Leading a Bible study at our center one evening, I made a statement to the effect that we as Christians should always keep a penitent heart before God. A young man who was a first time visitor spoke up very forcefully, “I disagree Pastor. We should not dwell on personal sin or struggling with unrighteousness. We are the righteousness of Christ! Let’s just focus on relationship with Him!”
He was the first young adult I had met in person, who embraced a “hyper-grace” approach to sin and holiness. I am not sure if I have met another, but I am sure that I see that the signs of such thinking is slowly permeating the church culture.
The belief that grace abounds in such a way, that our own efforts to live holy, to live righteously, to live free from sin are wasted spiritual energy and focus, and is unnecessary, is showing itself in the atmosphere and lifestyles of a new generation of believers.
“God’s grace covers us. God’s grace chases us down. God’s grace alone is enough. My sins yesterday, today, even tomorrow…are overwhelmed by God’s grace. Thus, whether I live holy or not, grace has my back. After all…it is not my works of righteousness that saves me, but Christ’s work on the cross….right?”
Right, but not quite.
An amazing and core truth is that we are indeed SAVED by grace. We must also remember however that we are also saved by FAITH.
GRACE flows from God, FAITH from US.
GRACE is abundant, FAITH is in varying degrees.
GRACE is unrelenting. FAITH must grow and develop.
GRACE is the nature of God, FAITH goes against human nature.
Yet…God, who has always partnered with man since the garden releases His GRACE according to man’s response of FAITH.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:8
FAITH is not a “feeling”. FAITH is more of a verb. It responds. It moves. It steps out of the boat. FAITH is the agent in man that pleases God. (Hebrews 11:6)
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17
FAITH without response and action is not faith at all. And yet, we not only are saved by FAITH (which involves action and response on our part), we also WALK BY FAITH, (which involves action and response on our part.)
For we walk by faith, not by sight. II Corinthians 5:7
So we are saved through FAITH and we also WALK (live out our lives) by FAITH.
THE TRUTH ABOUT WORKS:
The truth about works is that some are so afraid of “works” theologically, that they throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The word “works” in the New Testament does not mean ANY and ALL acts or responses on behalf of man towards God.
A reading of the New Testament will show that the early efforts of the Apostles were to contrast THE LAW OF MOSES (works) with THE LAW OF FAITH, (grace). Attempting to attain righteousness by following the WORKS OF THE LAW was unachievable. A new and better covenant would overshadow that shortcoming in that the demand of righteousness would be satisfied by the work of Jesus on the cross.
Thus, we are not saved by WORKS, that is following the Law of Moses, but by GRACE, activated by our response of FAITH in Christ and the cross.
WORKS is a reference to the letter of the LAW of Moses, NOT any act of obedience by faith.
I once had a Calvinist dismiss the necessity of repentance for salvation because according to him, repentance was a “work” and we cannot be saved by “works”. I realized then what happens when we have a shallow understanding of grace and faith, and when we do not take in to account the convergence of the scripture as a whole.
That “works” is a reference to the “works” of the Law of Moses is clear in the epistles:
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Romans 3:27
Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. Romans 9:32
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. Galatians 2:16
This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Galatians 3:2
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” Galatians 3:10
It is irresponsible to call any response of faith a “work”. When it comes to salvation and justification “works” clearly refers to the deeds, rules and regulations of the Law of Moses.
The deeds (works) of the Law could not and cannot save.
This is a recurring theme in the epistles as it was THE theological issue in the primitive church and shoring up the churches against Judaizers (those who attempted to bring early Christians back under the Law of Moses) was important to the Apostles.
Did the Apostles condemn and forbid any response of faith, calling it a “work”? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
On the contrary, at the birth of the Church, freshly baptized with Holy Spirit power, Peter preached the full Gospel message to a crowd on the streets of Jerusalem. Notice the question from the crowd:
“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, WHAT SHALL WE DO?”” Acts 2:37
Peter did not respond with a theological correction, “absolutely nothing! Otherwise you would be trying to be saved by your own efforts and that is “works”!”
Instead rather, he immediately responds to the question “What shall we do?” with “REPENT”.
Repentance is a response of faith. It is a response to the grace of God. It is a reaching out and receiving of grace and forgiveness, by faith.
This same question was asked by the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:29, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved”. Again, there was no theological rebuke or correction, but instead instruction from Paul.
We see no inconsistency with other verbs used involving salvation, such as “confess”, “call upon” or “believe”. All of these are acts or responses on behalf of the individual. All of these are responses of faith. None of these save us, but are responses of faith and trust in the one who has saved us: Jesus Christ.
SO WHERE AM I GOING WITH THIS?
Just as salvation involves response on our part by faith, living the Christian life involves faith responses on our part as well.
We are in error to think that we are swimming in a sea of grace that keeps us and thus we have no responsibility to live, move, act, respond, obey, achieve, grow or be accountable in lifestyle.
We must remember that we WALK BY FAITH. That is we live out this Christian path by faith, which is a verb that requires ongoing response.
WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT SALVATION IS NOT JUST BEING RESCUED FROM HELL AND GIVEN A PLACE IN HEAVEN, IT IS ALSO BEING SANCTIFIED AND MADE HOLY in order to live a life of HOLINESS.
Being made holy when we were unholy is an act of grace.
This is what God has done. It is amazing.
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled. 22. In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Colossians 2:21-22
But as we walk by faith, we are called to continue in that holiness through word, deed, and lifestyle. This is OUR responsibility.
GOD’S GRACE DOES NOT RELIEVE US OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PURSUE A HOLY LIFE.
God’s grace does not make us holy so that we can return to unholy things. On the contrary, now that we have been made holy by grace, we are called to purse holiness by faith.
The pursuit of holy living is an act of obedience. It is an act of submission. It is an act of discipline. It is an act of love. It comes with the understanding of who we represent and in whose image we are to be transformed. None of which would be possible without faith.
“as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15. But as He who called you is holy, YOU ALSO BE HOLY IN ALL YOUR CONDUCT, 16. Because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy”. I Peter 1:14-16
Pay attention to the following scripture that calls for the personal action of the believer:
Put off and put on:
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Romans 13:12
that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, Ephesians 4:22
Put off and put on:
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, Colossians 3:8-10
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us layaside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. I Corinthians 5:7
Cleanse and Perfect:
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let uscleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. I Corinthians 7:1
Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. II Timothy 2:21
Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” II Timothy 2:19
Then there are a series of “BE”s given to the believer:
Be Holy. I Peter 1:16
Be blameless. I Corinthians 1:8
Be salt. Matthew 5:13
Be light. Matthew 5:13
Be righteous. Romans 6:18
The truth is, about every epistle of the New Testament gives instruction on holy and right conduct, and also gives very clear behaviors that we are to avoid.
This instruction is written to saints. It is written to believers. As Paul told Timothy, it is for “instruction in righteousness”.
Thank God for grace! Thank God that grace is free. Thank God that grace always allows us to get up yet one more time. But let us never forget that grace does not relieve us of accountability. Grace does not relieve us of responsibility. Grace surely does not relieve us of stewardship.
Because of His amazing grace, we are called to not live a life in vain of His grace.
We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. II Corinthians 6:1
We surely are not to live in such a way, that we find ourselves in open sin, living again in unrighteous behaviors and thus fulfilling the warning given by the writer of Hebrews:
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away,[b] to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame Hebrews 6:4-6
Celebrate grace! However, never forget that grace has set us free from the slavery of sin, called us out of darkness, put to death our old man and has placed us into a righteous position with God. Let us now live righteously, holy, and sanctified as good ambassadors to the Lord Jesus Christ.