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.

Published in: on June 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. What a great post, Rebecca! You so clearly defined what it looks like to respond to the grace that’s been given to us. Thank you!


  2. Very good post.

    I have a question, though. I was listening to Piper last night–I love watching him speak and hearing what he says–and he said that God is mad at us when we sin. A father gets mad at his children, he said. And yes, God does get mad at us. It’s not wrath, it’s anger. God says, “You sinned and I’m angry.”

    And I was thinking I needed to look into this, because I have said so many times that God doesn’t have one bit of anger left over for us. He’s spent all his wrath on the Christ and when he looks at us he has a smiling face.

    I do think we can grieve the Holy Spirit, obviously, but I wouldn’t call it anger.

    So I was going to look into that, to see if I need to adjust my thinking, and then tonight I read you and you say, “We don’t obey to become pleasing to God, but to please God.” And again, I’m knocked a little off balance. Because I would say we can’t please God any more than we can make him angry. We can’t please him any more than Christ has already pleased him.

    I have never done a good work thinking I’d please God. I would say we don’t do good works to become pleasing to God, but because he has become pleasing to us. In other words, I am so happy because of the grace God has given me, that I can’t help myself. The happiness bubbles out of me. That’s when I feel like I’m doing good works with the right motivation. When I’m doing them because I’m so pleased with God.

    I have forced myself to obey when I haven’t wanted to. Many times. But that I do not to please God but simply because he deserves my obedience. He’s commanded me to obey. It’s never crossed my mind that he’s pleased with my obedience. Never once have I thought God was pleased with me. I’ve always thought that God loves me and accepts me and lavishes good gifts on me, but I’ve always thought that was because he was pleased with Christ and I’m hidden in Christ. So if God is pleased with us…How can he be pleased with me when I’m sinful? It has to be through Christ that my works are acceptable. That my prayers are a pleasing aroma.

    so here’s my question. Do any of you have favorite verses about God being angry with us or pleased with us that I can look at and study?


  3. We have a guy in our accountability group who has made a complete 180-degree turn towards Christ. Based on what I understand about his change, your article matches reality completely, Rebecca.

    Of coarse we want to get by with the minimum when it’s religious legalism. It’s against the person’s will, which is for something else. The Pharisees could care less for what the law actually meant(Jesus’ teachings); they wanted the gifts that came along with praying in public with big words, one of the very things Christ tells us not to do(Matthew 6:1-8).

    Now do we have reason to go above and beyond. God has send his Son to create the bridge between the world and Heaven, which gives us eternal and abundant life. This life brings joy, joy which is meant to be spread to all nations of the earth. And what better way than works.

    God Bless,


  4. Oh, sorry, Sally – meant to try and answer your question.

    If you look at Mark 3:5(, it reads that Christ looked at them with anger, but also grieved at the hardness of their hearts. Then He healed the man’s hand.

    Take Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. Moses uses every excuse that he can: he stutters, they won’t pay attention. In Exodus 4:12 – 14, it reads,

    4:12 So now go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you must say.” 13 But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send anyone else whom you wish to send!” 14 Then the LORD became angry with Moses, and he said, “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak very well. Moreover, he is coming to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart.

    God tells Moses that He shall speak for Him, and Moses cries in human fear. This angers the LORD, obviously.

    There might be more, but that’s all I got from here:

    God Bless,


  5. I had a waking nightmare the other day, thinking that my repentance contributed to my salvation. Shuttering, I awoke from that thought, glad to find my salvation rested in Christ’s work alone. Any repentance upon my part is a testament to that grace.


  6. Every time I have gone through fire, I come out loving God more. And it is out of that love that I choose to obey Him. How could I not? It is through fire that I see Him more clearly and see myself more clearly.

    BTW, my husband loved the end of your post and is reposting it (with a link back to your blog) on his facebook 🙂


  7. […] issue that came up not long ago in a comment here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. The post was “Grace Works Versus Law Works” and the comment, in part, said this: You say, “We don’t obey to become pleasing to God, but to […]


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