Grace and Works: Why the Confusion?

Often times grace and works are presented as opposites; either one has grace or one has works, but never both for they are mutually exclusive. A famous passage from Romans is usually quoted to demonstrate this dichotomy: “At this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom 11:5-6). Another useful verse is found in Galatians 5:4, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.”

The general consensus among many groups today is that grace is irreparably at odds with works: grace is the new covenant of salvation, works is the old covenant. If one desires to live according to the will of God—that is, obey the commands of Christ—he/she runs the risk of falling from grace and becoming estranged, cut off, from Christ.

If the reader is not struck by the irony of this idea—that Christ has redeemed his followers from following Him—then perhaps he or she is too familiar with the teaching to take serious notice of its contradiction.

The problem, of course, is not with the verses mentioned, but with the implementation of them. If one believes that doing good works is a contradiction to grace, and grace the key to salvation, then why raise a finger? If a person is observant they will notice that the same groups who hold to this peculiar idea of grace are often the same groups who complain that today’s Christianity is not addressing the needs of society, that church has become a country club and not a house of worship and outreach, etc. Is it really a mystery? Is it not the inevitable outcome of flagging righteous living as an act of sedition against grace?

I want to look at a few verses and attempt to set the record straight as briefly as possible (long articles = no readers). St. Paul gives us the proper starting point in Romans 1:5, “Through Him (Jesus) we have received grace…for obedience to the faith.” Paul did not view grace as a means to escape obedience, but rather the empowerment of God “for obedience” to the faith. Without God’s grace it is impossible to be a disciple of Christ in this world. Paul says again in his first letter to the Corinthian Church that, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (15:10). Notice that he attributed his ability to labor in the work of God to the empowerment of grace.

A very telling verse is found in Romans 12:6 where Paul is describing the spiritual gifts. He says: “Having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” From this verse one is reminded of Christ’s parable of the talents.

As the reader is probably already aware of the details of the parable, I will only make some brief points. Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them” (Mt 25:14). The parable goes on to explain that the Master gave 5 talents to one servant, 2 to another, and 1 to another. Upon his return the one given 5 talents invested them and doubled the talents for his master, likewise with the one who was given 2 talents. The master says to them, “well done, good and faithful servants; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you rulers over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” But then the servant who was given 1 talent hid the gift and returned it to his master saying, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” Somehow this reasoning made sense to the servant, but not to the master. The master rebuked him and took his talent saying, “you wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown…etc, etc…cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness…” and that was that.

The last servant reminds me of much of the church today. They believe that God gave them the gift of grace, but they also believe that He is wholly in charge of it and does not require the cooperation of His children—if He wants something done He’ll do it with or without us; He “reaps where He hasn’t sown.” They think that they are exempt from investing the gift of God into the world on account of grace, when it is exactly the other way around. Because of God’s grace they are able to invest in good works. To not do so is not only “lazy” but is “wicked.” Being faithful, or ‘full of faith,’ means acting on the power that God has given, i.e. the power to be a disciple of Christ. When one does act on the grace given to him/her even more grace will be given. The gift that the wicked servant hid was not discarded by the master. No, it was given to the one who demonstrated that he would produce even more with it; it was given to the one who was faithful.


13 thoughts on “Grace and Works: Why the Confusion?

  1. Eric, I can’t believe we never met at ORU. We would have made good friends, I think, even though we disagree on this point.

    Grace is at odds with works in terms of a believer’s standing before God. The only “work” required in the new covenant is to believe in Jesus and his finished work. Romans 1:5 reads a bit differently in the ESV: “through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace… to bring about the obedience of faith…” In the new covenant, faith in Jesus IS obedience.

    When a person believes in Christ, he or she is made a new person. As part of the new covenant, God’s law is on their hearts and written on their minds; their sins are remembered no more (Hebrews 10:16-17). The believer’s new nature hard-wires them with a desire to obey God–not perfectly, but in intention and endeavor. Does this make them a legalist? Of course not. It’s the fruit of receiving “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17).

    Now let’s talk implementation. You asked, “If one believes that doing good works is a contradiction to grace, and grace the key to salvation, then why raise a finger?” I believe that good works are the fruit of grace, but I don’t think that’s where we need to spend the bulk of our preaching. The writer of Hebrews spent the bulk of his/her letter (10.5 of the 13 chapters, in fact) convincing Christians what to believe regarding their standing before God. In my own personal life, this recent illumination of grace gives me a greater desire to know Christ and what is mine in Him.

