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God is Gracious
April 2012

          God’s Grace is a great Bible truth and one of the greatest of all God’s attributes; in fact, it is an attribute without which man's salvation would be impossible. In the English New Testament the word “grace” is always derived from the Greek word “charis,” a word that occurs in the Greek text over 170 times.  It is that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: elegance of speech, good will, loving-kindness, and favor.  It is also the merciful kindness by which God, when exerting His holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, and increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and inspires them to exercise Christian virtues.  God's grace is a wonderful gift to mankind. Grace is God's love freely offered to us. We did not do anything to "earn" it nor can we do anything to receive it. Though Grace is often paired with “justice” and “mercy,” grace is quite different.  Where “justice” is getting what we deserve; and “mercy” is not getting what we deserve; Grace is getting what we do not deserve.  Grace is God’s perfect love in action.    

            When we start investigating “Grace” we find that Jesus never used the word.  In fact, the word only appears once in the Gospel of Luke and three times in the Gospel of John. In each case the word was used by the writer in reference to Jesus Himself. There are however, several parables given by Jesus in the Gospels that make clear that He did teach grace. These parables showed that grace was God's alone, only God’s to give, freely offered, and a privilege to receive. 

            One such parable is found in Matthew 20.  It is the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.  It tells of a man (who most theologians believe represents God) who hires some workers early in the day, some later, and some an hour before quitting time, then pays all the workers one full days pay. When the workers who worked all day complained that their equal pay was unfair, the employer's explanation was, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?  Or is your eye evil because I am good?' the last will be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:15-16).

            Another such parable is the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Luke 15:11 is traditionally understood by most Christians as containing the teaching of Jesus on grace. A son demands the family fortune and then through riotous living wastes all of it.  Broken and ashamed he returns home expecting little in the way of good treatment. The father shows abundant grace by welcoming him with open arms, even throws him a large party, over the objections of his other son who stayed at home and served obediently and without protest.

            The Epistles are filled with teachings relative to grace. Here are but a few, a more complete list will be given at the end.  The gospel (good news) is a result of God's grace (Galatians 1: 6-9). Grace is presented as sufficient and Christians are called by grace (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10; Galatians 1: 15). Man is saved by grace, the heart is established by grace, and we are justified by grace (Ephesians 2: 5, 8; Hebrews 13: 9; Titus 3: 7). Growth in our Christian life begins when we hear of and understand the truth of God's grace (Colossians 1:3-7).  This last one is the one I wish to expound upon for a moment.

            We as Christians have given the word “Grace” quick and easy definitions such as Grace, is God’s unmerited favor. Or acrostically we know the definition of Grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense … GRACE. These are simply inadequate, and thus we must devote this entire teaching to a more precise definition. Let us start by looking at Unger’s Bible Dictionary.  It defines “Grace” like this, “Grace is what God may be free to do and indeed what He does, accordingly, for the lost after Christ has died on behalf of them.”  Notice carefully these key words in this definition “what God may be free to do” and “what He does.”  “Grace” thus rules out all human merit.  It requires only faith in Christ!  Any mixture of human merit added to Grace violates it and it is no longer God’s “Grace.” 

            Now let us look at how the Scripture defines Grace.  Titus 2:11-14 defines “Grace” thusly.  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, (12) teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, (13) looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, (14) who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

            Did you notice that Grace does two things?  One it saves (cr. Ephesians 2:8-9), and Two it teaches.  It teaches us that we must deny ungodliness, lusts of the world, and live soberly, righteous, and holy?  This takes a great deal of effort on our part does it not?  Believe it or not the Bible defines grace in just this way. Strong’s Greek Dictionary (#5485) defines grace (charis) as “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.” So how did people become blinded to the fact that God does not do a partial job in His creation? This was the problem with the Pharisee’s. They would not allow God to work in their hearts. Even though outwardly they looked like godly men.  Today on the other hand the reverse has become true. The outward appearance doesn’t make any difference because God only looks on the heart. The fallacy of such thinking is exposed in the definition of grace. When God influences a heart, it will be reflected in the way the person lives!  There is no way around it!  Either God does not have the complete surrender of an individual that He desires to have, or there is no true influence of grace although claimed!

