John 5:28–29 seems to teach salvation by works:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (ESV)

How do Calvinists explain this passage?


The note for John 5:29 in the John MacArthur NASB Study Bible (MacArthur is Calvinist) says:

Jesus was not teaching for justification by works (see 6:29). In the context, the "good" is believing on the Son so as to receive a new nature that produces good works (3:21; Jas 2:14-20), while the "evil" done is to reject the Son (the unsaved) and hate the light, which is the result of evil deeds (3:18,19). In essence, works merely evidence one's nature as "saved" or unsaved (see notes on Ro 2:5-10), but human works never determine one's salvation.

There is no note specifically for John 5:28.


There is no more teaching a "salvation by works" in this passage than in the epistle of James: in line with Jesus' teaching that you will know the righteous by the fruit they bring forth, those who are saved will bring forth good fruit - ie good works - and those who are not will bring forth bad fruit.

Does this mean all works performed by someone saved are "good"? No. Likewise it cannot mean that all works performed by the unregenerate are "bad". But the heart is the wellspring of life, and will show its nature in how the person acts.

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