The concept of grace, while quickly professed and agreed upon by almost all in Christian circles, is often misunderstood and even ignored. Despite an explicit use in scripture, we misunderstand or at least fail to appropriate the meaning of the Gospel of grace. Sure, we will gladly offer our lip-service and profess to be covered by the grace of God, but deep inside we fail to really accept the reality of that same grace. If we look at Christian and Non-Christian circles today, one cannot but wonder what would happen if Christians would truly believe that the unlimited grace of God is available to them, and if unbelievers would recognize their need for that same grace.
Many Christians spend their entire lives trying to purchase something that is already theirs through faith and by the blood of Christ, namely their salvation. Just as many accept that it is by grace that they have been saved, but then feel as though they ought to pay God back for His gift. By definition grace is unmerited favor. We are receiving something that we do not deserve, and that we could never purchase. Therefore if we need to do something to be saved it is not grace, and furthermore, if we had to pay back once we received it, by definition what we had received would no longer be by grace. There can only be one alternative, either the Gospel is a gospel of grace, or it is a gospel of works, there can be no mixture of the two. As Paul wrote to the Romans; “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”(Rom 11:6, KJV)
The unbeliever at the same time feels that there is absolutely no need for grace, since he believes with the Humanist that he in himself is good. They quickly excuse their moral lapses and believe that “a bad conscience,…, is an unhealthy psychological freak, a sign of disease and mental aberration rather than an index of moral reality. For modern men and women are convinced that, despite their little peccadilloes – drinking, gambling, reckless driving, sexual laxity, black and white lies, sharp practice in trading, dirty reading, and what have you – they are at heart thoroughly good folks.” In contrast to such a thoroughly humanistic approach Romans states clearly that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23), “the wages of sin is death” (6:23), and that we all “were God’s enemies” (5:10). We were separated from God through our sin and his wrath is a righteous response to our sin. However through Jesus’ sacrifice we receive grace freely and through no merit of our own, in fact despite our own demerit.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
This verse shows what in theological circles is often called the grace which comes first or the Prevenient Grace. When we had absolutely no regard for God’s ways and certainly no love for Him, God demonstrates His love toward us! What better verse than this to show the marvelous grace of God to us, not while we were searching, not while we were longing or asking for mercy, but while we were yet in deepest rebellion and opposition to God did He send His Son to suffer and die in our stead. GRACE, what is the real meaning of this marvelous word? Nelsons Bible Dictionary states the following as opening paragraph in their section on grace:
“Favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. Grace is one of the key attributes of God. The Lord God is “merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). Therefore, grace is almost always associated with mercy, love, compassion, and patience as the source of help and with deliverance from distress.”
Grace, mercy and justice these three certainly are related topics, but how do they relate to our experience of Salvation? Justice is to get what you deserve, in our case eternal separation from God is what our deeds deserve. Mercy is not to get what we deserve, that God would spare us from the consequences that ought to naturally follow our actions. Finally, grace is to get what we do not deserve, eternity in the presence of God! God indeed is merciful and gracious beyond anything we could imagine, since in His great love “…He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Indeed God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17) What John describes in verse 17 is what we should have received, condemnation, instead we received reconciliation through the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for each one of us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (NAS)
Jesus came to appease the wrath of God. The theological term for that is PROPITIATION, the turning away of wrath by means of a sacrifice, as the familiar passage in Romans 3 states:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his Grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
So it gets even better the Father in his grace and love sent the Son! God is rich in mercy, he is long suffering and patient with us, and He Himself provides a way out for us. This way out is neither earned nor deserved, instead it is given in defiance of what we deserve. We can never claim that any doing of our own aided in the process of our salvation, everything we needed, to be forgiven and accepted was done by our gracious God. We can only say with Isaac Watts:
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
Into thy hands I fall;
Thou art the Lord, my righteousness,
My Savior, and my all.”
We must therefore stop attempting to buy God’s favor by doing ‘Christian deeds’, and stop feeling condemned for our failures. Instead we ought to rejoice in the freedom God’s grace affords us to do the works prepared by our loving heavenly Father! We are not saved through good works but unto good works, not because we could repay God, but because His grace and His love have set us free from the restrictions of self-pity, condemnation and selfish ambition, to do His will and spread His Gospel of grace to others. We have been made right with God. We who were God’s enemies are now adopted into his family. Such is the nature of grace, that it can transform the lives of men like Saul who during the stoning of Stephen “approved of their killing him.” (Acts 8:1) Later Paul would write to the Corinthians “But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain;” (1Cor.15:10). The man who was killing the ‘followers of the way’ had become one of the most effective tools to spread the grace that he himself had so freely received.
John Newton was a rough sailor and a slave trader, when the grace of God brought him from the depth of despair and sin into the light of the knowledge of God. When he writes about the ‘Amazing Grace’ of God, he certainly knows what he is talking about. The cruelties of his trade and the rough and certainly ungodly environment of a slave ship captain’s life had to be an enormous indictment in his own conscience, yet by the grace of God he was able to leave the past behind and become a blessing to many in his preaching and hymn-writing. No matter what our past we have been saved by the amazing grace of our loving God and we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), if we allow the grace of God to consume us and to control our lives, these blessings will naturally overflow to others. As someone has stated; ‘in the New Testament doctrine is grace and ethics gratitude’. Anyone who has understood the meaning and the depth of God’s grace will respond in this gratitude toward God, and with love toward his fellow man. Since we are forgiven much we ought to love much!
The most amazing aspect of the Gospel is the grace of God, richly and freely given to us through Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. We as human beings are separated and alienated from God because of our sin. We are undeserving of God’s favor, and in a state of enmity towards the Holy God. God’s holy response to our breaking his laws is his just wrath and should be resulting in our eternal damnation. Instead, He is acting toward us in love, giving us His amazing grace.