September 29, 2020

To Do or Not to Do

We’ve had a lot of good discussion recently.  Jeff Dunn wrote about the extravagance of grace, about the freedom from the jail of death and sin that Jesus gives us.  Many of you appreciated his expression of the Good News; you applauded his refusal to compromise with the legalists, who always want there to be something we have to do to earn grace.  The consensus was that there is nothing we can do to merit grace, nothing we must do to earn grace – the only requirement on our part is being dead.  Jeff even refused to make the Sinatra distinction – you know, do-be-do-be-do.   He put it this way:  “I’m not going to ‘do’ Christianity any longer. And I’m not even going to ‘be’ who I am supposed to be, other than ‘be dead’.”

This is an entirely grace-centered view.  Works are right out.

Then we have what may have been the fastest torrent of comments we’ve ever seen on the site, in response to Chaplain Mike’s post about John MacArthur.  While a few people very moderately defended a few aspects of John MacArthur’s thesis – that the protesters in the Middle East are wrong because we are enjoined by the Bible to submit to governmental authority – still the overwhelming majority of you said MacArthur was completely mistaken.  Commenters heartily endorsed Christians and others taking an active stand against injustice.  Some of you were even willing to consider the righteousness or not of, say, the plot to assassinate Hitler.

This is activist Christianity, is it not?  Solidarity!  The struggle continues!

So where do we stand, iMonks? Is God most pleased with our heartfelt acknowledgment that we are dead and with our humble waiting for grace?  Is God most pleased when we take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them? Or does he require both, at least in varying degrees from different people in different circumstances?  Where is the line between works and grace, between activity and passivity – or is there a line at all?  Does the grace that makes good works unnecessary for salvation diminish or expand our scope for good works?

I have a vested interest in thrashing this issue out.  Several weeks ago I wrote about Chapter Two of the Christian life. I tried – but haven’t yet succeeded – to explain what I think is the relationship between grace and works.  I still have a few more points I’d like to make on the topic, but first it would be useful to clarify positions and vocabulary.  I’m curious whether commenters to iMonk are in fact deeply divided about the issue – perhaps according to denominational lines – or whether we are closer together than we really think, just lacking some clarity in our expression and charity in our understanding.

To that end, let me ask you:

  • What is grace?
  • What is work?
  • What are we saved from?
  • What are we saved to?


  1. My stock answer is to read article 20 of the Augsburg confession, but my real life answer is I have been debating this in my heart and soul for years, and do not have an answer. The Western branch of Christianity seems to not have a consensus, and neither do I.

    I was in my small group the other day and mentioned I felt powerless to deal with a situation, the response was “That is where God wants you to be”. But, if God wants me powerless, when do I actively work against injustice?

    I don’t have an answer.

  2. I think the place of works and faith is best discussed in James. James lays out what it means to really follow Jesus. As someone, who shall remain nameless, said, “No B.S. faith.” Not sure we can publish a commentary with that title but we all get the picture. I called it real faith in the real world. It is seems he is contrasting this real world faith with worldliness on one end and pretentious piety on the other. We have to mix it up and engage with issues of our day including government and justice. Simply turning a blind eye in the name of submission is to disengage. That said, embracing random violence (as opposed to targeted violence in the case of Bonhoeffer ‘s participation in Valkyrie) is capitualting into worldly methods that I think James would oppose.

    • James said the pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to be untainted from the world.

      Micah tells us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with out God.

      Paul tells us that we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which he has prepared beforehand for us to walk in them.

      We do not do good works to obtain or maintain favor with God any more than as an adult I pay my bills to obtain favor of my earthly parents. I behave in a manner consistent with my station in life. Adults obey laws and fulfill obligations because that is what adults do. I guess theologically it may be more nuanced than this but it seems to me that we don’t do good works to become good Christians, but we do good works because God in Christ Jesus has made us good Christians. Am I missing something here?

  3. this is too rational. it’s not about grace, works, or saved – it’s about Love, mystery, & forgiveness.
    Love God, Love your neighbors, you are forgiven, so forgive others. if we mess up God will forgive us because he Loves us. God will take care of the rest because He is good. vague enough for you?

    • 🙂

    • i could not have summed it up better brian!

    • “this is too rational. it’s not about grace, works, or saved – it’s about Love, mystery, & forgiveness.”

      I agree, and disagree. On one hand, yes it is a Mystery; the whole of Salvation itself is a Mystery!
      On the other hand, we can’t count out the rational. Is there a limit to reason? You betcha! However, we have to reason it out to a point; to merely dismiss “rationality” would be to not use our God-given reason.

    • “it’s not about grace, works, or saved – it’s about Love, mystery, & forgiveness.”

      What is this “it” you speak of?

      I don’t mean to bicker for the sake of bickering. But the purpose of this thread is for each to clarify his/her position about these important topics. Your comments, taken at face value, seem to deny grace. I’m sure that isn’t what you mean. But until we know what “it” is, your comment doesn’t help.

      • ‘it’ is the question Damaris gives us. Love & Forgiveness is our Grace from God.

        • Damaris asked, “What is grace?”

          You answered, “It’s not about grace.”

          And now you say the “it” in your answer is the question she asked.

          Ergo, you are saying, “A question about grace is not about grace.”

          • I believe her question was about the tension between grace & works. I think instead of thinking about grace & works – we think about forgiveness & love – & we seem to lose some of the the tension. peace.

  4. ‘Does the grace that makes good works unnecessary for salvation diminish or expand our scope for good works?’

    Greatly expands. Once we are freed from having to earn or maintain our salvation through good works, we are truly free to live out our God given vocations from a ”want to’ perspective and not a ‘have to’ or ‘need to’ motivation.

    I want to be a good father and businessman, a good husband, friend,neighbor, son etc. just because I want to.

