Grace, works and joy
There is a huge debate in parts of the church world over grace and works. It’s been a debate for me, individually, as well. For 19 years I went to churches where there were certain “rules” or “standards” we had to abide by. There was nothing wrong with the rules, really. Some made good sense and none was harmful to anyone physically. But spiritually… my focus began to change. As a teen, my focus was on Jesus and what he’d done for me. But the longer I spent following the “standards” the more I began focusing on what I had to do and of what others thought of me.
The problem with works isn’t the works themselves, but the reason we’re doing them.
The “conflict” we see in the Bible with faith and works or grace and works isn’t a conflict between writers. It’s the different perspectives and backgrounds of the leaders. Paul stood firmly against works. Why? He’d been a Pharisee. He’d had his fill of rules and knew that following the letter of the law without giving oneself to the heart of the law led to death. Some of the other writers, on the other hand, were dealing with Jews who suddenly thought they could fling off everything they’d learned and done as Jews and “go wild”. It wasn’t that eating pork was wrong or eating meat sacrificed to idols was wrong, but in their hearts they felt it might be and so when they did those things, they breeched their consciences and felt condemned. Liberty doesn’t lead to condemnation.
So what we see in scripture doesn’t contradict. Instead, when we know some of the background behind the Epistles, we get a better understanding of liberty and grace, of faith and works.
As for me, the standards I followed didn’t make me sad. Trying to “be good enough” to “stay saved” did. When you rely on Jesus’ grace and mercy and trust Him for salvation, you serve Him with a joyful heart, thanking Him for what He’s done. The focus isn’t the rules or self, but God. Doing the right thing isn’t something we worry about or have a list of rules for in that case, but just the fruit of a life centered on God. When you rely on Jesus plus anything else, when you think you have to do certain things to be saved or to stay saved, you quickly lose your joy. Why? Because you quickly realize that you can’t be “good enough”. Your faults become your focus instead of His grace. Who could ever be truly joyful about that?