    Right believing always leads to right living. So let’s preach Jesus and his finished work. That’s right believing. Some might say this is making light of sin, that this is “cheap grace.” I would say that they are making light of Christ and all he’s accomplished.

    Blessings on you, brother.

  2. Hey Gabe,

    Absolutely we would have made good friends, no reason to not start now:) Let me react to the first part of your response, you said:

    “Grace is at odds with works in terms of a believer’s standing before God. The only “work” required in the new covenant is to believe in Jesus and his finished work. Romans 1:5 reads a bit differently in the ESV: “through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace… to bring about the obedience of faith…” In the new covenant, faith in Jesus IS obedience. When a person believes in Christ, he or she is made a new person. As part of the new covenant, God’s law is on their hearts and written on their minds

    I used my Greek interlinear Bible for the Romans quote as I think it is the most literal and acurate take on the New Testament. In this case, the Greek does say “for obedience of faith” (1:5). But, unless we are clear as to what constitutes faith this is little more than a side note. You, and correct me if I’m wrong, have defined faith as belief and that “Right believing always leads to right living.”

    My question for you is if the “right living” does not manifest, are you willing to say that the person has genuine, salvation-type, faith?

    You made the point that God has written His law on our hearts, but for what end? To not obey or to obey? Very simply, if one is confronted with a moral choice, let’s say fornication, and the law written on his heart says do not fornicate, yet the person decides to fornicate, then we have demonstrated two things: 1) that his right believing has not necessarily led to right living, and 2) the law written on his heart is not a disabling of sin but rather the leading of the Holy Spirit which can be violated.

    Grace is the power to live in line with your belief and to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit, not the dismissal of obeying/right living.

    Faith without corresponding action is dead, as James, Peter, Paul and the rest of the NT writers agree (and nearly all of the Church Fathers). If faith is not acted upon it means nothing. Further more, if faith does not operate by love it is nothing (1Cor 13). Love is always an active term. It is not an abstract “knowing,” it is a participatory “knowing.”

    Furthermore, it is not proper to deny Christ Himself a commentary on this whole salvation business, and what does He say?

    “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27). Simply believing is not “bearing” a cross, otherwise the devils all bear the cross. Do they not also believe and tremble? (James 2:19-20)

    Then: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Again, love is active, not abstract. Either one has the love of God or he isn’t a disciple.

    Also: “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?…whosoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:48,50). Not just those who hear, but those who “do” His Father’s will are His family.

    But “living” in harmony with Christ should not be a let down, it should not cause discouragement but just the reverse. This call to come and follow Him is joy unspeakable in that He who has called you has also the ability to keep you on the path. His grace is sufficient and will allow you to be “obedient to the faith.”

    What are your thoughts?

  3. Eric, yes. Let’s be friends!

    I have a 20-month old son named Isaiah Caden. He’s a light-skinned brother, but he’s definitely my son. (Find me on Facebook to see what I’m talking about. You’ll laugh.) When he was born, nobody had to tell him to start crawling, eating, pooping, and crying. When Isaiah got a little older, nobody had to tell him to start talking and walking either. I think there are two reasons for this. One, his brain is hard-wired by God to use his muscles and explore his world. Two, he is surrounded by talkers and walkers. He sees examples every day of what he’s supposed to be doing. And guess what? I’ve never had to tell him, “Just because you’re my son, you’re not free from walking and talking.”

    In the same way, nobody has to tell children of God to try to obey Christ. They already want to. The key, I think, is getting those children around some walkers and talkers, those who can teach them the Word, how to pray in the Spirit, and show them by example how to live. This is where Biblical community comes in.

    You asked: “My question for you is if the ‘right living’ does not manifest, are you willing to say that the person has genuine, salvation-type, faith?”

    Yes. (I’m making the assumption that this person has a genuine desire to follow Christ, as most Christians do. In my life and ministry experience, I have rarely encountered a Christian who does not.) If a Christian is confronted with fornication and makes the wrong choice, does that nullify their righteousness in Christ? Absolutely not. They have “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). That sin is forgiven. They are the righteousness of God in Christ. That’s grace! What parent calls a stumbling toddler an idiot? Or worse, threatens to remove the child from the family? Certain behavior takes time for a child to grasp, just as right living does.

