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Amazing grace! How sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now Im found;
Was blind but now I see.
More than anything else, you and I need the grace of God. But what is grace and how does it apply to me as an individual? Since grace is so important and so precious, you can well imagine there are many ideas about it and some are I am afraid, inconsistent with the Scriptures. This PLAIN TALK ABOUT GRACE is to help us sort through some of the things we hear about the grace of God and arrive at a balanced, Biblical view of grace.
What is grace?
Grace is often defined as the unmerited favor of God. The dictionary states that grace is favor, kindness and mercy. Combining the two thoughts we would say that grace is the favor and the kindness and the mercy of God given to those who are completely undeserving.
How has God demonstrated His grace to mankind?
God has demonstrated His grace in many ways. The sunshine, the rain, and the food we eat are all examples of Gods grace but primarily His grace is demonstrated in and through His Son, Jesus, the Messiah. " For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." "For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." But there is more. When Jesus comes again, at the revelation of Jesus Christ, grace, even more amazing, will be showered on those that are in Christ. John 3: 16; 1: 17;
Romans 8: 18
What is so-called "cheap grace?"
"Cheap grace" refers to the all too common misconception that we can accept Jesus as our Savior and yet somehow simultaneously avoid his lordship." This means that certain individuals accept the salvation Christ offers but feel little compulsion to follow right conduct. These see grace as a license to sin. Paul spoke against this concept of grace in the Romans letter. Romans 6: 1-11
Why do some emphasize "grace plus nothing?"
"Every Christian should realize that Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth, not just grace (John 1: 14). Therefore what I mean by grace plus nothing is not some sort of cheap grace without truth. My intent in naming this letter, Grace Plus Nothing, is to emphasize the Biblical truth, that in the formation of Christian character, Gods truth works only through grace, not apart from it. I emphasize grace plus nothing because there has always been a tendency in the body of Christ to preach salvation by grace through faith and then to attempt sanctification and holiness through every imaginable form of legalism. Certainly the Lord calls every Christian to press into sanctification and holiness, but neither happens apart from grace. Legalism- righteousness by works- can never satisfy God. Therefore sanctification is by grace: For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace ..those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ (Romans. 6: 14; 5: 17). GRACE PLUS NOTHING, Jeff Harkin. Evidently Mr. Harkin accepts the conclusion that salvation is by grace through faith alone and wants to emphasize that the works associated with sanctification are also derived from the grace of God. The "grace plus nothing" concept is Biblical if you have a balanced view of grace as presented in the Scriptures. Unfortunately most of the current writers about grace seem to hold an "faith only" view.
Is salvation by grace alone?
This is one of the most widely held ideas about grace. For me, there is a tremendous difference between saying "salvation is only by grace" and "salvation is by grace alone." The first phrase affirms that there is no salvation except by grace while the second phrase states grace is the only factor in salvation. If those who advocate "salvation by grace alone" are saying that grace is the source of all of mans responses including faith and obedience to Gods gracious offer of salvation, then I agree. On the other hand if they are saying that salvation is by grace without the obedience of faith then I must disagree. I suspect that most often, the latter is meant.
How can we test and examine the statement, "salvation is by grace alone"?
The best way is to ask questions that will test the validity of the statement.
- Is this statement found as such in the Scripture? Many times the Scriptures state that salvation is by grace, or more accurately, by grace through faith, but never that salvation is by grace alone. This is important to understand because it means we are dealing with an inference not a statement of fact.
- Do the Scriptures state that other factors are involved in salvation? If you will consult a concordance, you will find that there are over 20 factors included in salvation. These include hope, washing of regeneration, sanctification, baptism and many more. For me, this is fairly conclusive; I do not understand how one could forth-rightly say that salvation is by faith alone, meaning that the obedience of faith is not a factor in salvation.
How did Paul view the relationship between grace and works?
Works when tainted with the suggestion of "merit", "debt", or "boasting" are certainly incompatible with grace, which carries with it the idea of "favor" and a "gift". But not all works carry these negative connotations, there is the obedience of faith, works of faith and labor of love. These works are not incompatible with grace but spring from faith in God, which come by the grace of God. Romans 11: 6
Why do some, who hold to the idea of salvation by grace alone, nevertheless, advocate repentance as being a necessity in order to be saved?
There is an obvious inconsistency here, but these rightly decide that God will not save those who have not changed their minds about their former way of life, and now accept Jesus as their Savior. Luke 13: 3, 5
With what factors is grace associated in the Scriptures?
- Grace is associated with Jesus
- Grace is associated with truth
- Grace is associated with faith
- Grace is associated with peace
What is one of the basic doctrinal statements made in the Scriptures in regard to grace and salvation?
