If I choose not to risk, if I go the “safe” route and determine not to promote either salvation by grace or a lifestyle of grace, what are the alternatives? Four points come to my mind, all of which are popular these days. I’ll share two points with you today and two points tomorrow.
I can emphasize works over grace. I can tell you that as a sinner you need to have a stronger commitment to Christ, demonstrated by the work you do in His behalf, before you can say that you truly believe. My problem in doing so is this: A sinner cannot commit to anything. He or she is spiritually dead, remember? There is no capacity for commitment in an unregenerate heart. Becoming an obedient, submissive disciple of Christ follows believing in Christ. Works follow faith. Behavior follows belief. Fruit comes after the tree is well rooted. Martin Luther’s words come to mind:
No one can be good and do good unless God’s grace first makes him good; and no one becomes good by works, but good works are done only by him who is good. Just so the fruits do not make the tree, but the tree bears the fruit . . . . Therefore all works, no matter how good they are and how pretty they look, are in vain if they do not flow from grace.
I can opt for giving you a list of dos and don’ts. The list comes from my personal and/or traditional preferences. It becomes my responsibility to tell you what to do or not to do and why. I then set up the conditions by which you begin to earn God’s acceptance through me. You do what I tell you to do . . . you don’t do what I tell you not to do, and you’re “in.” You fail to keep the list, you’re “out.” This legalistic style of strong-arm teaching is one of the most prevalent methods employed in evangelical circles. Grace is strangled in such a context. To make matters worse, those in authority are so intimidating, their authority is unquestioned. Rare are those with sufficient strength to confront the list-makers.