Grace, Works and Obedience

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Grace, Works and Obedience

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Like John the Baptist, Jesus Christ said we must bear fruit: “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:5-8 John 15:5-8 5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that stays in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.
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Some are confused at Jesus’ expectation of us to produce fruit. They interpret any requirement to obey God to mean that we somehow earn our salvation. Earning our salvation, of course, is impossible. Salvation is a free, undeserved gift from God. We could not earn salvation in a hundred lifetimes of performing good deeds.

We are not saved by our works. Only the sacrifice of Christ’s shed blood can cleanse us from our sins. Our thoughts cannot accomplish this, nor can any other actions we could take. Because Christ is alive and actively involved in converting us, we will be saved by His life. The apostle Paul made this clear:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10 Romans 5:8-10 8 But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
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). Christ living in us enables us to do good works (see Galatians 2:20 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
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). God’s forgiveness of our past sins and His helping us to obey His law are both aspects of His grace toward us.

Grace and obedient works are complementary rather than contradictory terms. The word grace comes from a Greek word that means “gift” or “favor.” Salvation, or eternal life, is a gift we receive by grace (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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; Ephesians 2:8-9 Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
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). No amount of works or effort to obey God on our part could ever earn us eternal life. This is not to say that eternal life is free in an ultimate sense. Christ paid with His life so that we could receive the gift of salvation (Acts 20:28 Acts 20:28Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
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Yet while salvation is given to us as a gift, there are conditions attached. The first is that we repent. Repentance earns us nothing; we deserve no favors because we repent. But repentance is required. Why? Because repentance is a condition for forgiveness (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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). God simply will not forgive those who willfully persist in sin as a way of life. Paul wrote: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 Romans 6:1-2 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
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The direction of our lives must be changed as a prerequisite for receiving God’s gift of salvation. That is what both Christ and the apostles taught. Paul “declared…[we] should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20 Acts 26:20But showed first to them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
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). Works demonstrate our repentance to God, but they will never earn us the right to demand anything from Him or allow us to boast that we deserve eternal life.

Indeed, it is God who leads us to obey Him (Romans 2:4 Romans 2:4Or despise you the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
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; Acts 11:18 Acts 11:18When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance to life.
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; 2 Timothy 2:25 2 Timothy 2:25In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
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) and then empowers us to succeed (Ephesians 3:20 Ephesians 3:20Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,
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; Ephesians 6:10 Ephesians 6:10Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
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; Colossians 1:11 Colossians 1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, to all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness;
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). Both of these actions by God are aspects of His grace toward us. Our role is to cooperate with Him (Acts 26:29 Acts 26:29And Paul said, I would to God, that not only you, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.
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God expects good works in our lives to demonstrate repentance and His love and faith active within us. The apostle James explicitly states that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20-26 James 2:20-26 20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
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), and Paul makes it plain that God saves us by grace through faith for the very purpose of producing good works, even though those good works cannot earn our salvation:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10 Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
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Why should this be so difficult for people to believe and accept? It is simply walking in Christ’s footsteps, following His example (1 John 2:6 1 John 2:6He that said he stays in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
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Jesus said to His disciples, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 Matthew 5:16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
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). Though works do not earn us eternal life, they do glorify, or honor, God, and He requires that we honor Him by the way we live. People who refuse to include works in their lives are, whether they realize it or not, dishonoring God. “They pro-fess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16 Titus 1:16They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate.
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Do works ever earn us anything? Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
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says the dead are going to be judged “according to their works.” In John 14:2-3 John 14:2-3 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
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, we find Jesus explaining that He would “prepare a place” for His followers. In the coming Kingdom of God, He will grant various positions of authority to those who overcome (Revelation 2:26 Revelation 2:26And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
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; Revelation 3:21 Revelation 3:21To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
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). The resurrected saints will rule with Jesus Christ in His Kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6 Revelation 20:4-6 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
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). Through submission to God, allowing His Spirit to lead us and living a life of good works, we build righteous, godly character that will enable us to rule with Jesus Christ.

Though our works will not earn us salvation, they will determine our reward in His Kingdom. Jesus explained this in His parable of the talents (Matthew 25:20-29 Matthew 25:20-29 20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, you delivered to me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21 His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord. 22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, you delivered to me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23 His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord. 24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew you that you are an hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not strewed: 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth: see, there you have that is yours. 26 His lord answered and said to him, You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed: 27 You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received my own with usury. 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him which has ten talents. 29 For to every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has.
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). Our Lord also made this clear in Revelation 22:12 Revelation 22:12And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
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when He said, “I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”

In Revelation 22:14 Revelation 22:14Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
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John further says, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” Through God’s grace, the gift of eternal life is given to those who demonstrate their faith in God by their obedience.

To better understand the relationship between law and grace in the life of a Christian, please read or download our comprehensive free book The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law?

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