As a new Christian, I wondered about a question along the lines of: “If we are saved by grace, not by works, why bother working anymore?” Or as Alan Scholes put it (in the title of a chapter in his excellent book The Artful Dodger) “What if I accept Christ and keep on sinning?” Eventually I was able to reconcile grace and works after reading and truly understanding what both Paul and James have to say and how they compliment eachother.
Tonight I was reading Watchman Nee’s book The Normal Christian Life which is essentially a commentary on Romans. As Nee described how our sins (plural; ie, things we have done wrong) are dealt with by the Blood of Jesus, and our sin (singular; as in our nature as a sinner) is dealt with by the Cross of Jesus, I for some reason thought of a joke told by Demetri Martin.
It’s probably better if you listen to him tell the swimming joke here (about 30 seconds) but if you can’t or would rather not load a YouTube clip, here’s the gist of it:
Swimming is a confusing sport. Cuz sometimes you’re doing it for fun … and other times, you’re doing it to NOT DIE.
You can usually tell by the outfit:
Pants? Uh oh!
Swimming trunks? Okay!
Grace and works is kinda like that. A person doing works to try to be saved (a futile endeavor) may be doing the exact same actions as someone who does works out of gratitude (response to grace). But the person who realizes they are saved by grace is not doing things to AVOID DEATH, they realize that they have already avoided death.
And like the swimming analogy, you can tell which is which by a person’s outfit … ie, by what attitude they are doing things, how they approach their tasks, what goal they have in mind, and why they are doing them in the first place. A grace-filled person has “put on the new self” as their clothing. (Ephesians 4:24)
I guess the answer to the question “If we are saved by grace, not by works, why bother working anymore?” is that working is only a chore when it’s an obligation. Serving out of gratitude, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, is an entirely different thing than desperately paddling away trying to save yourself. That doesn’t mean that serving in the church is always less stressful or frustrating or costly than serving outside (I know that all too well!) but it does help explain the difference. And it makes all the difference in the world!