A Works Based Gospel is No Gospel at All

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7

The gospel is the good news of God sending Jesus to earth to become sin so He could forgive our sin, set us free from condemnation, AND give us His righteousness in Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21). The word gospel means “good news”. The single sentence that best sums up the good news of the gospel of Christ is “that God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19).       

The issue Paul is addressing in Galatians 1:6-7 is the turning from a grace-based gospel to a works-based gospel. Paul’s point is that a works-based gospel is “really no gospel at all”. Our salvation is based on God’s grace and His faithfulness, not our faithfulness. Salvation is based the work of God, not our works. 

According to Paul, anyone who teaches a works-based salvation is teaching a gospel contrary to the gospel of Christ. A works-based gospel is really not good news at all. Good works cannot earn salvation or heaven or God’s approval. Grace works. Works Won’t.

According to Ephesians 2:4-10, because of God’s great love for us, He chose to offer us grace out from His deep reservoir of mercy, knowing all along we were sinners undeserving of His forgiveness and reconciliation. It is God’s grace alone that saves us, through faith. Salvation does not come through works. Good deeds are incapable of earning God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance, or approval. God did all of this because He also wants to demonstrate the incomparable riches of His grace, which is expressed in His kindness to us in Christ. 

Though we were created to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us (Eph 2:10), those works cannot save us. Yet, many of us have bought into the lie of religion that makes us think our relationship with Him is based on our performance. Religion is based on rules. Christianity is based solely on a personal relationship with Christ

Salvation through grace alone is the polar opposite of salvation through works or performance. The great news of the “good news” is that God has already done it all. When God said, “It is finished!” He meant it. God freely offers salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and freedom to us. We just need to receive it all by faith. Really. It is true. God has done it all already. Receive it by faith, then walk it out by faith. 

When it comes to salvation; Grace Works. Works Won’t.


Grace: God Runs to Meet You

I’ve been writing about grace, “unmerited favor of God”. Grace, unlimited in its width, depth, scope, and power, is God’s gift to you. It is His undeserved kindness, generosity, and favor. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve. Grace is other-focused. God gives grace to us, and His expectation is that we show that same grace to others.

In Luke 15 we find the picture of grace in the story of the prodigal son and his father. The story begins with a self-centered, younger son. He requests his inheritance and then squanders all his father’s hard earned money, ending up working for a pig farmer. In a state of horrible desperation, he remembers his father and decides to return home as a slave.

What was going through his mind as he trudged homeward? Maybe he realized what a failure he was. Or did he think about the money his father gave him that he had foolishly thrown away. Possibly he feared a harsh rejection, one he was sure he deserved. Whatever he thought, he was not prepared for his father’s response.

Imagine: He sees his father’s house in the distance as he shuffles shamefully forward. Another glance toward his old home reveals an unidentifiable person hurrying toward him. As the figure draws nearer, he recognizes him as his father. He prepares himself for the worst. In that culture, killing the son would have been the “honorable thing to do” due to the disgrace he brought to the family name.

He’s bewildered by his father’s loving embrace. Shame and condemnation wash over him, an indicator of his self-hatred and guilt. The father’s love faces off against the son’s self-degradation. He goes limp in the father’s embrace unable to hold back the tears.

He absorbs the father’s senseless love until he’s full. He notices the smile on his dad’s face. The father is smiling because he is overjoyed at the son’s return. This is too much for the son. He only hoped for a job as a slave, and yet he is treated as a son despite all his filthiness and poor decisions.

The father continues to extend lavish grace by having a ring put on his hand, sandals put on his feet, and a robe placed on his back. Each is a visible sign of full son-ship. The father completes his bountiful acts of grace by inviting the community to a joyous celebration of his son’s return. Rather than being embarrassed at the wayward son, the father responds with merriment and celebration. The father’s response to a rebellious son is a beautiful picture of transforming grace.

Each of us has had our prodigal experiences. Prodigal behavior is common because our heart’s default setting is “trust yourself at all cost”. Self-trust is rooted in the belief that I will be more gracious to myself than God will. Who are we kidding anyway? Turn your heart back toward your heavenly Father. He will run to meet you. Then you can recklessly heap His grace on others.


Grace Works. Works Won’t.

