The Old Testament Law Moses wrote in Bible books such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy set up a temporary framework for people to attain a type of righteousness resulting in partial fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham and his descendants. Ultimate fulfillment came in Christ: salvation by grace through faith. So does what we do matter anymore?
The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 1:15 that God called him by grace, which was recognized by three of the original 12 disciples: Peter, James and John, who because of it accepted and commissioned Paul to preach to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:9). Paul ends Galatians Chapter 2 with a shocking rhetorical statement: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Paul explains in more moderate terms, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).
To make another crucial point, Paul writes another shocking statement about being “dead” in Ephesians 2:1-7:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Dead people can’t do anything, let alone save themselves. Grace is a one-sided act of God resulting in salvation.
Paul hammers home his main point in the continuing verses 8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Salvation comes only by God’s grace through faith, but our desire to act can be legitimately satisfied by doing good—exactly as God intended. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:8-9, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,” and Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude (King James Version: “have grace”), by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
Works are a supernatural and essential consequence of grace: the outward proof of inward salvation. Paul says in James 2:14-17, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled’, and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”
Paul continues clarifying in verses 18-26:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
Although he lived before Christ came to earth, Abraham (and also Rahab) serves as a good example of how God’s grace operates: Living faith works.
The Law revealed our sinfulness and need for a Savior who fulfilled the Abrahamic promise. Galatians 3:21-22 says, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The Law was a precursor, pointing to Christ. Galatians 3 continues in verses 23-29:
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
At Christ’s coming, the Law’s tutelage ended, abolished through faith.
God’s grace activates faith and works. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:8-15:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor,
His righteousness endures forever’.
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
God’s abundant grace enables works that result in God’s glory.
“Grace” is translated from the Greek charis, which occurs more than 100 times in the New Testament and according to blueletterbible.org can mean “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech; good will, loving-kindness, favour; of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ; keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues; the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace; thanks (for benefits, services, favours); recompense, reward.” Sometimes it is also translated as “gratitude” or “gift.”
The amazing, overwhelming abundance of God’s grace may tempt us. Paul addresses this danger in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” The freedom grace imparts should impel us toward righteousness. Romans 6:3-4 continues, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Paul devoted his life to grace, which he equated with the gospel in Acts 20:24: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
By God’s grace, may we who have received saving faith likewise devote ourselves to freely and joyfully serving Him.