Friday, January 22, 2010

Grace + Growth = Obedience

I'm preparing a sermon this week on three very well known verses, Ephesians 2:8-10. Verses 8 and 9 in particular are quite well known, and are one of the classic statements of salvation by grace alone. We contribute nothing. Pure gift. Don't try to earn it. Your works don't save you. And yet I can't miss the fact that they are followed up by verse 10, telling us about the good works God desires us to do.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not 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, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

As clear as Paul is about the fact that we can't obey our way into God's favor, he is just as clear about the fact that God's favor should now result in our obedience.

The classic dilemma for preachers approaching this text, or similar grace-centered texts, is to worry that if we make too big a deal out of grace, that people will start to think obedience doesn't matter. Perhaps, we may think, it's dangerous for us to emphasize grace too much, because people will stop caring about holiness. How do we tell people their obedience doesn't earn them favor with God, and still tell them to obey?

Bryan Chapell sums up the dilemma neatly, "It is difficult to say plainly that obedience does not qualify us for grace, without having some hear that obedience is no longer a requirement of God." Indeed.

Even Paul was not unaware of such distortions of the gospel of grace. In Romans 6 he deals with the exact issue. Some are claiming that since they are saved by grace, that they are then free to live any way that they please. "What then shall we say? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!!"

Preaching grace means maintaining as Chapell says, that our good works do "not qualify us for grace." Indeed, by definition, grace cannot be qualified for. We are saved apart from a consideration of good works, but we are also saved that we might now do good works. Preaching the importance of holiness in the Christian life is not "legalism" or "works based theology," it is biblical, so long as the context is right. Paul is a model of what it means to keep these together in Ephesians 2:8-10.

No comments: