One of the most beautiful truths Christianity teaches is justification by faith: solely through trusting in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are we declared righteous before God. Nothing to earn, nothing to deserve, none of that. Enemies are adopted into God’s family by faith in Christ.
But it’s also the most unnatural to us. We are hardwired to want to earn… well, anything, but especially our standing in the eyes of others. And doubly so from a religious or spiritual perspective. Justification by faith seems too easy, so it can’t possibly be true. That’s why, in religions where there is some kind of concept of sin and justification, the key to righteousness is not faith alone, but some kind of combination of faith and works (and usually a greater emphasis on the latter than the former).
Because this idea is so natural to us, we struggle to believe that there could be any other option. Even when we “know” we have been saved by grace through faith, when we have been justified by faith alone, we still bring works back into it. Not in the biblical sense of works being evidence of our faith (which is the entire point of the book of James), but as a need to pay God back for saving us. The funny thing is, that kind of approach is a losing proposition. As Justin Holcomb wrote,
There is a damaging idea floating around that says, “God saved you, now what are you going to do for him?” This is a recipe for failure. If you come to the table believing you can do anything for God in your own strength or repay him on any level, you have already lost. You are back to confessing your self-dependent spiritual death from which Jesus saved you.1
What we do matters, without question. God calls us to stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). He created us for good works, which he prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). But let’s not think for a minute that we’re paying him back for anything. That is a surefire recipe for failure.
- Justin Holcomb, On the Grace of God (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2013), Kindle location 1588. ↵