    Am I saying they should continue in sin that grace may abound? Absolutely not. But Jesus isn’t interested in behavior modification; He wants life transformation. Condemning a Christian by reminding them of their failure to obey will only push that person further into the law, which Christ came to save us from. It is only under grace–not law–that we are free from sin’s dominion (Romans 6:14). Law will only revive sin; in other words, the sin will get worse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered Christians that tried to “live right” but just flat gave up. That Christian needs a resurgence of confidence that he/she is righteous before God, that Jesus paid their debt, that the same grace that saved them also “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives…” (Titus 2:11-12). I find it interesting that the author of Hebrews tells his/her readers to “draw near in full assurance of faith” and “hold fast the confession of our hope” before he tells them to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:19-24). Confidence before God is required before good works can manifest. And that confidence only comes with believing.

    Eric, I think you have a valid concern. As I see it, you’re worried about lazy spiritual “union workers”… those who arrogantly do the minimum to “get by” because they are protected by the union. There’s no need to worry because that is DEFINITELY going to happen. That’s grace. It’s painfully slow. It gets abused sometimes. But it is the solution to just about everything. But as I stated before, I think grace abusers are the minority. But if my son grows older and disobeys me, which approach do you think is more effective in changing his behavior (after discipline is administered): reminding him he’s not free from obeying me, or reminding him that he’s my son and that I love him?

    God’s law is written on our hearts to this end: that Christ is glorified, even when we fail. That his children can walk right into his presence–failures and all–and receive His love and grace to go and sin no more.

    In closing, let me respond to the verses you mentioned.

    Luke 14:27 – Jesus is basically asking for total commitment. The people were already familiar with the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”, so apart from the use of the cross as a metaphor, this wasn’t a new concept (Deut. 6:5). However, keep in mind that Jesus taught this before He died on the cross, before the new covenant was enacted. Paul sheds some light on how this metaphor can be viewed in light of the resurrection: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). I not only carried my cross but died on it when I believed Christ was my propitiation. My old self has been crucified so that I could be free from sin. Now, I consider myself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). So to answer your question, believing in Christ’s triumph is absolutely bearing my cross. It reminds me of the beautiful exchange. He became my sin. I became His righteousness. (This is not the same believing that demons do. They mentally concede that God exists, but they don’t surrender themselves to receive His grace and righteousness.)

    John 13:35 – The Law also commanded God’s people to love. So how is Christ’s command any different? The previous verse sets this in the proper perspective. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (13:34). Love is indeed active, not abstract, but Christ’s tone here isn’t demanding as a schoolmarm’s might be as she tells the children to play nice. Jesus had loved his disciples perfectly for three years and was preparing to die for them. How could they not respond to this love? Grace did what the Law could not do; grace showed them how to love. The Law demands from man; grace imparts to man.

    Matthew 12:48,50 – Doing the Father’s will is critical. And what is the Father’s will? Believing in Jesus. In the same passage, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they kept asking for signs but wouldn’t believe in Him (see verses 38-42). I think His point can be further illuminated in John 6:28-29:

    “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ ”

    The work of God is believing. Right living always follows.

  4. Hey Gabe, I’ll check out your FB page and see this little white/black man (haha). Can’t wait.

    Let me start where you both begin and end. You said: “The work of God is believing. Right living always follows.” But then in answer to my question: “if the ‘right living’ does not manifest, are you willing to say that the person has genuine, salvation-type, faith?” You answered: “Yes.” You reassured me that even the “lazy spiritual “union workers”… those who arrogantly do the minimum to “get by” because they are protected by the union. There’s no need to worry because that is DEFINITELY going to happen. That’s grace.”

    If right living “always” follows right believing (i.e. faith) then we must decide which of the above statements to keep and which to throw out, because they are in strict contradiction.

    There are a number of things you said that I whole heartedly agree with. You said, “How could they not respond to this love? Grace did what the Law could not do; grace showed them how to love. The Law demands from man; grace imparts to man.” I would only add the grace does not simply “show” a man how to love (because man is not capable of loving like God), it empowers him to love! Greater is He that is within me than he who is in the world. He that is in me is Christ and Christ is holy, not just in thought but in practice.

