Jesus Paid It All. There’s Still So Much We Owe.

Why the call to good works goes hand in hand with the free gift of grace.

I recently had a gospel conversation with an agnostic woman who is seriously considering the claims of Christ. On a purely intellectual level, she finds the Christian worldview compelling. She admits that Christian theism offers a better rational explanation of the natural world and a better grounding for moral virtue than the more rigid brand of atheism she formerly espoused.

But a deeper, more existential issue bothers her still. Some years ago, when she went through a very public personal crisis, none of the people in her life who professed to be Christians said or did anything to minister to her.

“I was very clearly crying out for help,” she said, “but none of the Christians I know offered to lift a finger—or even an encouraging word—to help me in my time of need.”

Like many others in our secular age, this young woman grew disenchanted with a version of the Christian faith that is often talked about, but rarely lived out in practice. Like the apostle James, she could ask, “What good is it … if someone claims to have faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14, CSB).

Unfortunately, many within American evangelicalism practice what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Since Christ has “paid it all,” they act as if nothing is owed: no repentance, obedience, or service to neighbor. The authors of The Doctrine of Good Works: Recovering a Neglected Protestant Teaching seek to expose the flawed theological assumptions behind this type of negligent Christian witness. “Good works,” the authors insist, “are actually integral to the Good News.”

Jointly written by a renowned systematic theologian (Thomas McCall), a New Testament …

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