28th Sept 2012, by Rev Dr Steven Kau –
Grace is a terribly misunderstood word. Defining it succinctly is notoriously difficult. Some of the most detailed theology textbooks do not offer any concise definition of the term. Someone has proposed an acronym,” Grace is God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.” That’s not a bad way to characterize grace but it is not a sufficient theological definition.
What is grace?
First let first give you what some Christian writers and publications have to say about grace:
“Grace is the attitude on God’s part that proceeds entirely from within Himself and is conditioned in no way by anything in the objects of His favor.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Grand rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1943 II, 1291)
“Grace is a boon purchased for us by the court which found us guilty.” (Dr. Henry C. Mabie)
“As applied to salvation, grace means that what the holy and righteous God demands of us, was provided by Himself…….God in His grace is not dealing with innocent creatures but with sinners under righteous and just condemnation. In grace, what God’s righteousness demands He supplies.” (Dr. Fitzwaters)
“Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot help themselves, so corrupt that they cannot change their natures, so averse to God that they cannot turn to Him, so blind they cannot see Him, so deaf they cannot hear Him, so dead that he Himself must open their graves and lift them into resurrection.” (A.W. Pink)
The above definitions are indeed helpful but what I really wanted to know was where we got the word in the first place. So the sensible thing to do is look up the word “grace” in a dictionary. The Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary- Unabridged informs me that our English word grace comes from the Latin word ‘gratia,’ from which means favor, esteem, or kindness. ‘Gratia’ comes from the Latin word ‘gratus’ which means pleasing or agreeable. Looking at Webster’s definition of grace, it can be said that grace is favor, esteem or kindness that is received from another. It can be said then that when God gives us grace, He is giving us His favor, blessing us with His kindness.
In the Bible, Grace is derived from the Greek word “charis.” In secular Greek, ‘charis’ was related to ‘chairo,” which means “to rejoice.” As far back as Homer, it denotes “sweetness” or “attractiveness.” It came to signify “favor,” “goodwill,” and “lovingkindness,” especially as granted by a superior to an inferior.
Yet, how do we understand, how do we experience grace today? I have been brought to think of it in terms of a statement I once heard: “You are accepted.” Meaning what? Meaning you and I are accepted, fully and totally accepted by God, now, always, without condition, without deserving, without question. To be accepted in this way means to be cherished, to be loved, to be guarded from ultimate evil. It means that who we basically are is valued, honored and respected. It means that we don’t have to earn or deserve such care; it is simply there for us, ours as a gift outright. The grace of God is given to us at God’s initiative. It is an expression of God’s love for us, of God’s desire, of God’s unconditional acceptance, an expression of the very nature of God’s being.
There is tremendous emphasis in the New Testament upon the fact that human salvation is the result of Heaven’s grace. This beautiful truth should never be minimized. At the same time, it must not be perverted. Unfortunately, much too often those with a superficial concept of “grace” have hijacked the term and foisted upon it a sense alien to Scriptural teaching.
We can define the meaning of grace, yet never really know what grace actually consist of. We know generally that it is the favor of God. We know that it is something that we have not deserved. We know that it possess the opportunities for our salvation and redemption from sin. We need to know what grace embraces.
Without Christ Jesus we would not have the grace of God. The grace of God comes only through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made at the cross. Without that sacrifice who could know or receive the grace of God. A fact that we all agree on is that we cannot by ourselves or through our own means obtain favor of God. Man cannot forgive himself of his sins. No work done by man alone can ever remove one sin or gain eternal salvation. This was the point that Paul was making in that most famous verse:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8 KJV)
The gift of God was Jesus Christ. Through Christ, God has shown His love, favor and mercy toward humanity. Through Christ we have the hope of salvation. Paul says further in Titus chapter 2 that this grace “has appeared to all men,” suggesting that all men have an opportunity for salvation. The word “appeared’ means, “to become visible,” or “to be seen.” How did God’s grace “appear” to all men? It has appeared through the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Although the grace of God has appeared to all men, this does not imply that all men are saved. Such a conclusion would contradict numerous other passages of Scripture.