    You also said: “Jesus isn’t interested in behavior modification; He wants life transformation.” Exactly! And what is life transformation if not…life transformation. No life transformation, no life of God. Again, there is no way I could live transformed unless empowered by God. Grace is that empowering.

    As to those who are spiritual “union workers” as you put it (love that phrase by the way), do they not, in your mind, resemble the 5 virgins who did not keep their lamps oiled and trimmed? (Matt 25:1-13); Do they not remind you of those whom Jesus will say to on the last day, “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7:23)? Do they not remind you of the wicked and lazy servant who hid his masters talent (gift) in the ground and did not invest it (Matt 25:14-30)?

    And what do we say of Paul’s admonishment to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 18, 25; Rom 8:2, 4) and his doctrine that one is to “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). If one does not do His works it simply means he is not empowered to do so – he has not grace. Grace is God’s ability working through you.

    Paul preached that sin should not have dominion over you because we were under grace not the law (Rom 6:14). Is he speaking abstractly? No, he means the one under grace is not a slave to sin.

    John says the same when he says, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself…” (1Jn 5:18). In the Greek this phrase “does not sin” is a continual tense, meaning “does not continually sin” or “does not practice sin.” If sin is just an ordinary practice for someone that someone ought to have serious concern for their eternal salvation.

    How does one know if he has faith? Just knowing right doctrine isn’t it (Jm 2). Trusting your heart won’t do, the Bible says it is deceptive and wicked “who can know it?” Paul tells us how: “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Prove yourselves; or do you not realize yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2Cor 13:5). He says to look at your life. If the fruit of the spirit is in your life you can be assured you are in the faith. If not, repent and come back to communion with the Lord.

    Sorry for such a long reply, but its not a fraction of what I want to say. What I really want to tell you is that when you are confronted with a moral choice, between good and evil, obedience or disobedience to the Spirit of God, you have the empowerment of God to choose the good, to choose God. To deny yourself the righteous living that Christ has given us is to have a “form of godliness but denying its power.” It’s to take the Lord’s name in vain – to call oneself a disciple but not to “be” one, to draw close to God with our lips but to keep Him far from us. Such a one is in danger of being that guy in the end who says to Christ “Lord, Lord” and Him responding, “I never knew you, depart from me you worker of lawlessness.”

    Grace set me free once when I realized the mercy of God. Then it set me free again when I realized it was God’s gift of allowing me to become a disciple of Christ. “A Christianity without discipleship is a Christianity without Christ” (D. Bonhoeffer).

    Look forward to more discussion (if you’re up for it). Cheers.

  5. Ooohhhh, I like how you laid down the gauntlet. “If you’re up for it” eh? Ha ha ha ha!

    Eric, let me clarify. I meant that if right living does not manifest right away, it doesn’t negate the person’s saving faith. The fruit of the Spirit takes time to grow. If the right living doesn’t manifest at all, then I think one of two things has happened. Either the person was never saved to begin with (this is akin to a baby being born dead–no life, no movement), or that person is attempting to live by the Law rather than grace.

    For example, let’s say Derek, a new Christian, has a pornography addiction. (I really hope Derek Vonigas reads this. Ha ha!) If Derek does not desire to change his habit, I question what exactly he believed and confessed when he got saved. If Derek desires to change, but tries to do it by self-effort–the Law, which inevitably leads to failure, guilt, and condemnation–he will give up. (This is where I think many Christians are. They try to please God by being good little boys and girls, but soon find that they can’t measure up.) Does this mean Derek doesn’t have saving faith, that he is unrighteous before God? No, it means he hasn’t understood the power of grace. Therefore, grace and the immature Christian are not “in strict contradiction.”

    Would you say that Lot’s belief in God lined up with his works? As Abraham’s nephew, he was blessed by God, but Lot chose to live in Sodom and Gomorrah. He allowed his daughters to marry pagans. Lot got wasted and had sex with them, for crying out loud. He had nothing of the heart for God that Abraham had. Yet the Bible calls Lot “that righteous man” (2 Peter 2:7-8). God still rescued him from destruction. (I think God’s grace casts a wider net than any of us know.) So I think there are two kinds of righteous people: those like Abraham who press into Christ and are called friends of God, and those like Lot who get into heaven smelling like smoke.

