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Grace and Works


Towards the end of the second century a Christian leader named Tertullian asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” His question was intended to underscore the difference between Greek philosophy and the Christian faith. Today some Christians would draw a similar distinction between grace and works. They would be tempted to ask, “What does grace have to do with works?” These two principles seem to be incompatible.

In one sense they are incompatible. The New Testament repeatedly stresses that our salvation is not derived from our works. This point is clearly stated in today’s passage. We are saved by God’s grace and not by our works. We cannot attribute God’s choice to any merit of our own (cf. Titus 3:5). Yet those who have been saved by grace have also been “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (v. 10). How do we reconcile these two assertions?

We can do so only if we clearly understand all that the Apostle has previously said about us in this letter. Prior to the experience of God’s grace we were guilty in sin and unable to help ourselves. Our union with Christ came as a result of something God did on our behalf. When we believed the gospel, we were united with Christ in both His death and resurrection. Consequently, we have a new capacity to please God with our actions. These “good works” are not the cause of our salvation but a result of it. They are not the means by which we are saved, but they are evidence of God’s saving power in our lives. In other words, the kind of works Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:10 are not enemies of God’s grace but a reflection of it.


Apply the Word

When it comes to grace and works the order is essential. When works take precedence over grace they become toxic. When we understand works in the light of grace, we see that our works are an extension of God’s work in us. As we become more like Christ, our works will reflect more the grace and mercy found in God’s work of salvation.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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