Grace and Works
GRACE AND WORKS
(Editor’s note: Brethren continue to struggle with the concepts of “grace” and “works” – and this confusion is worsened by a few misguided preachers. The church is going through another phase where some have grown weary of “traditional teaching” (in this case, “truth”). They claim that we do not understand “grace” – but they can clear it up for us! They tell us that when we “stress obedience,” we are “divisive” and “legalistic.” Then they cry “foul” when their teaching is exposed as Calvinistic (though the evidence speaks for itself). The issue is simple: Must we obey the Lord or not? Some will argue vehemently against “legalism” (and they mean “strict obedience”), then act surprised, hurt, and offended when they are exposed and forced to backtrack in order to assure us that obedience is essential. But they cannot have it both ways – i.e., preaching obedience while simultaneously ridiculing it. With that said, I introduce this article on grace and works by Robert F. Turner. His writings on this subject are some of the clearest I’ve seen. Please read it; then pause, ponder, and profit! –Lanny)
In the Roman letter the apostle Paul clearly contrasts grace and works (Rom. 4:2-5; 11:6), and some have concluded he makes any act of obedience incompatible with grace. We believe this error is the result of failure to consider the context of his arguments concerning "law" and "works." Will you think with us?
He begins his main argument by showing that God is Just in condemning all, for "all have sinned." Law, both moral and positive, identifies sin. It makes sin apparent, and shows the futility of seeking to be acknowledged "free of guilt" on the basis of law alone. Since a single sin is all that is necessary to establish guilt, and no amount of obedience can remove guilt, once established; it follows that the only way one may be justified (free of guilt) on the basis of law alone is to obey perfectly. In Rom. 10:5 we read, "For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them" (emphasis mine). In Gal. 3:10-f. he makes the same point, saying, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them" (emphasis mine).
When Paul says, "If Abraham were justified (free of guilt, rt) by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God;" he is saying there would be no need for the grace of forgiveness if Abraham had never sinned. He is not saying that any act of obedience on Abraham's part would nullify grace. When we recognize that God's grace is expressed in Christ on the cross, and that this "gift" is the MEANS of forgiveness, then we can appreciate the meaning of faith (or trust) in Him. Seeking "freedom from guilt" by (perfect) works, we put our trust in ourselves — and fail. But recognizing that salvation for any but the absolutely perfect (who would need no saving) must be by gift or grace of God, we put our trust in Him who died for us.
The thought of Rom. 11:6 is, therefore: "If by grace, then it is no more of (perfect, meriting) works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work (that is less than perfect, and needs forgiveness) is no more work" (such as Paul has in mind in making these statements.)
With Paul, trust in Jesus Christ involves obedience. Note: for obedience to the faith" (1:5), "who will render to every man according to his deeds" (2:6-13), "ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine" (6:17), "who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit" (8:4), "for the obedience of faith" (16:26).
God's plan for making man righteous — in right standing with Him — was to forgive those who put their trust in the crucified and resurrected Lord. (Read carefully Rom. 4:6-8.) Christ is the MEANS; forgiveness is the OPERATION; and faith (obedient trust) is the CONDITION. The Jews who went about to establish "their own righteousness" (on the basis of law — Phil. 3:9), did not "submit" themselves, being ignorant of God's way. There is no conflict in salvation by grace, and at the point of baptism.
--Robert F. Turner