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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Doing Good Works versus Undeserved Grace

Doing Good Works versus Undeserved Grace

How would you communicate the concept of undeserving grace to someone who is hung up with doing good works to get into heaven? How could you relate this truth from your own application in life?

There are hundreds of laws, commands and parables in both the Old and New Testaments that require obedience. They can be summed up in just two:

"Which is the great commandment in the Law? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

There is absolutely no doubt that the Bible teaches that people are to obey God's commands by living a life of good works. We are to treat God, and other people, with love.

LOVE: agapao (to love in a social or moral sense, to have a strong personal attachment, with sympathetic understanding or affection, based upon social duty rather than personal gain); from agan (much)

Agapao, the Greek word we translate as "love", means to treat others well, not because they can benefit us in return, but simply because it is the right thing to do, whether they deserve it or not.

None of us, however, can relate perfectly, all the time, with God or others. Jesus encountered a person who claimed to have had perfect relationships with everyone they'd met:

"A man came up to him, saying, - Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life? - And he said to him, - Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments. - He said to him, - Which ones?

"And Jesus said, - You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

"The young man said to him, - All these I have kept. What do I still lack? - Jesus said to him, - If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

"When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)

Living a life of perfect good works involves much more than our human definition. Jesus said that eternal life with God requires perfect behavior towards other people and complete trust and adoration of God.

None of us can honestly say we fulfill that requirement.

The apostle James reinforces the requirement of perfection:

"Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." James 2:10 (ESV)

Jesus Christ is the only human who perfectly kept God's laws, all of them, all of the time:

"Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?" John 8:46 (ESV)

"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:14-15 (ESV)

"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself." Hebrews 7:26-27 (ESV)

Jesus lived a perfect life, earning eternity with God. His death, His sacrificial death satisfied God's requirement on our behalf, allowing us to also become eternally forgiven by God, as if we had ourselves lived a perfect life.

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Romans 5:1-2 (ESV)

I cannot live perfectly before God and others, and the more I treasure Christ's sacrifice on my behalf, the more clearly I see my own sinful weaknesses in relating to other people and to God. I am so thankful, daily, that God accepts me as I am because of Christ's sacrifice for me.

"The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

"This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

"Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." Romans 3:21-28 (ESV)

Study question provided by Who We Really Are, LifeWay Small Groups, Serendipity House.

Image provided by The Rotary Club of Winnetka-Northfield, Creative Commons License