Most of us are familiar with tension in the Bible between grace and works. On the one hand our salvation is a gift from God that we could never earn. Ephesians 2:8-9 blows away any idea that we could merit salvation:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
On the other hand, the New Testament has lists of behaviors that will surely damn the soul (1 Cor 6:9, Gal 5:21, Rev 21:8).
We also know what James 2:17 says about the importance of our life works and life actions:
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
How can we be saved by grace alone through faith at the same time as be judged according to our deeds (Rom 2:6, 1 Pe 1:17, Rev 22:12)?
All the tension in my mind concerning the importance of both grace and works eased one night while I was riding a bus in Italy.
To ride the transit system in Italy you first buy a ticket from a kiosk, a pharmacy, a newsstand, or a bus driver. But you are not done. When you board your chosen mode of transportation you must stick your ticket into a little machine. Every bus, train, subway, etc. has these machines. It stamps the time on your ticket, and getting the stamp is called “validating” your ticket. Once stamped, you get one hour to ride the transit system anywhere and in any mode with as many transfers as you need.
Here’s the catch: you don’t ever want to enter the system without validating your ticket. Transit police frequently board the vehicles to check tickets. If your ticket is not validated, you not only get immediately kicked off the transit system. You get slapped with a hefty fine approaching $100. An unvalidated ticket will not save you!
Now I understand salvation by grace AND the importance of works. Jesus bought our tickets to heaven by His death on the cross. We could never, never buy our own ticket.
But our entrance to heaven is not assured by the ticket alone. We must validate it by living a godly life. Our works do not gain us entrance into heaven, but they validate our faith.
If your ticket to heaven does not have the mark of repentance on it, beware lest you be thrown under the bus.