If you are one of those people who like me read Christian blogs, read, watch, and listen to sermons and Bible lessons, you will agree that there is lots of hubbub on the subject of God’s grace. You don’t need to read, or listen long to realize that many of the voices either extolling the virtues of Grace, or fear its excesses, don’t really understand what it is.
From my teen years as a new believer the pat definition I learned from my teachers was this one. “Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward man“. While that definition is true, it is woefully inadequate. The Bible reminds us mere mortals that every good thing we have comes from the unchanging had of God. (James 1:17) Every despot has experienced the “unmerited favor of God” in that he has the breath of life, food, and shelter. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. (I have thought I must be both, judging from the amount of rain recently in N E Louisiana). Both the best people in your town, and the most vile, alike share at least in part the unmerited favor of God.
A better definition of God’s Grace is this acrostic. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This view of Grace, although more narrow, is by far more rich and full. The word “grace” appears in the New Testament alone far more than 100 times, and with very few exceptions, is in the context of this more narrow understanding of what God has done through Christ for men as opposed to what I call “common grace”.
Those of us who teach grace and refute its ugly opposite, legalism, are the targets of the ire of religionists who are themselves threatened by something they don’t understand. That is quite a charge! So you can justly ask, “How do you know that Royce?” I know that because of the charges made and the fears exposed by those charges. The alarmist warnings go along this line of thought.
“You are teaching cheap grace!”
“You believe Christians can live any way they want and still go to heaven.”
“God requires obedience…”.
“There is God’s part and your part in salvation.”
And one of the newest,
“You are teaching universalism.”
All of these spurious charges are born of ignorance or unbelief. The idea that teaching what God has accomplished in Christ for wicked sinners is cheap, a license to sin without penalty, or that Christians should not be obedient to God is hopefully based in ignorance. Otherwise it is simply dishonest.
God’s grace is free, but not “cheap“. It is given to sinful men and women as a free gift but it cost Christ his precious redeeming blood. (Romans 5:15) (1 Peter 1:18,19) As Jesus shared a final meal with his inner circle he gave them bread to eat, representing his body, and wine to drink, representing his blood, and reminded them that his very body and his own life giving blood would be payment for the new covenant. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) What one works for, or earns, is given by obligation. The justification of the ungodly is not received as something due, but as a free gift. (Romans 6:23)
The idea that somehow those of us who teach free grace believe God has lowered his standards is incredible. The truth is that God raised his standards. Remember the words of Jesus? “You have heard is said…., but I say unto you……” Adultery is no longer only the physical act of sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage but the one who lusts is guilty as charged. And, he went on saying, one who hates his brother is guilty of murder. (Matthew 5:28) (Matthew 5:20,21) This level of moral responsibility is hardly an example of God lowering his standards for holiness. What the legalist fails to comprehend is that even though new covenant standards are considerably higher than the old, God now enables and empowers his own to desire to live out his requirements by “nature“. Not one child ever reaches the ceiling of perfect obedience but every child is looked upon as if he had. (Romans 2:14) (Romans 4) It is because of what God has done and is doing in us that we live out his will before a watching world. (Philippians 2:12,13)
Do I teach grace that sin may abound? What a strange idea! When Paul asked this rhetorical question his answer was “God forbid!” (Romans 6:1,15) Those who have been set free from the slavery of sin by the representative death of Jesus (A dead man is not bound by any law) are those who joyfully surrender to be love slaves of Jesus to do his bidding. The spurious charge that teaching people are saved by grace alone encourages sin is an idea conjured up largely by people who believe they can in some way contribute to their own salvation. The word of God paints a different picture. It says the exact opposite. It is precisely grace that teaches us to say no to unrighteousness and to live upright lives as we wait for Jesus. (Titus 2:11-13)
The lavish love of God demonstrated in the perfect living, sacrificial and substitutionary dying, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus for sinners is the full measure of God’s grace. In the same way that by one man (Adam) sin and death entered into the world, by the obedience of one man (Jesus) many are made righteous. (Romans 5:18,19) Jesus did man’s part by giving to the Father a life of perfect obedience and taking the punishment for sin so that God could justify the ungodly and still himself be just in so doing. (Romans 3:26)
It is certain that God loves you more than you think and likely the expanse of his grace is much larger than you have thought. The complete package of salvation including justification, sanctification, and glorification, are wholly the work of God. Nothing can be done by the will and in the energy of humans to substitute or supplement this great work of redemption designed before the creation of the world.
One of the most clear statements in the Bible about the grace of God in salvation is found in Ephesians 2 verses 4 and 5.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”
Once you see the full impact of this simple statement it is simply astounding! Remember when Jesus visited the tomb of his friend Lazarus? He had been dead and buried long enough that his body was decaying and had a foul odor. He was dead……until……..Jesus cried out “Lazarus come out!” Then “the man who had died came out!” (John 11:42-44) The very one who said “I am the resurrection and the life..” called him out of death to life. Although we were dead spiritually, the Bible is crystal clear that we were “dead”. Just as Jesus made Lazarus live, in the same way he made us to live with Him. A dead man can do nothing to reverse his condition. Only God gives life to the dead and that is my story and it is your story if you have been made a child of God. Nothing can we claim but the love and grace of God. We can only boast in the Lord our God.
May we together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were saved by grace, we stand in grace, and one golden day we will see Jesus face to face by grace and grace alone.
Excellent Royce! Wish I had heard this message of faith earlier in my life rather than the stumbling block riddled legalistic dogma I was fed. I would have had many more years on this earth walking with Christ rather than just the last 6. My fear is for those who have placed their faith in their actions and worry that they have “followed Chirst well enough” to get to heaven one day…. How sad.
Awesome thoughts! The gifts of the Spirit given to build up the body of Christ are from the same concept as that of grace. The root word Charis is used to describe both. Strong’s gives in his description of grace this thought, “goodwill, loving kindness, favor of the merciful kindness by which God exerting his holy influence upon souls turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of Christian virtues.” If appears that grace like the gifts of the Holy Spirit are the gifts that keep on giving!! Praise the name of our almighty God!
I think Strong is right. I love the way that description is worded. Yes, God is the one who initiates the process of salvation, empowers, equips, and keeps those who are his.
Thanks for your comments.
“All of these spurious charges are born of ignorance or unbelief.”
Yes, or an unwillingness – or inability – to read what you have written and scripture itself for what the words actually say.
Their is an insidious seduction of lawmaking and law-enforcing: power. Power over others. Power to judge others. Power to condemn others. Power to exclude others. Power to minimize, ignore or even humiliate others.
The best protection from it is the humility of Christ, given by grace through His example and His Spirit.
Keep speaking boldly of it, brother Royce!
And be blessed when men misquote you, misrepresent you, and say all manner of evils against you, falsely, for His sake.
Then pray for those who have become you enemies because you told them the truth.
Thanks Kieth. I appreciate you very much.