So recently i have been having some interesting conversations with different people in different places [like in the comments section on this blog] about the whole idea of Grace and how it conflicts with or enhances the idea of Works…
There seem to be two extreme groups of people within the larger group of Jesus followers who get caught up in one, often times at the exclusion of the other:
# the ‘Everything is Grace’ people who tend towards living lives where they are free to do whatever they want to because everything is covered and so in the extreme tend to give licence for ways of living that don’t necessarily fall well within the framework of someone saying that they follow Jesus.
# the ‘Everything is Works and Striving’ people [who would NEVER admit to this being who they are] who exist at the opposite end of the spectrum are those who ignore grace completely, at least in practice and focus heavily on works which tends to manifest as a whole lot of rules of what Christians can and can’t do and ends up being quite legalistic and restrictive. These people are often characterised by feelings of guilt or condemnation because they are never doing “quite enough” to live up to the high slash impossible standard that ‘Jesus set’.
It is pretty clear to me that it has to be both – I feel like Scripture is so clear on this – the ‘Everything is Grace’ people have too many passages talking about the need to do things [Love, forgive, make disciples, look after the least of these' to ever be able to seriously suggest that 'Everything is Grace' means i get to sit back and do nothing. And the passages that dig so deeply into Grace and the crucifixion being God's saving work [not ours, and certainly not anything we could ever get right on our own] cancel any kind of idea that we are responsible or even capable of getting ourselves right with God by anything we do.
And while Ephesians 2.8,9 is always the go to Grace passage which strongly clarifies that side of things:
Ephesians 2.8,9 ‘For it by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’
I have always used a number of other passages from different books to back up the importance of our living demonstrating our salvation side of things.
And then last night, in preparation for this morning’s guy’s Quiche and Ephesians session [it's a thing!] i read this verse that i must have read a hundred times before and just never connected it to the fact that it said so explicitly what i had gone elsewhere to find all these years:
Ephesians 2.10 ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’
Like, D’uh! Case closed. And it’s not like a revelation of newness for me, but the revelation of not needing to turn so many pages. And kind of a slap to the face and idea that God has probably been lovingly smiling at me all this time while quietly mouthing, ‘Wait, don’t go, don’t turn, it’s right there. Um. Darn.’ Or something.
Grace AND Works. It’s a combo deal. One is the only thing by which salvation is possible. We receive the robes of Jesus’ righteousness over our filthy clothes [or as a complete replacement to] and are made right by His sacrifice. But from then on we are called into a life that looks very much like ‘Denying yourself and taking up your cross daily and following Jesus’ [Luke 9.23 paraphrase] and living out the action of the following of Jesus.
We were “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” – it doesn’t get more easy to understand than that, surely?
Bonhoeffer has some really interesting things to say about grace, including this quite challenging quote:
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship
What has been your understanding of Grace? If you had to identify with one of the two extremes mentioned here, which one have you found the greater pull towards? What helped you to embrace the bothness of the Grace and Works?