    God has planted these desires in me and I am free to pursue excellence in these fields without the anxiety of sins or ‘sinning’, looking over my shoulder all the time to see if I am pleasing God, checking under my ‘spiritual hood’ and taking my ‘spiritual temperature’ every day lest I transgress or somehow ‘miss God’s will.’

    In some way I can’t explain I find that many sins I once treasured are now vile and repugnant even apart from reference to the Lord and His holiness.

    When the arrows of the Law do pierce me, they are always fatal. I can no longer lie to myself as much as I once did concerning the depth of my sinfulness. Hence the realization that Jesus either paid it all, in it’s entirety, or I am burning in hell.

    I trust Him. His word is good, and those who hope in Him will not be put to shame. He is able to plant within me the desire and motivation to seek Him and brings forth the fruit of His Spirit through what the Apostle Peter calls the implanted Word.

    All this apart from my moral striving, because His word is powerful and efficacious.

    • “God has planted these desires in me and I am free to pursue excellence in these fields without the anxiety of sins or ‘sinning’, looking over my shoulder all the time to see if I am pleasing God, checking under my ‘spiritual hood’ and taking my ‘spiritual temperature’ every day lest I transgress or somehow ‘miss God’s will.’”


    • I don’t know. What happens during those periods when you lose your motivation to be a good family member/worker/whatever? If you rely only on the pleasure and the joy of doing right and being in tune with God’s will, how do you cope when life is hard and doing the right thing is painful?

      From the saints, I surely do believe that the sheer joy of following God CAN sustain people though the darkest times – but I think only the most spiritually mature people can keep a hold of that joy all the time. There is also a place for self-discipline: to keep you anchored when in a period of spiritual dryness.

  5. I think the reason many have trouble holding a proper balance between grace and works can be seen in the difference between the western Christian and eastern Christians understanding of grace. Any Protestant will define grace as something to the effect of “unmerited favor of God”. An eastern Christian will define grace as the Holy Spirit. The point is, eastern Christians do not view grace as a “thing” separate and apart from God Himself. Grace is God’s freely giving of Himself to us in intimate relationship. While His giving of himself is based purely on His goodness and not ours, our experience of this relationship does require us to do certain things. It requires our cooperation with His Grace because He does not force Himself upon anyone. So actions like fasting, alsmgiving, service to the poor, radical forgiveness – these should all be seen as opportunities for communion with God rather than attempts to earn His favor. The Eastern Orthodox often think of salvation in term of a dance. God invites us to dance with Him based on nothing we have to offer, but it is not enough for us to simply accept the invitation and not actually dance. If salvation is communion with God (John 17:3), participation on our part is required. To say otherwise is to objectify our salvation.

    • Clay,

      I have been trying to find more on eastern Christianity, but I have difficulty finding anything written down! It seems to all be part of the tradition 🙂 Now, if only eastern Christianity would discover the printing press 🙁

      Any good books for a searcher like me?

      • Absolutely! There are actually quite alot of Orthodox writings available in english nowdays – check out St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (,, and

        For a good primer on Orthodox history and theology, I recommend “The Orthodox Church” by Kallistos (Timothy) Ware. Good starter books on Orthodox spirituality are “The Orthodox Way” by Ware and “For the Life of the World” by Alexander Schmemann. Another good place to start are conversion stories of former protestants – these usually provide a good comparison of the differences between eastern and western expressions of Christianity. “Thirsting for God in a Land of Shallow Wells” by Matthew Gallatin and Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist are both good. Also, if you enjoy podcasts, there are a ton of them at I have been particularly helped by “Pilgrims from Paradise” by Gallatin.

        Happy searching!

        • Don’t forget to check out Father Ernesto’s blog. I think it’s called ‘Father Orthoduck’
          Look on the ‘BLOG ROLL’ here and click on ‘Father Ernesto’.

          It’s a wonderful resource. 🙂

        • Dana Ames says

          Clay’s list is good. A couple of other resources:

          Frederica Mathewes-Green’s book on The Jesus Prayer is very good.

          Fr Stephen Freeman is my favorite Orthodox blogger (I love Fr Ernesto’s blog too):

          Allen, there’s lots of written stuff out there; unfortunately, most of it is not in English – yet. People are working on that. There are some books available that describe the “inner workings” of Orthodox theology (V. Lossky’s “Mystical Theology of the Orthodox Church”, C. Yannaras’ “Elements of Faith” or “Freedom of Morality”). The best online source I’ve seen is; read through Bp Kallistos book and that, and you’ll have a very good and understandable introduction. Orthodoxy has never developed a “systematic theology”. What we believe is to be heard in the gatherings of Jesus-worshipers, primarily in the Liturgy, but also in the other services. The books mentioned above are pretty much commentary on and further explanation of that worship-expressed theology.

          If you or anyone else wants a “course” in Orthodox theology, go to an (English-speaking) Orthodox church for the Vigils of Feasts (the prayer service the night before a feast) over the passage of a liturgical year and listen to everything that is read and chanted. Feast days are as follows (so Vigil would be the night before). THe undated feasts change on the calendar every year; much of the time they do not correspond to the same days in the West. The services last between 90 minutes and 3 hours depending on the day, so it is a lot like going to an academic class in terms of the time commitment.

          8 Sept – birth of Mary
          14 Sept – exaltation of the life-giving Cross
          21 Nov – the entrance of Mary into the temple (where she lived for a time with other similarly dedicated girls, until her betrothal to Joseph; the girls were there to weave and sew all the textiles needed for temple worship. Before people snicker at this, one of the Jewish groups that expect and work for the temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem has an associated group of women who are at this moment weaving and sewing the textiles needed for temple worship. Do a search on the ‘net; they’re not hard to find.)
          25 Dec – Christmas (the Nativity)
          6 Jan – the Theophany of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ (not in any way associated with the arrival of the Magi, but all about the identification of Jesus with all in the material world he created, and the revelation of the Godhead as Trinity)
          2 Feb – the Meeting (Presentation) of the Lord in the temple
          25 Mar – the Annunciation (the foremost celebration of the Incarnation, though the Incarnation echoes through everything else)
          Palm Sunday – the Entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem
          Good/Holy Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter/Pascha (this would be like a weekend seminar; quite intense/ive- Pascha is the most important feast of the whole year, but in order to get the full import of it, the whole three days are really important)
          The Ascension – 40 days after Pascha
          Pentecost – the Sunday 10 days after Ascension
          6 Aug – Transfiguration
          15 Aug – the Dormition (repose in death) of Mary


    • I was wondering if someone would mention Eastern Christianity’s view 😀

      Within their understanding, salvation isn’t about “earning” anything. Rather, it is about existing in communion with God, and partaking of His Divine Nature. Everything we do is to that aim: Union with God*.

      *= Not like in pantheism.

      P.S.- Actual Eastern Christians, take over. That is all I’m going to say, and that which I did say I hope I didn’t misconstrue anything.

      • I’m not “officially” Eastern Orthodox, but I am on that road and have been attending an Antiochian Orthodox parish for a while. As I understand it, the Orthodox see works as essential to our salvation because it is through works that we take off the old self and put on the new self. That process, referred to as theosis, is our salvation. Orthodox also do not hold to an idea off imputed righteousness, whereby God “credits” his own righteousness to our account in an external way. We actually take on His righteousness as we cooperate with God in our salvation. So they do believe that God imputes His righeousness to us, but they don’t believe that he credits to our account something called “imputed righteousness” – see the difference? Western Christians want to make everything a “thing” that God gives us, where for the Eastern Christians it always comes back to direct relationship with God as a person.

      • Dana Ames says

        Tim, you did fine 🙂

        To the questions:
        1. Grace is the actual working of God, and more specifically the Holy Spirit indwelling a Christian; it is not something “outside” God or anything created that God bestows upon someone from “outside” that person.
        2. Work is what we do that is good and congruent with what we are meant to do as fully human human beings, faithful to God and loving all, *because* we are In Christ.
        3. We are saved from death and fear of death (Heb 2.13-14), and from the consequences of our focus on survival apart from God and individual survival at the expense of other people and the rest of creation, and what we do to try to ensure that. Sin is always relational. Fr Stephen Freeman often writes that God did not come to make bad people good; he came to make dead people live.
        4. So we are saved to life – life in communion with God, life as the new humanity with God’s image and recovering God’s likeness – that of faithful self-giving love in communion with God, other people and the rest of creation. Jesus accomplished this by 1) uniting the divine nature with human nature; 2) showing us what a human being in full communion with God “looks like”, as well as what God “looks like”; 3) displaying the Trinity’s forgiveness and self-giving love as humanity does its worst to God; 4) defeating death and launching the New Creation, in which human beings are Truly Free because we are free from the fear of death; 5) taking human-ness into “the heavens” – the unseen portion of reality, from where God reigns, and reigning there himself as the God-*Man* (so fulfilling the creation mandate, in anticipation of his return, when all of his will join in ruling creation under him); 6) sending us his own spirit to empower us to do the good we are now free to do, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. All of this is the “Christ event”: the Incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and imparting of the Spirit. Salvation is really, really big – one could say “cosmic”. Humans are not “saved” individually, but as the Body of Christ, the restored Humanity. Jesus Christ has saved us, is saving us and will save us. God is at work to accomplish his purposes he intended from the very beginning – Rom 8.

        It’s all there in the work of N.T. Wright 🙂


        • “It’s all there in the work of N.T. Wright :)”

          I see what you did there 😉

          Thanks for better explaining it, Dana. I have been examining Eastern Christianity (particularly Orthodoxy) for some time now. And even though I think I kind-of-sort-of have some of the basic understanding down, I would hate to say something that completely distorts (or worse- actually being a falsehood) what Eastern Christianity teaches!

        • Great summary, Dana.

        • Yes Dana, that is a very good summary. I may print that off and keep it! The Orthodox Tradition is wonderful – it helps me hold together all the seemingly conflicting doctrines and Bible passages that used to cause me fits (i.e. the works vs faith debate). More than the theology, the worship is deep and truly meaningful. The barrier to entry is high for a protestant, but if one can get past Roman Catholic prejudices and try to undersand the Orthodox Church for what it is, it really can be the path forward for those lost in the protestant/evangelical “wilderness”.

  6. God saves us by grace. Then He wants us to work. But…He gives us the grace to do the work. He works through us. He, not we, does the work through us.

    • “He, not we, does the work through us.”

      Yes, He truly does work through us. However, it is *we* who do the work. We may accept that we perform the work; however, all glory goes to God. A fine line to balance upon.

  7. I think that Christians are declared righteous, for Jesus’ sake. Our cooperation is not necessary. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…” It says nothing there about our cooperation.

    Will we want to cooperate? At times. At times, no. But that is not the point. God is a real God who asserts Himself. He does come with His hat in His hand waiting for us to cooperate.

    The Holy Spirit will inspire us to ‘do’. But those ‘doings’ are often imperceptable to the world, and even ourselves.

    Yes, we will ‘do’. But so will others (non-believers). No one can look at any good work we do (outside of proclaiming Christ) and say, “that is a Christian work”.

  8. A previously linked article that I found particularly helpful to me in distinguishing a view of the place of faith and works is:

  9. I usually try not to get too involved in the faith vs. works debate, but I’ll say this:

    Christ very clearly, repeatedly instructed us not just on what to believe, but also on how to act. He told us how to live our lives and how to treat others. These are actions (read: works) and he tells us this both by way of explicit instruction and by his own example.

    So, do I believe that I am “saved” through my faith in Jesus Christ? Sure, but I also believe that faith asks that I do my best (regardless of how far short I may fall) to live the message of Christ in its entirety. While it might be my faith in the first place that hopefully produces some fruits, at the end of the day, it’s all part of the same equation. It’s not about trying to earn my way into heaven via good deeds, but simply trying to fully live my faith as instructed by Christ.

    I just can’t buy into the “I believe that Christ died for my sins and now I’m going to sit on the couch and wait for the world to end” approach. It’s seems like that is the functional equivilent of what some people are espousing.

    To be honest, for all the attention this debate receives (and, intellectually, it is an interesting debate), I’m not sure how important it really is in the grand scheme of things.

    • “I just can’t buy into the “I believe that Christ died for my sins and now I’m going to sit on the couch and wait for the world to end” approach.”” ***It seems to be that Christs promises that good works will happen. However, the focus week in and week out about you and your good works are not the calling of the church. The church is COMMANDED to preach Christ crucified for sinners.

      “I’m not sure how important it really is in the grand scheme of things.” It is exceptionally important. Non-Christians trust that their good works will merit forgiveness. Christ’s blood is our only source of forgiveness. The great irony is that most “Christians” point to the their works, their “feelings”, or their “heart” as to the source of their righteousness. This razor sharp focus on the cross does not negate that Christ/Paul promise good works are a result of the gospel. They however, are not the gospel. People confuse this very important point. They lead to different objects of assurance.

      • “The church is COMMANDED to preach Christ crucified for sinners.”

        We are also commanded to love our neighbor. I don’t see why these two commands have to be mutually exclusive.

        ” “I’m not sure how important it really is in the grand scheme of things.” It is exceptionally important.”

        It’s not that important because, to me, it’s not an either/or proposition. It’s like arguing whether hydrogen or oxygen are the source of water. One might come first. One might be “more important” than the other. But, at the end of the day, they’ll both be present.

        • Josh in FW says

          LOVE the hydrogen and oxygen analogy. I’ll be borrowing this one as I find myself often in discussions with both Calvinists and Neo-Pelagians.

      • Donalbain says

        “Non-Christians trust that their good works will merit forgiveness.”

        Please, don’t do this. Non-Christians have a huge variety of beliefs and things they have trust in. Not all of them trust that their good works will merit forgiveness..

        For example:

        Atheists dont believe there is is a deity to offer forgiveness, and so the entities that they believe can offer forgiveness will vary in motivation.

        The Jews I have spoken to do not believe that there is any concept of a godly forgiveness.

        Muslims that I know think that the concept of a reward and and punishment sheme of things is a mystery known only to Allah.

        Indeed, it is only Christians (that I am aware of) who believe in the need for a specific forgiveness at the end of life.

        • Cunnudda says

          If the Jews don’t believe in godly forgiveness, why do they practice a Day of Atonement? (Yom Kippur). I’d like to know what sample of Jews you have.

        • Cunnudda says

          Also, I would argue that atheists who are liberals very much practice a form of “works righteousness”, even damning to hell those who disagree with them.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Though that would be better described as the Fundamentalism and Pharisee dynamic surfacing in Atheism as well as various Theisms. As in it doesn’t matter what has been elevated to Cosmic Importance (God, political philosophy, social activism, aspect of science), the Uber-Righteousness, the One-Upmanship, and the “Die, Heretic!” behavior when crossed is the same.

  10. Regarding all those admonitions on how we are to act…’no one does them.’ And we are not judged on a sliding scale as to our efforts or our sincerity with regard to those efforts.

    Christ has done it all for us. This is important because people can so easily be swayed into the religious progression project, and can forget about trusting cpmpletely in Christ Jesus. St. Paul told the Galatians that if they want to engage in these activities of righteousness that outside of the grace of Christ (their own ‘doing’) then they will “cut themselves off from grace.”

    That is serious language, for a serious problem.

    • A couple of questions for Steve Martin:

      Who are you quoting with the words “no one does them?” And what admonitions are you talking about? Without qualification or clarification, your comment seems to suggest that no one has ever done even a single kind or helpful deed for anyone else ever. Is that what you mean? I hope not, because that is clearly false and it is mean to suggest so. There isn’t anyone who is always kind and good, and there isn’t enough kindness and goodness in total. But to say there isn’t enough is far from saying there is none.

      Also, when you say, “Christ has done it all for us,” what do you mean by “it”? And what do you mean by “all?” Presumably you mean Jesus redeemed us through substitutionary grace. I think everyone on this forum (except the agnostics) believes that as firmly as you do. But surely you understand that your meaning of “it” is not the only possible meaning of “it.” Jesus has not ” done it all” in the broadest sense of the word. He has done all he came into the world to do. But saying he did his work is not the same as saying he did everything — unless you are saying that the work of redemption is the only work of any kind there is on earth. Is that what you mean to say?

    • It is my faith in Christ and what he has “done” that leads me to want to follow the totality of his message. Christ has provided the instruction and I attempt to follow. End of story. At the end of the day, though, I’m a failure, so I am in no position to tell others how they should act. I have zero interest in being in the judgment business. Christ has provided all the instruction necessary.

  11. good comment thread at stand firm on the macarthur thing

  12. Damaris, I love your writings, but this has been re-hashed here since the review of Capon’s brilliant but one-sided book, “From Noon till Three” (how do you know when a book is one-sided? When the author corrects the apostle Paul for not being consistent enough).

    Somebody call PETA — we’re beating a dead horse here!

    • We have been beating that horse since at least the time Luther put his 95 thesis on the wall, probably longer, why not keep it going?

    • Daniel — I think you’re probably right about the dead horse. I wanted, though, for us all to see that we do have substantial unity here when we take the time to define our terms and read others’ terms carefully. I agree, this is a non-issue. Our freedom in Christ can release us from the argument, and we can move on to a life of gratitude and service.

  13. For those who constantly see the need to admonish others to ‘do’ :

    ‘Why are you always worrying about how much or how little others will ‘do’?

    Isn’t it enough to manage how much or how little you ‘do’ yourself?’

  14. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I’ll chime in with others a bit and point out that I think we’re approaching this from a perspective that is far too rational, apologetics-based, and scholastically Western. We’re trying to turn some both/and concepts into either/or concepts. Nonetheless, I’ll through out a few thoughts.

    Grace is God dealing with us in mercy rather than based on what we justly deserve. I really like Bono’s idea of discussing grace in contradistinction with karma. Karmic justice is great until you realize that you fall under that same justice. That said, grace is much more than this. Grace is also God’s way of enabling us to suffer for him, to do good works for him, to love those who are unlovable, and both act and become closer to who we’d be if our flesh and all of creation wasn’t corrupted by sin and death. Grace is the Kingdom breaking into our present reality even though the Kingdom isn’t yet fully realized.

    Works are what we do. The works of our flesh are corrupted and ultimately worthless. The works of the Spirit (capital ‘S’) are the way God uses us to exhibit and share his grace and Kingdom in spite of ourselves. Note: this isn’t a gnostic flesh vs. spirit dichotomy. The problem with the flesh isn’t its physicality, but its corruption by sin and death. We trust that God will ultimately redeem the flesh and restore our “true humanity” that we had before the Fall and that we see in Christ.

    We are saved from sin, ultimate death, corruption of the Fall, the Devil’s power, and God’s just and righteous wrath.

    We are saved to God’s family, redeemed creation, restored fellowship with our Creator and fellow creatures

    And of course, we are not only saved from and to God, but we are also saved by God. Freaky and contradictory, but nonetheless true.

    The thing about it is that it’s all a package deal. These are all facets of the same gem. The wonderful, weird thing about Christ is that he was God’s plan for making seeming contradictions happen. Both God’s justice and God’s mercy are satisfied. God is able to keep his promises for blessing his People without lying about the consequences of their Unfaithfulness. God’s people are given grace, which enables them to do truly good works. In every way, God is proved righteous, even though it seemed that he had been backed into a corner.

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Dang… I suck at HTML tags! That bold paragraph was only supposed to have “grace” bolded!

      • You may suck at HTML tags, but you express yourself very,vvery well!

        I was scrolling down looking for your reply, because you always share “my” perspective so nicely!

  15. There are times here at IMonk that I don’t comment, for fear of looking like a total arsehole! But, I feel compelled to say this……

    I am not a theologian, have never attended seminary, nor have I taken any classes to increase my knowledge of the Bible. I actually despise labels of any kind and don’t play in the arena of denominations and all that includes. Blugh!

    I say all that to use some labels that have been given to me…..HA HA! To this ol’ rebel, prodigal daughter……grace is God doing through me what I could never do on my own. And this because of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross, not anything of mine!

    Works…..I’m still trying to figure that out! I’ve tried to do stuff on my own…..didn’t pan out. I’m not sitting around on my couch waiting for Christ to return, I’m learning to love with grace and mercy of which I have been shown huge amounts!

    I’m saved from eternal death away from God.

    I’m saved to…….anything He wants. That I’m also still trying to figure out. My life is not my own. I try to take it back from Him, almost daily. He wins. Every time.

    And lastly……due to my experiences I refuse to ever find myself in a place of telling others what they should or should not DO……God is far better at bringing conviction to His beloved. All I would do is create resentment and anger in a friend or family member. Or worse, a possible Believer.

    • “… I refuse to ever find myself in a place of telling others what they should or should not DO……God is far better at bringing conviction to His beloved. All I would do is create resentment and anger in a friend or family member. Or worse, a possible Believer.”

      True. So true.

      Thanks, R.G..

  16. While this question has been long debated, the posting about the on-going, and continual, need to examine the question anew for today is always a fruitful endeavor. For me, the questions of grace and works has to collapse down to the place where we are submitted to Him, something that takes a lifetime and beyond I think, and by so submitting, we are in fact improving or rather being formed/developed into people who listen to His voice and submit/obey. In this manner, the emphasis on good works really melts away – the good works will be the result of that active listening and response as opposed to our doing and presenting which gives me way too much room to set the agenda – what I think is the point of Matthew 7:21.

  17. Read Matthew 7:22,23

    What does He say about “doing mighty works in His name?”

    I think this may happen to many who have ‘works’ on the brian. (although, I hope not)

    But Jesus said it, not me.

  18. Perhaps the question should be: what distinction is there between “works” and “life”? As with other discussions at iMonk, separating the “what”, “how”, and “why” is very critical. The “what” of the Christian life is not that different from a non-Christian life; duality and hypocrisy creeps in once the Christian life is made to consist of other things: don’t touch this; don’t drink that; don’t go with girls who do. I can be smug and self-confident once my Christian life consists of some crazy, pietistic list of prohibitions; how I treat others in my business, my home, and my politics becomes irrelevant.

    The “what” is the commandments, summarized as loving God (fear, love, and trust above all things) and loving ones neighbor. The commandments are nothing apart from our daily lives. Pietistic rules regarding what we eat or how we dress or how much time we spend in church have nothing to do with our daily lives or our neighbor. I think that is why pietistic rules are so tempting: they reveal nothing about who we truly are or how we treat others.

    The “how” is grace. By God’s grace we receive the new life of in the Spirit through baptism. God’s pleasure and acceptance is in the works of Christ; The Father smiles (in Rick Warren speak) not on our works, sincerity, nor our purpose-drivenness, but upon His Son, Jesus, and his perfect and finished work upon the cross. At the end of the day, no matter how earnestly and sincerely we tried, our works will not satisfy – ourselves nor God. We need forgiveness, and grace supplies it every day.

    The “why” is love. There is no paying back grace. Grace is NOT a second chance. There is no earning God’s favor. It is a free gift. No strings attached. No secret clauses in the fine print. There’s no point in striving to perform some esoteric ritual of self-abuse to somehow get God’s attention and earn his approval. (I think this is a subtile part of the faith-prosperity movement: trying to earn God’s favor through our successful life – sort of a displaced longing for pride, approval and love denied by ones earthly father figure).

