A Short Lesson about Grace
“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’” (Luke 17:7-10).
In Luke 12:37, God is depicted as a master doing precisely what Jesus says here a master normally would not do: serving dinner to his slaves. God is indeed gracious! This illustration is a counterbalance to that one, cautioning us not to lose our perspective. It reminds us of two vital points.
First, grace does not do away with obedience. Jesus said we are to “do all the things which are commanded you.” Of course, no one obeys perfectly (Romans 3:23), but we are to try our best. Grace does not give us license to “serve” the Lord however we please, to selectively choose which of His instructions we will obey, or to modify His plans according to our reasoning. We need the servant’s heart. Our wisdom and pleasure must always yield to God’s.
Second, obedience does not do away with grace. Perfect obedience might make something due us (Romans 4:4), but since no one achieves that, whatever we receive is always a matter of grace. After we have done all that we are commanded, we still are unworthy of the blessings God showers upon us. (Some passages, emphasizing faithfulness, do speak of divine blessings as a reward [e.g., Colossians 3:24; 2 John 8], yet even then it is a gracious one.) Surely this fact negates the quibble that says if we must obey God’s conditions (e.g., baptism) in order to be saved, that would make salvation merited. Let’s not lose our balance!