If Grace is Free, Why Do Good?

by Jul 13, 2007

Yesterday, in a half-hour conversation on my front porch with the new Mormon missionaries in the neighborhood, salvation was the hot topic. They said they believe in salvation by faith in Christ, but that God also requires acts of righteousness (such as baptism by someone authorized in the “priestly succession,” whatever that is) to accept us into his kingdom.

I said, “That seems to cheapen the work of Christ on the cross. If we need to do good works to be saved, then why did Jesus have to die?” Their response: “Well, if we don’t have to do good works to be saved, then what motivation would anyone ever have for doing good?”

I said, “Once we put our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us grace to be holy and righteous.” Their response: “Hmmm… it doesn’t seem like that’s working out so well for most Christians.”

My wounded reply: “Shoots. You’re absolutely right.”

An article in Christianity Today makes the same observation:

Simply put, those who are truly justified will lead lives of holiness, knowing with Paul that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).

Sadly, many in our churches have sold the extraordinary gift of justification for the pottage of therapeutic religion. Rather than finding assurance in Christ, some assure themselves they have done nothing so bad as to deserve condemnation.

Even worse, others flaunt their freedom, abusing the truth that Jesus covers a multitude of sins. As Paul said of people who accused him of teaching that we should sin to bring more grace: “Their condemnation is deserved” (Rom. 3:8).

Such attitudes do not exemplify trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who treats holiness with deathly seriousness. They turn the old notions of merit on their heads, treating a priceless gift—Jesus’ righteousness—as if it had no value.

The Bible says this type of faith—faith without good works—is as good as no faith at all. It’s as dead and meaningless as the selling of indulgences.

It all comes down to your perspective on those works. Are they things we need to do in order to earn our way into God’s favor, or are they the inevitable outcome of a healthy relationship with God?