What this does suggest is that Heaven’s grace is potentially available to all who care to access it by means of the divine plan of redemption. (Romans 5:1; 6:3-4, 17) This reality is in direct conflict with the Calvinistic notion that God, before the foundation of the world, chose only specific persons to be recipients of His grace.
The access of God’s grace is by means of an objective body of revelation. Paul noted, “For the grace of God has appeared……..instructing us…..” (Titus 2:11-12) Christianity is a taught religion. Isaiah, speaking of the messianic age, exclaimed: “…..he will teach us of his ways….” (2:3) Jesus Himself declared: “It is written in the prophets. And they shall be taught of God. Every one that has heard from the Father and has learned comes unto me.” (John 6:4-5 KJV)
God’s grace is not dispensed apart from an instruction that require both understanding and obedience. In these days, when there is a tendency to “stampede” people into the church, with minimal comprehension of what they are doing, this is a crucial matter to emphasize.
Further, the reception of God’s grace is conditional. Calvinism erroneously asserts that grace is bestowed unconditionally by the sovereign will of God. It is given to you whether you accept it or not. The Bible negates this concept. The principle is illustrated by the example of Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8) and yet, as the writer of Hebrews shows the patriarch and his family were saved by preparing an ark in obedience to God’s instruction. (Genesis 11:7; 6:22) Jehovah proffered the grace. Noah, by faith, obeyed the Lord and so was blessed. While God extends grace, human beings must be willing to “receive” the favor. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
It is true that grace excludes merit. We must constantly remind ourselves that humanity is not deserving of salvation. No one can “earn” pardon by works of human merit. If such were the case, we could boast regarding our redemption; however, that is impossible. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Even if one was able to perform everything that God commands, he still must regard himself as an “unprofitable servant.” (Luke 17:10) Jesus taught that our sins have put us head-over-heels in debt, and no person has the innate ability to liquidate that obligation. (Matthew 18:24-27) When this concept is truly grasped, service to Almighty God will flow with a freshness and zeal that invigorates the soul. Doubtless a failure to fathom the true significance of grace is the reason many church members are spiritually lethargic.
WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GRACE ALONE
The difficulty most people have with the doctrine of grace is assuming that we are saved by grace alone. Ever since I was a new Christian, that thought has been implanted in my mind. It has been repeated by preachers and church members so often that one must believe that it simply must be true.
However, the doctrine of “Salvation by grace alone” cannot be found in the Scripture. Not one verse can be found in Scripture that teaches that one is saved solely by grace. If we are saved by grace alone, then what about faith? What about repentance? Any time someone declares that we are saved “solely” by one thing, then, they exclude all the other things. If we are saved by grace alone, then we do not have to have any faith, neither do we need to repent of any sin. The idea of such a doctrine fails with simple logic.
The Scriptures teach that we are saved by a combination of several principles. No one principle exclusively saves. We are saved when we combine all of the essential principles that are outlined in the New Testament. Only then can we obtain salvation.
Our principle text (Ephesians 2:4-9) proves this. Salvation comes through the gift of God, which was the sacrifice of His Son. Through the resurrection of Christ, we now have hope. Grace is only one principle of our salvation. Its presence alone cannot save.
What other principles could then also play a part in our salvation? We are also saved by the preaching of the Gospel. Without the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, how could anyone know what Christ has done for their salvation? Paul taught that the Corinthian’s were saved by the preaching of the Gospel.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you were saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2) Paul preached the gospel. They received or obeyed that gospel message. They were currently faithful (standing) to that gospel. Paul clearly says, “by which also you were saved.” Saved by what? The gospel that they had responded to.
Grace is accessed initially at the point of gospel obedience. It is shocking that so many sincere people are unaware of the fact that “grace” and “obedience” are not enemies. Paul affirmed that grace is access by faith (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9). It is not, however, a faith void of loving response to God; it is a faith that acts. (James 2:21-26)
Consider this fact. In Ephesians 2:8, the apostle Paul states that one is “saved by grace through faith.” Later, in the same document, he says that sinners are “cleansed by the washing of water with the word.” (5:26) “Saved” and “cleansed” represents the same idea. Further, scholars almost universally acknowledge that the “washing” is an allusion to baptism. It is clear, therefore that the reception of grace, by means of the “faith” system, includes immersion in water.
Again, note that eternal life is the result of grace. (1 Peter 3:7) But one experiences that “life” when he is raised from the water of immersion. (Romans 6:4) Heaven’s grace plan system includes obedience. To express the matter in another way, Christ “saves us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5) yet, this is equivalent to being “justified by his grace.” (vs.7) Obedience and grace do not stand in opposition to one another. (See also Romans 6:16-18)
We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. (Ephesians 2:8) We are saved by our repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:10) We are saved by a combination of several principles but the ultimate principle that saves us is the Blood of Christ. Without the shedding of His blood and His resurrection from the dead, we would be void of any salvation. It is through the shed blood of Christ that we have redemption. (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5)
Christ is the author of our salvation. He has provided for all humanity the gift of grace. It is free for the taking. But, in reality, no one can receive the benefit of that gift until they take possession of that gift. Possession occurs when we obey Jesus Christ. Only then can we take possession of that gift. When we receive the gift of grace, by our obedience, Jesus becomes the author of our salvation. Until that moment, Jesus is not our Savior. It is written: “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him.” (Hebrews 5:9)
OUR SALVATION IS NOT BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW
“We are saved by grace and not works.” This statement is prompted by Paul’s words: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:9) The usual interpretation of this verse is that we are saved by grace apart from works. Some believe that this verse means that we cannot do any work to obtain the benefits of grace. This is true if we are talking about man’s works apart from God’s word. Man has done nothing by or through himself to obtain salvation. That is why we are dependent upon the grace of God for our salvation.
What did Paul have in mind by the word “works?” Did he have in mind the actions we must perform through obedience to the gospel or did he have in mind the works associated with the Law of Moses? The answer to this question will resolve the difficulty of understanding this verse.
This verse does not refer to the actions or works we do when obeying the commands of God. There are certain works necessary to be pleasing before God. Once, Christ was asked a question regarding this type of work.
“Then said they unto him, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God that ye believe on him who he hath sent.” (John 6:28-29 KJV) The text teaches that belief in God is a work that is necessary for one’s salvation. Not all works, then, were included by Paul’s statement.
The works that Paul had in mind were the works under the Old Testament Law. Most scholars are in agreement with this interpretation. The context of this verse supports this understanding. No one could be justified under the works of the Old Law or Law of Moses. If any were to be saved by the grace of God, it could not be by that system of religion. That Law could not justify anyone. Even if it could, no one would be saved because no one could perfectly keep that Law. That Law led to a system of boasting which was contrary to that of grace. The following three Scripture verses prove this point – Romans 3:20; Romans 11:6 and Galatians 2:16.
This does not mean that the Old Testament Law was useless. It had its place in the scheme of man’s redemption. It was the schoolmaster for Israel, to bring them to Christ. (Galatians 3:24) yet, the Law of works could not justify anyone. When Christ died upon the cross, he took away the binding force of the Law of works. (Colossians 2:24) It had to be removed so that we could come under the grace that is through Christ. (Romans 7:1-4) The context of Ephesians 2:1-9 refers to this freedom we now have in Christ. Those who seek to be justified before God by that Old Law cannot find justification. Grace does not come through that Law.
CAN ONE FALL FROM GRACE?
Is it possible for someone, who has been saved by God’s grace to fall from grace? This is a vital question. This issue is not about the efficacy of God’s grace. The real question is: “Does God’s grace once and for all time save an individual?” Can an individual so sin as to lose their salvation that comes by God’s grace?
I once read an article by an American pastor who said that grace was such that all our sins, past, present and future is already forgiven and is a done deal. His view is that a Christian cannot lose his salvation even if he subsequently became the most wicked person on earth because his sins have all been covered by the grace of God. He may lose some reward but his eternal destiny was never in question. I know of many churches that have bought into this idea.
The Scriptures are very plain about this issue. Paul gives us the answer to this question. “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4 KJV) To fall from grace is to lose the benefits of grace. This verse plainly teaches that possibility of falling from grace or losing one’s salvation.
No one is questioning whether the grace of God’s can saved! Of course it can. There are too many scriptures that teach that we are protected while in Christ and His grace. None should ever question the power of God to save by and through His grace. This is not the issue of this question. Ultimately, each individual must stand responsible for their own souls. We can do things that will separate us from the grace of God. We can fall from grace when we depart from the truths revealed by that grace. No one can separate us from God’s grace but ourselves.
Peter gives a very stern warning about going back to our former sinful condition. Once we have been saved or freed from the stains of sin and we go back to those former things, we are in reality, in a worse condition.
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21)
How could it be “better for them not to have known the way of righteousness?” To understand this statement, we must realize that there was a time we did not exist. Once we can into existence, there never will be a time that we will not exist. We shall spend eternity in heaven or in hell. If we have obeyed the gospel and received the benefits of God’s grace, then we have the hope of heaven. If we turn our backs on that hope, then we have to look only forward to hell. In eternity, those who once obeyed the gospel but turned back to the world of sin, then it shall be worse for them in eternity. They not only will be in hell but they will, for all eternity have the knowledge that they did not have to be in a state of condemnation. I have said many times that choices have consequences.
Some have been wrongly taught that since Paul said in Romans 5:20 “But when sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” They have been told that it does not matter how we live after we are saved. Even if we sin exceedingly, God’s grace will abound even more to us to cancel the effect of our sins. We fail to read what Paul said further in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
Many Christians live under the illusion that there is no need to pursue a walk of holiness and righteousness before God. God knows we are not perfect and furthermore Christ came to set us free and give us the liberty to live the life we want. And if the life we live is less than desirable, not to worry, grace will take care of it and God will understand. That is a lie. God doesn’t understand. Look at what He said through Paul in Titus 2:11-14:
“For the grace of God has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great god and Savior Jesus Christ, 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.”
Is it possible to depart from God’s grace to a point of no return? Yes. I know of many Christians and ever pastors and ministers who have forsaken Christ and declare they want nothing to do with Him or Christianity and embrace another religion. To tell me that in spite of that, God will impart grace to them and saved them against their will is absurd.
It was with fearful contemplation that Paul wrote the following words to the Hebrews:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they have crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Please notice that Paul was not addressing this to unbelievers but to Christians. They had not yet fallen away. They were warned that if they continued in their present state of affairs, they could reach a point where it would be impossible to return. They would not repent of their sins. We too, must heed this warning or we could fall to a point of no repentance. Let’s be honest, we all know of people who were once zealous for God, but today is only a shell of what they were. Worst, some abandoned their faith altogether.
There are far too verses that shows that the child of God possesses the possibility of falling from grace. There is the parable of the sown seed, where our Lord talks about the seed that started but later was choked out because of the cares and riches of this world. (Matthew 13) There is Paul’s warning to the young man Timothy (2 Tim. 3:1-9) that in the latter times some would depart from the faith. In Christ mini letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3, He concludes each letter with these words, “To him who overcomes I will grant…….” Needless to say, if you are not an overcomer, the consequences cannot be good. No wonder Paul say, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Further, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away……….If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered and they gather them and throw them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15: 2, 5) Such verses teach that men can and would depart from God’s grace. Be it known that each one who so depart, can only blame themselves, not God for their departure.
As we have seen, the grace of God is the gift of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. Christ died that all might be saved but salvation is not free from our taking responsibility for our salvation. We must, if we are to accept the grace of God, obey the gospel that Christ gave us. That’s the good news of the gospel! God has acted to set us free from sin, not just the consequences but its very power and presence. Obedience is the key word.
In the meantime, we enjoy the liberation from sins cruel power and defiling influence. God has enabled us through grace, “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires” so that we can enjoy a sensible, righteous and godly life in the present age. (Titus 2:12) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).
Rev. Dr. Steven Kau is the pastor of Faith Covenant Church. The church address is at 1-1 Jalan Putra Mahkota 7/5B, 47650 Putra Heights, Subang Jaya, Selangor. Sunday service in English starts at 10 am. His email contact – email@example.com
The views or opinions expressed by the writer/columnist is solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Christianity Malaysia.com