And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
“Grace” and “works” represent two systems of life that Paul tells us cannot be mixed. I want to take some time to explain more about why these systems don’t work together.
Paul reasons that the systems of grace and works cannot coexist because the moment that one comes in contact with the other, it is changed. Both grace and works are systems that explain how behavior relates to benefit. A works system is based on labor and reward. A grace system is based on giving and believing. The Old Testament Law is a works system and Christianity is a grace system.
The works system is very familiar to us. This is the way that we get paid. When we do some work we expect to be compensated for it. The Bible supports these kinds of system. In both the Old and the New testaments we are told that a worker is to be paid. The Bible isn’t against these systems at all but it is very important to know when one is to be used instead of the other.
The grace system happens to be the most important system to Christian salvation. Grace says that God just chooses to give to us. He does this first, before anyone has done anything deserving of it. Not only that, He does it without asking anything of us because of it. He simply gives. Both The Law and Christianity are appropriate systems set up by God, but one can destroy the other.
If you attempt to take a works system and start giving away “wages,” the meaning of “wages” is ruined since the reward is no longer connected to the work that was done. Work wouldn’t really be work any more but a willing act of kindness on your part since you get paid anyway. On the other hand, if you take grace a system in which gifts are given and you start requiring that things be done because of the gifts or in order to receive the gifts, the gift is no longer a gift but a strange kind of pay. Then the “grace” really isn’t “grace” anymore but a system of work and payment.
How important it is for us not to mix works and grace in our teaching about Christian salvation. We must be responsible to clearly represent God’s gift so that people are able to accept it as it really is: a gift. We should never add any kind of prayer, penitence, church membership or visits, baptism, public demonstrations, rules, or money to it.