Saved by grace vs. works
The role of grace and works is probably in the top 5 of most misunderstood Bible concepts within the Christian world. I have been on both sides of this debate. I have accused other Christians for believing in righteousness by works, but now I am standing on the other side where I am being accused for believing that very thing. So let me explain what is really going on here.
Right off the bat, do I believe that I am saved by works? By the things I do or don’t do? My answer, a resolute no! I firmly hold the beliefs as set forth in for example this Bible passage:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
Grace, a gift that I have not, do not and never will deserve or earn. It is only because of God’s grace that I can be saved -praise God!
Then why am I accused for believing that I am saved by works?
Simply put, it is because I also hold the beliefs set forth in the verse after the quoted passage.
… For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
I believe in doing good works too. Let me explain what I mean.
I’ll first share an illustration, then make the spiritual application of it and then tie it together to answer the above question.
The relationship motivation
I have been married for almost four years and I just cannot begin to describe how much I love her! Oh and by the way, from right after the moment that we said “I do” and the ceremony ended, I have not seen her.
Shocked? Yeah, that would be a bit concerning right?
Or what if I told you that even after these four years I have no idea what she likes to do on a normal day. I don’t know what kind of food she likes. No clue about her view of the future. Come to think of it, I don’t know any of her interests at all… And frankly, I couldn’t care less anyway.
Sound any better?
Why is it that you picture my marriage in these scenarios as -to put it mildly- unhealthy?
It’s because that is not what we expect love to behave like. Right?
Baking fresh bread
Let me reassure you, neither of those scenarios applies to my marriage. We are happily married. Just the other day for example, I baked my wife some healthy bread. Why do you think I did that?
Do you think that I made the bread to earn the right to be married to her? Or to make sure that we stay married? Or maybe because then I deserve to be married more than other husbands who don’t make their wives bread?
I hope you can figure the answer to those questions… (NO! in case you didn’t know)
Why then would I bake her bread? Why would I spend time, money and effort on that? Because I knew that she loves it! And I like to make her happy, because I love her. When you love someone, you want to do what you can to please that person.
So why did I give a relationship illustration? Let me answer that question with highlighting something in a Bible verse. Something small yet with HUGE implications.
“I am the way, the truth and the life”
Most Christians are very familiar with this statement from Jesus. But have you ever thought about the significance of the second word: I AM?
Notice, Jesus did not say “I HAVE the way, the truth and the life”. Else you can come to Jesus, “take” the eternal life, and say your goodbye’s. Just like the (made up) example I gave of not having seen my wife from the day we got married. “I got married, that’s what I wanted, bye…”
But He says, am. Why?
Because you cannot find the way, truth or life, outside of the person of Jesus Christ. He IS all these things. Which means, if you want the way, then who do you need? Jesus. If you want the truth? Jesus. The life? Jesus.
What does this tell us?
That Christianity is not about WHAT we can receive, it is about WHO we can receive. The highlight of the Christian experience is to have Jesus in your life. A relationship with your Creator and Savior.
Pleasing the Lord
The reason why you engage in a relationship with a person, especially an intimate one, is because you love the other person. So in that relationship, love motivates you to want to do what the other person likes.
It is the same in our relationship with Jesus. The love that made you want to engage in the relationship, is the same love that inspires you to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). You want to “please him in every way” (Colossians 1:10).
And guess what you’ll soon find yourself doing? Good works! You do things that He likes. You stop doing things that He doesn’t like. Not because you think that then you’ll deserve Him more, but simply because you love Him. This is the natural effect that love has on any relationship.
Doing the works
You volunteer to do the dishes, so your partner can call up that friend they’ve been wanting to talk to. You watch your children’s sports games and once in a while make them their favourite meal. Even when you love your dog, you take him/her out for long walks at the beach (if there is one close by) or buy some fun exercise toys.
