Grace, Faith, and “Legalism”?

Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV “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.” The same grace that saves us produces obedience in us. It seems that there has been an uptick in posts about legalism around the web lately so I figured I would offer some thoughts on the matter.

Holiness and obedience is what grace produces in you. Obedience is not in opposition to grace. Obedience is not legalism. Legalism is adding to the Scripture. Jesus said something very interesting in the sermon on the mount that is often overlooked.

Matthew 5:17-20 NKJV “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the commandments. He lived a sinless life and died in our place so that we may be made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. But His righteousness does not take the place of our obedience. In fact Jesus said in John 14:15 that we would keep His commandments if we love Him. I think the issue arises for some people, that they are so in awe of the grace of God that they don’t want to say anything that would even remotely seem to take away from God’s grace and I completely understand that. Yet if you warn against sin or talk about living holy they automatically call that legalism. That, my friend, is an error. As much of an error  as making up extra rules like the Pharisees did to make sure they didn’t violate any commandments.

I fully and completely defend the text of Ephesians 2:8-10 that I opened up this post with. I wholeheartedly believe we are saved by grace through faith. And like verse ten says, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are saved by grace for good works. Let me say it again, we are saved by grace, for good works. We don’t maintain salvation by good works, our good works prove our salvation. Our love for one another is evidence that we are in Christ.

If we are conformed to the image of Christ, we will walk as He walked. James 4:7 says, ” submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Jesus isn’t submitting to God for me, He isn’t resisting the devil for me, I have to do that. When James chapter one talks about how temptation becomes sin, it is my responsibility to do what 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says and take those thoughts captive. I have to do that. I have no part in my salvation. Jesus alone does the work of salvation, yet I do have a part in my walk with Him, that part is submission.

These two things are not opposed to each other they go hand in hand. Works according to Scripture is to walk in obedience. Some people say things like, “you’re trying to earn your salvation” or “you’re trying to earn God’s favor by works.” No, my salvation produces works in me, it produces an obedient heart in me.

This is why James said, I will show you my faith by my works. Grace brings about faith and that faith brings about good works. A common objection is Galatians 5:4 NKJV “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law: you have fallen from grace.” This Scripture is frequently used to equate holiness, obedience and works to trying to save yourself by the law. But look at verse six, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” To properly understand Galatians we must acknowledge that Paul is writing to people who have been brought back to keeping circumcision as necessary for salvation. That context clears up the argument made against obedience.

I want to close this post with a few more passages of Scripture.

2 Corinthians 6:17-7:1 NKJV “Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.”

We are to come out from among them and be separate. I’ve often heard people say, don’t let the enemy make you feel bad for sin, God’s grace will cover that. God’s grace covers if we repent. But don’t make the mistake of thinking every time you feel bad about something that it’s the enemy. If you’re a Christian and you’re in sin, you should feel bad and you should feel guilty, you’re sinning! Don’t equate conviction with condemnation, that is blasphemy.

Titus 2:11-14 NKJV “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Romans 12:1-2 NKJV “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

We are to present our bodies, that is a work. That doesn’t save us but it is our calling as Christians. As much as people warn against trying to save yourself by works by using Galatians we will do well to remember these words in Romans twelve from the Apostle Paul as well. Peter quoted the Old Testament when he said, “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

We are saved by grace, through faith unto good works. We are called to holiness. Hebrews 12:14 says we are to pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. We are called to pursue holiness. The enemy would like nothing better than to deceive you into thinking that you submitting to God and working out your salvation with fear and trembling is you trying to nullify the grace of God. When you sin, let conviction bring you to repentance. But don’t let condemnation tell you that you can’t be forgiven.

Let’s pray. Father, I ask you that this post is a blessing and a help to those who read it. Help us to avoid the ditches on this subject. Keep us from adding commands that you didn’t give and keep us from thinking it’s okay, I can always ask for forgiveness, during times of temptation. Lord, you are holy and you call us to be holy. Help us to walk as Jesus walked and help us to grow in our sanctification. We ask these things in Jesus name, Amen.

*I am preparing to do a series on grace, faith, and works after we finish the series on the book of James so be looking forward to that during the summer.

*This has been a topic of conversation lately and Jolene asked me how I would define works to a new Christian, she shared my answer on her blog.

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