Yet, as often happens, a response and overreaction by incautious pastors and professors arises on the other side, decrying any place for evangelical obedience in the Christian life. The commands of Scripture are disingenuous --they are only designed to show us that we cannot keep them. Application in preaching or any call to the Christian that he "ought, must, or should" is seen to be legalism. The only answer to any question in Scripture can only be "Jesus has done it all."
Now, we must admit from the first that this is a legitimate use of the commands of the Scripture. The Law is designed to show us our inability to keep it, convict us of sin, and cause us to look outside ourselves for our salvation, and to turn to Christ in faith, disabused of any foolish notion that we can contribute anything to our righteousness before God. This is the first use of the Law.
Yet, this fails to reckon with Ephesians 2:10. Indeed, it seems to me that both extremes of this debate avoid that verse. Both sides miss that the selfsame works that fail us in justification are the works that God expects of those he has regenerated. The New Perspective / Federal Vision side of the debate says the works that Paul eschews there are the ancient covenant boundary markers such as circumcision. We are saved by faith apart from boundary markers, but not apart from "Thou shalt not commit adultery," which is very much a part of our righteousness, they will say. This, of course, is denied us by the context. Paul uses the same word "works" to describe the same things that cannot save, but which are expected of those already saved.
You can see this by simply substituting the word "circumcision" for works. "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith...and that not of circumcision, lest any man should boast." Now, that is a true point, and the Jews probably needed to hear it --Galatians addresses such things. Yet, it is in 2:10 where the argument breaks down, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto circumcision, which God ordained beforehand that we should walk in them." It simply doesn't wash.
The other side (we'll call it anti-nomian, or "anti-law") says works play no place in our lives as Christians. To say they do is to deny the gospel. Some will go so far as to say that preachers who preach commands or imperatives (oughts, musts, shoulds) are legalists and denying the gospel or not preaching grace. This is most grievous to the preacher, and I have counseled dear friends who have faced this charge, and I have faced it myself on occasion. Yet, again this fails the Ephesians 2:10 test. Paul's point is, and I repeat myself, that the same works that can never justify very much are expected of us as Christians. This does not mean we never sin, never fail, never make bad choices, never go headlong into sins and addictions with a high hand --certainly we do. It does not mean that even our best acts are not stained by sin and self --of course they are.
The truth is far more encouraging, and it is simply this: God accepts our imperfect obedience, merely by his grace, as a thank offering, well-pleasing in his sight. What freedom is found in those words. My works please my father. What could be better news than that? They don't make me right with him, they don't earn me his love. They are, rather, the product of the love that he has shed abroad in my heart.