Have you bought into the lie that since we are saved by grace through faith, it makes no difference what we do? Or are you still living with the notion that you are a pretty good person and if you are good enough God will let you into Heaven when you die? Grace and obedience often get muddied in the fields of our hearts because we struggle to focus on God, who is outside of us, but constantly revert to focusing on ourselves. We look in, not up. So grace either gives us freedom to do whatever we want to do, or we want to prove ourselves and make ourselves worthy of our own salvation.
Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, grappled with this very question, and answered it quite profoundly:
Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches?
– Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian
Grace has given us salvation that we do not and cannot deserve. We will never be good enough to earn or merit salvation by our actions, because we are wicked from the core. All have sinned, and any sin is enough to separate us from God for eternity. Remember Adam and Eve? But yet, by grace God has provided a way for us to be saved, by the work of Jesus Christ and not of ourselves. Our response to being given such a glorious gift is to freely and joyfully do those things that make Him happy. Not out of a spirit of requirement but out of a desire to please our Heavenly father.
Jesus takes the conversation a step farther, however, to say that it is indeed the mark of the one who has been saved by grace to obey (Matt 7.15-20), and James states quite clearly that faith which has no works is dead:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
– James 2.14-17
Obedience does not save us. But if we do not obey, we prove ourselves to have never been saved. Obedience is the mark of those who have been saved. Not out of obligation, but out of joyful response to a loving Father. Does your faith have works? Is there an outpouring of grace that has been poured into you? Do you have a river of life flowing out of you from God and to others?
“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
– John 7.38