and evidence of the genuineness—of saving faith and justification (James 2:17, 26). Sanctification is so inseparable from justification that a person who fails to produce good works (as defined above) as a habit of life has no grounds for considering himself a believer (Matthew 7:21–23; 1 John 2:4).”

A host of verses are provided for this affirmation. Matthew 7:21–23 perhaps most pertinently supports this affirmation. Jesus said that there was more to salvation than empty profession. In fact, there is more than a profession accompanied by spectacular, external works. Christianity is evidenced in persistent, joyful, heartfelt obedience to the commands of God. Many with empty professions, and some with spectacular works, will find themselves condemned at the Day of Judgement.