Four men were standing in front of a stove having a heated discussion on how the egg in the frying pan was being cooked. The first man said, “Obviously it’s the element under the pan that provides the heat which cooks the egg.” The second man said, “Surely you jest. The egg is being cooked because I turned the knob that turned the element on.” The third man said, “You are both wrong. It’s the stove that cooked the egg.” The fourth man said, “No, it’s the electricity that cooked the egg. If the stove was not hooked up to the outlet nothing could be cooked.”
Now Christian, let me ask you, “What cooked the egg?” Would you argue on the side of any of these men or would you come up with your own thoughts? To argue for any one of their positions would be utterly foolish. Why is that? Because it took all four to heat the egg: The heated element, the knob, the stove and the electricity. These all worked together to get the job done.
As silly as this illustration may be, why is it that we fall into the same trap when it comes to faith, grace, law and works? Why is it that we will get red in the face and bent out of sorts advancing one over the other when all four are essential to our salvation?
Let us define these terms beginning with “grace.” The most common definition for grace is God’s unmerited favor towards a sinful people. Proponents of the grace side will go to Ephesians 2:5 and quote, “by grace you have been saved” (NKJV). “Faith” defined would be a trust in God that He is able to provide all of our needs. Those who will take faith’s side will go to Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him….” “Law” may be defined as the system of rules that God has set up to govern our lives. Still, those who look keenly at the importance of law and rules will look at John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Finally, there are works. Works are simply anything we may do to seek to fulfill God’s will. Those who champion the importance of works will go to James 2:24, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” For which side would one argue? To argue for any of them as the stand alone source of salvation is silly. All four play a part in salvation.
One may say, “Well, God’s grace came first!” And with that I would not argue. The question is not which came first but which ones play a part in salvation. All four do. All four wheels are important when driving a car. To drive with three or less would be disastrous.
Others may say, “Well, John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” People use this verse to advance several false doctrines. First, there is the view that there was no grace or truth under the Old Covenant. The second view is that there is no law under the New Covenant in which we live today.
Was there grace under the Old Covenant? Is there no law under the New Covenant? What about all four: grace, faith, law and works? Let us see. Let us go back to Noah. Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” There is grace. Genesis 6:14-15a says, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. And this is how you shall make it….” There is law—God’s instructions. Genesis 6:22 says, “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.” This verse encompasses both Noah’s faith and his works in building the ark. These four are again seen in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith (faith) Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen (grace), moved with godly fear, prepared an ark (law and works) for the saving of his household….” Law is seen in that Noah prepared the ark according to God’s pattern.
Are all four, (grace, faith, law and works) seen under the New Covenant? Actually, one sees all four anytime one becomes a Christian. For example, consider the conversion of the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. First, one sees God’s grace—God’s reaching down to an underserving humanity in the peaching of the gospel. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation….” God did not have to open up a means of salvation to us, but He did. Faith is seen when the multitude cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do,” (Acts 2:37). They knew they were dependent upon God for their salvation and that they needed to do something. Law is seen when Peter told them what they must do, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38). If they did not follow God’s law, they would not have their sins remitted or washed away. Works is understood in their being baptized. Acts 2:41 says, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”
In conclusion, church leaders studying these topics need to take a balanced approach. To favor one position over another leads into false doctrine. On the one hand, to fall into the “grace only” or “faith only” camps, which many have done, will lead the congregation into denominationalism. On the other hand, taking the “works only” stance will lead good brethren into legalism. To argue one over the other shows an immaturity in God’s word and shows a pride that is not built upon God’s wisdom. To do so is about as palatable as eating a plate of cold eggs.