What do you have to do to become a Christian? It is, of course, a trick question. The reason for this is that being made right with God has nothing to do with anything a person can do. Being made right with God is an act of God's grace. It is this act of God's grace which produces a relationship with God. This relationship, like a natural relationship between parent and child, is not the result of the child's efforts. Those who teach that people must do certain things to have a relationship with God clearly do not understand the indispensible role of God and His grace to make this relationship possible. But those who confuse relationship with God with fellowship with God similarly do not sufficiently understand the grace of God.
No person or their efforts can add any value to God or His worth! This is because God has aseity. This is the quality of 'needing nothing' not merely in the sense of 'contentment', but in the sense of absolutely complete, self-sufficient. God doesn'tneed mankind, neither does He need mankind's permission, invitation, petition, or direction. God alone has aseity. Then why has been gracious to us? Because of His great and infinitely undeserved love toward us. Consider this truth the next time you hear someone declare that God can't do something (bring revival, heal a sickness, save a soul) because people are not letting Him / inviting Him / praying enough / worshiping long and intensely enough ... and then compare these appeals with what the Bible actually teaches about God's grace and His aseity.
But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
Accepting God's grace is the only means of being made right with God. This is where God reaches out to a person who is spiritually 'dead' (that is, infintely estranged from Him) and enables them to be reconciled to Him (Eph. 2:1-5). This is why it is utter self-deception for a person to believe that they acceptable to God without ever being reconciled to Him by a received act of His grace.
God's grace awakens a person's conscience to feel as it should. This awakened conscience experiences the conviction of sin. This sense of conviction of sin is the result of God's grace in a person. It leads a person to cry out to God for forgiveness and then enables them to then turn from sin toward God ('repentance'). Thus, repentance (a 180° turn around) is a gift from God."For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ."
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
If we can only be brought into right relationship with God by His grace, then it sounds logical to say that our relationship with God could never be established, sustained or enhanced by any of our efforts. Many very popular preachers have built their ministries on this apparent Biblical fact of grace. The grace of God which brings a person into relationship with God has nothing to do with our performance - it is despite our performance! If you are trying to convince God that He made the right decision in forgiving and saving you by performing a level of religious devotion and service within the Church you are going to burn yourself out, suffer misery, and languish in self-loathing. May Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in 1:17-18 be my prayer for you - that the eyes of your understanding might be opened to the wonderful work of God in saving you. But God's grace doesn't stop with your salvation. God's grace enables you to fellowship with God. And I suspect that this is what many so-called "Grace teachers" confuse when they fail to make the distinction between relationship and fellowship.
I have a relationship with my wife. It's called marriage. Fortunately, for me, she's also my bestess friend. But when I neglect her, ourfellowship is strained. Restoring my fellowship with her requires intentional time, focus, sincerity, listening and talking, and taking a renewed interest in her. Fellowship is not performance-based but it is the result of the choices we make and the level to which we are prepared to sacrifice those things that detract from it. Thus, when a Pastor urges his congregation to forsake compromise, engage more with the Scriptures in their private devotions, spend more intentional time in prayer, make sacrifices to attend Sunday church services, he is not preaching "salvation by works", rather he is pointing out what always hinders a believer's fellowship with God and shedding light of God's grace onto how this can be addressed. Even his ministering of the Scriptures highlighting each of these exhortations from the New Testament is itself a work of grace in his hearers' souls. To claim that God's saving grace means that a believer never has to work or strive to develop their fellowship with God is to ignore those Scriptures which plainly state that working (Eph. 2:10) and striving (Luke 13:24; Rom. 15:30; 1Cor. 14:12; 1im. 4:10) are indeed required in following Christ (as distinct frombecoming a follower of Christ).
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
First Tim 4:10
The idea that followers of Christ are exempt from keeping God's laws because they have been saved by grace is called "antinomianism" ('against the Law'). The Law was never designed to save a soul. The Law's purpose was to reveal the glory of God. When the first of the Ten Commandments thunders that there are no other gods but the True God, it is giving due glory to God. When the Law statutes against murder, it is reinforcing that God's image and glory are seen in those who bear His image. Thus, the Law reveals what falling short of the glory of God looks like (Rom. 3:23) and brings a person to recognise their sin and thus their need for God's forgiveness.
¶ What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."
The New Covenant did not make any of the Moral Laws of God (expressed in the Ten Commandments) obsolete. On the contrary, the New Testament restates each the commandments and Christ is the Ultimate Sabbath Rest (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:1ff).
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.Hebrews 8:10
After being with my wife for more than twenty-seven years, I know what she likes and doesn't like. I'd like to share the secret of how I discovered this: she told me. Because I love her, I don't want to do what she doesn't like. But would she still be my wife if I did do those things she didn't like? That is, would we still have a relationship if I caused her grief? Of course. We would still have our relationship of marriage. But would our fellowship be affected? From painful experience over nearly three decades I can conclusively report: Yes it is. What if she told me what she wanted from me in order to develop our fellowship (like, "Spend time with me!" "If you're going to be late for dinner, let me know!" "I told you that in confidence! Don't share with others what is only for your ears!"), would she be "legalistic"? Would I be justified in responding to her, "Honey, those things sound like rules, and our relationship is not based on rules but is based on love and grace."? Of course not! Thus, when a preacher urges those he is charged to love/protect/feed to spend time in God's Word every day, not to neglect weekly Sunday worship with the church (Heb. 10:25), take time out to pray, be generous, share your faith in Christ, not to use foul language, not to allow anger in, avoid idolatrous addictions - they are not being "legalistic", and the believer whose heart is yearning to know God and please Him doesn't ever hear those things as hindering their relationship with their Heavenly Daddy. Instead, they hear them as a King's request for Bethlehem's well-water.
And David said longingly, "Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!" Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD.
Second Samuel 23:15-16
One final thought for those who are sharply criticising those of us who make this distinction between between relationship by God's grace (Eph. 2:8-9) and fellowship empowered by God's grace (Eph. 2:10; 2Cor. 9:8). Do you realise how you sound when you ridicule/mock/denounce preachers like myself when you do so on your blogs, Facebook walls, and YouTube channels? I personally find it bizarre that often the most viralent promoters of divine grace are too often quite among the most ungracious toward those they disagree with. The venom and nastiness with which they promote the love, kindness and grace of God while attacking those who call for holiness is quite literally disgraceful. Surely the measure of how much a believer appreciates God's grace is seen in how they they display that same grace to others?
so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second Thessalonians 1:12