At the heart of the Christian faith is a conviction that salvation is God’s doing. God takes the initiative in establishing, maintaining and perfecting the relationship with all of creation, and humans in particular. Without God, there would be no salvation. Period.
This conviction has tended to be accompanied by an emphasis that downplays the importance of human effort. Most of all, it seems that in order to defend Grace, some feel the need to oppose any prescriptive statements about what Christians ‘ought’ to do, particularly when those statements are a) specific, b) all-encompassing, or c) strong.
I’m not going to get into the broad issues of biblical theology despite how relevant they are here. Instead I want to focus on the basic compatibility of Grace and human effort. And none of the following has anything to do with being under the Jewish/Mosaic “Law” (i.e. keeping kosher, observing Sabbath, or males being circumcised).
Augustine perhaps said it best: “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” (Google it)
Like a loving parent whose love moves them to refrain from doing everything for their children, God seems to require our active participation in our growth. “God will not” do things for us against our will.
This not only means we must participate with Grace, but also that being exhorted, instructed, urged, or encouraged to do specific things should be a normal part of our training and instruction in Christian community. This happens through preaching, teaching, discipleship and mentoring. We need to be told what we should be doing.
Trusting in Grace doesn’t mean resisting being told what to do. Quite the contrary, actually.
Yes, it is possible (and too common, actually) that “telling people what to do” is done from a negative posture of power, ego and control that runs against the values of the Gospel. But it is also possible (and more common than we may admit) that “telling people what to do” is resisted simply due to our pride and arrogance of not wanting to do what we should.
The Grace and Love of God is so overwhelming, beautiful and true that it should cast out all forms of fear, including the fear of being told what to do.
Being told what you are doing wrong and what you ought to do instead, can indeed be a “gift”, and expression of Grace. It can be a very practical way that God offers the power, assistance and help toward the transformation, healing and growth that all disciples of Jesus should experience.