Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"It's Not Grace Plus...": The Role of Works in the Christian Life

“It’s not grace PLUS...it’s not Christ PLUS...it’s not if I have Jesus and keep the Ten Commandments and do everything else...”

For the last week, I’ve been dealing with a series of digestion issues. Let’s just say that my stomach is sensitive...and when the weather changes, I can get sick quite often. Just how bad can it get? Sinus infections frequently. Thank God, though; I’m pretty safe for now. I’m hoping to stay clear of the infections, but it will take a miracle from the Almighty God to keep the infections from me as the fall season approaches.

In any case, I stayed in and listened to a sermon online as a way to “hear the Word” on Sunday. I got to hear the above quote from the preacher, and it made me meditate more on salvation, its nature, and its process.

The quote above basically says that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in God’s Word alone. I agree that man is saved by grace through faith, without works: as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, man is saved “not by works, so that noone may boast” (Eph. 2:9). The problem comes in, however, when these verses are twisted to tell saints of God that they don’t need to do works. The problem with the preacher’s sermon was that he failed to elaborate on Ephesians 2:10, which states that “For we are HIS WORKMANSHIP, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). The preacher covered this verse at the end of the sermon (last five minutes), but he should’ve covered this verse when he discussed Ephesians 2:8-9. Verse 10 is not divorced from verses 8 and 9, neither is it divorced from the context of Ephesians 2.

But his above quote made me question his view of works-manifestation in the life of the believer. And yet, Paul spends so much time on good works throughout the Pastoral Epistles. For example, Titus 2:14---

“[Christ Jesus] who gave Himself for us, THAT HE MIGHT REDEEM US FROM EVERY LAWLESS DEED and purify for Himself His own special people, ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS” (Titus 2:14, NKJV).

Why did Christ give His life? According to Paul, the express reason Christ gave His life (according to Titus 2:14) is that He desired to bring a people to Himself who would be eager to do good works. In other words, we are saved not to sit around and say, “I’ve got eternal security and I’m going to heaven when I die.” We are not saved to sit around and revel in the fact that we’re gonna spend eternity with God. That’s not the purpose of our new life in Christ. Rather, we are saved in order to do good works. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us, this is what Christ ordained for those who believe---that we should “walk” in them, that good works should be the ordinary believer’s normal state of existence. Good works should be oozing out of us...we should just live and breathe doing righteous deeds that bring glory to God.

What about Titus 3:8?

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I WANT YOU TO AFFIRM CONSTANTLY, that THOSE WHO HAVE BELIEVED IN GOD should be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).

For “those who have believed,” i.e., the already saved, they should “maintain good works.” In other words, good works are the expectation for the believer.

I think sometimes, so many of us cry, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” And it’s true: we are sinners and we have great sin...but we have an even greater Savior. However, we use this idea of “I’m a sinner saved by grace” as a license to then turn around and perform little to no good works at all, all the while crying, “I’m a sinner saved by grace.” There’s a problem with our thinking: if we are sinners saved by grace, then why do we “cheapen” the grace of God by producing no good works and then arguing that, since I’m saved by grace through faith, I don’t need to do any good works? What we need to understand as believers in Christ is that, while we are “sinners saved by grace,” we are also “saints of God”; and the title of “saint” carries with it certain expectations that the title of “sinner” does not carry. Sinners, the unsaved, can’t do anything for Jesus because they are unrighteous and under the wrath of God before accepting Christ. At one time, we were the same: under God’s wrath, without hope in the world. But now, we have been made alive in Christ (according to Ephesians 2). As a result of this great thing Christ has done, we are expected to do great things for God. The sinner can’t do any works; but believers are appropriately titled “saints” because they are expected to do good works. In addition, they are not to just do good works, but to “maintain” them. We should be doing good works all the time!

Titus 3:14 provides the reason behind why the believers should maintain good works:

“And let our people also learn to MAINTAIN GOOD WORKS, to meet urgent needs, THAT THEY MAY NOT BE UNFRUITFUL” (Titus 3:14).

Maintaining good works is a great way to keep from becoming “barren” or “unfruitful” for the kingdom of God. As believers, we are to bear good fruit...and our fruit should be evident to those around us. As Jesus Himself states in John 15, “Abide in Me, and I in you. AS THE BRANCH CANNOT BEAR FRUIT OF ITSELF, UNLESS IT ABIDES IN THE VINE, NEITHER CAN YOU, UNLESS YOU ABIDE IN ME” (John 15:4). We, the branches of the Vine, cannot bear fruit if we do not “remain in Christ” (John uses this language in 1 John 2:28). The only reason why the believer can do good works is because of the power of the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit within.

The preacher was arguing that a person cannot “lose their salvation.” The biggest problem with the sermon was that he claimed that those who argue for apostasy (falling away) are those who argue a works-based salvation. The problem with this statement is that proponents of the Doctrine of Apostasy, nor the Scriptures, argue for works-salvation; rather, both argue for necessary perseverance, as the Scriptures themselves stress. And in order to persevere to the end, believers must bear good fruit for the kingdom of God. Peter desired in his letter to encourage believers to be fruitful in their walk (2 Peter 1:5-11); and Jesus Himself told the parable of the fig tree that for three years bore no fruit (Luke 13:6-9). The Master gave the servant one extra year to ensure fruit would grow on the tree before He would chop the tree down. Clearly, the expectation was there for the tree to bear fruit. Sad but true, the Lord will deal with believers the same way. We are expected to bear fruit; believers who do not persevere and bear fruit, as the good and noble seed does in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:15), are those who, like the barren tree, will be in danger of being “cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

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