Certainly the passage in the second chapter of the letter to the saints who were at the city of Ephesus would qualify. I think it is safe to say if we want to understand Gods grace as it relates to salvation, we must apply and understand this passage. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." This passage is so important and basic that the next several questions will be devoted to it. Ephesians 2: 8, 9
How has God saved us through grace?
All three Persons of the Godhead contribute to the salvation by grace, each in their on unique way.
- Before the foundation of the world, before man was created, the Father purposed to save man through Jesus by graciously accepting the death of the Son as payment in full for the penalty for sin. Ephesians 1: 4, 9
- The Father so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for mankind at the appropriate time in history. John 3: 16
- The Father in His sovereignty and mercy determined to accept faith in the Son and in His death and resurrection as the condition of salvation. Romans 9: 15, 16; 1: 17
- The Father choose those who come to faith before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1: 4
- Jesus, who existed in the form of God, did not regard that as something to be held on to and emptied Himself taking the form of a bondservant and became obedient to the point of death.
- Philippians 2: 6-8
- By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for every one and became the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Hebrews 2: 9
- Jesus is now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. 1 Timothy 2: 5
- Jesus ordained that the message should be taken to all nations. Matthew 28: 19, 20
- The Holy Spirit was sent to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement. The failure to believe the testimony of the Spirit in regard to the Son is the ultimate sin from which there is no forgiveness. This is, I believe, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. John 16: 8-11
- The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth concerning Jesus so that the world might come to faith in God and Jesus. John 16: 13
- The Holy Spirit gave miraculous gifts to those in the early church until the perfect should come. 1 Corinthians 12
- The Holy Spirit is given to every believer to impart life and facilitate the renewal of that believer. Titus 3: 5, 6
- God is working in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2: 12, 13
How does grace operate?
Grace operates through faith not through works of righteousness, through trusting not through working. Does this mean that all work and obedience have no part in grace? Evidently not, because we read in the Scriptures of "works of faith", the "obedience of faith," "faith being perfected by works" and Jesus "became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Paul said in another place that those who do not obey the gospel await eternal destruction. We can not simply ignore these factors. Evidently the Apostle Paul is saying that grace does not operate through "works of which we may boast" or "works done to be righteous before God." However those responses which proceed from faith or trust in God are not incompatible with grace. Ephesians 2: 8; Romans 1: 5; 16: 26; Acts 7: 6; Hebrews 5: 9; James 2: 22; 2 Thessalonians 1: 8, 9
But doesnt faith come by the grace of God?
According to the Scriptures the Achaians "believed through grace" and I believe the same could be said of all believers. We believe because God has done everything necessary to bring us to faith. We would not know anything about Jesus except that God revealed it and made it possible for us to believe. Yes, we believe by the grace of God and yes, we have access or introduction to grace by faith, not by works we have done to be righteous. Please refer to PLAIN TALK ABOUT FAITH. Romans 5: 2: Acts 18: 27
Is salvation of ourselves?
Certainly not. The natural man is in a desperate situation. He is lost and he is lost because of his own doing. He can not save himself. God initiated His purpose to save man, carried it out over thousands of years and provided the power through which salvation is accomplished. Does this mean that man has absolutely no role in his salvation? Evidently not because Paul wrote "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Properly understood, our obedience is God at work in us. Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me." Mans role in salvation is one of acceptance and cooperation because of the love and gratitude we have toward God, because of what He first did for us through Jesus. Man is not capable of saving himself. Ephesians 2: 8; Philippians 2: 12, 13; Revelation 3: 20
Why then do the Scriptures say, "And having been made perfect, He became to all that obey Him the source of eternal salvation"?
When looking at various passages from the Scriptures it is important to remember that the Scriptures speak truly but not necessarily exhaustively at any particular place. Our initial and subsequent obedience to Christ is not in order to be righteous before God or to earn salvation, but rather to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and the Father in which salvation is one of the gifts given by Jesus. Hebrews 5: 9; Galatians 3: 26, 27
But isnt entering into Christ a work of God (1 Corinthians 1: 30)?
Yes, it is a work of God, but God does that work when we, in obedience to faith, are baptized into Christ. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ." " Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?" Galatians 3: 26, 27: Romans 6: 3
What is the gift mentioned in this passage (Ephesians 2: 8)?
Those who know the Greek language tell us that because of grammatical considerations the gift cannot be grace, faith or salvation by themselves. Probably the gift refers to the whole complex grace-faith-salvation. At any rate there is scriptural verification that each is a gift of God.
Does Gods grace work irresistibly in the heart and mind of man, giving a new spirit to whom He wills?
