John Gerstner (1914-1996) was a Reformed theologian who strongly believed that doing good works are necessary in order to be justified.
Here is an article called “The Antinomian Way of Justification,” where Gerstner criticizes Charles Ryrie, as well as Zane Hodges, for being “antinomian” because both denied that saving faith must necessarily be accompanied by good works.
“Their “minus’’ is not against the person of Christ directly, or the nature of justifying faith directly, it has to do with the works that must follow a justified state.”
Of course, Gerstner understood that Free Grace people emphasize the importance of good works for many reasons (e.g., for fellowship, sanctification, and eternal rewards, but not to be justified):
“They always stress the advisability of good works. Good works are absolutely necessary for rewards. These preachers mightily urge people to abound in good works so that they may have an abundant reward in the world to come. Abounding in the works of the Lord, they teach, promotes a sense of blessedness and joy in the Lord even in this world. The absence of good works will disturb our fellowship with God. As long as they are lacking fellowship with the Savior, it is impossible to have peace, joy, or fruitfulness.”
However, according to Gerstner, that does not go far enough. Good works are not only necessary for sanctification, but also for justification. He begged Charles Ryrie to admit as much:
“If they will show that the person to be justified by faith must have his faith accompanied by good works, then I should be very happy to go immediately into print and indicate my personal gratification and endorsement of their view of justification.”
Although Gerstner claimed to believe and defend justification by faith alone, he clearly did not. For example, he specifically says that if a Christian steals a 5 cent light bulb, he is not really justified, and will be eternally condemned:
“A man who steals a five-cent light bulb, or embezzles $5 million from a bank, if he does not return it, is a thief. One is a bigger thief than the other, but both are thieves. If one takes property that does not belong to him and does not return it while it is in his power to do so, he is a thief.
“What is the standing of thieves? The Bible is utterly unambiguous on that subject. Thieves, it says, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Hence, Gerstner says that the only way such a person can be saved is if they repent of stealing.
“You say, ‘Yes, but the man may repent.’ Yes, I grant you that he may repent, and if he repents then he is no longer a thief. If he is a Christian who was overtaken in a fault, he can be restored. But one option is not open. He cannot continue in his thievery and be an heir of eternal life.”
As Gerstner says, you must keep the commandments in order to have eternal life.
“Christ was not saying that he would be saved by any merit in keeping the commandments. He simply answered a question as to how a person would inherit eternal life, and made it clear that there was no inheriting eternal life without keeping the commandments.”
But if you must keep the law in order to be justified, then how can Gerstner plausibly claim to believe in justification by faith alone?
Actually, Gerstner is very open, that you must have works in order to be justified:
“That faith which justifies is a working faith.”
Of course, what Gerstner did not see, I hope that you do see—there’s no difference between the Pope saying you are saved by faith plus good works, and Gerstner saying you are saved by a working faith. Both make faith and works a condition of salvation.
Isn’t it ironic that Gerstner concludes,
“So we sadly conclude that antinomianism is another gospel, which is not the gospel.”
On the contrary, Gerstner taught a false gospel by making works a condition of salvation.
PS: You might be wondering about the proof-texts Gerstner cites in favor of his position. I think his interpretation (actually, he doesn’t really give an interpretation, but assumes we all agree on what they mean) of those passages lands him in a serious contradiction that undermines his doctrine of justification. I find the Free Grace interpretations to be far more persuasive. If you consider yourself a Berean, willing to test your traditions against Scripture, I heartily encourage you to look up the proof-texts Gerstner cites in Zane Hodges’ books Grace in Eclipse, The Gospel Under Siege, Absolutely Free and in The Grace New Testament Commentary.