By Matthew Hohnberger
I have found over the years that one of the hottest topics for many Christians (Adventists) is the grace, love, obedience, and works topic. We all have our little pet statements in response to discussions on this matter. But so quickly the discussion seems to reach a point of disagreement.
In an effort to more thoroughly balance and clear my understanding of these four actions I chose to study the books of James and 1 John. James is a very practical book and I would encourage you to read and study it. It is fascinating. The same goes for 1 John, which upon studying I found even more interesting. 1 John was written to Christians or those who had already accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. It was here that clarity happened for me, bringing my understanding to a cohesive whole.
What I found was a consistency of how the apostles linked these four things (grace, love, obedience, works) together. Not as separate individual items, but as a whole. In the words of a friend, “Holistic.” You see, they cannot be separated. They go hand in hand. Each is a piece of the puzzle, put them together and you have the complete picture. Let me share a few of the verses with you.
“And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He is the propitiation for our sins: If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him. He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. And now little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 1:9. 2:1,5,6,10,28. 5:1,2,3,4.)
You see love is the basis of godliness. Godliness is accepting Jesus as my Savior and living for and like Christ. Grace is what God gives us as sinful, erring humans and the power to do what is right. Accepting Jesus into my life changes me so that righteousness is a byproduct of Christ in me, not something I have to do. Therefore what I do is righteous, not because of me, but because it is from Christ who is in me. Now it is just up to me to abide in Christ. It is not trying to love others or do what is right, it is Christ’s righteousness shining out of me. Obedience and works are a byproduct of Christ’s grace and love in me.
I have started to change my prayers now. Instead of asking God to help me be patient, for example, I now pray “Lord give me more patience.” Slight twist, but do you see the difference? There is now no glory in the good things I do; there is only glory to God for the things He is doing through me. You can’t separate them. They all work together.