You Can’t Work Grace out of a Job

The scriptures say a lot about grace, works, and faith. My understanding is still developing, and there is much to learn. But this is what I understand and this is how I live.

Today, I want to look at works and how they fit into God’s plans for us, according to His word (all citations KJV except where noted).

First of all, will we be judged according to our works? And if we are judged by them, aren’t we also accountable for them? 

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:12–13)

Will we receive a resurrection of life or death based on what we have done in this life or on what we think or say or merely believe?

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28–29)

On the other hand, can we do a lot of apparent good in this world and then not have it count for anyhting?

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21–23)

 And if we do all kinds of good deeds without charity in our hearts, what happens then?

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2–3)

Can I profess to know God but my works prove otherwise?

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16)

So, given these verses, can I conclude that (1) I’ll be judged by my works, (2) what I have done will determine a resurrection of life or death, (3) I can can say and do wonderful works without charity and those deeds will avail me nothing, and (4) I may profess God while at the same time deny Him with my works? I can. Can I, dare I, conclude anything else?

Is the grace of God so expansive, so inclusive that I am required to do nothing to receive it? Nothing? Am I chosen only by election and can do nothing about it? My actions, meaningless, null and void?

What did Isaiah mean when he said the following?

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Here is the NIV version of Isaiah 64:6 for good measure:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

So our good deeds are “filthy rags” and our evil deeds sweep us away to damnation? Can I do nothing to help myself? Is my freedom of choice meaningless if, for good or ill, it all counts for naught?

I don’t accept it. I never have. Yes, I accept that all my good acts, words, and works cannot save me. But I cannot accept that they are not expected by a wise, all-knowing God. Micah 6:6–8 says—

Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

To “do justly,” I must be fair and honest in my dealings. To “love mercy,” I must act with kindness and forbearance, and “to walk humbly” I must not justify my sin or be defensive or proud or belittling or mean. I want to live up to all that, but try as I may, I can’t. Not 100 percent of the time.

I cannot do otherwise than try, for he said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That gives me hope enough to try.

So this is what I have been doing and what I’ll continue to do. Trust God. Do right. Have faith. Turn my weaknesses over to Him. But get off the mat and keep trying. Never give up. Let His grace take care of what I cannot take care of, but I will try to fix everything I can to the best of my ability.

I am a sinner and a weakling. I don’t want to be. God, help me. Please. I am doing the best I know how.

Faith, Grace, and Works

Some believers think that faith, grace, and works are sworn enemies, but I think they’re pretty good friends. They go together like the sun, the sky, and the color blue. Can they exist separately? Not really. Absence of one is a negation of the other two.

Let’s dig into it.

One of the most oft-quoted verses on the matter of being saved by grace is Ephesian 2:8–9:

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.

I think we can all easily conclude that works alone won’t take us home. We need the love of God, manifested through His grace, to get back there. That’s His part. We also need faith. That’s our part.

So are works necessary at all? Let’s turn to Ephesian chapter 2, verse 10, the very next verse in the passage, to find out:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

It sounds like we are saved by grace, not works, but that we are also created “unto good works”—or “to do good works” as it says in the New International Version (italics mine).

Titus 3:8 strengthens the case:

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.

Good works, then, in the genuine sense, are evidence of faith and grace. Grace not only assures us of forgiveness but it also gives us the power to avoid sin and enables us to do good and to be good.

Here is one of my favorite verses on the subject, 2 Corinthians 9:8:

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.

The key to salvation is grace. The key to good works is grace as well. And they are brought together by faith. They all go together.

Finally, let’s not forget that faith without works is dead. Faith is an action word. Faith without action is belief with a guilt complex. Here is my favorite verse about this — James 2:21–22:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

 So faith and works are best friends after all. They’re pretty lonely without each other.

If we don’t get some skin in the game, there’ll be sin in the game. Keeping those friends together will hold us together.

But I am only speaking for myself here. “Behold, I give it as my opinion” (Alma 40:20).

