The Bible often presents two seemingly opposed ideas as necessary and compatible. Both are required to live faithfully before God. Take grace and discipleship, for instance. These two concepts are essential elements of the Christian life, but they are not easy to simultaneously keep in mind.
Grace. Salvation comes primarily and substantially by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). It is initiated, enacted and sustained by God’s goodness and power. It was when we were weak and helpless that God acted. All credit and praise should be directed to God and his goodness that salvation is freely offered. That is not to say all are saved. An individual’s consent and full trust in God are prerequisite, but when all has been said and done it is God who gets the glory. The kingdom citizen is described by the qualities of weakness, dependence, reliance, and submission. Pride, arrogance and independence must all be removed.
Discipleship. While there is nothing a Christian can do to earn salvation, that is not to say that a Christian is destined for a life of laziness and inactivity. On the contrary, Christians are to be busy in their pursuit of worship, holiness and service to others. They are to be characterized as workers. A disciple is continually seeking and working, having his discernment trained by the constant practice of choosing good over evil (Heb. 5:14).
Grace and discipleship are fundamental, and developing the proper mindset toward both of them is key to Christian living. Balance must be sought, and extremes must be avoided.
Some emphasize grace to the neglect of discipleship. This mentality can lead to an inactive and fruitless life. There is so much security found in God that little effort is placed in enduring trials, fostering a healthy relationship with God, or working in the kingdom. This person reasons that with grace, nothing else is needed. For all its emphasis on grace, this mindset has actually developed a perverted view of grace apart from discipleship. It has become a handout gladly received but requiring nothing of its recipient.
On the other hand, discipleship can be lived with a decreasing vision of grace. Diligent work can become a source of pride. Christians separate themselves from others by their good works, and they begin to see themselves as different because of what they are doing instead of what God has done. There is a decreased attention and recognition to God and his activity in the world, and the focus becomes primarily on the human enterprise and activity. Identity and self-worth are found in doing good works instead of God.
A proper perspective must see these two concepts as interrelated and connected. God’s grace is primary. It was given first and it lays the groundwork for restored relationship between the human and the divine. Discipleship necessarily follows. It bubbles forth from the gratitude and appreciation of one who has received the free gift of God’s grace. Identity and stability are found in God, not works of discipleship. There is an effort to deflect any attention or praise toward God instead of self. A disciple who has received grace never stops giving thanks and never relinquishes the joy of redemption. Doing good works must never become the goal but the natural consequence of God’s grace.