Gerstner and MacArthur make unBiblical separation between meritorious and non-meritorious works. There is no such distinction in the Bible.
Again, the gospel message of Reformed Theology makes faith and works necessary for salvation.
Understand why: It is because man is spiritually dead, and is regenerated by God apart from any response on the part of man, and because God’s purpose cannot be thwarted ("true" faith cannot fail to issue in works), that a saved person will inevitably and absolutely "persevere" in the faith. Thus, works, as an inevitable result, are necessary for salvation.
Yes, Reformed Theology advocates usually object to this by describing the gospel message as not "faith + works = justification," but "faith = justification + works." I submit that anyone with a basic knowledge of logic can easily demonstrate that these two end up in the same place.
In the first equation, faith alone does not lead to justification; works must be added. But in the second, once again faith alone does not lead to justification; if works do not follow, then there was no faith. This is no more than a word game. It is best seen in the old Calvinist saying: "You are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves you is never alone." Let me complete it: "You are saved by faith alone (apart from works), but the faith that saves you is never alone (apart from works)." This is internally inconsistent.
Suppose you go to a car lot to buy a used car, and purchase a car for $5,000. If you have the $5,000, you may pay it right then. If you don’t, the salesman may arrange a loan for you to pay it back over a period of years. But does the fact that you don’t pay anything up front mean that you got the car free? Absolutely not. You are paying for it—the payment is just an inevitable result of your buying the car. To paraphrase the Classical Calvinist saying: "You are a car-owner by signing a sales agreement alone (apart from any money changing hands), but the signing of a sales agreement by which you are a car-owner is never alone (apart from money changing hands)." If the money doesn’t change hands, you lose the car (this wording reflects Arminian theology; in Calvinist theology, you never had the car in the first place!).
So too it is foolishness to say that salvation is by faith alone, but that faith is not true faith unless it comes with works. Let’s be honest: this is salvation by works! And in unguarded moments Reformed Theologians often say exactly this.
Again! John Gerstner is one such theologian. He writes:
"From the essential truth that no sinner in himself can merit salvation, the antinomian draws the erroneous conclusion that good works need not accompany faith in the saint. The question is not whether good works are necessary to salvation, but in what way they are necessary. As the inevitable outworking of saving faith, they are necessary for salvation."
"Thus, good works may be said to be a condition for obtaining salvation in that they inevitably accompany genuine faith." (Wrongly Dividing..., 210)
The apostle Paul would never agree with this! In fact, he is precise on the distinction between faith and works. For example:
"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Rom 4:4-5).
In Galatians 2:16, with an eye toward the legalistic theology of the Judaizers, he writes:
"…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; for by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified."
"…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5-6).
Of course, Lordship Salvation theologians know these Scriptures too. So how can they support works as necessary for salvation? They do it by creating two categories, non-meritorious works (works which inevitably result from salvation), and meritorious works (works which result in salvation). The former verify or validate one’s salvation; the latter, of course, are impossible.
These two categories of works result in comments like these from MacArthur:
"Meritorious works have nothing to do with faith. But faith works have everything to do with it…faith that does not produce works is dead faith, inefficacious faith. Faith that remains idle is no better than the faith the demons display." (MacArthur, Faith Works, 53)
Again on the same page:
"The believer himself contributes nothing meritorious to the saving process."
Later in the same book, he again writes:
"As we have seen time and time again in our study, meritorious works have no place in salvation." (Faith Works, 207)
Likewise Gerstner, in his book attacking dispensationalists, writes that virtually all dispensationalists do not see the elementary difference between non-meritorious "requirements," "conditions," "necessary obligations," "indispensable duties," and "musts," as the natural outworking of true faith, in distinction from faith in the Savior plus meritorious works as the very basis of salvation (Wrongly Dividing... 226).
Guilty as charged! I confess, I do not see this distinction in Scripture. In fact it isn’t there. It exists in Classical Calvinist/Lordship Salvation theology, but not in the Bible. Works are works; they either are or are not necessary for salvation. With the apostle Paul, I say they are not; we are saved "by grace…through faith…not of works" (Eph 2:8-9).