In mathematics, order is important in solving any equation. So, 5×3+2 is not the same as 5×2+3. If we use the order of operations, we must do any multiplication or division we encounter (reading from left to right) before we go back and do any addition or subtraction we encounter. So
5×3+2 = (5×3=15) + 2 = 17, where 5×2+3 = (5×2=10) + 3=13.
Order is important.
May I suggest that life in Christ works the same way?
We say all the time “salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” And we also say, “faith is never alone.” I’ve been working through this in my own heart lately, and I stumbled (again) across this passage:
I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
In these verses in Joshua, we see, in essence:
- I will never leave you or forsake you
- Be strong and courageous
- Obey the law; keep the law on your lips & meditate on it so you can obey it
- Be strong and courageous
- The Lord your God will be with you.
In literary analysis terminology, this is a “chiasm.” A chiasm starts with a certain concept/set of concepts and then repeats them in reverse order. And, just like math, the order is important. The beginning and end of the matter are the context for what comes in the middle. In this case, God is with us, THEREFORE we can be strong and courageous and obey his law. So, we can obey his law and be strong and courageous BECAUSE the Lord our God will be with us. We were never intended to be strong and courageous or obey the law outside of his presence. But being in his presence by grace doesn’t rule out obedience. It’s actually all part of the same equation – which we know means things must be equal – it must balance.
(See: Romans 3:20; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 19:16-19; Revelation 14:12; Revelation 22:12-14; James 2:14-18; Hebrews 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; John 14:15; John 15:10; 1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 3:24)
We are saved by grace, through faith (and those are the only factors on that side of the equation) which results in our obedience. Our obedience may strengthen our faith, but it cannot manufacture it. Our obedience may increase our understanding of grace, but it cannot replace it. No, our obedience is the result of grace (God is with us, God will never leave us or forsake us, God has saved us when we could not save ourselves) and the outgrowth of our faith (making choices of how to act/interact based upon our trust that God is who he says he is, that his ways are right, and that his Spirit is a better guide than our own sinful hearts).
If we mix up our equation, the whole solution changes.
Obedience – Faith = Unbelief (Hebrews 3:1-19)
Obedience – Grace = Legalism (Galatians 5:2-6)
Grace – Obedience = Lawlessness (Romans 6:12-19)
Grace – Faith = Condemnation (John 3:16-20)
Faith – Obedience = Uselessness (James 2:14-26)
Faith – Grace = Rootlessness (Luke 8:4-15, especially v 13)
Ironically, we can only really obey when we live by grace and faith. We only really understand grace when we see his love for us in spite of our failure to obey (Romans 8:1). We only really prove our faith in the context of struggling to obey as we wait for the fulfillment of grace (1 Peter 1:3-9).
So, the question becomes: Can I see obedience as the result of falling on grace and growing faith? Or will I persist in holding onto obedience as a means to obtain grace and attempt to validate faith?