•••by Russell Young
Another Look at Grace and Works
The doctrines of “grace” and “works” need another look. One’s comprehension of these doctrines significantly influences his interpretation of the scriptures and their understandings should not be left up to one’s imagination. Some believers sum up “grace” and “works” with the idea that God has done it all; that is, God has gifted them with eternal salvation and they need not participate (understood as “work”) since it is a gift. God’s Word clearly presents the need for “obedience” in order for one to gain eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:9, Matthew 7:21; Revelation 22:14 (KJV); 2 Thessalonians 1:8) There are other verses that require the believer be to be “led,” (Galatians 5:18; Romans 8:14; John 10:27) and others that required him to “please the Spirit” (Galatians 6:8) or to live in some appropriate manner. The Lord said that his angels “will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41, NIV) These will be weeded out on the basis of their ‘doing.’
Accepting the common teaching of “grace” as meaning “God’s unmerited favor” being expressed in one’s life, does not necessarily mean that God will unilaterally bring about the “believer’s” eternal salvation. Neither does the phrase, “You are saved by grace,” necessarily infer the “gifting” of eternal salvation as some understand. The gift that God has given to the redeemed is the Holy Spirit who can bring about one’s eternal salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13, Titus 3:5-6) and that through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9)
To put the matter of “works” into meaningful context, the “works” being referred to is the “works of the law.” (Romans 9:32; Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10 KJV, YLT) Some translators have not included “of the law” in their rendition, confusing the issue.
The law cannot be accomplished by anyone using his own resources. The righteous requirements of the law must be accomplished but require the Holy Spirit’s ministry for that purpose. When the Word of God speaks of salvation as not being accomplished through “works,” it is referring to the “works of the law.” It does not mean that the believer need not be obedient or that he is not required to walk righteously or in the light of Christ. It means that the covenant of the law, “of works”, the Old Covenant cannot bring about one’s eternal salvation. The covenant of the law “kills.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) The work of the law (that which the law produces) cannot satisfy God’s righteous requirements because of man’s sinful nature. (Romans 8:3) That which can bring about one’s eternal salvation is the appropriation of the ministry of the Spirit in order to satisfy the righteous requirements of the law and the Prophets (Romans 8:4), but the Spirit must be obeyed.
The sacrifice of Christ which was an act of grace allowed the believer escape from the consequences of the sinful acts he had committed while under the jurisdiction of the law’s requirements for righteousness. The provision of the New Covenant was an act of grace by God. The provision of the Holy Spirit was a gift of grace by the Father making the believer “competent” to satisfy the New Covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Peter 1:3) The ministry of Christ as High Priest is an act of grace. Complete provision was made by Christ for the one who would honour Him through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Eternal salvation is NOT a gift of grace but must be worked out through the provision God has made in Christ.
The gift of grace is Christ’s presence in the believer. (Colossians 1:27) He has come to fulfil the law in the believer and for the believer. (Romans 8:4) He does not over-rule the will of man but will allow it to be exercised. Obedience is faith in practice and the faithful will obey their lord/Lord.
It is worth noting that God is going to destroy the world when the time comes because man will have “twisted his instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5 NLT) The NIV reads, “disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.” The accomplishment of instructions, laws, and the covenant is NOT a gift of grace as is often taught; their accomplishment is through the gift of grace (the Holy Spirit) and the believer’s commitment to obedience. There are many who have been led astray, and many who lead believers away from truth, by their misrepresentation of the doctrines of “works” and “grace.” Paul told his readers not to be deceived; they would reap what they sow…receiving either life or destruction. (Galatians 6:7)
The Lord said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Luke 16:1-17, NIV) God’s grace does not “abolish” the law (Matthew 5:17) or preclude the need for its righteous requirements to be satisfied. Woe to those whose teaching allows such. His requirements can ONLY be met through obedience to the Spirit.
One’s need and hope for righteousness is being “awaited” (Galatians 5:5) and it comes through his allowance of the Spirit being lived through him. (Romans 8:4) Eternal salvation comes through God’s grace and not by the “works” of the law. However, the believer is to put every effort into obeying the Spirit. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NIV) When the Lord encouraged His listeners “to make every effort.” He was requiring just that. They are to hear His voice (the Spirit) and they are to follow. They are to do something. Later in the passage Christ made it clear that it is those who are “evildoers” (v. 27) who will be condemned and cast from Him even though they had walked in His presence…they had not been led or had not put forth the “effort” to walk righteously. The writer of Hebrews offered the same admonition. (Hebrews 4:11) Paul admonished the Philippians “to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12, NIV)
When Paul spoke of being saved by grace, he identified that grace as creating a product having been accomplished through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (God’s “workmanship”, Ephesians 2:10, NIV), the product of one’s transformation. The expression of God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit makes one a suitable offering for God. (Romans 15:16)