This question reflects one of the fundamental tenets of a system of interpretation promoted by John Calvin. God works powerfully but not irresistibly in the lives of men. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart." "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." There is no other power to salvation except the gospel. Those who refuse to believe have no other option. We should also note that the gift of the Holy Spirit is associated, among other things, with obedience. Acts 5: 32; Hebrews 4: 12; Romans 1: 16
Can examples be cited of those who resisted the gracious will of God?
Yes, consider the following three passages.
- "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears and always resist the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did." Acts 7: 51
- "O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." Matthew 23: 37
- " But as for Israel He says, All day long I have stretched out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." Romans 10: 21
Does God give grace to some and arbitrarily withholds it from other?
Absolutely not! The unconditional election is another major tenet of Calvinism. John Calvin was undoubtedly sincerely attempting to explain the factors operating in Gods salvation but I feel his failure to acknowledge that God desires the salvation of all is a serious flaw. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men." Many, however will not receive grace because they will not deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Titus 2: 11; James 4: 6; Hebrews 2: 9
Why cant those who are proud receive grace?
If you can picture man as vessel or a bucket, the bucket of the proud is so full of themselves that there is no room for the grace of God in their bucket even though it is lavished upon them. The humble have emptied themselves to some extent (have room in their bucket), and to that extent God can give them grace. Jesus was the perfect vessel; He emptied Himself and received the Spirit without measure. This, I believe, is the fundamental reason why some are saved but most are not. I know that example is crude but it there is support from the Scriptures. James 4: 6; Romans 9: 21
Does the statement, "Do your best and God will do the rest," truly depict the meaning of grace? Those who make such a statement are undoubtedly trying to understand the relationship between grace and obedience but miss the mark in several important ways.
- Our best is as filthy rags in Gods sight.
- Our standing with God is based upon Christs righteousness, not our own
- Grace can hardly be defined as making up deficiencies in our performance
- Also the statement does not recognize that God is working in us both to will and to do before we ever accepted Christ and that God purposed to save man in Christ before we were even created. Philippians 2: 12-13; Isaiah 64: 6; Romans 9: 30
Is the statement, "Grace is Gods part and obedience (or faith) is our part," accurate?
- No, the statement does not reflect the fact that our obedience or faith is God working in us both to will and to do.
- Many who hold this position consider faith to be only another example of obedience rather than the source of obedience and fail to recognize "love" as the greatest characteristic of Christianity.
- Finally the statement ignores the plain teaching that salvation is not of ourselves. Philippians 2: 12-13; Ephesians 2: 8; 1 Corinthians 13: 13; Galatians 3: 11
Can you fall from grace?
Again, the perseverance of the saints is another major tenet of Calvinism. Please refer to the Galatian letter were Paul states, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law, you have fallen from grace." Evidently the answer is, yes; you can fall from grace. Please refer to PLAIN TALK ABOUT PERSERVERANCE. This answer must be given for the sake of truth, but it should be emphasized that God wants us to live in assurance and confidence in regard to our relationship with Him. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord if you do not will it to be so. Romans 8: 37-39; Galatians 5: 4
Does salvation by grace indicate that eventually all mankind will be saved?
Certainly not! This idea of universal salvation apparently comes from a misunderstanding of such passages as Titus 2: 11; "For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men". God has lavishly poured out His grace on all men but all will not receive it. Jesus plainly tells us that "many" will enter into the path that leads to destruction, while "few" will find the path that leads to life. If salvation were by the grace of God alone, irrespective of the will of man, then we would expect all to be saved.
Matthew 7: 13-14
What is the beauty of grace as opposed to the demands of Law?
Law requires and demands. Grace urges and persuades. Law condemns when we fail. Grace urges us to grow. When we fail Jesus says, "I know, I understand, remember I was there." "Keep on walking with Me, remember that I have given you a new nature and the fruit you desire will come. Keep on growing." And it does, not as a "work", but as a natural expression of the nature He has given us. Romans 6: 14; Galatians 5: 22-24; 2 Peter 3: 18
What then is the balanced view of salvation and grace as presented in the Scriptures?
Salvation is by the grace of God through faith, which works through love. Ephesians 2: 8; Galatians 5: 6
- Salvation is only by the grace of God.
- Through faith which itself is by Gods grace through His word.
- The faith, which saves always works (our works is God working within us), is never alone.
- Love is always the motivation of mature faith.
What disclaimers must we recognize?
Salvation is not of ourselves, not of works and can never be boasted about.
- Salvation was purposed, initiated, and worked through us by God. The gospel is the power of salvation.
- Salvation can never be merited, deserved, or earned; it is a gift, a favor.
- Because grace and salvation are gifts, we can never boast of our acceptance.
May God bless you with this certain knowledge:
He loves you as if you were the only
Person in the world.
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Last Update 10/28/04