Paul saw grace not as just isolated to the matter of our initial salvation, but encompassing all our lives as Christians. According to his statement in Galatians 2:20 it was Christ who “gave himself” for our salvation. Paul’s response to Jesus’ giving of Himself on the cross was to be crucified with his Savior.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The appropriate response to His giving of Himself is that we give ourselves. The appropriate response to His dying for us is that we be “crucified” with Him (Galatians 2:20). When by His grace we learn from His life and sacrifice that we are sinners against God and against the purpose of our being, the appropriate response is that we repent – turn away from sin. We learn from Jesus to hate – to abhor – sin and how to escape from temptation and turn from it. In our dying to sin, the appropriate response is to be buried with Him by baptism into His death (Romans 6:3-4).
Why are these the “appropriate” responses? They are not so because human beings have deemed them to be appropriate, but because God has. They are appropriate because in everything we do in becoming a child of God we are being conformed to the image of His Son. These initial acts of obedience must then carry through life as we conform every aspect of our being to that same end of being like Jesus.
If we look at whatever we do to draw near to God as a matter of grace – His great gift prompting and motivating us to do what we do – then the obedience is really God working through us. It is not us meeting God halfway or 90% of the way or even 10% of the way.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV).
The IVP N.T. Commentary says on v. 13, “God has committed himself to effecting their “obedience” for his own good pleasure.” (BibleGateway.com). What is “His good pleasure?” Would it not be His original intent for man? Would it not be the restoration of man to the status he enjoyed with God before the fall? Is it not all that is involved in making us into a “new creation?”
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We don’t re-create ourselves. We have neither the power nor the understanding to accomplish this. Only God can do this. We simply respond to His working. That response is called obedience, and yes, we do it of our own free will, but God uses that obedience to reshape and conform us to the image of His Son. There is just no way to separate the obedience God approves from grace. When by faith we accept the grace of God by our obedience He makes us His child. He adds us to the body of the redeemed. He shapes and forms us according to His infinite understanding. We cooperate with Him by our continued obedience, but it is God working through us. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
There is another way that God’s grace works through us. That is through the “gifts” He bestows on His children. Paul wrote in Romans 12:6-8:
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Paul said these things “by the grace given to me.” He often used this phrase when speaking of his gift of inspiration – the means by which he authoritatively spoke the word of God. But he says that all Christians have received grace (Gr. charis) and through the grace received have “gifts,” (Gr. charismata, or “grace-effects”; Interlinear Scripture Analyzer, basic 2.0) by which we together function as the one body of Christ in this world. Thus, whatever work or service we do as a Christian is really God by His grace working in and through us.
Peter agrees with Paul’s teaching here:
(1 Peter 4:10-11). “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Again the word “charismata,” (grace-effect; ISA basic 2.0), is used to describe what we have received. These grace-effects we are to use to serve one another in imitation of Christ who “…came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we use our gifts – our “grace-effects” – we are being “good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
We cannot separate these gifts from God’s grace. They are one way grace works in us. When we understand this we cannot become proud or boastful of the things we do in His service. We are merely stewards, administrators, of what He has given us. By His gifts He works through us. Our works of service and obedience are not us meeting God somewhere on the continuum between here and eternity. They are God doing His good pleasure in us. And we are willing participants in His grace. Those grace-effects are not necessarily miraculous in nature as some hold but we are given whatever we need to accomplish God’s purpose in our lives.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).