False Grace

Not in Patrick's Gospel, no sir.

He sells the precious talents of the Gospel of Christ
and demands them back with interest, from the pagans of Ireland.

  - Domnach Sechnaill, Audite Omnes Amantes, writing about Patrick; Irish, 5th century[1]

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

  - James 2.18

Patrick was one of the most effective and fruitful evangelists in all of Church history. By his own undisputed testimony, thousands of Irish pagans came to faith in Jesus and were baptized into the Kingdom of Christ. The awakening of the Irish under Patrick’s ministry spawned a revival of faith that spread from Ireland to Scotland and much of Europe, and lasted nearly 400 years.

Patrick wasn’t dealing with “seekers” either, but with raw, rough, rude Irish rubes, rascals, rustics, and ruffians. And he won them to Christ by the thousands, not by peddling some “feel-good gospel” or by telling them Jesus loved them and would accept them just as they were. He did not try to cushion the Irish against the strong demands of the Gospel. Quite the opposite: he told them everything Jesus promised, and all that He had earned for us, as well as precisely what He demanded in return.

Patrick insisted that to follow Jesus demanded living for His glory and honor with all one’s strength and passion.

An early gloss of Sechnaill’s poem about Patrick explains that by “talents” the poet meant “commandments.” The Gospel Patrick proclaimed consisted of commandments, such as “repent” and “believe the Good News” and “bring forth the fruit of repentance.” He demanded of those who came to faith in Christ that they “pay back” love to the Lord with interest, in lives of holiness and good works.

And he could point to the example of his own life to show those new believers just how radical and complete their obedience had to be.

Patrick did not preach salvation by works; rather, like James, he preached salvation unto works, and no salvation without them. Our text is a bit difficult to understand as the NKJV renders it. James’ point becomes clear if we read the text like this: “But someone will say you (that is, the someone) have faith, but I (that is, James) have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” That is, some considered there were two kinds of salvation, that which was known by “faith” and that which entailed “works.” James, “someone” said, had found works to be important for his salvation. Great! But the one objecting to him had found salvation by “faith,” that is, by merely believing or giving assent to certain truths. Such “faith” didn’t require works, but it was nice that James had found works to be important for him.

Nonsense, says the Lord’s brother. Faith without works is dead, James insisted. He understood what the writer of Hebrews said about faith, that it brings forth evidence of itself in the form of good works (Heb. 11.1; 6.9).

We cheapen the Gospel when we make it so easy to believe and become a “follower of Jesus” that nothing in the way of repentance or a transformed life is expected. And if it’s not expected, or insisted upon, it will not be forthcoming. This is not the Gospel. Not the Gospel of Patrick and James. Not the Gospel of the Kingdom.

John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, Patrick, and all the great evangelists and preachers down through the ages have called their hearers to turn from their wicked ways and take up the life of the cross. For Christ’s investment of love in them, they have demanded back true faith, saving faith, faith that bears fruit in works of loving obedience.

Cheap grace – grace that neither demands nor issues in holiness and good works – is simply false grace.

For Reflection
1. We’re not saved by works. But we’re not saved without them. Explain.

2. What can you do to bring more good works into your Personal Mission Field?

Psalm 40.1-3, 6-8 (Dix: For the Beauty of the Earth)
I waited patiently for God; He inclined and heard my cry,
Lifted me up above the sod, set me on a Rock on high!
New songs in my mouth He gave; may He through me many save.

Off’rings You do not require – open now my ears, O Lord!
What from me do You desire? Firm delight to do Your Word.
Take my life in ev’ry part; write Your Law upon my heart.

Lord, help me to know the true power of Your grace to transform me from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ.

Resources for Your Mission Field

Each week we offer a new “next step” for working your Personal Mission Field. Our Personal Mission Field Workshop gives you the opportunity to read or listen, and to take up one new practice a day as you launch into your calling. Check out this week’s Personal Mission Field Workshop by clicking here.

Perhaps you’d like to follow Patrick, as he recounts his own ministry in his Confession. Listen to Volume 1, Number 3 of The InVerse Theology Project by clicking here.

For a more complete study of the good works that accompany salvation, download the ReVision series, “Which Works?” (click here)

You can also now listen, each Lord’s Day, to a weekly summary of our daily Scriptorium study, which is presently working through the book of Jeremiah. Click here for last week’s summary of Jeremiah 16 and 17.

We thank God for you all!

Susie and I daily give thanks for all our readers. It is our privilege, together with the Board and Brothers of The Fellowship of Ailbe, to serve you with resources designed to enhance your life in the Kingdom of God. The Lord meets our needs by moving those we serve to share with us by their gifts and prayers. If the Lord moves you to give, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Carey, p. 153.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore