The New Testament exhibits a tension between two aspects of grace: the idea that grace is from God and sufficient to cover any sin, and the idea that grace does not free Man from his responsibility to behave rightly.
The principle of Sola fide states that no matter what a person's action, salvation comes through faith alone. Paul of Tarsus wrote that For by grace ye are saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV) For St Paul, salvation, like the wages of the labourers in the parable, is God's gift at God's sole prerogative. Were it achieved by works (erga; any human effort that intends earning; see Rom. 4:4), men could take pride in their efforts toward holiness, and God's gift of grace would be diminished in contrast to man's efforts. This stands in tension to his teaching in Romans 2:6:
- "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God."
A more works-oriented perspective is presented by the James 2:1-26, concluding that faith without works is dead. By "works," James here appears to include both acts of charity, and righteousness according to the code of laws; the preceding text mentions charity to the poor as well as sins against the law of Moses. An inward change, the forsaking of old sinful ways, and being reborn in a spirit of generosity is to James the true test of conversion. Without these things, claiming to have "faith" is a sham. Grace must be something that steers the Christian to avoid sin and practice charity. Without these signs, it seems likely that grace was never there. James speaks of works after salvation, as a result, and Paul speaks of the lack of works in gaining salvation.
The First Epistle of John maintains this tension throughout. On the one hand, it repeatedly claims that those who "walk in the light" do not sin and do enjoy fellowship with God, while those who "walk in darkness" have no fellowship with God. However, it also describes receiving forgiveness of sins through confession and God's grace. Verse 3:4 (NIV) states: "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness."
- Charity (practice)
- Christian soteriology
- Divine grace
- Prevenient grace
- Lordship salvation
- Altruism (ethics)
- Protestant work ethic
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