Connections 10.04.2020: Grace Leads to Works

Isaiah 5:1-7

Church people talk a lot about grace versus works. In the church where I grew up, and in subsequent years at other churches, we often studied the difference between these two terms.

“Grace” is a free gift. It is undeserved. It can’t be earned.

“Works” require action. They are something we do. Our efforts might bring fulfillment—to us and to the people around us.

Church leaders often insist that Christians are saved by grace alone, not by works. That is, God saves us from our sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is a gift of grace. Nothing we do can earn this salvation. The idea comes straight from Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Sometimes, though, this theology is proclaimed to the detriment of service work in the community surrounding the church. And in that case, church leaders and teachers are forgetting the next verse in the passage: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (v. 10).

As for me, I never understood the argument between grace versus works. The two go hand in hand. It’s always been clear to me that God saves us and then expects us to live in service to God. This means that, as Christians, we naturally take actions that help others and benefit our planet. These are God’s expectations for us.

In our passage today, the prophet Isaiah uses striking imagery of a vineyard to make the same point: God, in God’s grace, “plants us” in fertile ground, giving us the resources we need to act in ways that help our world and the people in it. Too often, we make a mess of it with our selfishness and self-protectiveness.

The warning against failure to bear good fruit is stark, picturing a state of destruction, wild overgrowth, and drought. When God gives us the gift of grace, God expects us to grow in this grace and do God’s good works. If we don’t, God will let us suffer the consequences, and other people may suffer too.

Discussion

  • What do you think drives the argument of grace versus works?
  • What are the negative consequences of focusing too much on the difference between these two terms? How are the two connected?
  • How is the vineyard in the Isaiah passage a sign of God’s grace? How are the wild grapes a sign of failure to live a life of faithfulness to God?
  • In what ways can our lack of works harm other people and our planet? How does this failure reflect negatively on God?
  • Think about the marvelous gift of grace you have received. God has planted you in fertile soil and nurtured you. What can you do to show God’s love to the world?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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