| GRACE VERSUS WORKS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
By: Jerry S. Maneker
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man
should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden
than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled,
and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.” (Acts 15:28-29)
There is an inherent tension in the New Testament that exists to the present time! That tension is seen in the whole of
the New Testament, and even in the writings of Paul, the Apostle of the Gospel of grace.
Paul makes it clear in his writings that we are saved by God’s grace. However, there is still a remnant of the need for
good works to justify our worth before God as befits our high calling. (See, for example, Romans 12:1-2 and Galatians 5:
The verses of Scripture that precede this article highlight the struggle that Paul had with the Judaizers. James, head of
the Jerusalem Church, who was undoubtedly put in that position because he was related to Jesus, and of whom it is
never recorded that he followed Jesus until after the Resurrection, sought to place rules and regulations upon the
disciples of Christ.
Paul, although clearly preaching God’s grace, or unmerited favor, to those who implacably trust Him in all of their life-
circumstances, nevertheless still felt it necessary to outline the behaviors “appropriate” for a Christian who is
nevertheless saved by God’s grace. James, clearly backing down from his demand that gentile Christians fulfill the
whole of the Mosaic law, still sought to have them “behave” in ways that would justify the disciples in the eyes of God.
This tension, between “grace” and “law” still exists unto the present day! In a booklet I picked up in my physician’s
office, I noticed the following example of this perceived need for “law,” “It is only when our sins have been forgiven and
our guilty hearts are cleansed of every defilement that our prayers can be truly effective. Mark this forceful statement:
‘When all known wrongs are righted, we may believe that God will answer our petitions. Our own merit will never
commend us to the favor of God; it is the worthiness of Jesus that will save us, His blood that will cleanse us; yet we
have a work to do in complying with the conditions of acceptance’.” (God Does Answer Prayer, by Nathaniel Krum)
In just these few sentences, one can detect the schizophrenic split between the intellectual acknowledgment that we are
solely saved by God’s grace and the visceral belief that we must do something to make us worthy of His grace. “Grace,”
by definition means, “unmerited favor!” There is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace for, as Paul acknowledged, if
grace comes by or through works it is no longer grace!
However, many still feel we have to “do something” to be worthy of our high calling. This belief has some view
themselves as “Christian” because they don’t use four letter words, or because they rein in their anger!
The fact is that Jesus saves! No buts attached! The whole Gospel message is the acknowledgment that God chose out
of the world, before the worlds were formed, those who would be His own possession (Ephesians 1:4) and there is
absolutely nothing we can do about it now or in the future!
In the secular world we know that “there is no free lunch.” However, in the spiritual world there is the equivalent of a
completely free banquet!
Amidst our sufferings, turmoils, betrayals, and losses, we trust God because He placed us in Him by having the Holy
Spirit reside within our corrupt souls. He does the changing, and only He has the scorecard as to who belong to Him.
Mere culturally approved modes of behavior that are time and space bound confer no assurance that one is a Christian.
God creates the good tree and the good fruit comes from such a tree. A bad tree will produce bad fruit! The fruit of the
spirit comes from God and not from man; change comes from God and not from man; goodness comes from God and
not from man.
If God exists, He exists independently of what you or I think of Him. An atheist can be mightily used of God, even if he or
she doesn’t acknowledge the existence of our Creator. That person may well have been chosen from the foundation of
the world to be God’s own possession!
God’s sovereign choice is manifested in His grace, and our works, to the degree that they show forth compassion,
mercy, and love, are solely initiated and orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. It isn’t our works that make us Christians, but
what makes us Christians is God’s sovereign choice of us, whether we acknowledge Him or not.
A Christian is chosen by God, and is not self-made!