The grace of God that brings salvation is received by faith without merit. But it is perfected by works.
Paul says: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8).
This agrees with Jesus’ expressions of grace. He says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me.” (John 6:44-45). “People can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” (John 6:65). “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing.” (John 6:63).
That means the grace of God is unmerited. “Who then can be saved?” asks His disciples in bewilderment. Jesus says to them: “With men, it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:26-27).
So, when some Jews ask Him: “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus says to them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (John 6:28-29).
God’s grace is 100 per cent the work of God. However, we can only enter into this blessing by faith. That is why Paul says we are saved by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8). At its most fundamental, God is not a respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34). His grace is available to all men: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11).
However, not all men receive it. Even some who initially receive it fall from grace because they fail to abide by the principles of God’s grace. The grace of God that brings salvation is received by faith without merit. But it is perfected by works.
Grace Through Faith
In the first place, God does not give grace to the wicked. Isaiah says: “Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil.” (Isaiah 26:10). Therefore, in order to show grace to a man, God first has to give him the gift of repentance from sin. (Acts 11:18). This means even repentance is a gift of God’s grace.
This gift of repentance is one of the things God promised in the past that is now “Yea and Amen” in Christ. He says: “I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10).
But God’s grace does not come to an end after we repent. John the Baptist says Jesus has come to give us one grace after another. (John 1:16-17). Through the way Jesus made for us, we can now come again and again to God’s throne of grace to receive more and more grace: “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).
However, unlike the grace of God that brings salvation, what we receive from the throne of grace is not only accessed by faith, it must be perfected by works. This grace is merited because: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). It is only given to those who agree to be: “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).
It is not given to those who despise the grace of God and continue in sin. The psalmist says: “The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11). Believers who drawback and are not upright can fall from grace. (Galatians 5:4). But true believers grow in this grace. (2 Peter 3:18).
Grace With Works
That is why James cautions us saying: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:20-22).
The example of Abraham is very instructive. God called Abraham and made some promises to him entirely by grace. He told him: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3).
Abraham did absolutely nothing to deserve these blessings. But: “He believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6).
However, much later, God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When Abraham obeyed, God repeated to him the same promises He had earlier made to him by grace:
“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” (Genesis 22:16-18).
In this manner, the same promise that was made to Abraham by grace that he received by faith was now perfected by the works of Abraham.
Word Made Flesh
In 1996, I had a video shop in Victoria Island, Lagos that was making, on average, N7,000 a day. But one day, God gave me a dream where I opened the account book of the shop and discovered to my surprise that it made 23,000 naira in one day. I immediately received this prophecy by faith and then set out to work.
The psalmist says: “Since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and therefore speak.” (2 Corinthians 4:13). Therefore, I told everybody that my Victoria Island shop would make 23,000 naira in one day. But Ernest, my assistant, did not believe.
However, I did more than just talk. I filled the shop with goods far above the level of business. I did this so persistently that God spoke to me. He said: “Femi, because you believe me, I will tell you when this prophecy will be fulfilled. It will happen on 29th December 1996.”
On that appointed date, it was my unbelieving assistant who brought me the news. But, paradoxically, the shop did not make 23,000 naira: it made 29,000. When I asked the Lord the reason behind the discrepancy, He said to me: “Femi, you exceeded the prophecy.”
And so, this gift of grace also ended up with a surprise. Although it was unmerited and I received it by faith, I perfected it by works (also by God’s grace.) But it did not end there. I kept going back for more and more grace and the income kept growing until it peaked at 55,000 naira a day in 2002.