BY DAVE STEEL
A misunderstanding persists among Bible-believing Christians about the intended results of God’s saving grace in our lives. In his book, Following Jesus the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship, Jonathan Lunde poses the question that springs from this misconception:
Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace? Doesn’t the one who strives to obey all of Jesus’ demands risk becoming bound up with a legalism that denies the sufficiency of Jesus’ finished work? In fact, aren’t the extravagant demands of Jesus better used as prods to goad us back to him for more grace since our salvation is always dependent on his righteous life? Why, then, ought we to be concerned about obedience—especially the extravagant obedience that Jesus demands?
It's an important question. Lunde points out that, “The answer to this question turns on the nature of the covenantal relationship we have with God through Jesus. What we discover is that grace has always grounded God’s relationships with his people, but that same grace persistently brings the demand of righteousness.” Lunde carefully traces God’s covenantal relationship with his people throughout the Old Testament and concludes that, “Covenantal grace never diminishes the covenantal demand of righteousness—righteousness that flows out of covenantal faith. As a result, faith and works of obedience will always be found in God’s true covenant partners, regardless of the type of covenant in question.”
And how does the apostle Paul view the relationship between grace and obedience? “My dear friends,” he says, “as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12-13).
This passage prompts Warren Wiersbe to suggest that, “The Christian life is not a series of ups and downs. It is rather a process of ‘ins and outs.’ God works in, and we work out. We cultivate the submissive mind by responding to the divine provisions God makes available to us.”
Understanding the relationship between God’s grace toward us and our obedience to him—that the two are not only compatible but inseparable—is crucial to our discipleship to Jesus. Willard puts his finger on why this is important when he says,
We must stop using the fact that we cannot earn grace (whether for justification or for sanctification) as an excuse for not energetically seeking to receive grace. Having been found by God, we then become seekers of ever-fuller life in him. Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort. The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed “into his likeness” by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now-common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency.
What, then, should be our response to Christ’s saving grace? Energetic, extravagant obedience—not to earn grace but precisely because we possess it.
Jonathan Lunde, Following Jesus the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 35.
Warren Wiersbe, Be Joyful (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor, 1974), 70.
Dallas Willard, The Great Omission, 76.