I think that we make Christianity unnecessarily complex. Christians seem to sit in two camps (there’s actually more, but I digress). One camp reads Bible passages, like Ephesians 2:8-9, and concludes, “Since we’re saved by grace, I can do whatever I want.” These people treat grace like fire insurance, and thus devalue the next verse which calls us to live for God’s purposes (Ephesians 2:10).
The other camp reads Bible passages, like Matthew 7:16-20, and concludes, “Since we’re known by our fruit and bad fruit is thrown in the fire (hell), then I can’t do whatever I want.” These people then become so focused on their words and actions that they completely disregard grace in an attempt to justify themselves.
Interestingly, I’ve found nothing inherently wrong with either camp. The Bible does talk a good amount about being saved by grace (Romans 5:6-8, Ephesians 1:3-8, 1 Timothy 1:15-16) but it also discusses the importance of works (Matthew 5:16, James 1:21-22, James 2:14-26, Titus 1:15-16). So if both camps are right (in theory), then why do they seem to contradict each other?
I wrested with this seeming contraction for quite some time until recently. Through spending time with God in prayer, and by reading and meditating on His Word, I’ve concluded that both camps are right. I believe that being “saved by grace” and “saved by works” aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Maybe in our minds they are, but in God’s mind they’re not. Perhaps this is because both concepts are built on the same foundation; Jesus.
In John 15, Jesus tells His disciples to abide in Him which means “to keep His commandments” as verse 10 reveals. Now if you scour the Bible with a highlighter you will find that Jesus tells us to do lots of things, but even His commands have a common thread. In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus said that if you love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself, everything else will fall into place. All of His commands depend on these two directives.
Basically (very basically, might I add), Christianity, i.e. following Jesus, is the process of making Jesus the priority. It’s made up of daily decisions to love Him more than ourselves (Luke 9:23). As we do this, we see and experience God’s grace in how He made a way for us through Jesus. We also have a cause to live differently.
We shouldn’t live for Jesus just because of God’s grace; we should live for Him because we love Him. Similarly, we shouldn’t live for Jesus to prove our worth; we should live for Him because we love Him. Loving Jesus, furthermore loving God, is arguably the most important decision that we can make. It’s the difference maker in how we handle the good, bad and ugly sides of this life.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to downplay what it means to follow Jesus. Sure, theologians (some of which are my friends) could read this article and argue that I’ve underplayed the value of context or terminology, but that’s not my point. Believe me, I know that living for Jesus is not a light-hearted matter. It changes and affects everything from now into eternity. That’s why we have to make Him the center of our lives.
Charlie Hall wrote a song that sums up my thoughts perfectly. It sings, “oh Christ be the center of our lives, be the place we fix our eyes, be the center of our lives.” This is my prayer for myself and everyone else who chooses to follow Jesus. I pray that we trust, believe and find that placing Jesus at the center of our lives causes everything else (our aspirations, our happiness, our perspectives, etc.) to fall into place.