I once heard a leading pastor of a “successful” evangelical church in a city preach the following: “We are saved by grace, but after that, it is all up to us.” This is a frightening proposition.
It is indicative of how poorly grace is understood and how much anxiety there is out there on the topic of obedience/disobedience, as if “grace” is a “get-out-of-obedience-free card.”
Let’s go with a “Reformation Protestant” “total depravity” perspective for the moment (not going to argue the finer points of that today)–there is nothing in our unregenerated state that seeks after God. There is nothing that desires to follow Him, etc. Finding no one in humanity faithful or trustworthy, He made a covenant with Himself, on our behalf. We weren’t involved in the transaction at all (Hebrews 6). Ok, so we go with that. Then what of our obedience? What is the source of our obedience? That means that whatever obedience we manifest must come from the new nature we have been given. The new nature is a gift of God to us when we believe. Therefore, our obedience is not our gift to God, it is His gift to us, and in us, the fruit of something we have been given.
In the Old Covenant, the terms of the covenant were (e.g.: Deu. 28): “If you do this, then I will bless you.” In the New Covenant, the terms of the covenant are: “I have blessed you in Christ by giving you new life, now go, and “do this”- live accordingly.” There are no “if-you, then I will,” clauses in the New Covenant promise of Jeremiah 31, quoted in Hebrews, but rather only eight “I wills” of God. This reflects Hebrews 6.
For me, grace is not a “thing,” a “judicial decree,” or merely a “forensic status.” It is the overflow of the interpenetrating life, love, truth, and power of the triune God into time and space, in union with my being. This includes being found righteous by faith in Christ. The lesser is included in the greater. Grace is a quality of Christ’s being–John 1:14–Jesus was full of grace and truth. It wasn’t just grace “for others” or truth “for others.” That is not what the text says. Just let the text stand. Grace and truth are the ethical substance of His being and the glory of God. Since Jesus didn’t need “unmerited favor from God” (the normal definition of grace), there has to be more to it that than. Grace is a substance of reality found in the interpenetrating love of the triune God.
It is contradictory to say that I have experientially entered into that triune life, love, and power and to have my life be characterized by indifference toward obedience. Because I have received his life, love, and power as a gift in the Person of the indwelling Spirit of the resurrected Christ, obedience is the logical ethical manifestation of the transaction. Yes, we start as babes and we grow in grace and obedience. But a good root produces good fruit, appropriate for the season of development of the plant.
The question is not an alleged grace-works tension issue or can’t the “Adamic nature” mimic conforming ethical behavior? Of course, yes. That happens all the time. I would say that often evangelicalism can degenerate into nothing more than a moralistic and therapeutic behavior management society, with Christ and His Spirit not involved at all. Yes, that can happen. But that is what discernment and the gift of discerning of spirits are for–to be able to detect the distinction between the aroma of Christ and the aroma of Adam trying really hard–even if outwardly the behavior looks the same. Adam loves to religiously perform to standard for acceptance by God and humanity. Only the new life granted by God will embrace the cross, die to its own desires, experience resurrection life, and manifest kingdom-aligned behavior.
The question is: Are you really converted? Are you a transformed, new creation being? Have you, by faith, become sharer in the life of the triune God? If not, back up the discussion about “grace and obedience” to address more foundational issues.
Obedience doesn’t qualify me for God’s love. It proves I am in it. It is a root and fruit issue. In the new covenant, obedience is the fruit, not the root of my new life.
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