Grace Works Versus Law Works


The guy was rich, filthy rich. The filthy part was a result of his underhanded schemes and his willingness to step on or over anyone he needed to in his pursuit of wealth. Then one day, He found Christ — or more accurately, Christ found him. Because of his relationship with the living God, he promised to give away half his possessions to the poor and to repay the people he’d cheated, adding four times the amount to the total.

He was a changed man.

The guy, by the way, was Zaccheus (see Luke 19:1-10), and no one compelled him to dispose of his wealth or make retribution to those he’d cheated. Even if he’d gone by Jewish law, he would only have had to repay what he stole plus twenty percent.

Zaccheus’s extravagant promises directly connected to the grace he received. In other words, grace in his life resulted in going above and beyond the law.

That was true of the good slave in the parable Jesus told right after his encounter with Zaccheus. The guy in the story went above and beyond, investing the money entrusted to him and bringing a tenfold yield. He’s the one Jesus praised.

The slave who wrapped the money entrusted to him in a handkerchief received Christ’s censure. Why? Because he had no profit to turn over to his king, not even the interest he could have accrued had he put the money in the bank.

The point of Jesus’s story seems clear — God expects “fruit.” And yet, Scripture says repeatedly, “fruit” doesn’t purchase heaven.

The Jews who rejected Jesus had him over for dinner, listened to Him teach, knew what Scripture said, including the command to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They had “fruit.” Lots of it, actually. Their actions were exemplary, but those actions didn’t count.

Their works were a result of their effort to keep the law, which they believed would make them pleasing to God.

Zaccheus and the good slave also produced “fruit,” but theirs was a result of their relationship with God. They acted, not so that they could become pleasing to God but so that they could please God.

The thing is, good works all look a lot alike. Recently groups of believers from my church spent time on two different Saturdays participating in a number of service projects in the community. During that same time, my local paper reported about a religious group that holds to the idea that good works earn a spot in the highest heaven doing virtually the same thing my church did.

Good works can look the same on the outside. For one person, living a clean life is a legalistic “have to,” and his life is driven by law, whereas another person, grateful to God because of His love and forgiveness, can live a grace-filled life of purity and good works that looks quite similar.

Who’s to say when good works are driven by grace or by law? Obviously God, who is the Judge, because He sees into each person’s heart. But I think there are also ways we can know for ourselves if we are living by law or by grace.

1. Responding to grace makes me want to obey; responding to law makes me feel as if I have to obey.

2. Responding to grace makes me want to do more than what the law requires; responding to law makes me want to get by with as little as possible and still be considered law abiding (the old money-in-a-handkerchief trick).

3. Responding to grace makes me look at God and ask what He wants me to do; responding to law makes me look around at others and figure out what I have to do to look better than the rest.

I’m sure there are others, but this list gets me started.

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Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm  Comments (7)  
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