            John Wesley believed that God provides us with three kinds of grace and I concur. He believed in:

                        1.   Prevenient (preceding or original) grace

                        2.   Accepting (justifying) grace

                        3.   Sustaining (sanctifying) grace

          God's prevenient or original grace is with us from birth, preparing us for a new life in Christ. Wesley did not believe that humanity was totally “depraved” but rather God places a little spark of divine grace within us which enables us to recognize and accept God's justifying grace. Original grace is "free in all for all."  “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).  Faith is but one fruit of grace.

            God's accepting or justifying grace is what we call the "atonement." When we experience God's justifying grace, we come into a new life in Christ. People have freedom of choice. We are free to accept or reject God's justifying grace. Wesley emphasized "Free Grace" saying: “The grace or love of God, whence cometh our salvation, is Free in all, and Free for all.... It is free in all to whom it is given. It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree, neither in whole, nor in part. It does not in anywise depend either on the good works or righteousness of the receiver; not on anything he has done, or anything he is. It does not depend on his endeavors. It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God; they are the streams only, not the fountain. They are the fruits of free grace, and not the root. They are not the cause, but the effects of it.”[1]

          Once we have accepted God's “justifying grace,” we are to move on into God's “Sustaining Grace.”  As we press toward the high calling which is in Christ Jesus we all falter.  It is God’s sustaining grace that encourages us to continue by acknowledging our failures and through its forgiveness presses us onward.  We must strive for perfection. We cannot just accept God's salvation and then do nothing. We are to participate in the grace of God obeying God’s precepts so that we can continue to grow in our Christian life. If we do nothing toward this end, we sin!  “Should we continue in sin that grace may abound, certainly not;” says Paul (Romans 6:1-3).  Christians must not stay focused on God's justifying grace, and by living a passive Christian life depend on the sustaining grace of God.  But as we drive ourselves to obey and grow in Christ we must rest assured that God’s sustaining grace is our firm foundation in times of error and failure.  “Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).  This is God’s “sustaining grace.”

          As stated earlier I concur with Wesley on these three aspects of grace, but I would add this perspective to the first.  When we speak of God's “Prevenient Grace,” we are referring to all the good gifts we enjoy freely in life. The grace of God can be seen in so many more ways than only the grace placed within us by God to help us recognize God’s saving grace, and to those who will, the justifying grace needed to accept His salvation.

            “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1, 31). We see the grace of God in the intricacy, beauty, majesty and intelligence which are demonstrated in all God’s creation.  Everything around us, in everything we see, in everything we can not see, and in everything made that was made, for it was made for us.  In these things alone we can spend our lifetimes in celebration of God’s wondrous grace: flowers, landscapes, the awe found in the skies at night, or in the sheer magnitude and variety in the depth of the sea.  What about the delicate beauty of a butterfly’s wings, or the shear size and strength of an elephant.  Life itself is the fundamental gift of grace. For us, being created in God’s own image, the wondrous gift of being human, being God’s most precious creation is also a gift of grace. That is the very core of grace – creation, life, human being. As humans, we are given a unique place in God’s created order. The creation story in Genesis is the crowning glory of original grace. In that story God pronounces all creation, including mankind, “very good” (Genesis 1:31), can we not see the magnificent grace that God has bestowed upon us in our ability to recognize the awe of it all; is that not God’s fullness of grace demonstrated on a universal scale.