    It is no big deal for God to make a good person righteous. If we are kept right before God by our works, then why does Scripture say, ” ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (Romans 4:3-5). God doesn’t justify the godly. He justifies the ungodly. He is righteous in making the sinner righteous. This does not change when a believer sins (when the right living doesn’t manifest yet). The believer remains righteous because Jesus remains righteous. (I’m talking about sin in terms of falling short, not the sin of those who “practice lawlessness.”) If good works are required to maintain our righteousness, then why did Jesus have to come at all? The Law was enough. Sin cannot stop grace: “…Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

    Just to reiterate, I am not advocating sin. God hates it. It destroys lives. Sin is so bad that Jesus had to die. But in order to defeat sin, I’m convinced that Christians would be better served to hear and study about Jesus and what belongs to them in Him, rather than a to-do list of works. I’m a living testimony of this. I always feel condemned when I hear preachers talk about what’s wrong with me and what I need to be doing. But I feel encouraged and empowered when I hear other preachers talk about Jesus and his finished work. I’m reminded that when I fall, I can get up and keep going because I’m still righteous, holy, perfect, loved, and accepted. God the Father sees me as He sees Jesus. When Christ is exalted and lifted up, people come running to Him.

    Living and walking by the Spirit are both important. However, it’s equally important to “not submit again to a yoke of slavery” by self-effort and trying to keep the Law (Gal. 5:1). If our life in Christ began “by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3)?

    Like you, I have a ton more to say but I think we should both save it for the book we’re going to co-write. Ha ha ha! Seriously, Eric, I appreciate your spirit man. A friend of mine who read our comments said it’s like hearing two dueling musicians. She also said we’re describing two sides of the same building. Quite right, I suspect.

    Cheers, my friend.

  6. P.S. What’s your church background like? What kind of spiritual environment were you raised in? I’m curious to see if perhaps your position is a result of your background. As I said earlier, I’m reacting pretty heavily to works because of mine.

    And I noticed you’re Orthodox? What does that mean? Aren’t all Christians orthodox?

  7. Haha, yah, I usually give someone an easy exit by saying, “If you’re up for it.” I’ve found in the past that I’m much more likely to be loving a theological discussion than the next guy. I was just making sure you weren’t bored to tears.

    You’re friend is right to a degree, we are arguing the same thing. We both agree that right living is a matter of reorientation of life and does not necessarily happen overnight. Much of the sin we are involved with is entrapped in our learned habits. These things can take some time to unlearn. That’s why Scripture tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” which is accomplished through the Word and prayer.

    However, one major area that we are speaking past each other has to do with our usage of the word “works.” You’ll notice that I haven’t referenced the law at all when I speak of obeying the Spirit/Christ. This was on purpose. Not only do I not believe that keeping the OT law=salvation, I do not believe keeping the OT law is possible. For one thing, the entire Levitical and priestly laws are not possible for a non-Jew to keep. This was part of the issue at the first Church Council held in Jerusalem (Acts 15). The apostles realized early on that the OT law could not, and should not, be the focus of gentile believers. I’ll leave it there or I will be writing a novel.

    In short, when I talk about obedience I’m not in any way refering to the OT law, I’m speaking to the “law written on our heart” by the Holy Spirit and the leading of Christ. This is where Paul says “you cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons…(1Cor 10:21). One who is obedient to Christ cannot simultaneously be satisfying sin.

    But, the modern Christian always will ask what the relevance of such talk is. Who cares if we sin so long as we have grace (generally speaking, I’m not directing this at you, but rathe what I see often). The fact is, our bodies, and what we do in them, matters in the scheme of life with God and salvation. We were born to be priests of this world, to be eucharistic beings, always offering up the world to God and Him returning it to us blessed in a never ending cycle of communion (I wrote a blog on this a few blogs back). We short change our entire purpose for being here and for being redeemed when we continue in sin willingly. By doing so we risk being cut off. “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God…goodness toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you will be cut off” (Rom 11:22). The context of this passage is that of active and obedient faith.

    Abraham, as you mentioned, was indeed accounted righteous on account of his faith. But, as James tells us, his faith was faith because it had works (“you see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” James 2:24). Abraham was obedient to the word of God. This obedience was only possible because he truly had faith, just as “Rahab was justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way” (Jm 2:25).

