Grace and Deeds
One of the most confusing things in Christian Doctrine is the relationship between Grace and Deeds. On the one hand, the hand that we are able (or think we are able) to understand, there are many things in the Bible that Christ's disciples are told to do. There are many things disciples are told not to do. Deeds. Simple enough: if you want to follow a religion, you have to do the deeds of that religion. It makes sense.
But then God has to go and confuse the issue. You are saved by grace, not deeds, so that no one may boast. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. You are saved by grace -by believing in God's begotten Son. You are not saved by deeds.
So what's with the commands? Baffling. If you are saved by grace for something as easy as believing in the Son, why does God even bother issuing other commands, like "Do not swear" or "Care for orphans and widows in their distress"? Can't we just believe in Jesus, accept God's grace, and let the orphans and widows fend for themselves?
The answer is that God's grace is not some cheap formula for salvation, like a concert ticket to the big show in Heaven, or an amount of money. It comes at a price, the price Jesus paid at the Cross, as well as the price of your sovereignty over your own life; however, grace itself is not so simple as a price. It is a spiritual force, the introduction of which has effects both far-reaching and astonishing.
When a man finds himself in a state of grace, he is no longer bothered by questions like "Have I done what I need to do to earn my salvation?" Or "Can I miss church this Sunday without going to Hell?" He is a different person, transformed by the renewing of his mind after the pattern of Christ's mind. No more does he think about how he can get away with the sins he used to crave, but he thinks about how grace can be shared with those around him.
The deeds of a disciple are what any person would do when God's grace fills his life. It is not that we do deeds to be saved, but rather we know whether or not we are living in God's grace (and therefore whether or not we are saved) by examining our deeds. Good deeds are not a prerequisite, then, but an acid test, a sure barometer of the level of grace in our lives.
This may seem encouraging to you, but any honest discussion of grace is not all smiles and sunshine. Just as good deeds show us to be in a state of grace, conversely evil deeds show us to be still in our sin. Not that committing a sin wipes out grace, because we know that grace prevails over sin. But rather, when our lives are characterized by evil deeds or an evil attitude, and not characterized by good deeds and humility, we are shown not to be in a state of grace.
It does not matter which doctrine you believe if you are living without grace. If you are proud of your good deeds and not humble before God, you are living without grace. If you have scorn for the lost, you are one of their number. If you neglect orphans and widows in their distress, God will neglect to give you His grace. If your soul isn't behaving gracefully, it is because your soul is not in God's grace.
Not that we earn grace, or that our sin can overcome it, but that we always choose whether or not to live in grace. For even though grace can overcome a billion sins without the aid of a single virtuous deed, it does not save those who have chosen to live without it. This is why a person can be saved on her deathbed, despite a long a sinful life, if she chooses God's grace. And yet a person who lives (what we perceive to be) a good, decent life is lost if she doesn't accept God's grace. If Mother Theresa showed up to Judgement trusting in her deeds, she was lost. And yet there is hope for anyone.
I have only just begun to understand grace, and though I have sought to obey God my whole life, it is less than a year since I have truly embraced the fullness of God's grace for me, rather than worrying about my deeds and judging others and myself. I am now enjoying the life of giving love and grace to others. There is boldness in living in such grace. There is peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, love, self-control. Everything a disciple could want comes from living in God's grace.