What About Grace, Works and Law?
In many religious circles it has become popular to teach that we are “saved by grace only, through faith only.” This is largely due to the influence and teachings of the Reformed Faith (i.e., the doctrines and dogmas of faith that came out of the Reformation). One of the most incredible aspects to the dogma of salvation by “grace only, through faith only” is the belief that all of this somehow means that we are not under any principle of either “law or works.” Nothing could be further from the truth!
It must first be clearly understood that the books of Galatians and Romans were set within the controversy of the Judaizing teachers who were claiming that in order for the Gentiles to be saved they had to virtually “become Jews” and be circumcised and thus keep the Law of Moses. The “works” that the Judaizers were insisting on for salvation were works of the Law of Moses which, to them, as to the Pharisees, meant that salvation is accomplished through the doctrines and commandments of men and more through human effort than divine grace. Such is clearly heretical according to Galatians and Romans. (It must be kept in mind that by the time of Christ the religious teachers in Israel did not really even understand the principle of salvation by grace! They did not understand the principles of their own law. Tragically they did not even know the meaning of faith.)
It must also be clearly recognized, however, that not all “works” and not all “law” is about the doctrines and commandments of men. Neither is it always about a salvation by either human efforts or self-righteousness. Salvation is always and only all about grace! But grace does not mean that there are no works or law at all. Grace does not mean there is no human responsibility to obey God and do what he commands. Grace does not mean that there are no conditions that God has placed upon salvation. And yet it seems that most who embrace the dogma of “grace only, through faith only” just cannot bring themselves to understand this simple point. (Why? Because they would rather hold on to the idolatries ["faith only"] of the Reformed faith than the truth of Christ!) Many seem to think that if there is any kind of “works or law” involved in salvation – if there is anything that even remotely looks like “obedience” (like baptism!) – then somehow grace is nullified. (Question: If baptism isn't all about grace then what is? Baptism is not a work of men or the flesh or self-righteousness, it is a work of God in grace. In fact, baptism is as much about grace as faith is!) Perhaps it is time we simply looked at what the New Testament actually says about “works” and “law”:
The Grace of Works
The fact is there are some works which absolutely do not in any sense have anything to do with salvation:
- The Works of the Devil – John 8:41; I John 3:8
- The Works of Men – Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-9
- The Works of Sin – Romans 7:7-25
- The Works of the Flesh – Galatians 5:16-26
- The Works of Self-Righteousness – Matthew 23:1-39; Romans 10:3-4; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5
- The Works of the Law of Moses – Romans 3:20,27-28; 4:2-6; 6:14-15; 9:30-32; 11:6; Galatians 2:16,21; 3:2,5,10-14,21-22; 5:18; Philippians 3:9; etc.
But there are those works that have everything to do with salvation by grace:
- The Faith that Must Obey – John 3:3,5,16,36
- The Work of God and Faith – John 6:26-29 cf. John 4:34; 9:4 … I John 3:23
- The Works of God’s Righteousness – Acts 10:35
- The Hearing (i.e., Response) of Faith – Galatians 3:1-9 (2, 5)
- The Working of Faith – Galatians 5:1-6 cf. I Thessalonians 1:3; II Thessalonians 1:11
- The Obedience of Faith – Romans 1:5; 16:26 cf. Acts 6:7
- The Wholehearted Obedience of Faith – Romans 6:15-18
- The Working of Salvation – Philippians 2:12-13
- The Obedience to the Gospel of Christ – II Thessalonians 1:5-12
- The Obedience to the Source of Eternal Salvation – Hebrews 5:8-9
- The Faith of Abraham and Others – Hebrews 11:1-40
- The Living Working of Faith – James 2:14-26
- The Obedience to the Truth – I Peter 1:22-23f
- The Faith in the Working of God in Baptism – Colossians 2:12
- The Obedience of Love – I John 2:3-6; 3:21-24; 5:1-5; II John 1:6 (John 14:15,21,23-24; 15:10)
Faith isn’t faith if it doesn’t listen to and obey God! Those who do not obey do not believe! Those who don’t obey God don’t love God. Jesus our Lord said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) He said, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord!’ and do not do what I tell you.” (Luke 6:46)
The Grace of Law
Some would have us believe that since Scripture says, “we are saved by grace not by works” (Ephesians 2:8-9) this supposedly means that we are not saved by any works at all. Sadly they apply the same blasphemous (mis)understandings when the Scripture says, “we are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14-15). We need to ask what “kind” of works have nothing to do with our salvation and what kind of works have everything to do with our salvation. And we need to ask what “kind” of law we are not under and what kind of law and authority we must submit to. Thus, we must always realize that while we are not under either the law of sin (Romans 7:25) or the Law of Moses (Romans 10:4) we are, however, under the authority and Law of Christ Jesus our Lord:
- Christ fulfills the Law Completely – Matthew 5:17-20 and Romans 3:31
- We are under the Law of Faith not the Law of Moses – Romans 3:20-31 (27-28)
- We Have Been Released from the Law to be Married to Christ – Romans 7:1-6f
- We Delight in Serving the Law of God with the Mind – Romans 7:22,25
- We are Under the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ – Romans 8:1-4f
- We are Under Law to Christ – I Corinthians 9:19-23; Galatians 6:2
- We are Under the Perfect Law of Liberty – James 1:25; 2:12
(Notice James’ interesting view of the “law” in James 1:25; 2:8,9,10,11,12; 4:11, which seems to indicate that there are principles found even in the Law of Moses that transcend the covenants!)
Thus, we are saved only by a faith that obeys God and works his righteousness in the working of God, not our own. We are saved only by a faith that is based upon the very principle of loving God with all our heart. This, in fact was the principle by which Israel was saved. This is the only faith by which we are saved. It is the same principle of faith. It is the same God. It is the same grace. Consider Deuteronomy 6:4-5 → Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 22:34-40. Thus, in the Covenant of Christ grace is realized in the “working of God” and the “law of Christ.” Grace is not antithetical (i.e., opposed) to either “works or law” when properly understood in faith.
This is the Grace of Faith!
This is the Grace of Works!
This is the Grace of Law!
Point and Counterpoint: Luke 17:5-10 (10 – “Even when you have done everything you have been commanded to do, you [still must] say, ‘We are unworthy servants [worthless slaves]. We have only done what was our duty.’”)