Grace and works
The word "grace" used in Bible is a translation of the Greek word "charis" . "Charis" means "free undeserved favor". In the Bible, it means "God's unmerited favor". It is very important to have a correct understanding of the word “grace” as all too often people confuse grace with works. However, grace and works are entirely different things. Romans 4:4 tells us:
"Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation."
In this passage the word "gift" is the word "charis" in the Greek text, which as we have learned means grace. What this passage tells us is that when someone works for something, that which he receives back is a reward for his work. This reward therefore is not given to him by grace, as a gift, because he worked for it, and thus he deserves it. In the same way, when the Word of God says that something has been given to us by grace it means that it has been given to us as a gift, as something for which we did not qualify and for which we did not work. It is clear therefore that something either will be earned by works or will be given by grace. It cannot be both by works and by grace at the same time. Difficulties in understanding and accepting this fact have caused many Christians, instead of enjoying what they already have by grace and then utilize it to build their fellowship with God, to try to achieve by works what they already have.
Another passage which shows clearly that grace and works are entirely different things is Romans 11:6. There we read:
"And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were [i.e. by works], grace would no longer be grace."
Once again, this passage explains to us what we have already seen: if something is gained by works then it could not be by grace since otherwise "grace would no longer be grace"!!! How clear and pure is the Word of God. Many of us when we go to the Word of God, we think that what we read has to mean something different than what is said! We need to understand that the Word of God means what it says and says what it means. It is our refusal to accept the Word of God that has produced all these strange ideas that gift means wage and grace means works. We go to the Word of God with the preconceived idea that we must do something to achieve a right position before God and when we see that the Word of God says that this right position has been granted to us by grace, through the accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ, on the condition of our faith, then we worry what is wrong with the Word. Rather, we should and must ask what is wrong with our preconceived ideas. When you go to the Word of God you must leave out any preconceived ideas you may have about it. You must go with the intention to fit your ideas to the Bible and not the Bible to your preconceived ideas. With regard to the topic of salvation and righteousness, and seeing the confusion that abounds about it, it is no wonder that God paid such special attention to tell us that when He says grace He means grace and not works!
Now does this mean that God does not want us to do good works? Of course not! In fact He has created us for good works and He has already prepared them for us (Ephesians 2:10). However, what I want to point out here is that we start as righteous and saved, and as we grow in our fellowship with the Lord, the works come as the fruit of that fellowship. These are not works that we have predetermined to do for God but works that "GOD has prepared" (Ephesians 2:10) for us. It is important to understand how you start. If you start doing good works in order to achieve a good position before God then you have missed the point. You will always end up with condemnation because you are trying to achieve righteousness by works, which is impossible. However, if you know that, because of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ and your faith in Him, you start as righteous and saved and that all these were granted to you as gifts (by grace), when you believed, then you can go ahead and do the works that God has prepared for you. These works are then not the means of your relationship with God but the fruit of that relationship. And God does want us to bring forth much fruit for Him. As the Lord said in John 15:8:
“Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples.”
Ephesians 2:8-10 summarizes the relationship of grace and works very well:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Though we are not saved by works, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, that God has prepared for us to walk in them. To say it differently, though works do not precede our salvation, they should definitely follow it! We, as professing Christians, are indeed expected to live and walk as Christians, doing what the Word of God says and walking in the good works that God has prepared for us.
To conclude therefore: salvation is by grace through faith. It is not of works! On the other hand the fact that we once believed is not the end. We should move ahead and seek to find and do what God has prepared for us, bringing forth fruit for our Lord. As He said “every tree is known by each own fruit” (Luke 6:44). James goes even further saying “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). The fruit of our life proves therefore whether our faith is a true living faith or a dead faith (just a confession made sometime, somewhere). To say it differently: are you saved? If yes, then walk as saved! Ephesians 5:8, 10-11 encourages us:
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light …. finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.”