We must understand the nature and purpose of grace. Christians are all over the map, embroiled in all sorts of debates because we fail to comprehend that grace isn’t a one-time thing; it is God’s ongoing action in our lives. As Dallas Willard says, it works like fuel to enable us to do something.
We also fail to understand that salvation isn’t a one-time decision; it’s a process, a journey, a course designed by God. The definition of salvation is, simply, life with God. The result is “new life from above.” That new-life course is fueled by grace to obey because grace and obedience go hand in hand. If we treat either one as a stand-alone, we suffer the consequences in this life and the afterlife.
Jesus explains very clearly that no one enters the kingdom of heaven unless they’re born twice. First, physically, i.e., by “water,” then spiritually, by Spirit. (Jhn. 3:5) No one considers the moment of physical birth to be the whole life. It’s simply the beginning. So also, the moment of spiritual birth isn’t the whole new life with God, i.e., salvation. It’s merely the beginning.
Jesus also explains that “if you want to enter life, obey the commands.” (Mat. 19:17) What commands? The only two that he said ultimately matter: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. These, according to Jesus, sum up and embody everything about new life. (Mat. 7:12, 22:37-39, Mrk. 12:30-33, Luk. 10:27) Paul agreed (Rom. 13:9, Gal. 5:14) and so did James (Jas. 2:8). The place that Jesus teaches how to do this is in the Sermon on the Mount.
We don’t get saved; we’re being saved continually. It’s why Paul says to “continue to work out your salvation.” (Phl. 2:12) To have “faith,” to “believe in Christ,” and to “follow Jesus” all mean to behave as if what he says is true and do what he says. It isn’t “works”; it’s life. I think it’s time to stop taking every single noun and verb associated with work and making it synonymous with “earn.”
The pervasive, crippling fear of “works salvation” is killing us and keeping us from life to the full. “Saved by grace alone” doesn’t mean “you do nothing”; it means living out a new life with God, enabled and taught how to obey the commands!