    If God loved us, then we are free to love our neighbor. This is the key to the parable of the unforgiving servant: after receiving his pardon, he could not forgive the debt of the man who owed him, because he was still in the prison of unforgiveness (to borrow from last week’s prison illustrations). Again, it is the lack of grace which leads to disobedience and hypocrisy, because our motive is still getting out of jail, rather than just walking out the door which grace has opened.

    So, what works does the Christian perform? The same as the non-Christian, but out of grace, freedom and love, rather than fear, regret, greed, manipulation, and profit. There is no grace vs. works dichotomy. The ones who are truly “weak on sanctification” are the legalists trying to earn God’s approval through their silly man-made rules.

    • “The ones who are truly “weak on sanctification” are the legalists trying to earn God’s approval through their silly man-made rules”


      I like it.

    • “it is the lack of grace which leads to disobedience and hypocrisy, because our motive is still getting out of jail, rather than just walking out the door which grace has opened.

      So, what works does the Christian perform? The same as the non-Christian, but out of grace, freedom and love, rather than fear, regret, greed, manipulation, and profit.”

      Exactly! Well said.

  19. John 6:28

    “Then they said to him, “What must we DO to be DOING the WORKS of God?”

    29 Jesus answered them, “This is the WORK of God, that you believe in the one whom he has sent.”

    It couldn’t be any clearer than that.

    • Paul Timo says


      Define what is meant by “believe”. Is this “believe” active or passive?

      And please consider what the whole of scripture has to say relative to “faith” and “belief”.

      How does it cohere with other teachings from Jesus such as:
      – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who…” (Matthew 7:21-24)
      – “You are my friends if you…” (John 15:9-14)
      – the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

      Words are important.

      As Christians continue to confuse terms such as faith and believe and grace and salvation, then unity, the unity that Jesus desires, eludes us.

      Paul taught that in Christ Jesus, the only thing that counts for anything is “faith working in love” (or insert your favorite translation of Galations 5:6).

      Where is the love?

      Steve, I do not intend to direct my frustration over this whole topic towards you personally. This was just a handy place to insert my own thoughts and questions. The verse you quote is important. I just don’t think it stands alone. The only thing I offer you, personally, is peace.

      And by peace, I mean “shalom” which in turn means “completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord”.

  20. (written w/o reading other comments, just reaction)
    Depend on Grace alone. “Passivity” and “demanded activity” fail equally in their understanding of grace itself. I speak as one who has failed in both ways. Good thing I have grace to depend on. The more I understand the grace of Jesus (which is still very little), the less I feel pressure to respond with works, and the more I want to.

  21. as I read the Gospels & the new testament I see more Spirit & love than grace & works.
    it’s hard to fight about Spirit & Love. That’s what makes it boring. 😉

  22. That parable about a tree producing ‘bad fruit’ and being cut down should give pause to those who have a notion that they can live ‘in Christ’ without charity towards their fellow man.

    That ‘born from above’ of the Spirit gives the grace to love as Christ loved . . . and gives the love to do it, when we cannot do it on our own.

    The guy who is a ‘real Christian’ who is Islamophobic, racist, mean-spirited, contemptuous of those less fortunate, and is absolutely certain he is going to heaven while those who diagree with him are all going to hell . . . that guy I would worry about. There are some things a Christian may not do that are in violation of the Royal Law, and still claim to be living ‘in Christ’.
    It can’t happen. The presence of CHARITY in the heart of a Christian is THE sign of his connection with Our Lord and His grace.

  23. As Christians, we are ALL a mixed bag. we can ALL be uncharitable, and have been. We can ALL be unkind and unloving. Being a Christian is NOT about us and our virtue. It is about Christ and His great love for sinners.

  24. This is coming from the IM’s agnostic…but I’d like to be saved from evangeliclasim, John MacArthur, and his fundgelical followers. Is that possible…? 😉

  25. John From Down Under says

    @ Steve Martin

    Something is missing from your answers. We’re not discussing doing works for salvific or soteriological purposes. We’re talking doing works BECAUSE OF not IN ORDER TO.

    Works-based salvation paranoia can cause us to swing towards abandonment theology where ‘Christ did it all, and I have to do nothing’. Eph 2:10 does not leave room for post-salvation passivity. It’s also hard to read Phil 2:12 and deduce that Paul is not admonishing toward any action but just a state of mind. And let’s not even start contemplating on James 1:27 & 2:15-17

    Unless of course I misunderstood your take on this…

    • Everyone is free to do “works”. There is no stampede to go and do “good works”, even by those who are constantly harping on it.

      The trouble comes when people blend the law and the gospel. “Yeah, we know that we are saved by grace, BUT…” This “Yeah but…” can open up a whole can of worms for people, especially when well meaning preachers do not know how to separate law from gospel.

      We preach Christ crucified, and then let the chips fall where they may (let the good works come where they will).

      • Time to play the devil’s advocate:
        “The trouble comes when people blend the law and the gospel”
        Who says they are separated in the first place? Or, at least, as distinct as some seem to make them?

        • Be careful. Without some distinction between the Law and the Gospel, the Bible becomes a closed book and many of it’s main themes become clouded.

          • Admonition taken, Patrick Kyle. Remember, I’m playing devil’s advocate. That being said, my question still stands.

        • 2 Timothy 2:15
          Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

          1 Timothy 1:7-9 (King James Version)

          7Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.
          8But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
          9Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

          Go read the first few chapters of the book of Hosea. Without the distinction of the Law and the Gospel, God’s two words to us it appears that God and/or the prophet are Bi-polar. With the distinction these passages become God’s killing and resurrecting voice to us, slaying the sinner and wooing the saint

    • “We’re talking doing works BECAUSE OF not IN ORDER TO.” I like this phrasing a lot, John from Down Under. I plan to copy it shamelessly.

