GRACE IS God’s good will, loving-kindness, and favor toward us. In His merciful kindness, God exerts his holy influence upon souls. With those who abide in Christ, grace teaches them, grace empowers them and grace kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtue. It is often said that grace is unmerited favor; this is true. Yet God’s grace is so much more!
GRACE IS NOT a substitute for repentance. Jesus Christ was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). A grace without truth is not a properly balanced and biblical grace. With Peter’s mention of “the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12), it must be that there is also a false grace.
Grace Changers. “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1-4) Notice that within the immediate context of “contending earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” is the contrasted doctrine of turning the grace of our God into lewdness or lasciviousness, which is unbridled lust, and denying Jesus Christ. In contending for the faith is the refutation of this false doctrine of turning God’s grace into a license to sin or getting away with immorality and rebellion.
Saved by Grace. Most importantly, the Scriptures tell us that we are saved by grace. “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11). Paul said,
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)
Again, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7); Salvation is by grace, and faith gives us access to this grace by which we are saved. “We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). We rely upon God’s power and grace, but it is accessed through faith.
We cannot earn or merit our salvation by works or obedience, but salvation is a free gift of God. Paul said, “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” (2 Timothy 1:8-10); “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt” (Romans 4:4); “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace,” (Romans 4:16); “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 actually enables us to believe. In Acts 18:27, we read, “he [Paul] greatly helped those who had believed through grace.”
The Gospel of Grace. Many Dispensationalists make a distinction between the Gospel of grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. They argue that the Gospel of the Kingdom was preached to the Jews and will be preached again in a future “great tribulation” but now we preach the Gospel of Grace. In their own words: “A remnant of the Jews will preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Today we preach the Gospel of Grace.”1 Another said, “This good news to that nation was the ‘gospel of the kingdom,’ and should in no wise be confused with the Gospel of saving grace.”2
Are there really two different Gospels? This may sound good on the surface, but Paul understood the Gospel of Grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to be one and the same Gospel. Paul said,
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. (Acts 20:24,25)
Notice how Paul used these terms Gospel of the Grace of God and Gospel of the Kingdom of God interchangeably and synonymously. Paul never referred to more than one Gospel. This Gospel of the Kingdom is the Gospel of Grace and has everything to do with our salvation.
True grace is the power of God unto salvation. Paul the Apostle said, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If we are truly under grace, then we are not under sin. The power of grace destroys the power of sin. The measure of which we are truly under grace corresponds to the measure which we are loving God and keeping His commandments.
Under Grace. Contrariwise, some Reformers go to the extreme of saying that Christians must sin in thought, word and deed everyday. Rather than preaching righteousness by God’s grace, many Reformers like Martin Luther teach that we must sin and that true grace is merely a covering for our inability in this life to live righteously. Martin Luther wrote:
If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true, not a pretended grace; if grace is true you must bear a true, not a pretended, sin. God does not save pretended sinners. Be a sinner and sin mightily, and rejoice in Christ, who is victor over sin, death and the world. We must sin so long as we are what we are; this life is not the dwelling-place of righteousness, but we look, says Peter, for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.3
Some have understood Luther to be making an exaggerated remark here, but I did not find that perfectly clear from the context of his letter. Nevertheless, it is the opinion of many Reformers (certainly not all) that people must sin and will sin in thought word and deed everyday.
We don’t want to diminish the importance God’s grace as unmerited favor and covering our past sins. Nor do we want to make the mistake of saying we are without sin; John the Apostle said, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). Certainly, we can say with Paul that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20). But on the other hand, Paul also asked the rhetorical question, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). God forbid! “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2). One two separate occasions, the Lord Jesus said, “Sin no more” (John 5:14, 8:11). Jesus and Paul went further than Martin Luther saying that we should not live any longer in sin. Paul went on to say that grace has freed us from salves of sin to salves of God:
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:14-16)
According to Paul’s understanding of grace, those who believe they must sin in thought, word and deed must also be salves of sin and death.
God’s grace is not unconditional. Grace is not something we receive once and for all but we are to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18), “be strong in grace,” (2 Timothy 2:1) and “abound in grace” (2 Corinthians 8:7). “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). Conversely, those new Christians at Antioch could have discontinued in the grace of God. Then they would no longer be saved by grace. The word of His grace, “is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). But we have to avail ourselves of His grace.
How do we obtain grace? “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16). Quoting Proverbs 3:34, the apostles Peter and James tell us that if we submit to God in humility, He will give us grace:
Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:5-9)
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:4-6)
Therefore, God’s grace is not unconditional. The grace of God is given to those who meet the condition of humility. Thus, a Christian once saved by grace may receive the grace of God in vain. It is then of no purpose, to no avail and empty: “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1).
Saving grace differs from free grace and sovereign grace. Free grace and sovereign grace both agree on the point of Eternal Security. Free grace is the position that when a person believes in Christ, all of their past, present and future sins are forgiven so that no matter what a person does they are once saved always saved. Sovereign grace is the position that grace is irresistible and forces a person to be saved and kept so that they are once saved always saved according to God’s choice.
Paul spoke to Christians and warned them that they can become “estranged” or severed from Christ in whom is eternal life. If they attempt to be justified by the deeds of the Mosaic law such as circumcision, then they were “fallen from grace.” A Christian once saved by grace must stand fast in that grace, but he is not guaranteed access to saving grace unconditionally. Paul said: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:1-6).
In addition to seeking to be justified by the works of the Law of Moses, we can also resist God’s grace if we deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31).
