Article Grace, Faith and Works: Some Biblical Clarifications

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Source: Focus on the Kingdom, November, 2022
by Kenneth LaPrade, Texas

Grace, Faith and Works: Some Biblical Clarifications​


I will begin my thesis by briefly recounting some of my former beliefs and attitudes on basic concepts regarding “grace,” “faith,” and “works,” before offering some Scriptural rebuttal toward my previous mindset. Just like multitudes of Protestants (and especially “dispensationalists”), I was on a bandwagon of easy-believism in terms of salvation “by faith alone” (or “by grace”) and, emphatically, not by works! Of course, we (my peers and I) dogmatically used Ephesians 2:5b, 8-9, Romans 3:21-30 and other similar passages (without proper contextual study) in order to bolster certain wildly misguided notions (like a formulaic “once saved, always saved” presumption).

As time went by, while embracing such foundational errors, the development of starkly “corrupt fruit” became more and more apparent among us (who perpetually thought in terms of having a done deal salvation status). I remember vividly (some 40 or more years ago) that my buddies or I might say, “Boy, I really graced out in that difficult situation!” Instead of using the cliché “lucked out,” we wrongly spiritualized a terribly bad concept by saying “graced out,” indicating that we got away with some sort of foolish behavior — without suffering immediate consequences. The tragic errors of our arrogant, warped view of “grace” itself are now so obvious to me! We were not at all like Paul who tightly linked and equated the “Gospel of the grace of God” with repentant, Kingdom-focused Gospel preaching in Acts 20:24-25!

If certain folks somehow became conscientious (within our old group) about doing the right thing (according to simple Bible norms), they were sometimes actually been frowned upon by a disapproving level of peer pressure not to be too “religious” — a cliché among us for a very negative reality. Such “do-gooders” might have been severely cautioned about not depending on their “works” or warned about being too “goody two shoes.”

Such adamant attitudes about “grace” and not works (allowing a gigantic, behavioral loophole among us) led eventually to pervasive use of vulgar cursing, widespread drunkenness, and even over-the-top sexual immorality among many of us. To summarize, those of us who taught and emulated such flaky thinking about “grace” were clearly in the category of having been “false prophets” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” since we were misled into misleading others, by cleverly dissuading them from “entering by the narrow gate” of wisely heeding/obeying Jesus’ words: Matthew 7:13-27.

Those who have been misled — and have consequently become misleading (as many of us have been!) — can thus easily fall into the solemn rejection (from the future Kingdom) by Jesus, even among those of us who have quite sincerely called him “lord, lord” and even offered miraculous evidence of our “faith”: Matthew 7:21-23. This bold warning by Jesus himself (disregarded, sadly, by dispensationalists who relegate Jesus’ actual words to a former time period) not only strongly applies to those from my particular background (The Way International and its varied offshoots), but to all who, for whatever reason, are deceived into ignoring Jesus’ central focus of repenting (being dedicated to change from the mind and heart) in light of God’s future Kingdom plans (Luke 4:43; Mark 1:14-15; Matt. 13:18-19; 28:18-20; Luke 8:12).

So, if misguided concepts regarding grace, faith, and works can be so disastrous, what kinds of biblical clarity can rescue us from dark, erroneous thinking? Though time and space here do not permit a thorough study of each of these terms (as one can individually do, simply using a Bible concordance), a few logical guidelines can help us to get on track and stay on track, according to Jesus’ call to obey the Gospel, the message of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15).

A. Remember that “the obedience of faith” is vital (effectively bracketing the vast doctrinal truths in the book of Romans — 1:5 and 16:26). Faith is not a vague term in the Bible for merely giving “mental assent” or “emotional acceptance” to certain appealing theological ideas. Faith (pistis) often indicates faithfulness: relentless perseverance in faithful, obedient actions in light of biblical promises and truths (as seen clearly in the dynamic list of faithful examples in Hebrews, chapter 11). What is true about such active “faith” in Romans is also true throughout all the New Testament Scriptures. Faith of course, as “the faith,” often means the content of correct Christian belief.

B. Never downplay any books of the New Testament as if they are less weighty than other writings (for example: relegating the book of James to an epistle of straw — Luther; making it less relevant to Christians than Paul’s letters, etc.) Don’t latch onto systematic, manmade theories (like “dispensationalism”) which pit certain ideas against other Scriptures!

C. Look carefully at all Scriptures connecting “grace” and “faith” to “works”; notice how “works” themselves, as obedient actions, are never despised as bad, misleading obstacles to be carefully avoided! (Examples will follow later about the absolute necessity of good works, for faith to be real!)

D. Notice very carefully the special contexts in which the term “works” refers to “the works of the [Mosaic] Law” (Gal. 2:15-16), referring to old covenant rituals (like obligatory circumcision: Gal. 5:2- 6), Levitical food laws (Rom. 14:2, 14), calendar observances (including the mandatory weekly Sabbaths: Col. 2:16-17), animal sacrifices (the book of Hebrews), and other rites which once separated Jews from Gentiles (people of other nations). Within the one international body of the Messiah, such old covenant “works” (which formerly separated people) are now abolished/canceled.