            Another way for us to recognize God’s grace is in our obstinate refusal to accept “original grace.” Creationism vs. Darwinism; did God create all things or did they just happen over a period of millions of years.  Ironically, this freedom is itself the most unique form of grace given mankind by God, the capacity to choose our own way, which must include the possibility of choosing poorly.  But once we recognize His “original grace” and acknowledge our miserable state, we are prompted to call on God for help, to repent, and to return to God which gives us salvation deliverance and eternal life. This turning and returning we call conversion and is driven by God’s second type of Grace – “Accepting or Justifying Grace.”  When we forget grace and our need of it again becomes necessary, God’s “Accepting or Justifying Grace” prompts our memory and then supports our will, and our intention to make our lives right again in order to make amends and change our ways for the better.  The grace that prompts this action is called “Sanctifying Grace.” Sanctification is the act of making holy. It is the act of God's grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love of God. “Sanctifying grace” can be summarized as repentance, confession, and amendment of life. We rely on all the aspects of God’s grace to make us whole, personally and communally, right away and over time.

            God’s grace inspires us to be self aware, to aspire to our full potential as human beings created in the image of God and our awareness of God's purpose for us and through us.  All creation is yearning for the day that we as God’s children take our rightful place as God’s ruling body in the affairs of this world. God’s grace makes us disciples and is available as spiritual power for the work of good.  Jesus exhibited this kind of power and challenged us to do the same (cf. Matthew10; Luke 9, 10).  The spiritual power demonstrated by Jesus, and the saints who seek to imitate His life, is the power which continues to heal the world, to bring it into wholeness and to achieve that which was lost in the Garden of Eden. It is available to any who want to offer themselves in gratitude, to enlist in God's vision for mankind and to discover our proper place in creation. Grace is the assistance given us when we choose to become the people that God means us to be. God’s amazing grace comes with the breathtaking awareness that we are participating in the very life of God, and it's awesome good!

          Now let me present some other aspects of Grace we have not discussed yet. 

1.   God's grace can be abused.  Some in the First Century turned “the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” (Jude 4). One way in which this was done is seen in Paul's Epistle to the Romans. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6: 1). Paul immediately answered his own question: “God forbid” (verse 2).  This falsehood is still taught in our pulpits today.  It is presented in such a fashion as to actually encourage the commission of sin. Instead of teaching the imperative responsibility of man to live right we are presented teachings based on the prospect that God’s grace abounds, God is a God of love therefore He will forgive and this is true!  Deception however, always contains partial truth. The deception goes on to say that once you are saved you can never fall from grace, you are always saved.  Nothing you can do or not do can remove you from the hands of God.  In other words: the way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people have nothing whatever to do with eternal salvation once a person accepts the saving grace of God.  This is not an exaggeration!  I have personally heard these exact words coming from one of this doctrine’s followers.  In fact there is an entire denomination that believes in this doctrine which has been dubbed as “Once saved always saved.”  The problem with this heretical teaching is that it eliminates the essential nature and purpose of “sanctifying grace.”  Why would we need “sanctifying grace” if it has no bearing on the salvation we have already obtained, because, according to this belief, it is eternally guaranteed?

            God's grace is also terribly abused when God’s grace is said to be the only operative force and agent. Although Grace is in fact a gift given man by God alone and it is solely His to give.  Consider the fact that if God distributed His saving Grace to all mankind without any other attributing factor man would have no need for the atonement or for salvation; for every person who ever lived would be eternally saved.  This belief that man plays no part in salvation is called “Universal Salvation.”  Although salvation is a free gift from God we must exercise our God given faith in order to obtain it.  Faith is the operating force which enables us to receive God’s Grace.  Without faith salvation, sanctification and our eternal glorification would not be possible.  (cf. John 1:12) “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

2.   Grace versus merit.  God’s word plainly shows that not only are grace and merit independent of each other but they are also mutually exclusive. Salvation cannot be by grace and works (merit) (cf. Romans 11: 6).  If man could merit salvation, God's grace would not be necessary (Romans 4: 1 ff., Ephesians 2: 8-18). However, the Biblical truth that grace and merit are incompatible does not mean man is passive in the matter of receiving God's grace (the scriptures do not teach “Universal Salvation” – because God is not willing that any should perish, 2 Peter 3: 9). Paul explains that “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Grace is God's part, faith is man's responsibility!  Brethren be aware that Jesus told us that faith or believing itself is a work (John 6: 29). Faith is not meritorious but a “work of God.” Faith, real saving faith, is always active and obedient (James 2: 19-26).

