ARE GRACE AND WORKS MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE
December 1, 1987 Issue
"For by grace have ye been saved through faith;... not of works, that no man should glory."--Eph 2:8-9 (ASV).
In many people's thinking there seems to be a contradiction between the subjects of the Grace of God and the Works of God. One "All Grace, No Law" proponent said, "It is time that we quit thinking of Jesus as another Moses. Its about time we start relying on Jesus (our sin-offering) rather than our legalistic religion for salvation..." Here we have it, that is confusion to the nth degree!, and that from a man who purports to be a Christian.
THE NATURE OF GRACE
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches we are saved by grace: "For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works that no man should glory" (Eph 2:8-9). Again, we reed, "For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men..." (Tit 2:11). These passages and dozens of others make it abundantly clear that Gods grace saves us! Yet, in none of them do they state we are saved by "grace only" nor do they teach all men are saved without any effort on the part of man!
God's grace is "unmerited favor." Man does not deserve it, neither can he earn it nor work for it. It comes from God. He is the author of the plan of salvation (Eph 1:1 1). He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16), yet this grace is not unconditional, and herein lies the confusion.
THE NATURE OF WORKS
The Bible plainly teaches that mans works cannot save! The Apostle Paul stressed in Eph 2:8-9 that salvation is the gift of God and that it is not of works, that no man should boast. Human works of righteousness do not amount to anything in the sight of God. Man is a sinner, a terrible, lost sinner! And nothing on earth he can do can save himself. The Bible says, 'But when the kindness of God our Savior, and his love toward man appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit..." (Tit 3:4-s. This plainly tells us that anything man might devise to eradicate sin, or make him holy or make him appear righteous can never avail in the sight of God.
Not only are human works unable to save, we find that even the works of the Mosaic law cannot save. Notice: "Because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight..." (Rom 3:20) Therefore, works of human merit and works of the Mosaic law cannot save us: if they could then there would have been no reason for Christ to come and die for us! His very coming shows something else was required.
For centuries James 2:14-26 has been the occasion of much controversy; and it was this passage which prompted Martin Luther to regard the Epistle of James with considerable contempt, and to describe it as "a right strawy one." Others, who entertain no doubts regarding the inspiration of the book and passage, have nevertheless engaged in much useless and vain speculation thereon in an effort to harmonize an alleged conflict of teaching between James and Paul. In passages like Rom 4:1-6 and Eph 2:8-9, Paul clearly taught that salvation is by faith apart from works; yet James asserted: "Was not Abraham our Father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect... Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith." (Jas 2:21,22,24). Now we have shown that the Bible says some works do not save and some works do save. This is why some people are confused. However, it should be apparent to the diligent Bible student that Paul and James are discussing two different kinds of works in the passages.
TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORKS:
"WORKS INCLUDED and
Paul refers to works which are excluded from Gods plan to save; James discusses works which are included in it. Each writer gives the characteristics of the works under consideration. Those excluded, discussed by Paul, are works in which one might glory (exalt in, boast of); the works included (mentioned by James) are those which perfect faith. The first category, works of which a man might boast and in which he might glory, human, meritorious works, works of human achievement, works the design of which is to earn salvation, works of the law, etc. Were it possible for man to devise a plan by which he could save himself, he could dispense with grace, accomplish his own deliverance from sin, and glory in Gods presence. Such of course, is utterly impossible. All such works are excluded. The works included, and discussed by James, are the commandments of the Lord, obedience to which are absolutely essential to salvation (I Jn 2:4; 2 Thess 1:7-9). Humble submission to the will of God as expressed in his commandments, far from involving works of the type excluded, demonstrate complete reliance upon God, and not upon ones self. Only those who seek to exclude all work, even the commandments of the Lord, such as baptism in water for the remission of sins (Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38), have any difficulty in harmonizing Paul and James! Paul taught the necessity of obedience to the commands of Christ as plainly, positively and emphatically as did James (Rom 6:3, 4, 17, 18).
The alleged difficulties in this section are not of the inspired writer's making, but stem from the erroneous view that salvation is by faith alone, before and without other acts of obedience. Denominationalists often scream "faith only" saves! Yet in the passage just noticed (James 2:24) we learn we are not saved by faith only! Surely the Bible teaches we are saved by faith, but nowhere does it teach salvation by "faith alone". People who so teach fall into the trap of those who teach salvation by "grace only". Neither is true! Faith unexpressed is dead faith. Saving faith includes acts of obedience. (Gal 5:6; Jn 14:15; Lk 6:46; Mt 7:21).
OBEDIENCE IS ESSENTIAL TO SALVATION
Numerous passages teach obedience is essential to salvation. Notice: "Though he was a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which He suffered and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey Him the author of eternal salvation..." (Heb 5:8-9). To demand salvation by "grace only", "faith only", or by "works" only is to violate the plain teaching of God. Salvation by "grace only" is universal salvation; salvation by "faith only" is devil salvation (even the devils believe-Jas 2:19) and salvation by "works only" is infidel salvation!
When a man believes, repents and is baptized according to the commands of God, these are not works of human righteousness, but rather constitute "justification of Faith."
Are grace and works mutually exclusive? If one means the grace of God and the meritorious works of man, yes, they are exclusive. But if one means God's grace and God's commanded (demanded) works, then they are not mutually exclusive. Any other position taken will result in a hopeless morass of contradictions and error. That is why so many are confused and do not understand the relation of grace and works. One should accept all that God has said, render obedience to the truth and teach it to others. In this way, and only in this way, we can hope to be "justified by faith."
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