Grace and works, condemnation and conviction
"If Christians are already saved by Grace, then why bother doing anything good at all?"
This is a question that may or may not serve as an issue in Christianity. If it is really true that Christianity is Grace-based, and not works-based, then aren't Christians, effectively, "lazy"? What point is there in doing good works and avoiding sin when we're already saved anyway? If Christians don't have to earn their own Salvation, is this fair?
In reality, however, Grace and works do not contradict one another and are not opposites. In fact, they complement one another.
I attempted to explain, in a previous article, the issue of the motives of Christians- a common accusation of anti-theists against Christians is that Christians are only motivated by a fear of Hell. I explained that being saved by Grace frees us from condemnation, since our sins have been atoned for, thus there is no longer any fear of Hell, and this is not our primary motivation. This may then beg the question of what morally motivates Christians, since we are saved by Grace, and this is exactly what this article is trying to explain- first of all, it emphasizes how Christians are not motivated by a fear of Hell, since we really are saved by Grace. Asking that question actually presupposes inner selfishness, if it is asked seriously- a bit like asking why you should bother helping somebody who has already helped you, since helping them will no longer benefit yourself any more. Christians may be motivated to avoid sin and do good because they love GOD, and want to do good.
But the apparent "issue" with believing that one is saved by Grace is that it may encourage a hard-hearted attitude towards sin. This is not the fault or intention of Grace, but natural human selfishness. Simply put, Grace is given to us by GOD because we cannot save ourselves, only GOD can. We cannot do anything to earn Salvation, because we are only human.
The question of this apparent "issue" is as follows:
"Well, if Christianity is truly about having one's sins atoned for completely by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then why should be bother to avoid sin? What is our moral motivation? Saved by Grace, so works don't matter."
As mentioned above, the question is selfish, which only indicates how Christians are really not motivated by selfishness. But the question may also be taken seriously as a realistic issue- if Grace covers all sin, then surely, it doesn't matter if we sin without trying to stop?
This is, in reality, a false dichotomy:
- We are saved by works, therefore, you must do good to earn your own Salvation.
- We are saved by Grace, therefore nothing matters, so sin as much as you like.
False dichotomy. As mentioned above, Grace and works are complementary. How can we reconcile them? The former, works-based legalistic religion, may be criticized as being motivated by fear of punishment and selfish desire for reward, while also encouraging a judgemental attitude, self-righteousness and condemnation, while the latter may be criticized as encouraging moral laziness.
Well, the simple thing is that works do, actually matter, we're just not saved by them in and of themselves. James 2 verse 17 and 26 tells us that faith without deeds is dead:
"In the same way, Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead"
You can read more of the context of this by reading and studying James 2:14-26.
So, why should a Christian, who is saved by Grace do good? Simple- because Christianity is about a Divine relationship. So, a Christian in a Divine relationship would have a natural desire to please GOD, and not to hurt Him. In this sense, works are treated as an effect not a cause.
An apathetic attitude towards sin is not a sign of a true Christian, filled with the Spirit. Conviction of one's sins is of The Spirit, and this would cause a desire to repent. Imagine this: if you are in a romantic emotional relationship with the woman/man of your dreams, you would not continue to hurt them and betray them, deliberately, would you? Or, if you did, you would be sorry, and want to stop doing it. If you didn't want that, it would be a sign that you don't actually care about them, and thus, did not really love them. In fact, if you actually had this attitude of persistently and deliberately betraying your "loved one", enjoyed it, felt no remorse and had no desire to stop, it would be obvious that you don't love them in your heart at all.
This is much the same with Christians and their Divine relationship. We love GOD, and hate to hurt Him with our sin. Thus, we are convicted of any sin in our lives by The Holy Spirit, and desire to repent. It is this conviction, acceptance of The Spirit and desire to repent that is the sign of a true Christian with a true relationship with GOD. Grace is a better motivator than works for doing Good, and Grace is not there to encourage an attitude of apathy to sin. Persistence in sin can lead to hard-heartedness, which I am just about to talk about…
Apart from conviction, there are two extremes, when it comes to attitude toward sin- condemnation and hard-heartedness.
