It’s an old struggle: how do we balance “grace” and “works”?
We have a really hard time with this—we see (complementary) books like Romans and James as being opposed to one another. We accuse any emphasis on works as an abandonment of justification by faith—until we get concerned that “too much” of an emphasis on grace will lead to licentious living.
But we do need to strike an appropriate balance because we may be doing our cause more harm than good. C.S. Lewis explains the issue well in Mere Christianity:
If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions—if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in an illness ‘feeling better’ is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world. The war-time posters told us that Careless Talk costs Lives. It is equally true that Careless Lives cost Talk. Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we give them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity itself. (Kindle location 2542)
We are saved by grace alone, but not a faith that is alone. Jesus alone is our righteousness—but we will be known by our fruit. If we say we’re following Jesus, but our lives show virtually no evidence that we’re living in obedience to him… well, it might speak more clearly about what’s actually going on in our hearts than our finest preaching. “Careless lives cost Talk.”