Duty and Thankfulness
As we study the Bible one thing becomes abundantly clear, that we need saving and that we are incapable of saving ourselves. In the very beginning of the Bible, we see that God creates the world and everything in it and it is all very good. And yet by the third chapter, we see the good world that God has created marred by sin and disunity. The easy communication and intimacy that Adam and Eve have with God as they walk together in the garden is lost. This is why the Bible often speaks of salvation in terms of reconciliation. Think for instance of the parable of the prodigal son coming home. As we continue to read and study the Bible, we see over and over how people fail and are unable to reconcile themselves to God, even when given every advantage. Sin is corrupting and by it all of mankind has fallen. This is the starting place of the gospel. That we need saving, that we need a savior to take away our sin and reconcile us back to God. The message of the gospel is that Jesus is that reconciliation. He takes on our humanity, yet without our sin, and does what we could never do. He saves us. Salvation is of Christ alone, by grace alone, and we come to it by faith alone.
All this sounds great. God has done what we cannot do. We are saved by the grace of God. But this leaves many asking a question;
"Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?"
To put this question another way, why work if it will not help us get closer to God? If nothing I do contributes to my salvation or my relationship with God why do I need to keep working? Some might even go as far as to say that if grace covers all our sin, perhaps we can or should just continue as we are so that we can have more grace. The Apostle Paul anticipates this type of response in his letter to the Romans. He asks this very question and gives the emphatic response, "By no means!" He goes on to tell us that if we are in Christ, if we have been saved, then we are united with him in his death. We have died to our sin and have been raised to walk in newness of life. We have been raised to walk apart from sin (Romans 6:1–4). The writers of the Catechism understood this and gave us this wonderful answer;
"Because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits, and He may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbours for Christ."
We are not simply saved so that we can continue as we are, but as Paul writes to the Ephesians, we are saved so that we might walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:1-10). These works do not add anything to our salvation. To use a loose analogy. It is as if we have been brought on as workers, the language that scripture often uses is purchased as slaves, and we were brought on to work. These works do not earn us anything because they are part of the purpose for which we were purchased.
Our Typical Response
The way we typically act in our selfishness and pride is to think that our work earns us something. We think that we should be praised and given greater gifts if we work harder or do more. But even if we were to do everything that the Bible commands perfectly, something we are incapable of, we will only be meeting the minimum standard. It is as if we have accepted a job at the local supermarket to work 8 hours a day and expect to get recognition for showing up on time and working the whole 8 hours. This is a good thing, but it is only doing what was expected and required. But this brings us back to our original question. If all this is true, why work if we do not earn anything? There are a couple of things that are important here. First is that when do the good works that God has commanded of us it points to the truth of our salvation. A good tree produces good fruit and a tree that does not produce fruit is not a good tree. If we claim to be in Christ but do not have the fruit of good works then we call God a liar. This unfortunately is the state of many today. They believe or have been taught that being a Christian simply means praying a prayer one time or something similar, not understanding that being a Christian is a lifelong, life-permeating, life-consuming, all-encompassing thing. The second part of this is that we work out of thankfulness. We do the good works that God has commanded because we understand, at least in part, the depth of the gift that we have been given. It is like if you have ever had someone let you stay at their house for a while without charging you anything. As you stay there you do what you can to help out, washing dishes, sweeping floors, and generally helping with the upkeep. None of this earns you the right to stay at the house, but they are done from a thankful heart. They are done with the desire to show how truly grateful you are for the generosity of the owner of the home.
It has been my experience, both in my own life and with talking to others, that this type of question comes from not understanding the depth of the gift we have been given. We tend to have this idea that God somehow owes us. That salvation is our birthright or something like that. But this could not be farther from the truth. The only thing that we are owed is the just punishment for our sins. We deserve death. We have lived lives of active rebellion against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We have fought with everything that is in us to try and take that right for ourselves. We try to be the king of everything. We make ourselves out to be the center of the universe. And yet, in spite of all that, while we were dead in our sin, Christ died for all who would believe in him and follow him in faith. If your life has been changed by the gospel, you know what I am talking about when I say, I cannot even describe the thankfulness and wonder I have that the Lord of all creation would die for my sin, That he would choose me, who has done so much wrong and continues to fail, and would call me his child. Out of awe for what he has done and who he is I will serve all my days. I will say with Paul, I am Christ's slave to command as he wills. I hope and pray that this is you as well. I hope that you start to understand the depth of the grace of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rom. 6:13; 12:1, 2; I Pet. 2:5-10. Matt. 5:16; I Cor. 6:19, 20. Matt. 7:17, 18; Gal. 5:22-24; II Pet. 1:10, 11. Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 14:17-19; I Pet. 2:12; 3:1, 2.