      • BECAUSE OF ought come naturally, shouldn’t it? If we are His children and the Holy Spirit is in us, we will do what the Spirit inspires us to do, won’t we?

        It is the gospel that gives us life, not the goading of the law. St. Paul tells us that only brings death.

  26. Adrienne says

    I know I am not speaking to the center focus of this post but I would llke to comment on the John MacArthur Middle East statements mentioned.. WHO CARES?? Having worked for 16 years in the (I hate the title) Christian Bookstore Industry I was a 100% supporter of John MacArthur and company. I owned and sold his study Bible, recommended and read his books etc. Now I am sick of the whole lot of the Christian Experts who are always contacted by the media when international, national or moral crisis occur. They do not speak for me nor for many Christians I know. I am tired of seeing the same old panel addressing these issues. That isywhy this website is like oxygen for me. I get to hear from my brothers and sisters who are not making mega bucks and joining the realm of celebrity in the name of Jesus. Thanks for letting me vent – I feel better.

    • Christiane says

      I loved your comment.

    • Double WORD: the media makes zero effort to mix it up a little and chase down NT Wright or Kalistos Ware for a comment; keep it neat and tidy and predictable (I guess the media is dispensationalist.. 🙂 )


      • Wouldn’t it be great to get N.T. Wright and Bishop Ware and Pope Benedict XVI together in a room and just have them talk about what it means to be a Christian and what they believe or understand about God as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Now I am sick of the whole lot of the Christian Experts who are always contacted by the media when international, national or moral crisis occur.

      You mean like that Media Spokesman for ALL American Christians, Fred Phelps?

  27. Adrienne says

    I know I am not speaking to the center focus of this post but I would llke to comment on the John MacArthur Middle East statements mentioned.. WHO CARES?? Having worked for 16 years in the (I hate the title) Christian Bookstore Industry I was a 100% supporter of John MacArthur and company. I owned and sold his study Bible, recommended and read his books etc. Now I am sick of the whole lot of the Christian Experts who are always contacted by the media when international, national or moral crisis occur. They do not speak for me nor for many Christians I know. I am tired of seeing the same old panel addressing these issues. That is why this website is like oxygen for me. I get to hear from my brothers and sisters who are not making mega bucks and joining the realm of celebrity in the name of Jesus. Thanks for letting me vent – I feel better.

  28. @Damaris: you asked the simple question “where are we in relation to the works/grace thing..” (paraphrased) and for GregR, I’d say this conversation just does not interest me. Most of it reminds me of the long recurring posts I saw back when I was posting on Mormon Coffee, a christian blog outreach to Mormons, and a fine blog, or at least it was 3 yrs ago. Within minutes, the two sides are basically talking past each other and claiming some kind of victory, and those who are allowed are doing some kind of victory dance.

    There seems ot be a tension that GOD can live with between the two, because HE sure could have done a better job of clearing up any ambiguity if HE’d wanted to. Maybe it’s more fun to watch us scrap like wet squirrels. I DO appreciate your efforts at moderating the discussion, and compared to most blogs, this one has been respectful and peaceful. We have a great bunch here at the Imonastery.


  29. God is a god of work. He worked out my salvation that I may ‘rest’ in His graciousness…

    And then He is transforming me more into His likeness, something that is very active , not at all passive…

    God is not a god sitting back on a cloud couch, sorta like a Heavenly Couch Potato with nothing to do or say…

    He is as active now as He was in creation. He desires us to be doing the works that Jesus did, establishing greater kingdom jurisdiction here on earth as it is in heaven…

    As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2Cor 6:1

    We can receive grace in vain. Ouch. We are to be coworkers freed to do all those good works prepared in advance for us to do simply because we do not have to earn His pleasure. As there are already certain theological paradoxes such as the Trinity & divine election vs. free will that are accepted mysteries so it is with grace & works. Making a clear disctinction from a theoretical sense worth careful discussion, but attempting to make a ‘comfortable’ distinction only as a means of identifing some hoped for divine exemption clause is an effort best to be avoided…

  30. Cunnudda says

    It seems to me that, despite all the well-travelled roads we are walking here, we ignore repeatedly the issue of condemning sin. All the commenters talk about the good works that issue from salvation; what about the bad works that ought to die? I see the overemphasis on grace here as causing moral paralysis, which keeps us from calling a thing “bad”.

    • “All the commenters talk about the good works that issue from salvation; what about the bad works that ought to die? I see the overemphasis on grace here as causing moral paralysis, which keeps us from calling a thing “bad”.”

      Valid point. The reason (I think) that such things haven’t been mentioned is simply because that was not the point of this conversation.

    • Bad works will never die as long as we are breathing. Moer importantly, WE NEED TO DIE!

      God accomplishes this (yes, he does it, we don’t) in His Word, and in the Sacraments.

      Romans 6 speaks about how we are put to death in our Baptisms.

  31. Charles Fines says

    Damaris, in my view Allen sums up this supposed dilemma in the very first comment when he says, “The Western branch of Christianity seems to not have a consensus . . . .” I truly hope that you will focus on that little portion of these comments which speak from the Eastern perspective and not pass them by as beside the point. I believe they in fact carry the point that was lost in the Western church early on and trampled underfoot in the Reformation.

    Jesus summed up what the early church called the Way as loving God above all and your neighbor as yourself. I don’t recall him referring to that as works, not even good works. I don’t recall him having much to say about salvation or grace either. Mostly what I remember him saying is, “Follow me!” as he proceeded to demonstrate and explain loving God and neighbor for three intense years. I am told that Martin Luther wanted to toss the letter of James out the window but knew he couldn’t get away with it. I would expect and hope that those who want to argue over faith versus works will be sequestered in separate rooms on the other side where they can’t annoy and distract others who are trying to keep up.

    • I like the Eastern perspective on this issue very much. I’m glad to have several people summarize it on this thread.

  32. Some short and sweet audio on the importance of separating the Law from the Gospel,

    I think it goes a long way to explain the controversy that we are having here:


  33. Brother Bartimaeus says

    Sister Damaris,

    My answers to your questions are:
    What is grace? – God’s love for us
    What is work? – Our response to God’s love
    What are we saved from? – Our greedy, ignorant, egocentric selves
    What are we saved to? – A life of love, compassion, and justice together as we await reconcilliation with the father

    I think you are correct to wonder about the “clarity in our expression”. It seems that when we talk about “works” we are talking past each other about different things. It seems to me that Paul’s condemnation of “works righteousness” and James’ “faith without works” are two different things. For James, “works” are Paul’s “fruit of the spirit” in action, so the two are in communion together, not at odds.

    With Paul’s “works righteousness”, he seems to be warning about assuming a Jewish identity (circumcision, dietary laws, sacrifices) and then adding Christ to the mix to become “righteous” under the law, when really an identity in Christ is a sufficient gateway to God. He seems to argue that just because you claim a Jewish you aren’t automatically righteous before God, without faith. Paul also doesn’t seem to argue that we do nothing, as he is always doing something to exhibit his faith, such as collecting for the poor, healing, performing miracles, caring for widows, and spreading the Gospel.

    My question for those of you who are totally grace-centered, how can you fullfill Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” without performing works?


  34. John from Down Under says


    I have waived all the copyright infringement restrictions 🙂


    I know the confusion of the law & gospel distinction is the cry of every confessional Lutheran’s heart, but Eph 2:10 is in the indicative mood not the imperative.

    • Yes it is indicative. So why then do Christians need to be telling other Christians to get busy?

      • John From Down Under says

        STEVE – your answer is Hebrews 10:24.

        • You think “stirring up one another to love and good works…” comes by goading someone to act, or requiring it of them?

          I say announcing the forgiveness of sins does that (Romans 1:16).

          • You like Bible?

            Here’s one: Romans 4:4,5 (RSV)

            “Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”

          • John From Down Under says

            Steve you can’t seem to get past 1st gear. You always seem to bring it back to salvation.

            We know no one gets saved by works – WE GET IT! – but what’s your response to Heb 10:24? What do you do AFTER you’re saved? How can your new nature in Christ leave you the same in the way you think and act?

            What’s your idea of applying Matt 5:16 “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”?

            And why do you pit Hebrews against Romans? It’s not an either or but a yes and!

            My sonar is picking up vibes of antinomianism here and I hope it’s a false alarm.

          • John,

            You are misunderstanding me.

            I’m saying that throwing the law (what we do) in the mix, can be an imperative that is NOT NEEDED.

            Too many people can then put their emphasis on law (what we do), rather on the gospel (which leads people to do those god works anyway).

            And on that note, we’ll (I’ll) call it a day.

            Thanks, my friend!

          • John From Down Under says

            Ok Steve now we’re getting closer. If I misunderstood you I apologize.

            If we’re discussing which is the most effective motivator toward good works, reciting the law or proclaiming the gospel, I would agree that knowing what God has done for me in Christ drives me more to ‘do good’ rather than just being told what to do ‘because the Bible just says so’.

            Nice chatting to you anyway!

  35. To me, I suppose this is a question of “before” and “after”. The “not doing” side is the “before” part–we don’t have to do anything to receive God’s gift of salvation. No works are required before we receive God’s grace. The “doing” side comes after. As many others have said here, God’s grace enables us to take action and do things in the world, and indeed we should take those actions, do those good things. Those actions are a response to grace. We do them in gratitude and love to God, we do them in hopes of better understanding God through understanding and loving other people, we do them because the God who was so gracious to us does those things. I think God wants us to act. Whether or not we do act doesn’t affect our salvation in the ultimate sense–God saved us, and that’s that–but perhaps it makes a difference in how we relate to God here and now. Perhaps by acting, we can become closer to God. And when we fail to act as God would wish, we can do so confident in God’s forgiveness and grace.

  36. “Perhaps by acting, we can become closer to God.”

    That’s the trap. That is why I am so set against preaching “good works”. Preaching good works is just another law. Preaching Christ’s love and forgiveness for sinners is the gospel and brings life, and brings about those works everyone seems so concerned about.

    Our relationship to God is already sealed, in Christ Jesus. Christ lives in us. We can’t get any closer to God than that. God doesn’t need our good works our neighbors do.

    In Christ we are free. Free to do…or not. We all do…and we all refuse to do. But that is besides the point.


  37. Damaris here are my thoughts:

    â– What is grace? Answer: Grace is to be given and/or shown unmerited favor.
    â– What is work? Answer: Work, in the context of this discussion, is that which comes forth from the individual, such as the fruit that comes forth from a tree.
    â– What are we saved from? Answer: Christ removed the penalty of sin that we deserve. We are saved from the second death.
    â– What are we saved to? Answer: We are saved to be reconciled to our Father in heaven. We receive the earnest of the spirit and await the adoption. In the meantime, we are given the holy Spirit to equip us to fight the good fight of faith in this present time.

    There is nothing that we can do to earn justification or the gift of grace. Salvation is through Christ and his redeeming blood alone.

    We are born into the image of the first Adam and by nature do the works of the flesh defined by Paul in Gal 5:19-21, which is why the law entered. Once we receive justification through faith, we are born again to be conformed to the image of the second Adam (Christ) to bear the fruit of the spirit. (Gal. 5:22-23)

    (Gal. 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance against such there is no law.

    The above is not just a list of virtues to be applied as responsive to life situations, but as we see from the devoted apostles, they can be accomplished in an “active” sense also.

    I am new to iMonk (found it a week ago) and I am really enjoying the forum. Thanks!