Let's be clear right from the start that we ARE saved by grace. There's no denying that as it's what God's Word teaches. Nowhere is this stated more clearly than in Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (9) Not of works, lest any man should boast.
No one can deny that without grace, salvation is impossible. That's obvious. But what a shame that too many Christians stop at verse 9 and miss what Paul says immediately after this passage:
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Here we have Paul stating clearly that we're created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works, which God has ordained for us to walk in. In other words, God doesn't save us so we can go back to the same life he just rescued us from. He has plans for us and expects for us to be obedient to Him.
Let's take a look at some teachings of Jesus that reinforce that statement.
Matthew 7:24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: (25) And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. (26) And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: (27) And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Here Jesus is summing up His sermon on the mount by stating what should be obvious to any Believer in Jesus: if we ignore Christ's words and pretend that we're putting our faith in "grace," then we're due for a "great" fall. That "fall" is due to our lack of obedience to His teachings and can in no way be interpreted as anything other than coming short of heaven. Why? Because it's based on our disobedience to His teachings.
Jesus Himself said the following:
Luke 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
And you know what the context of that verse is? It's His same teaching as mentioned above but delivered on a plain rather than a mount. His point is that if we refuse to obey His teachings, than we really don't believe in Him as our Lord. That makes perfect sense.
Let's look at a few verses that reinforce the need for obedience. I'll highlight the areas in the verses to make it stand out, but it's God's Word that I'm highlighting.
Romans 15:18-19 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, (19) Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Romans 16:25-26 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, (26) But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
Hebrews 5:8-9 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; (9) And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) (5) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; (6) And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, (8) In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: (9) Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
Obedience IS required. That's what God's Word teaches and no one can deny it.
Jesus Himself had lots to say on this subject.
Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 12:50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Matthew 21:28-31 But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. (29) He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. (30) And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. (31) Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
John 7:16-17 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. (17) If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Jesus makes it even more obvious in the following verses:
John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
John 14:22-24 Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? (23) Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (24) He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.
John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
Some will say that Paul taught something different, as if Paul's word should be more important than Christ's words. But the simple truth is that Paul did not contradict Jesus, but emphasized what Jesus said. For instance, in the book of Acts Paul was making his defense before King Agrippa and had this to say:
Acts 26:19-20 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: (20) But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
He also wrote to Titus and said this:
Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
And we already looked at Ephesians 2:10.
What about the teaching of James?
In a nutshell, he sums up obedience this way:
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
In other words, a living faith includes obedience to God's Word. Dead faith denies any responsibility to God. That type of faith can't save anyone.
Once again, let's look at Jesus' own words about this:
Luke 6:46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
And how about Jesus teaching about the sheep and the goats? He makes it clear that sheep are those who obey Him while the goats merely pay lip service.
Matthew 25:31-46 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: (32) And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: (33) And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. (34) Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: (35) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: (36) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. (37) Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? (38) When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? (39) Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? (40) And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: (42) For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: (43) I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. (44) Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? (45) Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (46) And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
If we refuse to obey Christ, then we're not really Christians at all. We may call ourselves Christians, but without obedience, we're just deceiving ourselves. After all, how could we possibly fulfill Christ's great commission to the church without obedience?
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
If you can explain to me how we can fulfill that great commission without being obedient to the command, I'd love to hear it.
I would recommend that every believer read God's Word from God's perspective rather than mans. What do I mean? Most men have an agenda of some sort. Often they want to cherry pick verses to make a point. We fall into that trap when we read God's Word using some sort of commentary to "help" us understand. What's really happening is men tend to reinforce their pet doctrines by supplying verses that seem to support their ideas while possibly ignoring many more that would refute their thinking.
So instead of using commentaries, try using a concordance instead. Let the Bible offer its own explanation of itself by reading other verses that speak to the subject. Then we're getting God's perspective rather than man's.
In Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25, Jesus makes the point that the master will reward each servant when He returns. To the two who were obedient to him he said, "Well done" (Matthew 25:21,23) not "Well said" or "Well considered" or anything else; but "Well done." To hear Him say that, we actually have to "do" what we're told. But the even bigger eye opener is found in regards to the third servant who was given one talent. Rather than do anything with it to please his master, he chose to dig a hole and bury it. Then, when the master returned, he actually thought that his lazy, disobedient behavior would somehow be pleasing to his master. But listen to what the master had to say:
Matthew 25:26-30 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: (27) Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. (28) Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. (29) For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (30) And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There's no way to deny what Jesus is saying, and there's no way to put some pleasant spin on this. God requires something of us and He expects to receive it. If we refuse to give Him what he expects, we shouldn't be surprised if He gives us what we then deserve.
Consider these action words from James:
James 1:21-25 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. (22) But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (23) For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: (24) For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (25) But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
Here's Jesus talking again:
Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
God's Word is something to be obeyed, and only those who believe Him WILL obey it.
Yet the beauty of all this is the Lord doesn't expect us to "do" anything in our own strength. He sends His Holy Spirit to indwell us and enable us to accomplish what He desires. As a result, we can reach out to Him in prayer and ask for whatever we need in relationship to what He's asking us to do:
John 15:7-8 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (8) Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
The bottom line here is that we MUST be obedient to Jesus or we have no right to call ourselves Christians. And we'll also discover too late that we've missed the mark of Heaven.