I recently heard the term “cheap grace” applied to the phenomenon of Christians who claim that works don’t matter because we’re saved by grace. They say we can just relax and enjoy the ease of our Christian walk because grace takes care of everything. It’s one of the many Christian concepts that is based on Scripture but not understood correctly. Christians have always argued over the issue of God’s grace versus our works, but the argument is over a choice that doesn’t exist. There really isn’t a choice between grace and works.
The confusion comes from the Apostle Paul’s words being translated “we are saved by grace” and the tendency of some Christians to think of grace as the mechanism of salvation. It’s as if grace is a thing or a magic potion or a supernatural phenomenon. Just take one of these grace things and you’re good to go. However grace is not a mechanism at all. The mechanism of salvation is our response to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. When we admit we are sinners, repent from sin, and accept Christ as Lord: then we are saved. The grace aspect is that God didn’t have to provide any mechanism. We were sinners and deserving of death, but God graciously made a way for us to be redeemed.
A better translation of Paul’s words is that “we are saved because of God’s graciousness.” God has graciously made a way for us to be saved. There is nothing we can do to earn our way to salvation, but we are still obligated to take the action that God provided for us if we want to be saved. We must accept God’s gracious gift. That action is once for all time with no need to perform recurring legalistic tasks to maintain good standing. We must repent from our sinful path and accept the lordship of Christ. We must submit our will to the Lord.
But there is more. Even though there are no works to earn our salvation, there is a need to walk in our newness of life to do what Christ has told us. John 14:23 reads,“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Once we receive salvation, our heart is changed to favor the Lord’s commands. We received the Holy Spirit to give us direction in our work and urge us toward works that serve Jesus. No Christian will be truly content if they don’t do these works. These works don’t earn salvation, but they make us complete as servants of the Lord.
Jesus gave a special significance to works as recorded in Matthew 7:21 where He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Note that Jesus doesn’t require just any works. We can make up lots of good sounding works to try to earn favor with God, but the only works that please Jesus are those that do the Father’s will. We learn which works those are by understanding God’s Word and obeying the Spirit’s guidance regarding what we should do.
In summary, there is no choice between grace and works. Both grace and works have full effect. God is gracious to us. And we are called to serve Him through our works.