Hard-heartedness- as mentioned above, the opposite extreme of condemnation is hard-heartedness. People may become hard-hearted as a result of the "saved by Grace" mentality. GOD's Grace to humanity was not intended to promote moral laziness- that is to say, so that people can sin as much as they want without caring for their sin. The Holy Spirit convicts us of any sin in our lives, and gives us the desire to change. This desire, or will, is GOD changing our hearts, and is a sign of being a true Christian. Sinning without caring is a sign that you are not allowing The Holy Spirit to go deep in your life, and thus, are pushing GOD away. Those who persist in their sin, persistently rejecting any desire to repent of it, may eventually not care about doing it any more.
1 John 1:6-7: "If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from all sin."
One may ask oneself- "if we sin, we offend an eternal GOD. The guilt that occurs from this realization would surely be overwhelming?"
Feeling guilty from sinning, in contrast to hard-heartedness, is a sign that you care about your sin, and want to change. However, though the guilt in itself shows you care, the real thing that matters is the desire for repentance. It is this desire for repentance that should motivate oneself, not the overwhelming feeling of shame that one has sinned. If the guilt or shame comes first, before the desire to turn away, this is not helpful.
If this "guilt-over-repentance" mentality persists, the result is condemnation, and even, possibly, despair. Despair is the spiritual end-game state of mind, and that may occur if the condemnation takes over completely. Once a person is in true despair, the Enemy can tempt suicide. This state of mind is abominable- despair is one of the greatest sins. C.S. Lewis actually said that despair is greater than any sin that can provoke it. That realization alone should be enough to avoid despair at any cost- despair is not a necessary "effect" from a "cause" (the cause being our sins)- it is a state of mind that we can control that is, in itself, a sin that ironically may result from condemnation which results from feeling bad about our sins. Once you realize this- and GOD bless C.S. Lewis for pointing it out- that should motivate you away from despair.
Condemning guilt, as mentioned above, places superior emphasis on the feeling of guilt than the desire to repent, and thus it borders on despair. It is therefore a spiritually unhealthy type of guilt. Conviction, however, is spiritually healthy. Conviction places superior emphasis on the desire to repent, and thus truly motivates us away from sin and despair. Never feel condemned- Romans 8:1 explicitly informs us that condemnation is not for those who are truly Christians, so by condemning yourself, it's almost like you're denying your faith. I am not trying to be insensitive to those who struggle with condemnation and despair- I am trying to help you and motivate you. I would be a hypocrite if I were trying to make you feel worse about yourself, since that would be condemnation, too.
Living in condemnation is akin to living in fear. Living in hard-heartedness is akin to living in apathy. Living in conviction is living in Love. The Holy Spirit offers conviction, not condemnation. And hard-heartedness is just pure apathy. Living in condemnation or hard-heartedness is not living in conviction. Both are bad.
Conviction is where we draw the line between this false dichotomy of condemnation and hard-heartedness. In the issue of Grace and works, the whole point of Grace is because it is necessary, because we can never earn our own Salvation, since it is impossible for humans to reach the perfect standard of GOD that would be required for us to get into Heaven. Only Jesus can atone for our sins- and that's exactly what He did on the cross. Grace is not there to encourage moral laziness, or apathy or a lack of moral motivation due to having one's sins already atoned for. That attitude is not from The Holy Spirit, but from our own selfish and sinful fallen nature. Christians should always embrace The Holy Spirit.
The Bible makes it pretty clear that GOD desires the behaviour of Christians, His children, to be just that and to live a Holy Life and not persist in sin:
1 John 3:9-10: "No one who is born of GOD will continue to sin, because GOD's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of GOD. This is how we know who the children of GOD are, and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not GOD's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother sister."
