Grace is a popular word. It is often used in women’s names, often for hospitals and churches, and useful in describing traits, such as graceful, gracious, ungracious (ingrate), and many others.
The dictionary definition means unmerited, unearned favor. In the Greek from the New Testament, the word is charis which means a divine influence upon the heart, a benefit, favor, or gift. The word favor means an act, word, or provision provided from caring. The bottom line is that you got it, but you didn’t earn it. It was a blessing. You are the one to decide if you are appreciative.
With this groundwork laid, probably the most usage of this term is in Christian church circles. The Old and New Testaments are replete with grace references. Most churches have made at least passing references to grace. However, having started my ministry some fifty-five years ago, I have mentioned it and heard it referred to multiple times. Yet, until recent years I never really grasped its meaning and power. We dare not refer to it as a nice sounding religious word.
To me it is imperative that all Christians and Jews grasp the impact and truth of this word. Its genesis is in God the Father and brought to full fruition in His Son, Jesus Christ. It explains the true heart of our heavenly Father. The roadblock to understanding God and Jesus is that their primary intention is to keep us on the ‘straight and narrow’. This idea is perpetuated partially from how we were indoctrinated from our beginning, civil rules and statutes, and the primary mode of preaching which was handed to us. This mode, with particular reference to religious indoctrination, can be zeroed down to a phrase called ‘mixed message’. This can be boiled down to “yeah, there’s some of this good stuff, but also the ‘not-so-good stuff.” There’s God’s goodness, but there’s also His stern expectations.
The usual reasoning behind this is that surely God knows our weaknesses, so we better shape up. All this is called ‘law and grace’. So, our focus gets limited to that with which we are most mindful, our faults. Thus, there ought to be something we should do about it. The following are areas that emphasize this approach:
1. Blessing is conditional. We must do something to merit it, especially so God won’t take back our salvation or remand us to the judgement court.
2. I learn that I am continually guilty, so God expects me to get my act together and make better choices.
3. Since God knows I know better, it’s up to me to make it right.
4. If I don’t pray enough, read scripture enough, attend church every time the doors are open, witness enough, I’ve got to change something to make things right.
Could we go on and on? And, what does this amount to? It says we find ourselves being law-conscious, even sin-conscious. This is where some very serious questions need to be asked. Only this will bring hope for all, even the legalistic ‘saved’. The ancient Hebrews had not only the 10 Commandments, but a total of 613 laws to measure up to. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that to keep all these or even a small handful without error is beyond speculation. This seems evident that there is really no hope. How in the world are we going to make ourselves inerrant? Got to have some kind of help. One thing missing from most preachers and faith teachers is constantly emphasizing that our true identification is that we are spirit, we have a soul, and we live in a body. Yes, we are made in the image of God, and Jesus was God’s bodily presence. This being the case, the issue is spiritual, not body attempts. Mere mental and emotional attempts smack of the urge of the ego.
Does this measure up to our almighty, all righteous God? We might ask, “How do I get Him off my back? Is there any pleasing Him?” We calmly say that Jesus went to the cross for our sin and salvation. Though emphatically correct, are we reminded that very near the end he declared, “It is finished.” What is? His bodily death? Hardly. Though He was alone on the cross, He had to have had supernatural understanding of His experience there. He was satisfying God’s plan to redeem mankind, and the price of that satisfaction was being paid. The necessary act was finished! No more is necessary! This is affirmed in Hebrew 10:12,14,17,18 Ampl., “Whereas this one [Christ], after He had offered a single sacrifice for our sins [that shall avail] for all time, sat down at the right hand of God…..For by a single offering he has forever completely cleansed and perfected those who are consecrated and made holy…..He then goes on to say, and their sins and their lawbreaking I will remember no more…..Now where there is absolute remission (forgiveness and cancellation of the penalty) of these [sins and lawbreaking], there is no longer any offering made to atone for sin.”
How did we merit this righteous prize? Now is the time for honesty! We didn’t! We couldn’t. This should make us leap in the air shouting ‘hallelujah’! Ready for this definition? It is grace!! Unmerited favor from God! God through Jesus did it ALL! Conditional favor absolutely cannot be correctly employed here. The holy choices and lifestyles are not the condition for satisfying God. They are not a requirement. They are a response to our Lord for what he has done as an act of unconditional love. These are fruits of the new life! This is grace, which delivers hope. Legalism and mixed message is leaning on self-effort with no solid hope.
Depending on the law means one is not quite measuring up, and must put forth more effort. This is recognized as a salvation without believing in God’s free provision, known as grace. This issue is clarified in II Corinthians 3:6 which says, “(God) who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter (law), but of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This affirmation is fortified in Romans 3:20 which says, “…by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for through the law comes knowledge of sin.” End of story. Its assigned task revealed. This old covenant didn’t measure up to God’s complete plan. It was a shadow of the best, revealed in Christ, found in the New Covenant. The early approach found in the Old Covenant was the initial approach with man, not a finality. The apostle Paul in Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second.”
We find this victorious grace verbally personified in Colossians 2:13,14 NKJV which says, “And you……he has made alive together with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he has taken it out of the way, having nailed it the cross.” This is why we rejoice bountifully in the message of grace, this declaration that God has done it all, by His choice and will, requiring no effort on our part to try to maintain this blessing. Be aware of the fact that the acceptance of this grace launches us to be free in Him, free to choose His way and provision over all others. This is when we understand what has happened, explained in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” This freedom is again fortified in the first two verses of the eighth chapter, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
It is fair to assume that most of Christendom is indoctrinated in the law-grace mixture of preaching and teaching. We have the greatest message in all of creation. Perhaps the adherence to this mixture is why Christianity has made no greater impact on this world than it has. A gospel of works and self-correction has rendered the true Good News to appear somewhat impotent. Many of these legalists, though probably with good intentions, are crying ‘foul’ about this magnificent grace that God has provided. Without rebuke on our part, we feel pity on them who haven’t experienced the liberation of His grace. They claim it is called “Easy Grace”. They seem to believe it makes Christians lazy. Because they are so indoctrinated in a conditional relationship, they haven’t really trusted God through Christ to have done it all for us. If they experience the power and liberation of this grace, they will not see it as lazy, but feel the motivation it provides through freedom and victory. They would discover what it means to fall in love all over with God and our Savior. This “Yeah, but…” crowd are indeed choosing the tough route. When one experiences this grace, he finds himself constantly wanting to please and have fellowship with the Lord.
The outspokenness of the mixed message adherents would leave one to surmise that they think the grace emphasis is a sin. Let me tell you of the real sin. It is not believing in the unmerited love and redemption of our Lord. It is reducing Him to a harsh, vengeful ruler. It is not being overwhelmingly grateful for His grace which sets us free and fills us with victory. It is not walking in gratitude for the secure hope He engenders through grace.
“For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through your faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; not because of works [not the fulfillment of the law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]
Ephesians 2:8,9 Ampl.
Paul F. Allen, Pastor, homechurchintl.com