I saw this question on Reddit recently:

Do Reformed preachers not see the stupidity of telling people not to rely on their works while also saying genuine faith produces good works?  It just seems like double-speak to avoid being labeled Catholic or Arminian.

I reply:  this Reformed preacher fails to see the stupidity in this at all.  I’ll explain.

There is an important distinction being missed here by the questioner.  In Reformed theology, we distinguish between the basis of your salvation and the outcome/response to your salvation.  Drawing on the Bible, Reformed theology teaches that the basis or ground of our salvation is only in the finished work of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24).  His perfect obedience and his perfect sacrifice on the cross constitute my righteousness before God.  I can be justified – declared righteous – only because of Christ.  Therefore, I rely on him and what he has done, rather than on me and what I have done. 

Having been saved by God’s free grace in Christ, I’m brought to love him.  It’s this love that compels me to want to please him by doing his will (John 14:15).  The Holy Spirit has turned my heart towards God and he leads me to want to do good works.  Though not consistently, I now want to pursue sanctification – growing in holiness before God.  I’m not relying on my works as the basis for my salvation, but I am becoming zealous to live for God’s ways simply because I love him.  There’s nothing stupid or inconsistent about that. 

In fact, the Bible describes the relationship of believers to God in terms of adoption (Romans 8:15).  The adopted child hasn’t earned his or her adoption.  You’re in that relationship with your Father through his grace.  It’d be silly to think that the adoption is because of your effort, your works.  But now that you’re in that relationship, you love your Father and you want to do the things that please him.  That’s how love works.  When you love someone, you want to please them.  That’s not stupid, but quite natural.

Reformed theology teaches a monergistic view of salvation – monergism means that one (monos) works to effect salvation.  It’s by God’s grace in Christ apart from human works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Opposed to that are synergistic views of salvation – synergism means that there is a cooperative effort involved at the ground level of our salvation.  A human being has to work with God in order to effect salvation.  Roman Catholicism and Arminianism are synergistic teachings.  The Reddit questioner seems to think that Reformed theology is equally synergistic because it teaches that “genuine faith produces good works.”  But, as I’ve explained, there’s far more than a semantic distinction between justification (where good works profit nothing) and sanctification (where good works appear as fruit).  If you can’t see that, well, you just might be…well, uh, unable to grasp a key theological distinction?