As a kid, one of the biggest choices was between orange juice and milk. Out of boyish curiosity, I once mixed milk and orange juice together. I stirred it with excitement thinking I had come up with the ultimate breakfast drink. As I timidly tried the new flavor I found that the mixture was no longer milk, and it was no longer orange juice, but a strange concoction that I couldn't stand to drink. In a similar way, we find a warning from Paul against mixing grace and works.
Certainly, there are theological egg heads who have tried to make his simple words mean something else, but Paul says it so clearly that a child could understand the lesson. As we saw from the previous chapter, salvation is by grace. With that in mind, look at how Paul puts this poignant idea together in Romans 11:6.
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.1
Paul strikes a sharp contrast between grace and works. We have already seen that the word ‘grace' is inalienably tied to salvation. The word ‘works' is unarguably connected to discipleship. Paul teaches us here that we must not mix the two into one. If we try to gain salvation by doing work then what we have is not grace. If we try to accomplish discipleship by grace, then what we have will not work.
We are expected to have both grace and works, but we are not supposed to store them in the same container. You wouldn't store your salt in the same jar as your sugar, or your honey in the same jar as your vinegar. Paul teaches us that we must keep these two, grace and works, separate. Both are part of a fulfilling Christian life, but if they get mixed the result is as useless as sugar-salt, honey-vinegar, or orange-milk.
To keep them separate we must understand that we are saved by grace, and we are disciples by hard work. We are not saved by doing the work of discipleship, and we are not disciples by grace. That means that our discipleship does not automatically continue just because we have grace. In other words, salvation is by grace, but discipleship is not by grace.
Discipleship begins the same moment that we receive our salvation, but it is either rejected, neglected, or maintained. Discipleship is a daily choice and will involve costs, sacrifices, and rewards. As long as we keep this distinction clear, we won't have to live with a useless grace-works concoction.
1 Romans 11:6.