Everyone who’s been in some form of loving relationship (with your parents, kids, partner, friend, pet, you name it) has experience with wanting to see the other party happy. And if you can make that happen, you take that opportunity.
So when we find out that Jesus cares about reaching the lost (Luke 19:10), taking care of the sick, those in prison and the hungry (Matthew 25:34-40) and studying the Scriptures (Luke 2:46, Matthew 24:15), love for Him motivates us to do these things.
(And the more we do the things that He likes, the more we begin to like them too!)
So far it makes sense right?
The stumbling block
What I have shared so far should not really stir up any controversy. I haven’t heard many people accuse other Christians for believing in righteousness by works, because they evangelise or take care of the sick. These examples are generally accepted and expected –though maybe the example of studying the Bible not that much anymore.
But there is one topic that sticks out head and shoulders above any other for which Christians are being accused for believing in righteousness by works. And I cannot end this blog post without addressing it: keeping the Sabbath day holy -the fourth of the Ten Commandments.
There are many verses I can list for Sabbath-keeping, but I’m choosing only one to share with you here (we have some blog posts on it though). We have been talking about how we are in a relationship with Jesus and love for Him motivates us to want to do His will, do what He cares about and likes. In light of this, let’s consider this verse (Jesus talking):
“If you love Me, keep My commandments”
Jesus Himself, explicitly tells us that keeping His commandments (which includes the Sabbath) is a sign of our love for Him. Doesn’t it then make perfect sense that we want to do so? Of course!
The motivation for the “works” opposition
Allow me to be a bit blunt for a minute in the conclusion. The reason for why there is so much opposition to the “works”, is simply because there are a lot of Christians who do not actually love Jesus, but love the benefits (salvation, eternal life, church, forgiveness, financial blessings, etc.).
See, when you love Jesus, good works naturally follow. They are an overflow of your love for God, your relationship and His power at work in your life.
But when you don’t love Christ, it can be hard to understand that love can be the motivation for these good works. It’s not about fear, force, pride, or gaining brownie points with God as some may think they claim in their accusations. People do what God asks, go the extra mile, because they want to! Why? Because that’s how love behaves. It “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
But when your focus is on those benefits, once you believe you have it there is no reason for you to do anything else. What would be the point? You already have what you came for. That is treating Jesus as the “I HAVE” instead of “I AM”. They “seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:21).
So from their point of view, they are under the impression that those doing works, must therefore believe that it is necessary for them to do so in order to obtain these benefits, because else why would they do it?
A different mindset
But the word necessary is not even in the dictionary of the Jesus-loving Christian. They have a very different mindset.
Just like me baking the bread for my wife, doing good works for Jesus has nothing to do with believing that they then earn the right to be saved. Nor is it about fear to lose their salvation. And it is not about feeling that, based on those good works, they deserve to be saved more than others who don’t do those works.
That’s not how you think when you are in love. You just want to please Jesus and do the good works, because you love Him.
Good works, evangelism, Bible study, prayer, obedience, Sabbath-keeping, living healthy, developing a Christ-like character, all these things will grow as natural results in a relationship with Christ based on love for Him.
That is why love, works.
Live God’s Word Today! -Application
Friends, let’s take some time to honestly search our own hearts. Are you in this relationship with Jesus because you are after what He has to offer, or because you love Him?
Maybe you have been reading the blog post and were confronted with the reality that you did not feel drawn to doing some of the things that Jesus expressed care for. Let that be a wake up call to reflect on the motives of your Christian life.
I found myself in this place. Though I professed to be a Christian for years, my heart was not on fire for wanting to please Jesus in the way that He asked for. Our “relationship” was void of actual love for Him. But there is hope!
Because once you realise the condition of your relationship, you can work on it! You call fall in love with Jesus (again). And soon you’ll find yourself doing things for Him that you had not even thought about before. Love will naturally overflow into good works!
Are you willing to refocus, fall in love with Jesus (again), and pro-actively seek and do what pleases Him?