As the saying goes, “Now that I’ve got your attention…”
I came up with an illustration about the role of good works in the Christian life. Maybe it will help you explain it to your congregation, friend, or family member who is struggling with the grace message.
It’s a little risqué, but I think it gets the point across.
Think about sex.
God created sex.
God has a purpose for sex.
Yes, God even wants you to enjoy sex. As King Solomon said:
As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love (Prov 5:19).
Christians shouldn’t be prudes. We should celebrate the intimacy that can occur between a man and a woman. But here’s the question—where does sex “belong”? Where is its proper “place”? Specifically, should sex come before marriage or after?
After marriage, right?
Sex before marriage is a sin. Even though sex has a good God-given purpose, it can be used for evil—adultery brings God’s judgment, not His blessings.
That simple point is something every Biblical Christian—including most legalists and works-salvationists—can understand and agree with. Good things are only good in some contexts, not in others.
Isn’t there an analogy between sex and good works?
God created good works.
God has a purpose for good works.
Yes, God wants you to do good works—to follow and obey His Son, Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 2:10).
But like sex, good works are only good in the right context. Where do good works belong—as a condition of salvation or as the fruit of salvation?
Good works absolutely do not belong to the condition of eternal salvation. When you try to do good works to save yourself or to justify yourself, they have the opposite effect:
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).
Teaching that works are a part of salvation is akin to teaching that it’s lawful to have sex before marriage. You’re using a good thing for the wrong purpose.
You could say that making works a condition of eternal salvation is evangelistic adultery.