    Faith and corresponding obedience cannot be divorced. Remove faith from obedience and you have dead works. Remove obedience from faith and you have dead faith. But, ultimately I think we see eye-to-eye here. I’m just pushing the issue more.

    I read an interesting bit last night from a 6th century Christian monk named St. Mark the Ascetic who put’s this whole topic in clear repose (for me at least). He said: “Some without fulfilling the commands think that they possess true faith. Others fulfill the commands and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.” He continues with Christs instruction: “Christ died on account of our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Cor 15:3) “and to those who serve Him well He gives freedom. ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of you Lord (Matt 25:21).” “He who relies on a theoretical knowledge alone is not yet a faithful servant: a faithful servant is one who expresses his faith in Christ through obedience to His commandments.”

    Great discussion so far. I’ll answer your other questions in a separate post. Cheers.

  8. You wanted to know my church background. Actually, I was born and raised Mormon. I found the Lord when I was 15 in a wild, charismatic, evangelical, independent church. My first 15 years was dominated by works centered righteousness and my last 20 years dominated by the gospel of cheap grace.

    It wasn’t until about half way through my masters program at ORU in theology that I realized how mistaken both paths were. It began with an intense study of the Eastern Orthodox tradition while writing my thesis paper. I found in the Orthodox Church the Apostolic tradition that has been preserved in the Church since the apostles time.

    You asked if all Christians were Orthodox and the answer is a resounding “hell no.” Much of the independent evangelical church today is steeped in ancient heresies ranging from Pelagianism (heavy emphasis on works righteousness), to Docetism (belief that Christ was only a spirit and not a physical man), to Gnostic belief (that an intellectual faith is all that is required), to a crooked version of grace that ends in what is today called hyper-Calvinism – which entails a belief in double predestination.

    I found the Orthodox Church to not only present the authentic gospel of Christ and the original traditions of the ancient Church, but a slice of mysticism in that they defend the mysteries of the faith by leaving them out of scholastic discussion. They have an extremely viberant and deep seated theology of the Holy Spirit that much of the Latin Church (or Roman Catholic) failed to hold on to centuries ago.

    That’s the long short of it. What is your church background?

  9. You’re right, Eric. We do see eye-to-eye on this. It’s just fun to push the boundaries for discussion. I agree with everything you said, except the part about Abraham’s justification.

    Paul says he was justified by believing God (Romans 4:3) and James says he was justified by works (James 2:21). I think they’re talking about justification in two different senses: justification before God and justification before man. Abraham’s faith counted as his righteousness long before he ever offered up Isaac. This justified him before God. His obedience at Mount Moriah was the fulfillment of the faith that made him righteous at least 25 year prior. This justified him before man; in other words, it was visible evidence of his invisible faith. What do you think of this distinction?

    You hit the nail on the head with everything else, I thought. Well said.

    My parents were saved in what is called the New Testament Church, a passionate but hyper-legalistic group that made women wear head coverings and sit on different sides of church from the men. They also forbade their parishioners from seeking medical care for illnesses (quite an ironic thing, since my dad is a surgeon), and other such nonsense. When I was about seven or eight, they left the NT church and became members of the Church of God, a Spirit-filled denomination based in Cleveland, TN. They are still members there.

    During my junior year at ORU, I became an assistant youth pastor at a Methodist Church. Two years later, I took a youth pastor position at a renewal (or Spirit-filled) Episcopal Church. I learned that God showed up in all kinds of churches. My years at both churches were very rewarding and enriched my appreciation for diversity within the Body.

    Two or three years ago, I realized I was trying to earn God’s approval even though I knew better. I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t shake the habit. Then in June of this year, I read a book by Joseph Prince on radical grace that really set me free. It caused me to go back and read Romans and Hebrews in a different light. My responses are influenced by this recent illumination.

    I think you’re the second or third Orthodox Christian I’ve ever met in my life. It sounds legit. Why are you all so rare? Are you guys actively planting churches? You make some convincing arguments for it. I’m thinking of starting a denomination called the Hyde-n-Harris-ites. You in?

  10. Great discussion all!

    I want to pose a simple question: when we think of works, do we actually consider doing the commands Christ gave us as though they are the works? I.E.: Preaching and sharing the Gospel everywhere we go? Loving our neighbor? Loving OURSELVES? And doing these things with all we are?