3.   Grace reigns through righteousness.  “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21). The expression “grace reign though righteousness” reveals the fact that God’s grace only flourishes and is successful in an atmosphere of righteousness. “Righteousness” is an environment where God's commandments and man's humble acceptance and obedience to all that God requires of him coexists (Psalms 119: 172, Acts 10: 34, 35).

4.   Grace is Pure. Grace is never a mixture of divine benevolence and human effort: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (5) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5).  “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Romans 11:6).

            Grace is entirely the work of God, unprompted by man, undeserved by man, and without regard to anything that the object of grace will later accomplish.  Think about this for a moment; “there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:10-12).  It was God’s choice that Jacob rule over Esau without regard to any works which either would do; in fact, Jacob was chosen even before he was born. A longer look at the life of Jacob would indicate that God’s purposes for Jacob’s life were accomplished in spite of him and his actions.

5.   Grace is Sovereign. Since we have no claim on God’s grace and cannot contribute anything to it, then grace must be sovereignly bestowed. As God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19; cf. Romans 9:15). The necessary conclusion is that which follows in Romans 9:16: “So then it is not of him, who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” Some are greatly troubled by the fact that grace is bestowed sovereignly, but what other basis is there for its distribution? In Romans 9:14 Paul asks the question: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” To put this simply Paul is asking “Can God be just when grace is given to some but not to others?” Paul continues by answering his own question by reminding the reader that justice can only condemn all men, for all have sinned. We dare not plead for justice with God, for justice can only be satisfied by our condemnation. Grace operates on a totally different basis. Grace does not give men what they deserve, but what God delights to give, in spite of their sin. God is only unjust if He withholds from men benefits which they rightfully deserve, but He is gracious in bestowing upon men salvation and blessings which they do not merit and could never obtain.  This brings us to our last point.

6.   Grace is given only to the humble.  When our Lord came to the earth, He came to minister to the poor, the suffering, and the needy. To the “poor in spirit” Jesus offered the riches of the kingdom of heaven (Ref. Matthew 5:3). Jesus had come to this earth in order to minister to those who were in need and knew it. When Jesus chose to associate with the needy rather than with the elite of His day, it greatly offended the Jewish religious leaders: “And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?” (17) When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:16-17).

            Pride offended turned to jealousy (cf. Mark 15:10), so that if the religious leaders of Israel couldn’t persuade Jesus to endorse their ideology, they concluded that He must be done away with (cf. John 11:47-50).

Jesus put His finger on this matter of pride when He told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in Luke 18. The Pharisee had no appreciation for his own sinfulness, and thus he could pray, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (12) I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). The tax-gatherer, however, was humbled by the awareness of his sinful condition and so petitioned a gracious God for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said it was this humble sinner who went home justified (verse 14).

            Grace is the goodness of God on behalf of sinners who humbly acknowledge their own deficiency and thus their dependence upon God’s grace for forgiveness and salvation “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; cf. 1 Peter 5:5).

            In concluding this discussion on “Grace” let me give you some more aspects of Grace taken from R. A. Torrey’s New Topical Textbook.[2]

God is the God of all Grace – 1 Peter 5:10

God is the Giver of all Grace – Psalm 84:11; James 1:17

God's throne, is the throne of Grace – Hebrews 4:16

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Grace – Zechariah 12:10; Hebrews 10:29

Grace was upon Christ – Luke 2:40; John 3:24

Christ spoke with all Grace – Psalm 45:2; Luke 4:22

Christ was full of Grace – John 1:14

Grace came by Christ – John 1:17; Romans 5:15

Grace was given by Christ – 1 Corinthians1:4

The riches of Grace was exhibited in God's kindness through Christ – Ephesians 2:7

The glory of God’s Grace is exhibited in our acceptance in Christ – Ephesians 1:6

