Grace and Obedience
By the grace of God, we are given God’s revealed will. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age…” (Titus 2:11-12). Grace teaches us to follow God’s expressed will. To deny God’s will, then, would be to act contrary to God’s grace by showing a lack of gratitude.
Entering into and remaining in a covenant relationship with God is either conditional (we need to obey Him) or unconditional (whether or not we obey is irrelevant). If it is unconditional, then why will anyone will be lost at all? One might say that it is a result of God’s will that some will be lost, but that runs contrary to God’s expressed desires:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4).
Any position that runs contrary to God’s expressed desire is erroneous. These passages cannot be construed to say that God really does desire some to be lost. He is clear: He wants all to repent and be saved.
We have, then, two ideas that need to be reconciled: 1) God desires all to be saved, and 2) Many will be lost (2 Thess 1:8-9). If it is God’s desire that all be saved, and yet some will be lost, then a covenant relationship with God must be conditional. In other words, obedience, while not meritorious, matters. If it were unconditional, none would be lost because God desires all to be saved.
Does this negate grace and therefore mean that salvation is earned? Not at all. Meeting a condition of the One who provides the grace and gives the commands in the first place cannot be taken to mean that salvation has been merited and now God owes it. Never shall obedience have the power to by-pass the cross and make Christ’s death void. Even so, if we remove the commands that God Himself has put in place, then we are the ones fundamentally trying to change God’s grace and turning it into something other than what He intended. For example:
1. We are saved by grace through faith; it is God’s gift (Eph 2:8-9).
2. God commands all men everywhere to repent or else they will face judgment (Acts 17:30-31).
Without question, we are saved by grace. Just as true is the fact that without repentance we will be lost. Are these two points contradictory? Can we say that because salvation is by grace, repentance is not really necessary in order to avert judgment? Does affirming Ephesians 2:8-9 require denying Acts 17:30-31? Does affirming repentance mean that repentance earns salvation? If we think any of this, then our views of grace, obedience, or both are erroneous. If we take away the necessity of repentance, then we are changing the nature of God’s grace by turning it into a license to sin (cf. Rom 6:1-2; Jude 4). If we accept God’s grace, then we accept the necessity of repentance. While repentance is not the cause of salvation (God is the cause), it certainly accompanies salvation (as God is also the Originator of the command). In other words, repentance does not cause us to be saved, but we’ll still be lost unless we repent. None can rightly claim God’s grace who denies God’s commands.
Think about the problem of religious ritualism. Mere ritualism is just going through the motions without really having conviction in the heart. Outwardly, one can technically “obey” a command, yet in reality it may be an empty gesture. If salvation were merely a matter of earning something, one can go through all the motions, do all the right things outwardly, and then be saved regardless of other factors. This is not how it works. However, if one is convicted, the obedience from the heart will take place in conjunction with God’s grace. It is inconceivable that one would think to receive God’s grace and mercy while ignoring what God has plainly commanded. Failure to obey is a failure to accept the grace offered by God. Obedience of the faith naturally flows from those who recognize the grace of God (cf. Rom 1:5). Our obedience is itself an expression of gratitude for the grace God provides (Cf. Heb 12:28).
God is a God of grace and mercy, and that is completely His realm. Our realm is submission to God’s will. Never ask, “What don’t I have to do?” Rather, let’s be thankful that God has provided His grace for forgiveness and seek to please Him through our faith and obedience. God will be faithful to His covenant.