People from my religious tradition are very weary to believe that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God’. Even though we know that scripture is in the Bible and we recite the fact that we are not saved by our works, we are reluctant to freely jump into the waters of ‘no matter what you do, Jesus still loves you’.
I believe we are afraid (and I have heard it taught) that if people believe that concept, they will begin to sin wildly because there are no consequences to the action. If we believe that we will start sinning because there are no consequences to the sin, then we are identifying our wrong motivation for good works. We are acting virtuous because we are either fearful of the consequences of not doing it or we are prideful and enjoy the credit we get for good works. Both Pride and Fear are motivating factors and can be used to achieve the desired goal. However, both have a very short shelf life. We forget the consequence and find ourselves delving into the wrong activity.
Jonathan Edwards said this about ‘true virtue’:
What is true virtue? It is when you are honest not because it profits you or makes you feel better, but because you are smitten with the beauty of the God who is all truth and sincerity and faithfulness…True virtue comes when you see Christ dying for you, keeping a promise He made despite the infinite suffering it brought him. On the one hand that destroys pride: he had to do this for us, because we were so lost. On the other hand it also destroys fear: because if he’d do this for us while we were his enemies, then he values us infinitely, and nothing we can do will wear out his love. Consequently, our hearts are not just restrained but changed. Their fundamental orientation is transformed.
We want our hearts changed. We do not want to continue to pursue good works because it is the avenue to a right relationship with God. Jesus said we would be identified by our fruit. Fruit is most definitely the final product of the plant. The outward sign or ‘works’ of the plant. We want the same for ourselves. Our good works should be the final product generated from a deep devotion and love of God. If we put the works in front of the relationship as if they earn us the right to know God, then we are putting the cart before the horse.