Last week, we saw that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and not by works. So does that mean we’re off the hook? Forget about doing good deeds and just not worry about how we live our lives?
Of course not. Even Paul, who only boasted in the cross of Christ, knew that works were necessary.
While Ephesians 2:8-9 is foundational for our understanding of how God saves us, it’s important that we keep reading. After telling us that our salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works, Paul goes on to say, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
So God does want us to do good deeds, good works. So they must be necessary.
And they are. Good works are necessary. They just aren’t necessary for our salvation.
That’s where we get tripped up so often. We think of the relationship between faith and works as being an either/or sort of thing. Some people insist that it’s “faith AND works,” as if the two go hand in hand. God does His part, and I do mine. But we can’t do anything to save ourselves.
At the same time, though, it’s not right to say “faith OR works,” as if the two are mutually exclusive. Some Christians act like that’s the case. I’m saved by grace through faith so that I’ll never have to work. Once I’m set free from sin, I’m free to live however I want. And that just isn’t the case either. Paul makes it clear. God has prepared good works for us to do.
No, when it comes to the faith God gives and the works we are to do, it’s not “faith AND works.” It’s not “faith OR works.” It’s faith that works. Once the grace has done its job, once it has redeemed us and transformed us, then we get to work.
It’s the grace that comes through faith that makes all the difference. God takes our filthy rags, those used tampons, and replaces them with His own Son. Like Jesus Himself said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
Or, to put it another way, God fixes us. He replaces the missing component—Himself—that makes works work, if you would please pardon the redundancy. But let’s remain clear: we’re not doing those works for credit. We’re not doing them to be saved. Instead, we’re doing them because we already are saved. We do those works in response to what God has done, never to initiate what He’s done.
I think that’s why Jesus said that we would bear much fruit. Fruit is the perfect analogy for the Christian life. If you go out into an orchard while apples are growing, you don’t hear the trees grunting and groaning, straining with all of their might to produce fruit. No, apples are what apple trees make on their own, provided the conditions are right and the tree is healthy. It’s just what apple trees do.
The same is true for us. Once God’s grace has taken hold, we produce fruit, those works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. And rather than be dirty rags, they become something beautiful in His sight.
It’s very much like a little child showing his or her father something that he or she drew. To an outsider, with no relationship to the kid, it’s nothing but a mass of colored scribbles, poorly crafted shapes that don’t conform to anything in reality. But to the child’s father, that picture is a wonder, something to be displayed proudly in his office or on the refrigerator or wherever it can best be honored. And that’s not because of how wonderful an artist the child is. But it’s because the father’s love has transformed the child’s attempts into art.
God does the same for us. We are now able to produce good fruit in keeping with our faith. And they are good because of God.
Adapted from my non-fiction book manuscript, The R-Rated Bible