Jesus said, "whatever you do unto the least of these you do unto me" then he talks about how people have visited him in prison, fed him when he was hungry, clothed him when he was naked, and cared for him when he was sick without knowing they were doing it unto him. He then welcomed those people into the kingdom.
I used to get confused about works and grace because of that verse, but then I realized how this story is the explanation of how to two are in a lot of ways, together.
A lot of times when I go out to eat with a waiter or waitress, they always leave a huge tip, even if the service was horrible. They usually say "well I know what it's like to wait tables, so I always give a big tip".
I heard something a month ago that blew my mind, it's so simple but really deep if you allow it to be: Two drunks were on the gutter and one said, "I love you" the other said, "No you don't. How can you love me if you don't know what hurts me?"
To love someone is to know what hurts them.
I was talking to a Christian friend and they said, "I don't want to buy a homeless person a sandwich because they got themselves into that situation, they get enough money from pan handling, they should just save spend some of that money on food instead of drugs and booze." I agree that it would be good for them to spend their money on food, but I disagree that that is what gives us a reason not to help them.
When we understand and truly accept God's gift of grace we can't help but show grace to others. Accepting God's grace is believing that God doesn't love us as we should be, but as we are, because we will never be as we should be. To know that God loved us even while we were still in the gutters, that is when we realize we should feed the homeless, even while they still live in their self-destructive habits.
When I read that Jesus wants us to feed the hungry and visit the prisoners. I took homeless people out for lunch and became a pen pal with a prisoner. I saw that verse as a check-list to salvation. I thought that God will give me grace when I did those things.
If someone drew a watermelon, it's right to assume that they have seen a watermelon before. You can't ask someone to draw a watermelon without seeing one. When we show love and grace to someone, it's because we have seen it first. I used to think that if I fed the hungry or wrote a prisoner, then I would see grace and love. But that is like saying, "if you want to see what a watermelon looks like, just draw one."
Works are the result of grace, grace isn't the result of works.
They go hand in hand but grace always comes first.
This is a huge reason why it is foolish for some Christians to get non-Christians to 'just be nice' or 'love one another'. When I started writing my prisoner friend, the first 6 months I started getting this idea that I have earned God's love through it or that I am just such a great person. Self-righteousness is one of the most anti-God mindsets there is [this, I know from experience].
When a waitress goes out to eat, they tip well because they have been in those shoes before. When we truly understand grace, we can't help but relate to the prisoners, the thirsty, the hungry and the orphans. Because we remember that we were once prisoners, thirsty, hungry and orphans. Remember what your life was like and is like when God shows His love. God didn't wait for us to get our act together to love us, so why should we wait for someone to get their act together before we love them?
God loves us despite our failed attempts, lack of effort, darkest secrets, lack of devotion, absent prayer life and doubt. We don't need to know everything in the Bible, we don't need a good track record with the Church, a clean mouth or pure mind. We need to know that God loves us, right not, not as we should be, but as we are. That knowledge and acceptance of that fact, is what makes us want to change, makes us repent, and truly start to become loving beings instead of being loving.