One of my pet peeves with the way American evangelicals tend to talk about faith is our fear of works. We emphasize the fact that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, which is certainly true. But it is hardly true that we are free from works.
A large part of this tendency stems from a misreading of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was led by Martin Luther in the 1500s in a quest to reform the abuses of the Catholic Church. The movement didn’t originally set out to break off from the Catholic Church, but that is what ended up happening. The Reformation is what led to the numerous denominations we have today.
One of the primary insights of the Reformation was that we are justified through faith in Christ alone. This is usually where we stop interpreting the Reformation. However, the Reformers never argued that works are not necessary for the Christian. Rather, works flow from obedience and love for God. So the more we love God and the more we grow in our faith, the more obedient we will be and the more we will do good works.
Even in the Scriptures, we are told many times that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2)
Many of the Old Testament promises of God were contingent upon the obedience of the people of Israel. Leviticus 26 contains a list of blessings waiting for Israel if they keep the commandments of God, while the second half of the passage contains a list of punishments for disobedience.
Why do we think that God has changed?
We would affirm that God never changes. We would say that he is the same from beginning to end. But our preaching and our teaching often says otherwise. We often are so afraid of teaching any form of works-righteousness that we seem to affirm that obedience is not a necessary facet of faith. The bottom line is that if we persist in sin, God will not bless us. We may continue in life for a little while as if nothing has changed, but God will not allow his people to continue in rebellious sin. He will discipline his people to make them more like himself.
Obedience is necessary in the Christian life.
So the takeaway for this post is to be confident in the fact that you are saved by your faith in Christ despite the fact that you are sinful. But it is also important to know that willingly continuing in sin will carry weighty consequences, if not in this life, then certainly at the great judgment seat of God. Our righteousness is not earned by works, but our sanctification is known by our works (cf. Matthew 7:16) and one who is actively doing good works is proving their faith in a way that the one persisting in sin without good works is not (cf. James 2:18)