The Gospel is a declaration of Grace – Acts 20:24, 32

Grace is the source of our election – Romans 11:5

We are the called of God through Grace – Galatians 1:15

Justification comes through Grace – Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7

Faith comes through Grace – Acts 18:27

Forgiveness of sins comes through Grace – Ephesians 1:7

Salvation comes from Grace – Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:5, 8

Consolation comes from Grace – 2 Thessalonians 2:16

Hope comes from Grace – 2 Thessalonians 2:16

Grace is necessary to the service of God – Hebrews 12:28

God's work is completed in us by Grace – 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

The success and completion of the work of God to be attributed to Grace – Zechariah 4:7

We inherit all God’s promises by Grace – Romans 4:16

Justification is by Grace, opposed to that by works (merit) – Romans 4:4-5, 11:6; Galatians 5:4

We are heirs of God due to Grace – 1 Peter 3:7

We are all under God’s Grace – Romans 6:14

We receive Grace from Christ – John 1:16

We are what we are by Grace – 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12

We are to abound in Grace – Acts 4:33; 2 Corinthians 8:1, 9:8, 14

We are to have our heart established in Grace – Hebrews 13:9

We should be strong in Grace – 2 Timothy 2:1

We should grow in Grace – 2 Peter 3:18

We should speak with Grace – Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6

Grace is specially given to ministers – Romans 12:3, 6; 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7

Grace is specially given to the humble – Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5

Grace is specially given to those who walk uprightly – Psalms 84:11

Grace is not to be received in vain – 2 Corinthians 6:1

We must pray for Grace for ourselves – Hebrews 4:16

We must pray for Grace for others – 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 6:24

We must be aware lest we fall short of Grace – Hebrews 12:15;

The manifestation of Grace in others is a cause of gladness – Acts 11:23; 1 John 1:3-4

There will be a special manifestation of Grace, at the second coming of Christ – 1 Peter 1:13

Grace is not to be abused – Romans 3:8; 6:1, 15

Grace is not to be kept to oneself – 1 Peter 4:10

Grace was bestowed upon sinful men – 1 Timothy 1:12-13

Grace is sufficient for all man’s needs – 2 Corinthians 12:9

Grace is manifested in self sacrifice – 2 Corinthians 8:9

Grace is described as Great (Acts 4:33); Sovereign (Romans 5:21); Rich (Ephesians 1:7, 2:7); Exceeding (2 Corinthians 9:14); Manifold (1 Peter 4:10); All-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9); All-abundant (Romans 5:15, 17, 20); Glorious (Ephesians 1:6).

            Without God’s unlimited and abundant grace, salvation would be impossible (cf. Luke 17: 10). Though God’s grace is in fact unlimited and abundant nowhere in the scriptures do we read of “grace alone,” “grace only,” or “salvation entirely of grace.”  Do not take this wrong.  Though salvation is presented to man by grace alone it can only be obtained by request and maintained by works (Ref. James 2:14-18).  In the absence of God extending His divine grace to mankind in his wicked sin filled state, man would be facing the impossible task of achieving justification simply by works, which means keeping the law flawlessly (Ephesians 2: 8-10, Titus 3: 5). Grace is God’s perfect concept presented to fallen mankind which introduces man to the unmerited, unlimited and all encompassing goodness of God.

            Finally let me quote a well know saying first made by the English evangelical preacher and martyr, John Bradford (1510–1555) as he watched his fellow criminals being led to the scaffold; and knowing that shortly He was to be burned at the stake. “There but for the grace of God, go I” Let us all be aware that tomorrow is promised to no man and only God knows the number of days we have to live on this earth (Ref. Luke 12:16-20; James 4:14; Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16).  It is only by God’s grace and His grace alone that will we have it to occupy.

[1] John Wesley’s Sermon 128,  text from the 1872 edition, Preached at Bristol,  1740

[2] R. A. Torrey’s New Topical Textbook, Sword of the Lord Publishers, P.O. Box 1099, Murfreesboro, TN, 37133, 1897.

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