“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” (Hebrews 12:14-17) We can “fall short of the grace of God” or “fail in the grace of God” (KJV) by becoming a fornicator and thus a profane person like Esau. Paul said a fornicator has no inheritance in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:5). When Esau sought repentance it was too late and he was rejected. This is a type or picture of a once saved Christian who dies in a unrepentant state of justifying their willful sin and fell short or failed in the grace of God.
Peter contrasted “growing in grace” with falling from steadfastness and being led away by the error of the wicked. No different than the grace-changers of our day, Peter mentioned ungodly men who twisted the Scriptures, especially Paul’s writings, to their own destruction. “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:14-17). Peter was exhorting Christians to beware lest they fall and be led away with the error of the wicked. Those who twist Paul’s teachings turn grace into a license by teaching unconditional eternal security.
God’s grace is not irresistible. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit are linked together (2 Corinthians 13:14). Yet, the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and even resisted: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). Peter mentions obedience as a condition to receiving the Holy Spirit: “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).
God draws us (John 6:44; 12:32) but not irresistibly. Never does God force us to come to Him or to obey Him. Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). God was willing to save, but they were not willing to repent.
The Bible says, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by [John the Baptist]” (Luke 7:30). God wanted them to be baptized by John but they rejected God’s will for their lives. They were outside of the will of God for their lives. God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It is God’s will for all to be saved, but many are damned because they rejected His will for their lives. It is not that God arbitrarily foreordained that they would reject His will, but they rejected the will of God for themselves by their own free choice. There is that possibility of rejecting the will of God to be saved, and, according to the warnings of Jesus and the apostles, that possibility does not vanish once we are saved.
Grace enables and empowers us to be ministers of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 3:7). Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). What was laboring in Paul? It was the grace of God which is given to us so we can labor more abundantly. It was by grace that Paul could say, “the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God” (2 Corinthians 1:12). It is by grace that we serve God: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28). It is by grace that Paul preached the Gospel: “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)
The book of Acts also makes this connection between grace and power saying, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). Once again, great grace comes with great power. Great grace looks like the early Christian church that were of one heart and of one soul and had all things common. It is according to grace that Christians have differing spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6). “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
Grace teaches us. Sin will have no dominion over us when we are truly under grace because the grace of God teaches and trains us to deny such things and be zealous for good works. Paul wrote:
For the grace of God that brings salvation 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. (Titus 2:11-14)
The grace of God has appeared to all men, not just the predestined elect; there is a difference between predestined and predetermined. The true grace of God is not unconditional or irresistable but available for all. The true grace of God is the grace which brings salvation. This grace which brings salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, not to overlook them. Grace teaches us to live soberly, righteously and godly.
Grace is for good works as noted above, not only God’s unmerited favor for salvation. Many Christians are quick to quote Ephesians 2:8,9 that we are saved by grace through faith but fail to point out the very next verse where Paul again points out this connection between grace and good works: “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). Likewise, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). We see that grace enables the Christian to actually do what they have been called to do and abound to every good work.
Jude said that God “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24). Our being without blame before God is not merely a positional imputed righteousness, but a practical righteousness, not by our own power but by the power of God’s grace. Grace actually enables us to obey. We have received grace for obedience as Paul said, “Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name” (Romans 1:5). Grace is not a substitute for obedience or a covering for disobedience, it is for obedience.
The True Grace of God. So what is the “true grace of God” spoken of in 1 Peter 5:12? Peter said, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10). It is by God’s grace that we are perfected, established and strengthened. True grace may be characterized by all of Peter’s admonitions in his epistle. For instance:
- as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance (1:14).
- conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear (1:17).
- abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (2:11).
- submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good (2:13-14).
- Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear (3:1-2)
- Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered (3:7).
- Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing (3:8-9).
- sanctify the Lord God[d] in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (3:15).
- be serious and watchful in your prayers (4:7).
- And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” (4:8)
- Be hospitable to one another without grumbling (4:9).
- minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (4:10).
- rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings (4:13).
- submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility (5:5).
- Be sober, be vigilant (5:8)
This is the true grace of God. Grace, faith and good works each play a unique role in our salvation. You cannot save yourself by your own good works, neither can you expect God to do all the work apart from your own free will. Here are just a few verses (there are many more) which demonstrate how we are co-laborers with God’s grace working in us:
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12,13)
Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:29)
Justified. Notice that we are to labor, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but it is the grace of God which works in us. Good works are necessary to be saved, but they are accomplished by His grace. Though obedience and good works are a condition to be saved, salvation begins and ends with God’s grace as His gift because He gives grace for faith, good works and obedience. Obedience itself is still dependent on the continuing grace of God’s power and Spirit. So salvation begins and ends with grace, but in the middle is man’s faithful and obedient response. Ultimately, salvation depends on both man and God. Notice how the Scriptures demonstrate how we are justified by grace, faith and good works:
Having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28)
You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)
1 Herschel W. Ford, Seven Simple Sermons on the Second Coming (Zondervan Publishing House, 1945), p. 46
2 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace (Philadelphia, PA: The Sunday School Times Company, 1922), p.132
3 Martin Luther, Luther’s Correspondence and Other Contemporary Letters, Volume 2 (1521-1530), trans. Preserved Smith and Charles M. Jacobs (Philadelphia, PA: The Lutheran Publication Society), p. 50. The editor’s note says, “This passage is frequently quoted against Luther, and interpreted as an encouragement to sin. As it stands here, it is merely a rebuke to Melanchthon’s characteristic timidity. The sense of it is,–’Be a man and a Christian. As a man, you will sin, but when you have committed a sin, do not be paralyzed with fear of consequences, but be bold in faith, for Christ died for sinners.”