Should we make an effort to pay God back for his grace? NO! It is dangerous to suggest that we live out the gospel that way. Gratitude is good—but we must do it the right way. We disparage the gospel if we view the Christian life as simply an effort to pay back the debt we owe God, even if we admit we can never fully pay it off. To put it fairly, it unintentionally disparages God’s grace. What does this mean, exactly?
“‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:35-36).
“For I do not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me . . .” (Rom. 15:18).
Why does Paul add this? Because paying back grace boasts of works rather than grace. It by mistake suggests that the gospel saves (i.e. justification), but works, without grace, conforms us to the image of Christ (i.e. sanctification)—that works without grace magnify the supremacy of Christ. It mistakenly puts forward that fruit bearing is primary rather than abiding in Christ (see Jn. 15:1-5). Fruit bearing is only possible with Christ. Now, if that is true, why does Paul . . . no, why does the whole counsel of Scripture demand obedience to live out the gospel and pursue Christlikeness? How can we pursue Christlikeness and, at the same time, avoid working to pay God back for his free grace? To the first question, we must put off the old self (Eph. 4:22) and put on the new self (v. 24) because in Christ, we have been created (i.e. new self) in the likeness of God. For that reason, we should demonstrate our joy in the value of God’s gift of Jesus Christ “in a way that honors the nature and aim of God’s . . . gift of free grace” (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 37). We demonstrate our joy [gratitude] in a way that honors God when we put off the old self, reflecting the glory of God outwardly—not in order to pay God back, but in order to make Christ famous . . . a fragrant aroma (5:2). To the second question: 1) we are disciplined by grace, 2) we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to do good works, and 3) we must put sin to death.