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Grace and Works | Why We Can’t Have One Without the Other

Grace Not Works | A Popular Verse

If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve likely noticed articles floating around with titles like “I’m a Christian But I Don’t Go to Church” or “I Love Jesus But I Cuss a Little.” They deliver compelling cases as to why the actions in question are not only okay, but admirable. It’s about grace, not works, right?

The writers are steadfast and confident in their personal relationships with God, so why attend church? God lives in your heart, not in a building, right?

And cursing? It just makes them more real and relatable to others. Isn’t Christianity all about building relationships?

And what about studying the Word of God? We’re reading books by Christian authors and listening to sermons online. Our apps push us the Bible verse of the day. How is that not enough?

A common verse seems to back up all of these arguments: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). 

And I would really love to embrace and embody those arguments. Because frankly, I’m tired.

I’m a momma of an energetic preschooler, working 50+ hours a week between two jobs. I have 45 million items on my to-do list all vying for my time and energy.

Any article that tells me it’s okay to do less, to try less, I would really love to believe. But I just. can’t.

Grace and Works | The Rest of the Verse

The problem is that I know the rest of the verse: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We’re saved by grace, but created for good works.

Have you been searching for your purpose in life? Wondering where you fit in? It’s right there in Ephesians – you were created for good works.

This concept is backed up by other verses too. John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And James 1:22 agrees, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

What about James 2:14-26?

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead….For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

The Only Appropriate Response to God

Brace yourself, friend. My pastor once proposed that if your life doesn’t look any different than it did before you knew God, then you don’t truly know and comprehend who God is. He boldly stated that if you did, you would respond much differently.

And at first, it made me angry. Gloria Steinem had the right idea when she said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

But if I believed God was real and that the Bible was His word? If I even partially comprehended His majesty and power and the reality of eternity, then…there it was.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

“…faith apart from works is dead.”

The Truest Proof of Our Faith

What did that mean for me? It meant I had to start living as if I really honestly believed what I said I did. I had to question if my life was reflecting the Christian label I had assigned it.

If someone told you they were a vegetarian, but then ate a steak in front of you, you would probably assume they weren’t actually a vegetarian, right? If they told you they were fluent in Spanish, but couldn’t respond to simple questions in Spanish, you would probably doubt that skill.

Jesus called out people in the Bible who claimed they were believers, but whose lives told a different story when he asked in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” He went on to explain that hearing His words and obeying them must be at the very foundation of our faith.

Hard truths, right? I thought so, when I found myself forced to confront them. But if we believe in God and what He says, these are the inescapable truths at the foundation of our faith.

Grace and Works in Action

So what does that more specifically mean for me? For us? What does it look like when put into action?

It means we attend church most weeks because Hebrews 10:25 warns against “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,” and 1 Timothy 4:13 says, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

It means we might occasionally curse, but work hard not to, because James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” And Ephesians 4:29 calls for even more! “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

It means we devote time each day to reading and studying the Word of God because Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” (Check out The 40 Best Devotionals for Women for a little help here!)

It means we must look different than we did before we knew God, or risk misrepresenting the God of creation. We cannot be one of those described in Titus 1:16. “They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.”

Wrap It Up

Yes, we are saved by grace. We may not make it to church every Sunday. We may curse more than we’d like. Maybe we don’t make time to read and study God’s Word daily. Those actions won’t rob us of our salvation, but we cannot stay there.

Jesus was point-blank. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

James didn’t beat around the bush. “Faith apart from works is dead.”

It all comes down to this: If we truly understood who God is, we would work our lives into Him, rather than working Him into our lives. That’s not the life I live every day; I’m far from perfect. But it’s the life I must continually pursue because God is holy and righteous and worthy of my best efforts.

Grace and works, friends. Grace and works.

Pray For Your Family Reference Cards

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