In his book 2000 Years of Amazing Grace: The Story and Meaning of the Christian Faith, Paul Zahl autobiographically recounts what happened to him many years ago when he discovered the indispensability of grace to produce the good works toward our neighbor outlined in the Bible:
My doing of the good deeds [Jesus] taught actually hinged on Him saving me-I, who had found myself paralyzed and blocked from doing those good deeds.When I felt myself loved in my chains, in my paralyses, that feeling of being loved seemed to trigger the very motivation and strength that had failed me before. Being treated forgivingly in my faults and fears freed me up. The faults themselves lost some of their binding strength. The confining fears ceased to restrict so tightly. There was an empowering connection between Jesus’ saving me (who he was for me) and the fuel to do what he said I should do (what he taught).
I take this connection between saving and the response to being saved that results in morally good actions (loving service to our neighbor), to be the heart of Christianity. It is the relation of being loved to loving. Being loved creates an environment inside a person by which the works of love begin to take place naturally. Loving is born from being loved…”Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovelier be” is a seventeenth-century way of saying it.
As I’ve said on numerous occasions here, the motivation and fuel to do good (which the Bible always describes horizontally in terms of loving service to others) comes from being moved by the completed work of Jesus for us. The impulsion to “do” comes only out of this undomesticated declaration that everything has already been done. Those who obey more are those who increasingly “get” that their standing with God is not based on their imperfect obedience to Jesus, but Jesus’ perfect obedience for them. The secret of grace is that we actually perform better as we grow to understand that God’s love for us is based on Christ’s performance, not our performance.
Another way to put this is to affirm that grace, not law, produces love-the love for God and neighbor that Jesus teaches (Luke 10:27). His love for us begets love from us.