What Is Love?

When I think about my mother, I think about love, and when I think about love, I think about the real thing.

Love is unconditional or it’s not really love. Passions heat up and freeze to ice. Affections warm and cool. Personalities or bodies attract us one day and repulse us the next. But real love is a fixed mark. It is not swayed from one day to the next. It is not something that ends or stops or quits. It is not dissuaded by wrinkles or male-pattern baldness or 32 pounds or long-term illness or sin. It hangs in. It sticks out tough times. It does not use selfish “needs” as an exit sign. It gives and admires and shares and asks for little or nothing back.

Yes, there are practical matters. We can’t maintain for long relationships where one party is utterly conquered by addiction or crime or abuse. If there is a threat of continued physical violence or serious emotional harm, those things must end, even if by dissolution. But if those parties separate, even then the embers of true love sometimes continue to burn.

Love is selfless. It is more concerned about someone else than self. It spends less time looking in the mirror than looking after others. It is solicitous. It is focused outside of self and tends to suffer few neuroses. It is not full of expectations or demands. It waits. It watches from the sidelines. It’s patient. More than it seeks attention it seeks to meet the needs of others.

Love is sacrifice. It is more concerned with honoring promises than pursuing selfish impulses. It sets aside personal aspirations for the benefit of another human being. It stays up late and gets up early. It stays home when everyone else is going out. It is not jealous of the blessings and opportunities that come to others. This love both loudly and quietly rejoices at those blessings.

Love is endless. Real love never dies. It is not limited by time or space. It stops at no boundary but honors all of them. It is loyal. It does not shift with changes in others—though we may not always be able to express love due to the changes in others. It sees beyond the day to a better one.

That was my mother. She’s been gone now for over 30 years, but she’s never been gone from my heart. She loved with all she had though what she had was less than most moms. She had multiple sclerosis from when she was college age, but then only for intermittent visits. It showed up permanently when I was about five years old until she died twenty years later. She couldn’t look after our needs like most moms I knew, but she cared and gave what she had to give, and that was more than enough.

More than show her love she gave her love. It had more to do with who she was than what she could do. I am just now learning the difference.

Howards End, My Favorite Movie

I have a favorite movie. An all-time favorite. Well, at least since 1992. It’s Howards End.

A Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E. M. Forster novel, it stars Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bonham Carter, though I particularly like the portrayal of Leonard Bast by Samuel West. (He’s on the poster.) I also love the era and place: England, circa 1910. Howards End won three Academy Awards in 1993 from nine nominations. 

This movie isn’t for everyone. I have a coupon from a daughter. As a gift, she promises to watch the movie with me “without complaining.” I have yet to collect.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it. Maybe you read the novel of class struggle in school. No matter. Here’s the secret to the film: It’s not about class struggle. It’s about forgiveness and redemption and unconditional love. And what happens because of them. 

It’s tragic. It’s devastating. People get in trouble and they pay for it dearly. It’s loaded flat with irony. And it is very, very funny. The awkward moments are perfect. Just watch for the scenes with the puppies and, later on, a staircase.

If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a bit of an investment both financially (unless your library has it) and intellectually. But it’s worth it if you like to watch love well and truthfully told.

Life after Death

Dedicated to Cristi

When someone you love dies, life stands still, but it still goes on without you. No one can stop it. And that can be annoying. Or heartbreaking.

It seems so insensitive that stores remain open, people laugh and celebrate, cars keep rolling towards inane destinations. It feels disrespectful.

Your world has ended. At least the world you knew. Or a big chunk of it broke off.

Faith is best friends with hope. Faith is patience. Faith is believing in the future. Sometimes grief wins, but faith and grief are not enemies.

Grief is a pure form of love. It is evidence that a meaningful relationship existed and still exists.

Grief is a reminder of what once was and what will be. It’s a bridge, though at times you can only see one end of that bridge.

Life groans on, out of balance, with a tumor called grief. But grief is love and love is the light of faith and with faith we can go on.