Grace is the “unmerited favor of God”. Grace is powerful, audacious, and dangerous! If we ever choose to truly believe, receive, and give biblical grace free reign in our lives or in our churches, it would begin a rapid and radical transformation process.

Most of us, if we were completely honest, function as if God were stingy with His grace. We fear His blame and punishment. Yet, God already knows who did what and who’s to blame, and he still loves us anyway. His interest is in redeeming us, not in keeping us on the hook for our sins. That is grace.

Unfortunately, many Christians live their lives as if they are still on the hook, and as if they have to keep everyone else on the hook. We use weapons of the flesh; the sarcastic comment, the angry stare, the cold shoulder, the threat, etc, all designed to get people to straighten up and live right. God freely gives us grace, yet we tend to withhold grace from others.

Let’s consider the story of the woman at the well in John 4. This woman was living in sin. She had lived a rough life, made many bad choices, and to top it off she was a “Samarian”. Jewish people despised Samarians. Jesus spoke directly to her with full knowledge of her sin. Instead of looking at her with judgment, he demonstrated grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.

When she went back to her village, after meeting Jesus and says, “Come see a man who knows me inside and out.” Nothing is hidden from him, and yet he communicates with her in such a fashion that she leaves the well feeling loved and accepted. That’s grace.

Did she get away with her sins? No. They cost Jesus plenty, yet you don’t see him lording it over her, or putting a guilt trip on her, or even using the time for a lecture on ethics. Jesus trusts that once she is confronted with God’s generosity and His underserved grace, that she will be eager to change and conform to God’s commands.

It’s a classic Christian paradox, isn’t it? Just when you think it’s time to pull out the Law and read someone the riot act, Jesus shows by his behavior that it’s better to embrace that person with a costly love. And grace does cost. It obviously cost the Son of God everything, and for you to extend grace will cost you and I.

Walk in God’s grace this week. Understanding God’s grace is crucial to understanding who He is, how he loves us, and wants us to love others. Grace is a multi-faceted gift from God. Religion wants us to just keep the rules, but God’s grace will rush to the point of our need.

God’s grace is unlimited in its width, depth, scope, and power. Grace is God’s gift to you. It is His undeserved kindness, generosity, and favor. Grace is God giving us what we do not deserve. Grace is a free gift that makes salvation possible. Grace works. Works won’t.


Grace: Powerful, Audacious, & Dangerous

If you asked most Christians about the meaning of grace, they’d probably tell you it’s the “unmerited favor of God”. Not a bad answer, but one that’s just academic enough to keep you from staring straight into the face of grace. Grace is powerful, audacious, and dangerous! If grace ever got free reign in our lives or in our churches, it would begin a rapid and radical transformation.

A great illustration of grace is a scene from Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s timeless tale about a peasant who is sentenced to hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. Released from jail, Jean Valjean is offered brief sanctuary in the home of a priest.

Despite being treated with dignity for the first time in years, Valjean steals the priest’s valuable silverware. To make matters worse, the clergyman catches Valjean in the act, but he escapes by beating the priest. The next day, the police brought Valjean back to the priest’s home, and laughingly say, “This man claims you gave him this silver.”

The priest immediately replies, “Why yes! There you are, my friend! You left so quickly that you forgot to take the candelabras that I gave you also.” He then disappears into his house and returns with silver candelabras, but as he hands them to Valjean, he whispers, “Don’t forget what your freedom has cost me. Now live your life accordingly.”

What a Christ-like moment! That scene also demonstrates the tremendous cost of grace, both for the giver and the receiver. Valjean goes on the live a life of grace, supporting the poor and adopting a young orphan who he must ransom out of servitude.

Do you suppose for a minute that a harsher approach by the priest could have gotten a better response from Jean Valjean? Then why do we expect people to behave better when we “Tsk, tsk, tsk” and shame them into behaving properly rather than modeling for them the kind of grace that will change them far more radically and permanently?

Grace allows people to make choices and assumes they’ll make the best choice. Grace is free and flowing and unencumbered by guilt or shame or fear, for true grace says, “I know all about you, and I still love you with a godly acceptance.”

Most of us, if we were completely honest, function as if God were stingy with His grace. We fear His punishment, in the sense that we think God is a school principal walking the halls, taking down names of who did what and who’s to blame? Yet, God already knows who did what and who’s to blame, and he still loves us anyway. His interest is in redeeming us, not in keeping us on the hook for our sins.