"Grace" (February 2010)
What is grace? We use the word grace when it is time to say a blessing over our food at meal times. We call it “saying grace”. We also use the word grace in regard to our salvation. The word grace is also connected to the “blessings” of God that are over the lives of the believer. But grace is also the attitude that all believers should possess. I want to focus on grace as it relates to our salvation and attitude.
“Saving Grace”. We are most familiar with this use of the word grace. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.“ (Ephesians 4,5,8,9) This is where we get the definition of grace that is “unmerited favor”. Grace is something that God, because of His unconditional love, bestows on us at salvation. Our salvation is not earned, we can’t work hard enough for it, we can’t do enough good deeds, we can’t keep enough commandments to make us right or acceptable with God. That’s why salvation is called a “gift”. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
Sadly, so many people believe that they have to “work” for their salvation. Many think that doing some religious work such as joining the church, being baptized or giving offerings is what saves them. If a person doesn’t understand that it has nothing to do with them- the fact that they aren’t saved by their own personal goodness- they will always be struggling in their Christian life and never be able to enjoy the peace, abundant life and freedom that God gives. (We will also talk more about this later.)
Remember the story of the rich, young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to have eternal life? “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18) What was Jesus’ reply? “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (vvs. 19-25) This was a “good guy” by our standards. He had kept the commandments but he still did not receive eternal life. Why? He thought that his good works would earn him salvation. Jesus plainly let us know that they would not. We are saved by God’s grace- it isn’t earned.
I heard something preached recently from the Old Testament about God’s saving grace that really helped make it clear that salvation does not come to me on my merits but on Jesus’ merit. “And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the LORD.” (Leviticus 3; 4; 5:17-19; for further reading read the whole book of Leviticus) When a person sinned, they were to bring an offering that God had predetermined as a sacrifice for their sin. They were to bring it to the priest and the priest was to examine the offering. The priest didn’t examine the person bringing the offering because he knew why the person was there. They were there because of a sin issue in their lives. He examined the offering and if the offering met the requirements of the law, it was accepted and the person was made clean because of the offering. It was the offering that caused them to be restored, cleaned, forgiven- not their own merits. Also, the person who brought the sin offering was to lay their hands on the offering symbolizing that the innocence and acceptance of the offering was now placed on them and their sins were placed on the offering. The person became clean and the offering became the sin. This is an Old Testament type and shadow of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist called Him the “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world”. (John 1:29) He was the offering that was presented to God on behalf of our sins. God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and laid our sins upon Him. He became the guilty one so that we could become free from sin. He was punished so that we could be pardoned. He was judged so that we could be acquitted. He was rejected and condemned so we could be accepted. He was forsaken so that we could be forgiven. It is because of the offering of Jesus that we can stand in right relationship with God. You and I have been made clean because of the sacrificial offering of Jesus. What Jesus did was enough. There is nothing else that needs to be added to it. And there is nothing more that we can do to make ourselves any more acceptable to God. It has been finished. (John 19:30) Jesus paid the price for our sins in full. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:6-12)
“Keeping Grace”. While we are still on the subject of salvation by grace and not works, I feel I must address the issue of grace after we are saved. I spent most of my life being “up and down” in my relationship with the Lord. I can’t tell you how many times I have been “saved”. I grew up believing that I could lose my salvation at the “drop of a hat”. If I missed one day without praying or reading my Bible, if I had a bad thought about some one, if I lost my temper or any of a number of other “bad” things, I thought I had lost my salvation. No one ever came to me and told me that this was not the case. I didn’t know that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) So I thought I had “blown it”. I thought I had failed God and I might as well give up. So I would turn and go back into the life of doing sinful things like I had before. I know I am not alone in my thinking. There are countless numbers of people who feel the same way- I know because I meet them all the time and they tell me the same thing. This is a sad way to feel. It robs you of the joy of your salvation. It makes us feel hopeless, helpless and bound up in fear and condemnation. That is why I want to address this.