So effectively, what I believe this is saying is that avoiding Sin and living a Holy Life is just a necessary/natural (or rather supernatural) effect that is caused by being changed from the Holy Spirit- a works-based legalistic religious attitude is treating works as a cause, rather than an effect. Legalism treats works as a means to an end, and thus, only possessing instrumental value, rather than intrinsic value. Holiness, however, is intrinsically valuable.
GOD does not force Himself onto anyone- He allows for free will. If people would rather carry on sinning after learning about GOD's Grace, instead of wanting to please GOD and ask GOD for His Spirit in their lives to convict them of any sin, so that they can live a pure and Holy life, then GOD will not force them to come to Him. Love is not forced.
Condemnation and hard-heartedness is obviously a false dichotomy, but it is a powerful one. What must be understood is that GOD never gives up on people, people give up on GOD, and this is done by either being hard-hearted, which is a sort of unconscious despair, or a conscious self-condemned despair, which is more complex. This despair is caused by the belief that GOD has given up on somebody, and therefore there is no longer any hope for the person. If they only realized that the only despair they really have is that which they are inflicting on themselves, they would cease immediately. They are not hard-hearted, since they obviously care about their sin, but they are unaware of the fact that they are on the opposite extreme, which is also bad. They are overwhelmed with guilt and believe they are damned, but they don't realize that GOD is not pushing them away, but that they are pushing GOD away, ironically, by believing they have pushed GOD away and despairing for it- that state of mind pushes GOD away. They do not realize that their very condemned state of mind is the only thing cutting them off from GOD at the moment.
The Bible makes it pretty clear what the real dichotomy is- you are either a slave to sin, or a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:16-18). If you are hard-hearted, believing that guilt is a sign of rejecting or misunderstanding the concept of Grace, and carry on doing what you want in life without reverence for GOD, that is bad. If you are living in fear, condemnation and despair, viewing guilt as a good thing, so they more of it you feel, the more you care, that is also bad. Those are not the only two options. Grace was never meant to encourage apathy or laziness, and neither was conviction of sin ever meant to encourage condemnation, but to crush the pride and self-righteousness of man and to overcome fear and condemnation for humanity. Works-based legalistic religion results in fear and pride and selfish motives. Grace-based faith results in love and humility and loving motives.
This desire to repent may not come naturally from oneself, but supernaturally from GOD. Truly, you should do what you want, (i.e. you should never do something because you feel you have to, because this is akin to legalism), but what you want to do may be sin. In that case, you are a slave to sin. You should do what you want, but what you want should be righteous and Holy. In which case, GOD will not force Himself on you- in order for it to be true, you must freely choose to come to GOD. What GOD will do, is change your heart, so you are no longer a slave to sin, but to righteousness, and then you will be doing what you want, and what you want will be good.
Grace and works do not contradict one another, but complement. Grace is not meant for discouraging works, nor is works for discouraging Grace. Grace is what, in itself, saves us, but that does not follow that works is useless and should be disregarded- only that our attitude towards works is not to prioritize it with Grace, otherwise that leads to legalistic religion, which is not what Christianity is fundamentally about. Faith without works are said to be dead, according to James 4:7. Works are a natural consequence of a true loving Divine relationship. In themselves, they do not save you, but are an effect from a cause.
-Grace saves, works are a (super)natural effect from the cause of being saved.
-Legalistic (works-based) religion treats Holiness as a means to an end (thus only instrumentally valuable, rather than intrinsically valuable), while Grace-based faith encourages doing things out of a loving Divine relationship and treats Holiness as intrinsically valuable.
Take these verses into consideration:
Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that Grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"
Ephesians 2:1-10: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, GOD, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions- it is by Grace you have been saved. And GOD raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the Heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His Grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by Grace you have been saved, through Faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of GOD- not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are GOD's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which GOD prepared in advance for us to do."
Romans 6:18: "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
Galatians 5:13-26: "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in Love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of GOD. But the fruit of the Spirit is Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."</i>