If it could be said of Paul that he had a mantra, a guiding force for much of his writing, it would be grace.
Over and over in his letters we find grace being a focal point in relation to the work of Jesus in a person’s life.
Unfortunately, much has been misunderstood of his mention of grace in a person’s life and I am going to try to clear up some of the confusion today.
Discussion: When you think of “grace,” what do you picture?
Read Ephesians 2:1-10
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
– Salvation by grace alone through Christ alone.
Look at verse 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
So, you were saved by grace, not by works so that you can go on to do good works.
Understand? Not of works for works.
There has tended over the years to be two trains of though that have been built regarding grace and works.
1. The first would say that works are insignificant in our transformation. I’ve got my key so now I’m good; all I need is grace.
2. The second would say grace got me in the door but it’s works that will get me to the table.
The problem is that neither of these beliefs are what we find in the gospel.
Now let’s look at two passages that on the surface can appear contradictory but really say the same thing.
First, look at Galatians.
Read Galatians 3:1-5
Most scholars tend to believe that Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was likely written during his stay in Ephesus. This is important because while he was likely teaching the church in Ephesus about grace, he was dealing with the distortion of that grace in the churches of Galatia.
Look at his words:
Who has bewitched you? This is the only time this word is used in Paul’s writing. Literally it means who has cast a spell on you? He can’t believe what he is hearing from them.
The church at this point had been influenced by legalists called Judiazers who taught that the Old Testament law was still binding on Christians.
As a result, those who were coming into the church were continuing to try and fulfill the law as a result of obligation.
Now remember, the original law in the Old Testament was written by God and given to man.
These inspired words were good things to live by: don’t murder, don’t steal…
The problem was that most Galatians were casting off the power of the Spirit and exchanging it with fear of the power of man.
Because of this, these believers were once again subjecting themselves to a gospel of “do goodism” in the hopes of finding their righteousness.
Illustration: Have you ever tried to read a one year Bible and ended up feeling guilty when you fell behind? Some how I am failing in my Christianity because I’m only on April 1 and it’s August 9th! This is living under the law.
Discussion: What are some of those things that you feel like if I could just do ____ better…. then I would be a good Christian?
Now for the apparent contradiction:
Read James 2:14-18
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century, referred to the book of James as the straw gospel because of the emphasis James placed on works rather than grace.
The question is were James and Paul really contradicting each other, or were they instead saying the same thing?
James in his letter was concerned primarily with the fact that the church had become stagnant in it’s care primarily of the poor.
His entire premise was that if a life had placed it’s focus in being led by the power of the Holy Spirit then should have some sort of outward evidence.
Paul’s premise was that religious deeds without being led by the power of the Holy Spirit has no value in a person’s life.
These two inferences were saying the same thing and used the same illustrations to defend their points.
James 2:21-23 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 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.
God comes to Abraham and tells him it’s time to decide whether or not you trust me. God tells him to take this son of promise and offer him as a sacrifice. The word says Abraham’s works were accounted to him as faith. I have always struggled with that request. This is one of those things that challenge me to the core. Do I really trust you, Lord?
Galatians 3:5-8 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”
The two camps are one. We have a tendency to assume that all is lost and we go on living our lives in the grace that God has given to us without ever letting our lives be an example.
Or, we get on the other side, and assume that what I say and do has the potential of proving me righteous in God’s eyes. Rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to do that.
Which leads us back to Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Workmanship is defined as created by an artisan. You were taken, an uncast stone, and you were created into the workmanship of Christ Jesus. Created for good works.
Paul told Titus do good deeds to meet pressing needs in people’s lives.
Do you struggle on either side of this?
Do you struggle to do it on your own?
James does it for the purpose of presenting a transformed life to the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Both James and Paul recognized that no amount of good works has the power to save a life, but that a life saved has the evidence of good works being lived out through us.
So what does this look like?
Do you feel like you are struggling with God?
God planned to give you a life and a future.
He has a plan for you and for your life.
The key to receiving salvation is to realize your works are worthless.
Let the life that you live be a testimony to the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you.
All you have to do is receive from Him.
Discussion: How can your life be a testimony?