If It’s Works, It’s Not Grace, Part 2

Peter Ditzel

Two pictures side-by-side. On the left is a picture of dirty, grim-looking child coal workers from 1911. On the right is a joyous child playing in the sand at the beach.
Jesus said, ““Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children, you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus didn’t have child labor in mind. He meant that we must humbly turn from trusting in our works and obedience to the law. We must become like simple and carefree children, trusting and resting in Him. This doesn’t take effort on our part. It’s not difficult. Jesus is the narrow gate into the kingdom. God gives us the faith; He takes us through.
Left: “Breaker boys in #9 Breaker” Library of Congress. Right: Photo by Barbara Ribeiro from Pexels.

In Part 1, we saw how some preachers promote the idea that finding the kingdom and living the Christian life are hard work and use derogatory terms such as “cheap grace” and “easy believism” against their opponents. Yet, the Bible teaches, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If it’s works, it’s not grace!

Myth: We Are to Judge by Works

But doesn’t Paul say, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes, but he doesn’t say that we’re to judge those works. I am God’s workmanship, not your workmanship or Bill’s workmanship or Cheryl’s workmanship. “Who are you who judge another’s servant? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he will be made to stand, for God has power to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).

Jesus taught us to discern what someone teaches (Matthew 7:15-20). But He never told us to judge someone’s salvation (see Matthew 7:1). Again, Paul wrote, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10).

As I pointed out earlier, Jesus doesn’t tell us He’s going to give us a hard life. He tells us He’s going to give us rest.

Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

“Rest,” “easy,” and “light” are the opposite of “earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion” and “very, very difficult to be saved” (terms used by John MacArthur, see Part 1). In fact, those works are precisely the types of labor and heavy burdens Jesus came to relieve us of.

Those who criticize “easy believism” and “cheap grace” “bind heavy burdens that are grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4). They are a hindrance to the Gospel, and this is why I point all of this out.

What’s All the Struggle About?

If you still think that Christians must struggle with sin, struggle to maintain good works, or—as some believe—even struggle to sustain their salvation, then I have a question for you. What did Paul mean when he said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1)? If being in Jesus Christ means that we’re not condemned and that we walk according to the Spirit, what’s all the struggle about?

God alone accomplishes our salvation. Our salvation is not the result of God and man cooperating. As I’ve expounded from Scripture in many other places on this site, God accomplishes our salvation—all of it, from election to regeneration to justification to sanctification to glorification—entirely through grace apart from the law and any other works. Grace and a need for works and the law are mutually exclusive. And including works isn’t harmless.

Now to him who works, the reward is not counted as grace, but as debt. But to him who doesn’t work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.

Romans 4:4-5

If you still believe that you are justified by grace through faith, but you think that you must still, of course, keep the law, then please tell me what Paul meant when He said, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18)?

What Are We to Do Under Grace?

The question is a bit dangerous because it sounds like someone looking for another set of rules that can quickly become a scheme for works-based righteousness. How about if we just live in the Spirit that God has given us?

Paul teaches, “For God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Greek word translated “fear” comes from deilia. It’s not the common word for fear, phobos, which can sometimes be used for a healthy fear of dangerous or foolish things. Deilia is never a good thing. It is the psychological state of fearfulness, timidity, or cowardice. So, God has given us a Spirit of bravery and courageousness.

“Power” is from dunamis. It refers to the power that is in something by its very nature. Alfred Nobel chose the name dynamite for his invention based on dunamis because its explosive power is inherent in its very nature. The Holy Spirit living in us has the power of God in His very nature.

“Love” is from agapē. Since this verse is speaking of the Holy Spirit that God has given us, we can know that agape in this context refers to God’s perfect love. To know how this love behaves, read 1 Corinthians 13.

“Self-control” comes from the Greek word, sōphronismos. It stems from two words: sozo “save,” and phren “mind.” It’s characterized by a disciplined mind that exercises sound judgment.

If God is working courage and Godly power and Godly love and discipline and sound judgment in us, so that they spring naturally from the Spirit within us, what is all this effort, all this labor, all this stumbling miserably along a hard road? “For it is God who works in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

If grace is entirely free (and, of course, that’s the very nature of grace), why do we listen to people whose teaching is so warped that they denigrate something they call “cheap grace?” Yes, Christ paid a heavy price for our grace, but we pay nothing. Anyone who thinks that we must pay God something back for the grace He’s given us has his or her head screwed on backwards! The preachers who muddy the waters with their vilifications against “cheap grace” do not understand the Gospel.

What are we to “do” under grace? We are to rest in Jesus Christ. But didn’t Jesus give us commands? Yes, He gave us two commands: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he gave us” (1 John 3:23-24). John specifically says Jesus’ commands are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). They are not work; they spring from the Spirit in us.

God does not want your law-keeping or your morality or your self-righteous declarations against the sins of the world or your confessions or your ‘umble Uriah Heep handwringing or your good works in return for the grace He has freely given you. He does not want your blood, sweat, and tears. Jesus has already given His for you (John 11:35; Luke 22:44; John 19:34).

What About the Old Man?

But don’t we have to struggle against the old man? No. Romans 6:6 plainly teaches that “our old man was crucified with [Christ].” This is “so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin.” So, if our old man is dead (Romans 6:7), and we are no longer in bondage to sin, why are we still tempted?

We’re tempted by bad habits. Just like trained animals, our bodies (and that includes our brains) have been trained by years of living carnally. With regeneration, God gives us new habits. Over time, as we live according to the Spirit, we get better. But our old habits sometimes still crop up.

Although we now live according to the Spirit, the fact is that we are still living in a body of flesh that is easily driven by well-entrenched neural pathways, hormones, and—according to the latest research—even the bacteria living in our gut. This has its effect upon us.

Isn’t fighting this a struggle, a work? No. Why? Because Christ has already given us the victory. We are conquerors through grace, not works.

But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him; knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no more has dominion over him! For the death that he died, he died to sin one time; but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. Neither present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin will not have dominion over you. For you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:8-14

We died with Christ. Therefore, we are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Our old habits may be annoying, but they won’t get the upper hand. And they can never condemn us because we’re not under the law, but under grace.

Have you not read 1 John 5:4? “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith.” Where do works come into this? They do not.

We are not to judge others by their works to determine whether they’re saved. We are not even to judge ourselves to determine whether we’re saved. Doing these things takes our eyes off Christ and bases our salvation on works and not on Jesus Christ. We are saved entirely by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. With the salvation that Jesus earned for us with His works, He gives us rest. As was pictured by the Israelites resting on their Sabbath day, we are now to rest in Christ, who is our Sabbath rest.

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

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