E. Notice carefully that the biblical commands in Messiah to move away from such outdated, Mosaic “works” is not to be misinterpreted as being a ban on doing desirable “good works” — in the positive sense of performing godly, obedient actions which essentially correspond to genuine faith: James 2:14-26. Once again, “works of the [Mosaic] law” — which are no longer to be applied — are not in the same category as the “works” (obedient actions or “good works”) which are undoubtedly required for faith to be authentic! By the way, the context concerning Abraham in Romans 4:1-25 does touch on circumcision (as a “work,” eventually part of the Law of Moses) in contrast with Abrahamic and Messianic obedient faith. If we (whether circumcised or not) obediently believe God’s promises and follow in the steps of the “faith” of our father Abraham, our active faith is really genuine, and the truth of James 2:14-26 is not at all contradicted!

F. Please do not disregard the context and wording of Ephesians 2:5b, 8-9, so as to misinterpret its bona fide meaning! Verses 4-5 state, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even though we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Messiah. It is by grace that you have been saved and are being saved” (OGF).1 Before we began to repent and believe the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (preached by Jesus), we were dead in our sins and totally impotent to have saved ourselves! So it is clearly God’s unfathomable grace, mercy, and love which initially put us in a position to hear Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom and then respond with intelligent faith/obedience. We had previously done nothing to deserve such a marvelous opportunity, so the whole salvation event is obviously made possible in the first place “by grace.” This simple truth (about salvation not originating in previous “works” done by us) is repeated in 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 3:5.

Ephesians 2:8-10: “By grace you have been saved and are being saved through faith, and this [the whole, initial salvation event] is not from you; it is the gift of God, not from works [previously done], so that no one can boast. For we are His handiwork, created in Messiah Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we would conduct our lives in them.” Now nothing about verse 10 or its new covenant context makes the proactive doing of good works hazy, as if it were a vague, optional reality! We are to obey Jesus and continue to “strive (or struggle) to enter the narrow doorway [to ultimately enter the Kingdom]” (Luke 13:24). We must obediently work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, according to Philippians 2:12, according to God’s energy at work within us, “empowering us to will and to act for His good purpose” (v. 13). We must be folks “who listen to the Gospel-word with an honest and good heart,” and who “hold onto it and produce fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). We must “hold fast our confidence and the hope...firm to the end” and “hold our initial assurance firm to the end” (Heb. 3:6, 14).

To glean more detailed insights into Ephesians 2:8- 9 and other aspects of my overall thesis here (including pertinent truths in Romans 3 and 4), please read Robin Todd’s brief article, “The Faith of Jesus” in the September, 2022 issue of Focus on the Kingdom.

Under letter (C) above, I mentioned that I would provide more Scriptural examples of “works” as good, necessary aspects of legitimate “faith.” So I would like to conclude this brief study with a cursory overview of such Scriptural evidence. I already mentioned the great importance of James 2:14-26 under letter (E), and I encourage you to thoughtfully peruse it on your own, with no prejudice against the revealed truths in James — point B. Faith without corresponding works is very obviously dead and useless. Thus, a “faith” without works is plainly false faith according to James’ keen emphasis; such “faith” without works simply cannot save a person (James 2:14).

Our concerted efforts to do “good works” can ultimately motivate others to end up “glorifying God”! 1 Peter 2:12: “Conduct yourselves honorably among the non-believers, so that although they now malign you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God in the coming day of visitation.” See also Matthew 5:16.

The book of Titus provides some very rich encouragement:

Titus 2:11-14: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to reject godlessness and worldly desires and to live in a self-controlled, upright and godly way in the present age, while we wait expectantly for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and of our Savior, Jesus the Messiah. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own, who are eager to do what is good.”

Titus 3:4-8: “But when God our Savior’s kindness and love for mankind appeared, He saved us not because of upright works which we had done [previously] but because of His mercy, through the washing of rebirth and renewal of holy spirit. This spirit He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Messiah our Savior, so that being made right by His grace, we become heirs with the hope of the Life of the Age to Come. This saying is trustworthy. And I want you to emphasize these things, so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.”

Finally, here is just one reference (among several) which indicates that our works (as Christian believers) are surely relevant to judgment in the future and ultimate entrance into the Kingdom of God: Revelation 2:26: “To the one who overcomes and continues in my works until the end, I will give authority over the nations.” See also Matthew 16:27. One can read in many places how Jesus himself actively did the works commanded by his God and Father (John 10:25, 31- 38); he not only did many miracles, but he committed himself to teaching and emulating the truths concerning the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). As believers devoted to obeying Jesus (Heb. 5:9), we must continue in his works: living his love and keeping his words (including his Gospel-Kingdom message, John 15:1-17).

We have merely scratched the surface of a vast topic here, yet we have seen enough already to know biblically not to dogmatically pit our salvation by “grace” and by obedient “faith” against the dire need to be zealous to do the good works (Titus 2:14, 3:8) which corroborate our faith as bona fide (James 2:14- 26). Whatever our prior attitudes might have been, it is not too late to change and acquire a more Scripturally accurate view of grace, faith, and works!