The “law of faith”
My mentor and I had a great discussion the other day about grace, and it reminded me of many glorious realities. Grace is a strange and wonderful doctrine. It is strange because it is so counter-cultural, and because the deeper you understand it, the more counter-cultural it will seem. Yes, the righteousness of Christ covers every one of our sins. But we still have to do something, right? It can’t be as simple as just calling on His name…can it? It can be, and it is. Does that truth ever blow your mind? Does Scripture truly back up this idea? Yes, it does, and I hope to make that idea clear from the Bible in this post.
Several years ago, I heard a wonderful message on the gospel of grace. Essentially, the point was that salvation is a complete work of God, and there is nothing whatsoever that we can do to earn or keep God’s favor. No matter how much good a person does, it will never be enough. God is already as happy with us as He will ever be because of Jesus Christ, and there is nothing we can do to add to His sacrifice! That was a timely message for me. At the time, I was so depressed because of my sin that I had no idea if I was saved. I had spent 15 years of my life thinking that if I just did enough “good stuff”, God would “like me.” Then, I came to the point when I knew I could never make up for all the sin in my life, and my “gospel” no longer worked. I was broken.
So, when this man of God preached through the book of Ephesians on that day in the summer of ’05, I was thoroughly impressed. “If this is true,” I thought, “Then this is a gospel by which I can actually live.” The problem was that I didn’t know if it was true. My experience told me that there was more to the Christian life. For example, don’t we need to keep the Ten Commandments? Won’t God be mad at us if we don’t “work for Him”?
The more I wrestled with the Bible, and continue to do so, the more my perception of the gospel of grace (rather, my lack of understanding the gospel of grace) began to change, and continues to change to this day. I continually see many truths that rock my world. You see, contrary to popular opinion, the gospel is not about doing anything other than trusting in Jesus. Good works are merely the result of the Spirit’s sanctifying work in believers, but they don’t save people in themselves. Rather, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13)”, and “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).” Paul summarizes the gospel beautifully: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:27-28).”
The law of faith. That is the only imperative that binds us as believers. We must look to Christ and away from our pitiful strivings toward Him every moment of our lives (John 3:14-15). If we are covered in the righteousness of God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21), then we cannot do anything to make Him any more pleased with us than He already is because of His Son.
Don’t be confused, however. I’m not saying that Christians should not aspire to do good works. I’m saying that God will cause His followers to do good works through His Spirit, and that that is the evidence, but not the means, of attaining and maintaining salvation. That is why James says in James chapter 2 that faith without works is dead. Faith that does not produce works is not true faith. But we cannot produce good works in ourselves anymore than we can save ourselves from sin. That’s why God promises us (speaking of the new covenant), “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:27).” The evidence that we have been saved is that God produces fruit of that salvation in our lives.
So, Christians don’t work to be saved; rather, they work because they’ve been saved. They don’t do good works to gain favor with God; rather, they do good works because they are so thrilled that the God of the universe had favor on them before time began and saved them from hell, allowing them to live forever with Him in heaven someday. Out of that awe-struck love will rise men and women who are passionate for good works and cast themselves on the mercy of God, which enables them to do those good works for His glory.
I pray that these truths would work in your heart, as they continue to work work in my heart, to slowly destroy the works-based mentality that threatens to squelch our joy in the gospel of grace every day. Let us rejoice, justified sinners, that our one command for all eternity is to gaze upon the risen and glorified Christ, and that that mandate will increasingly become our greatest joy by the grace of God, through His Spirit!