Are we saved by grace or by our works? Were we saved by what we did or by what Jesus did? Was His sacrifice for sin accepted by God? The point I am making in my questions is this- if grace, not works, saved us; then it is grace, not works that keeps us saved. My good works didn’t make me acceptable to God in receiving salvation, why do I think that they make me acceptable now. Paul addressed this same problem in the church at Galatia. “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law’. So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:1-3, 10,11- New Living Translation)
Many Christians have exchanged the “ball and chain” of sin that they carried around before they got saved for a “ball and chain” of performance after they are saved. They think that in order to “stay right”, in “right relationship”, “stay accepted” and in God’s “good graces” they have to be constantly doing some sort of “work”. They feel that they have failed if they miss doing any of the Christian disciplines. Instead, what they are actually doing is “frustrating the grace of God.” (Galatians 2:21- KJV) They are putting themselves back under the law and making the grace of God of non-effect. But this is why it’s given by grace. Grace gives us what we couldn’t work hard enough to receive or keep.
Am I saying that good works don’t have a place in the Christian life? Am I saying that because we are under grace we don’t have any responsibilities to obey God’s laws? Am I saying that we can live “loose”, “careless” lives and do whatever we want to do? No! Just because we are kept by grace doesn't mean that we can take our salvation for granted. It doesn’t mean that we can neglect our responsibility to “work out our salvation”. “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.” (Philippians 2:12) This attitude is also considered “frustrating the grace of God”.
If your walk with the Lord is about a list of "dos and don'ts", if it's more about "doing" than "being", if it is more about "duty" than "desire" than you are frustrating (making it nothing- treating it lightly) the grace of God. Jesus died to bring us back into right relationship with God. “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19a) Good works should be accompanying our lives, but it's a relationship that He is after.
So where do good works fit into a Christian’s life? “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) There are four main reasons I want to share with you as to why good works should follow our lives. (I am sure there are more.)
1) They are proof of our faith. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:17,18,20,26) What we profess should be backed up by our actions/works.
2) Our good works point others to the Father and brings Him glory. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.” (John 14:10,11) “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7 NKJV)
3) Works help build and strengthen our relationship with the Father. Reading the Bible, praying, worshipping and going to church are not just so I can get “brownie points” for fulfilling some religious requirement. They help me know Him better. And when what I learn about Him is practiced in my life, it helps others know Him better too. When I read the Bible, I am learning more about who God is. “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me.” (Psalm 40:7; Hebrews 10:7) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) When I pray, I am communicating with Him and He is communicating with me. When I go to church, I see Him in other believers and hear about Him through the preaching of His word.
4) When I make a profession that I am His child (a Christian), good works exhibit His nature and character in me. They help identify me as His follower. “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38) “And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (Exodus 33:18,19) God’s nature is that of goodness and love. Who He is is reflected through my life when I do good, show acts of kindness and walk in love.
“Attitude of Grace”. Earlier we also said that grace was an attitude of the believer. What do we mean by that? When we define grace we generally think of just one definition- “unmerited, undeserved favor”. There is another definition as well from the same Greek word that we don’t hear much about-- of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues. The definition in short is this- “divine influence upon the heart”. This is what the Lord was talking about when Paul had prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed and God told him that His grace (not unmerited favor- but divine influence) was sufficient for what he needed. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) It was God’s influence in Paul’s life that gave him the strength to endure, to be content, to not murmur and complain about it and to glorify God in his infirmity. This is also what’s meant in 2 Peter 3:18- “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” How can you grow in favor if it is unmerited? You can’t, but you can grow/increase in the influence of God upon your life. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
What is meant by attitude? Attitude is the way you think about something, therefore, it is developed in your thought life. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) The more we allow the Lord to influence our thought life the more our attitude will change-- we will start developing an attitude of grace. This happens by renewing our minds in God’s word and letting it rule our thoughts. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
It also comes by yielding to the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Grace- Hebrews 10:29) and letting Him do a transforming work in your life. The more your way of thinking conforms to God’s word, the more your attitude will change, and the more your attitude changes the more your actions will reflect the nature and character of God.
Attitude and action go “hand in hand”. Our attitude effects our actions-- it is portrayed in our actions and behavior. It has been said, “Where the mind goes, the man follows.” “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7a) When God’s influence is upon you, your actions will change. You can turn the other cheek when slapped on one. You can go the second mile when compelled. You can love your enemies, pray for those who mistreat you and bless those who curse you. You can leave vengeance in the hands of the Lord. You can give a soft answer to turn away wrath. Your “actions/works/deeds” will no longer be just a religious discipline or spiritual activity, they will be the evidence and overflow of a relationship that you have with Him. They will be the “fruit” that grace produces in your life. It will now be about “who you are” instead of just “what you do”.