A godly friend of mine once said, “It’s crazy to think we go through our days without thinking about God’s grace, when we are literally drowning in it.” I don’t know why, but for some reason these words resonated with me. Perhaps it’s because I heard them at a time when I was diving into a deeper understanding of grace.
The biggest form of grace I have ever known in my life is God’s forgiveness of my sins and His gift of eternal life. However, as great as God’s grace sounds, it can be difficult for a rule-follower like me to comprehend 100-percent free grace.
As a rule-follower, I want to obey God and do good works. The Bible even tells us good works are beneficial (Matthew 5:16, Galatians 6:9, James 1:27, James 2:18), but it is wrong to obey God without our heart being in the right place.
Furthermore, when we place too much trust in our good works, I fear we don’t truly appreciate the price Jesus paid for our sins. For me, I have found that I often fall into the incorrect mindset that if I do good works that God will love me more. But, here’s the reality: No matter what good works we do, we will still sin every day, and we can’t earn God’s approval or salvation through our good works.
Salvation is by Jesus alone, and although I know this, I have learned I need to remind myself of this. The truth is that when I try to work for God’s approval, I become self-centered. This is because salvation by works says, “It’s all about me,” but salvation by grace says, “It’s all about Jesus.”
So how does one decipher between a life of works and a life of sinful living? On one hand, I meet people who say, “Yes, salvation is by Jesus alone, but you must also do X, Y and Z to earn or keep your salvation.” On the other hand, I meet people who say, “We can live however we want, because grace covers everything.” I think it is all too easy to get sucked into either of these two extremes, but if we want to know how we should view grace versus works, then we should go to the Bible.
In Ephesians 2:8-9 Paul writes, “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.” These verses are clear that nothing we do can earn salvation.
But, if we keep reading the passage in Ephesians, we see verse 10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So does this mean that we do need good works to be saved? No, not at all. This verse says that if we are truly followers of Christ, then there will be evidence of this in how we live. Paul confirms in Romans 6:2 that we shouldn’t abuse grace, but strive for the righteousness of Christ. This doesn’t mean we will never sin, but true followers of Christ repent of their sin.
If you are living a life that has been focused on trying to work your way to salvation, let me push you to read Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Do you hear what Jesus is saying? When we try to work our way to salvation, we place heavy burdens on ourselves. This is because even at our finest we can never work up to the standard of perfection that only Jesus accomplishes (Isaiah 64:6, Hebrews 4:15). I’m not saying we shouldn’t seek to live Christ-honoring lives, but we must not mistake our righteous deeds as a way to buy salvation. Salvation does not place heavy burdens on us; rather, salvation allows us to walk free in righteousness (Romans 4, Romans 6:22, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 5, Ephesians 1:7).