    The gifts are given to us, but they are to glorify the Father’s intentions (heart) for and in us. The gifts are to continue the work of Christ, not to make us amazing Christians. The work of Christ is to restore man to the state of one-ness with God that He originally intended – restoration – which Paul says is our spiritual act of worship when we participate and actually engage this change (which is also called transformation or revival). And we have a Helper now – so it’s not even all on us!

    I want to suggest that the American church model struggles to connect the dots on this argument because they are not focused on becoming creatures of identity, but carrying out a good ol’ middle class American mentality that we have to work hard for what we have and steward it, and the Kingdom is about DOING. SO, they like works better than grace because they can advance the Kingdom (which I believe they do in part), and live by the rules (I heard it said that church today is 49% grace, 51% religion) instead of living by the leading of Holy Spirit. (I don’t understand why!?!)

    For example, Paul teaches that the gift of prophecy is for every believer. How many of us believe that, let alone walk in it? What is the role of the five fold ministry? To equip the Saints for WORKS of service (Eph. 4).

    The gifts are given to us, but they are to glorify the Father in us (our identity). The gifts are to continue the work of Christ, not to make us amazing Christians. The work of Christ is to restore man to the state of one-ness with God that He originally intended.

    When we as individuals find our identity in Him, GRACE becomes the annointing that gives us the ability to now do what we couldn’t do one moment ago. Grace is a word that sets up action. Grace percieved in it’s original context provokes works.

    I believe that Grace is another word for what Peter refers to as “His Divine Power” (2 Peter 1:3), which in turn is the key to living a Godly life according to His will and purposes.

    I have found it incredibly enriching to view grace as an anointing, not a gift, that launches me into the things that are to influence others, and advance the Kingdom.

    Thanks for the discussion!

  11. Hey Brandon, welcome.

    I like your approach. My view of grace was radically altered once I realized it was the gift (or anointing if you wish) of a new life in Christ, not just a covering or a “free to not be a disciple” card to salvation. Going back to the original post, I rest on what Paul said of grace:

    “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (15:10).

    He says that the grace given to him would have been in vain had it not created a “labor” in the things of God. Yet, it was not him that labored but “the grace of God” which was in him. He shows grace to be far more than God looking the other way, so to speak. Instead its God’s supernatural power to become a disciple of Christ, to do what was impossible for us to do – live as He lived in this world. And He lived in perfect communion with the Father, not abstractly, or in His imagination, but in real life.

    I believe this ability/life is what Christians have been given via the blood of Christ and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. To disregard discipleship is to disregard Christ.

  12. Well, if you lived in the East you wouldn’t think Orthodox Christians were the exception. They are to Russia what Catholicism is to Italy. There’s an amazing book that tells the story of the Orthodox Church in detail called the “Orthodox Church” written by Timothy Ware (Kallistos Ware). If you’re wanting to know more, that’s the best place to start.

    They have been slow in coming to America, though. Really, had it not been for Greek, Slovakian, Russian, etc, immigrants bringing the Church with them it would be even smaller. The Orthodox Church has not been readily accepted in the West were Latin and Reformed theology has a major foothold. It debunks many of their pet doctrines.

    However, the Orthodox have been bridge building to the Western Church for centuries and have made significant inroads. They were slowed down significantly during the Bolshevik and Stalin’s rule in Russia. The clergy and congregants were slaughtered by the 10’s of 1000’s. They are the only modern Church that has suffered mass martyrdom in the Modern Age.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the book and anything by a theologian named Alexander Schmemann if you want to hear the Orthodox view. Cheers.

  13. I forgot to respond to your point about Abraham. Would you say that Abraham was not required to take Isaac up to the mountain and fully intend on sacrificing him?

    Was it not only until Abraham raised his hand to strike Isaac that God stopped him and said, “Now I know that you fear God” (Gen 22:12)?

    Was Abraham declared the father of faith because he knew in his heart to obey God but didn’t? When God said to him: “Get out of your country, from your family…to a land I will show you” (Gen 12), was Abraham justified in God’s sight because he agreed to go – intellectually – or because he both agreed and actually went?

    Faith meant that he both believed and acted on the belief. Had he not acted today we’d be saying “Abraham who?”

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