A Happy Medium
As we gaze through the eyes of history, we find an interesting pattern. One generation strongly supports a certain set of values, and a later generation rebels by strongly supporting a polar-opposite system values. We can see this change in style of dress, choice in music, appreciation of art, political issues, etc… Neither generation is necessarily right or wrong; it’s just interesting to see the dramatic shift as the pendulum swings back and forth throughout the years.
Interestingly, we find this same pendulum swing over different biblical doctrines. For example, take these two passages which describe how we can be saved:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” (Hebrews 5:8–9)
So…are we saved by grace OR are we saved by our obedience to God? The answer to that question is an emphatic “YES!” Unfortunately people have crept into the church throughout the centuries and twisted the concepts of “grace” and “obedience” in such a way that has led many to hold polar opposite views on how they’re saved.
Some people have a works-based approach to religion. As long as they mark everything off their checklist they believe they’re in a right relationship with God. Others have swung in the opposite direction. In their view God’s grace covers everything, whether or not they choose to obey Him.
Let me suggest that God has always intended us to find the middle ground between God’s grace and our obedience. Consider these words of Jesus:
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42)
Did God require the Pharisees to pay these tithes? He sure did (Lev. 27:30). So what was the problem then? Jesus identifies that they were only going through the motions for themselves rather than for “the love of God.” The Pharisees put their confidence in their own ability to keep religious laws. They were still required to keep these laws…but it should have been because of their confidence in God’s power to save them. They were neglecting the very reason behind keeping these laws in the first place!
If Jesus were here today, would He say the same thing to us? Perhaps it would sound like this:
“Woe to you Christian! You go to church every Sunday, but you don’t take time encourage anyone. You take the Lord’s Supper but you do not examine how your life needs to change. You say a prayer before dinner but you do not talk with your family about how you can grow together as a godly team. These are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
It is certainly true that God’s grace will only cover the sins of Christians who obey His will (cf. Heb. 5:8-9 & 1 John 1:5-10). However we must never swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and find ourselves putting trust in our own works. Christians must obey God (that’s a non-negotiable part of being His child), but we obey because His grace can save us from our sins if we give our lives over to Him completely. When we consider our salvation, let’s remain in the middle of His word, where God always intended.