Since we’re saved by grace alone, what does this mean about our obedience to God? How do these two work together.
Clearly, Christians know that they are saved by grace and not by works. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9), so “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11). This doesn’t mean we break the law indiscriminately just because we’re saved by grace and not by works. No one who continues to live in sin can claim any assurance in their salvation (1st John 3). The love of God will be evident in the believer’s life (1st John). It’s not the law that’s the problem…you and I are lawbreakers, everyone! The law “was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (Gal 3:19), and “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:24-26). We are not saved by works but for works (Eph 2:10). We are saved only by the grace of God, the free, unmerited favor of God Himself.
As we have read, we are not saved by works. That’s because no amount of works, even if we did a million of them in a lifetime, would ever be enough to save ourselves, let alone someone else. The gap between God and man is so infinite that it can only be bridged by God Himself, but that’s just what God has done through Jesus Christ and the cross. For those of us who have trusted in Him, we have been redeemed by Him and purchased by His own blood, as He literally gave His life as a ransom for us (Mark 10:45). Those facts should compel us into service for our Lord because it’s all to Him that we owe. The Apostle John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1st John 1:6-7). What this verse is saying is, “The blood of Jesus His Sons keeps on cleansing us from all sin.” It is continuous in nature. That’s important, because John writes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1st John 1:8). I have yet to meet a sinless man, and if they claim to be sinless, why aren’t they in heaven? I would remind them that “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1st John 1:10). I met a man in our church that didn’t stay around for long because he didn’t like us referring to ourselves as sinners, but that’s the truth (1st John 1:8, 10). The difference is we can be cleansed from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:9), so how do grace and obedience work together? Are they mutually exclusive or inclusive? Are they contrary to one another?
I believe grace and obedience work together and are not contrary to one another. God saved us by grace alone so we can’t brag about that (Eph 2:-9), but He didn’t save us to sit and stew as pew potatoes. He saved us to walk in the works that He’d planned long ago. Paul writes that God created us for a purpose (Eph 1), and “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What that means is, before we even existed, God had already determined to save us, but He also appointed opportunities in life for us to do good things for His glory. The question is, will we walk in the good works that God has prepared for us? There are no shortages of things we can do for Christ, and although these works of obedience don’t save us, they are done because we are saved. No one is saved by works, but they are saved for works. Regarding the final judgement that is coming, Jesus said to His disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:35-36), but “the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you” (Matt 25:37-38)? They were so devoted to Christ that they didn’t even keep track of all they had done for Christ in visiting prisoners, the sick, helping the poor, and being hospitable to strangers. If we remind everyone of all our good works, God will forget them, but if we forget them, God will remind everyone of our good works…at the judgment, some will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21), because “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40).
It is so easy to get wrapped up in works and then to let everyone know about it, but Jesus wants us to keep our rewards for our good works and not lose them by hearing the accolades of men. They are intended to glorify God and not us, besides, what do we have that we did not receive from God (1st Cor 4:7)? Grace is freely given, so bragging about that is out. Obedience is our reasonable duty, although that doesn’t save us. There is a balance between the grace of God, freely given to those who believe, and the obedience of the believer, who should feel compelled to do things for Christ out of love. When we understand the immensity of our salvation, then our deepest gratitude should be reflected in obedience to Him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and as a result of keeping “my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10). This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect, but the Bible teachers that “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1st John 2:6), and by now, we should know what that walk is all about (Eph 2::10).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is host of Spiritual Fitness and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.