We tiptoe very carefully around any suggestion that there might be something we have to do to receive God's grace. We lay the caveats on thick whenever we talk about our growth: "not that it had anything to do with me," we say, "it was all God."
Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of that's right; legalism and works righteousness are bad. But again and again these nagging questions keep coming back to my mind:
Does all that mean Christians aren't supposed to "do" anything? Are we really, truly, completely, 100% passive? Do we not have anything at all to do with our growth? Is there no role for us to play in the abundant life Christ died for us to have?
Yes, we don't. So... no. I don't know; you ask too many questions. Bottom line: we don't do anything. We're passive. God's active. That's grace. Get it?
No... I don't think so. You're telling me that being a God-fearing, Jesus-following, Bible-believing Christian means doing literally nothing? Isn't fearing God and following Jesus and believing the Bible doing something? Didn't Jesus say that if we loved him, we would keep his commandments (John 14:15)? And isn't keeping Jesus' commandments doing something? When Jesus says we will bear fruit if we abide in him (John 15:1-11), doesn't that mean we have to abide in him in order to bear fruit? And isn't abiding in him doing something?
I'm afraid we've come to the point where the daily responsibility to abide in Christ and obey his commands sounds like works righteousness. We've paralyzed ourselves with a misconception of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
Grace, by definition, is unmerited favor; it's getting something we haven't earned and don't deserve. And faith, at least according to James, involves what we believe and what we do (see Jas. 2:14-26). Our paralyzing misconception is that whenever we do anything, we think we've earned something.
Not all work is meritorious.
Allow me to explain by way of an example:
In the strict sense of the word, it does require some work to win the lottery. That is to say that in order to win the lottery, you have to do something. You have to buy a ticket, you have to watch the news to see if you've won, and once you've won, you have to go and collect the loot. But does that mean that lottery winners have earned their winnings? Of course not. Because not all work is meritorious.
In a similar way, being Christian does require some work. In order to live the abundant life that Christ died for us to live, we do have to do something. Namely, we have to abide in Christ and obey his commands. But does that mean that Christians have earned their salvation or the new lives they live in Christ? Of course not. Because not all work is meritorious.
Indeed the gifts we receive from God are gifts; we get them by grace; we haven't earned them. But that doesn't mean we don't have to do anything at all in order to receive them. As it turns out, you don't earn something anytime you do anything. And if you haven't earned it, it's by grace.
If you want to live the abundant life that Christ offers to each one of us, it's going to take some work. You do have to do something. But that's not works righeousness. You cannot live an abundant, Christian life without abiding in Christ and obeying his commands. The good news is that you don't have to earn that new life. You can't. It's a gift. That's grace.