Ephesians 2:8-9 “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.”
The very idea that someone has to prove themself to earn God’s grace places them in a bit of a quagmire. A biblical definition of grace has traditionally been defined as unmerited favor. For someone to maintain a position that one must earn unmerited favor causes a conflict to occur in their theology, they have taken two contradictory statements and attempted to conjoined them into one.
Works Based Theology
A work is any attempt at earning God’s favor by doing something that they believe pleases Him. The trouble begins with the need to understand what pleases God and what doesn’t. Works based theology struggles with the principles of God’s blessing so they have to get creative by defining what not only qualifies as a work but how much blessing they incur when they perform something that does qualify.
Religious systems that incorporate the Bible into their doctrine have to weave their way around scriptures such as Ephesians 2:8,9, as well as a number of other verses that make it very clear on how God feels about works.
2 Timothy 1:9 “He has saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works, but by His own purpose and by the grace He granted us in Christ Jesus before time began.”
Romans 3:28 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
Titus 3:5 “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,”
If we adopt a system that attempts to justify our lives by our behavior, we begin to place God into a position He never presented. God has firmly established Himself in scripture so to change God’s behavior would require extra-scriptural beliefs. If a religion then adopts other doctrine they have to place the one revealing this doctrine on the same level as God or one hearing directly from God.
Types of Works
A common misperception of God’s view on works is found in nearly every religion. For those who attempt to incorporate the Bible or parts of the Bible into their doctrine, James 2:24 is a popular place to start.
James 2:24 “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”
This scripture, taken by itself could give a false impression of God’s view on doing good works. A good steward of the Bible will read the surrounding scripture so as to gain some insight into the context of the message.
James 2:14-17 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Upon closer examination of the text, we see a pattern of where it becomes evident that James is not saying our works make us righteous before God; instead, he is making it clear that real saving faith is demonstrated by good works.
The person who claims to be a Christian but lives in willful disobedience to Christ has a false or “dead” faith and is not saved. James is making a contrast between two different types of faith—truth faith that saves and false faith that is dead.
“To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives.” Obedience is required for grace to be sufficient”LDS church
It is statements like this that causes much confusion. Using terminology that sounds right but is interpreted differently can lead someone down a path they never realized they were on. The changes in terminology can be very subtle and so the adherent may think it doesn’t sound right but then throw the full weight of their trust in the lap of a teacher that sounds convincing.
Within the scope of the Jehovah’s Witnesses church, the doctrine of God’s Word conflicted with their founder, Charles Russell, so they reinterpreted the original greek and hebrew language to fit their church’s doctrine and called their Bible the New World Translation. JWs believe salvation is earned through a combination of faith plus good works – specifically, taking in knowledge of Jehovah and Jesus; obeying God’s laws; belonging to and serving with God’s true organization (The Watch Tower); and being loyal to God’s organization.
Within the Roman Catholic Church, their theology insists that the Christian’s good works are truly his good merits, and by these works, he preserves and increases the initial righteousness received in baptism to finally attain eternal life (canons 24 and 32) Council of Trent. Without doubt, the official documents of the Roman Catholic Church teach justification by works.
Whether it is a requirement to go out on a mission sabbatical as a right of passage, go door to door and prove your worth, or proving your innocence by reciting a liturgy and hoping you have reduced your sentence in purgatory, the ways to require works is endless.
A final thought regarding works makes me consider the anxiety of holding such a position. If I were to believe I had to prove myself to receive God’s grace then I would be continually be second guessing myself on every action I’ve taken.
If I truly believed God was so fickle that He measured my every step and judged whether I was worthy of His grace, my view of God would be greatly lowered.
Psalm 19:12 “Who can discern his own errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.”
David himself realized the difficulty of evaluating every action and hoping there wasn’t an error he might of overlooked.
A wayward thought, a slip of a tongue, any misstep and who knows how much God is going to punish us. This trend of this thought might lead someone to doing something rash, like going to a confessional and asking forgiveness for everything they can think of, miss anything and the threat of suffering in the afterlife is a real possibility.
Proverbs 17:3 “A crucible for silver and a furnace for gold, but the LORD is the tester of hearts.”
How does God give grace?
Does God measure our worth based off our actions? Does He watch what church we attend and determine our level of grace by how many times we attend? What about the number of times you pray each day, or do a good deed for others that has been approved by men?
The questions can be endless in regards to how we might evaluate works.
You know what a simple solution is for the myriad of doctrines and religions teaching works?
Go to the source.
Jeremiah 17:10 “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.”
At the heart of God’s evaluation is His perception of our heart.
It is by the intent of the heart our actions are measured and it is by the intent of our hearts devotion, our faith is revealed. We cannot measure our hearts intent nor can others, that is God’s territory and He holds that alone.
*God expresses His love toward us as a measure of His grace then when someone responds in their heart with a love reciprocated back toward God, a union occurs that is one for the ages. Like a husband who is conjoined with his wife through an expression of commitment in love, we spiritually do the same back to Christ. He knows it when that love is real and our actions ultimately reveal that love by loving what is important to God, not what is important to us. There is no action that justifies us before God to receive His grace, it is simply a heartfelt receiving of His love and a desire to return it back to Him.
I feel sorry for those who think they need to earn God’s love. It was never intended for this purpose and for those who have laid this weight upon so many people, their judgement will be severe.
Romans 8:1-2 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Walk in the freedom of God’s love and don’t be burdened by the chains of expectation. If you love the Lord, your love will be expressed in the way you live. You will want to be obedient, you will want to love those He loves, and your joy will be made complete as you trust in Him.