Grace and Transformation
Sometimes I find it difficult to properly process the grace of God for my sin and the necessity of good works in the transformed life. Often grace and works are propped up as poles between which a person may gravitate (or toward which a given church or denomination tends), but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. The grace of God and the necessity of good works (biblically called fruit) are an integrated part of a life reconciled to and transformed by God. These two things must simultaneously be true in Christian salvation:
- Through no merit of our own, but only a recognition of our lack of merit and repentance of it, we are forgiven of our sin by God through the sacrifice of Jesus.
- In the process of number one we are given the Holy Spirit and we become a part of Christ’s body; set free to live a redeemed life that bears fruit for the kingdom of God.
And both of these are essential. Most evangelicals would affirm number one heartily, while reserving judgment on number two, citing the ingrained nature of sin. Sometimes going so far as to say requiring a transformed life makes salvation our task, removing the grace of God. Other traditions may focus on number two, not saying number one is wrong, but ultimately making it seem as though our works are weighed on scales and the good must outweigh the bad to secure our salvation.
In reality I don’t think it’s possible to really grasp the depth of Christian salvation unless you constantly take these two as one. If we claim redemption from our sin through Jesus Christ and bear no fruit, then our release is a sham and Jesus is powerless (which he is not). If we can display actions that fit with the kingdom of God but also endow those works with the power to save us, then we have no need of a Savior and we become our own idol.
I think different people will struggle to hold these as one in different ways depending on the way they’ve been taught and their life experiences. For me the greatest difficulty is living in the truth of grace. I often dwell on the thought that I’m not doing enough. I’m sure that’s true at times, but the most important thing is that I let Christ continue to transform me through the Holy Spirit and then bear fruit based on how he is changing me. It is when I stop being open to his transformation that I start to push myself to “perform” more–and when I seem to do it less.