Salvation and purpose is an odd title. Yet, failure to distinguish between these ideas entangles them to the detriment of one or the other.
On the play ground, we can easily distinguish between becoming part of a team and what we are to do as team members. However, open the Bible and we might find ourselves blending what is distinctively different.
Consider playground clarity. Two designated flag football captains choose teams. Normally they select their players based upon merit with perhaps a nod toward someone’s selflessness in play.
Imagine, however, a captain choosing someone solely upon grace, not merit. Perhaps he is shorter, thinner, younger as well as physically awkward. And so it is simply out of kindness that he calls the boy’s name.
The captain assigns his new player a function. “Stand on the line of scrimmage. Get in the way of anyone trying to cross it.” The purpose given to this awkward youth is completely separate from the principle of how he became a member of the team.
What would happen if this recipient of grace chooses to leave the game, or refuses to try to get in the way of opposing players, or even tackles his own quarterback? For failing to be a team player, the captain might eject him from the team.
His expulsion from the team has no bearing upon becoming a full team member by grace, nor would it nullify grace. It is easy to distinguish between the consequences for failing to fulfill one’s purpose and the captain’s gracious gift making him a part of his team.
Yet when it comes to scripture, the principles of what enables us to belong to God can become entangled with our need to live faithfully as God’s people. Indiscriminately blending scriptures addressing these two topics can cause a person to fall into one of two camps.
Each camp possesses pejorative terms for the other. Common labels might be legalistic or liberal.
From the opposing viewpoint, the legalists are portrayed as insecure about their salvation because they are fearful they have not done enough good. Coming from the opposite direction, the liberals are characterized as dismissing obedience with “grace covers it.”
Whether or not either stereotype reflects some actual reality, consider this self-exam. We might sit in the pew or stand behind the pulpit, but what do the following questions reveal about our relationship with scripture?
When we think about our own Christian life, do our thoughts gravitate to both categories of scripture or only one? Would we shy away from repeating or teaching some of these verses? Do we find ourselves inclined to explain how the real meaning of a verse differs from the obvious?
“Be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
“Just as you have always obeyed … continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence” (Philippians 2:12).
“Through whom (Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into the grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2).
“You are the salt of the world. But if the salt loses its saltiness … It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out” (Matthew 5:13).
Perhaps the following questions can be helpful.
- Is this verse instructing God’s people about how they should live and consequences for failure or does it describe how someone can become God’s person?
- Are we enabling one set of verses to run roughshod over the other?
Grace does not nullify purpose. Nor does Christian living negate grace.