"For by grace are you saved, through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; and not of works lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
Opening Prayer: Father, we keep hearing that we need Your grace and mercy. Please give us a fresh understanding of just what that means and how it applies to our lives.
Your eternal future depends on something called "grace." If you get it right, your joy can begin immediately and last forever. If you don't understand grace, you might be sorry for a very long time.
Don't confuse grace with any other concepts such as justice, mercy, fairness, right or wrong. Nor should you confuse saving grace with other types of grace.
So what DO these words all mean?
Let's define the other words first and come back to grace in a few minutes:
- Justice is receiving exactly what you deserve, no more and no less. Justice implies a system of laws, supported by an authorized law-enforcement system. Perfect justice means that every lawbreaker is swiftly caught and punished. It also implies that innocent people are never wrongfully punished. The word first appears in Genesis 18, verse 19, as God is describing Abraham:For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
God knew that Abraham had great personal integrity, and that he would not only keep God's law but also teach it to his family and enforce it in his household and his community.
- Mercy is forgiveness or leniency toward a person or group that is guilty of breaking a law (sinning). The lawbreakers deserve a specific punishment, but receive mercy in the form of reduced punishment or a complete pardon. The word merciful first appears in Genesis 19, verses 15-16:And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. 16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
The city of Sodom was certainly guilty of flagrant sin, and Lot was not completely innocent of Sodom's guilt. Lot had become comfortable as a man of wealth and power in Sodom. Lot preferred God's way of doing things, but had become soft and carnal. The angels came to rescue Lot as a favor to Abraham. However, Lot "lingered" -- unwilling to distance himself from his comfortable life in Sin City. The angels could have marched out in disgust and left them all behind. Nevertheless, the angels showed God's mercy to Lot by dragging him and his family away from Sodom.
- Fairness is having every person treated equally under the law, regardless of the differences in age, character, race, economic status, attitude, accomplishments, prior behavior or personal charm. The noisy, complaining brat receives exactly the same allowance as the hardworking, quiet, compliant child. The frivolous lawsuits of a convicted felon are given the same weight as those of honest citizens. Communism is the theoretical epitome of fairness; everybody gets the same income regardless of what he or she actually contributes to the community. Fairness allows no favorites and rewards no excellence. Fairness is a concept dear to modern society, but is not a biblical concept. The Bible speaks of justice (described above), but the word "fair" normally refers to physical appearance in the King James Version.
- Right and Wrong are determined by law. Right is compliance with the law. Wrong is breaking the law, knowingly or unknowingly.
Notice that all these concepts imply the existence of a legal system. Without law, there is no framework for justice, mercy, fairness, right or wrong. All these concepts depend on the legal system for their contextual meaning. In a communist country which forbids Christianity, "justice" means imprisonment or execution for people who are proven "guilty" of believing in Jesus.
Fortunately, we do have access to a completely ethical body of law. It's called the Bible. It was given to us by a completely moral and honest Lawgiver, God Himself. The Bible gives us a thorough picture of God's Law, with applied examples of good and bad performance. Best of all, the Bible tells us about Jesus, who complied with every aspect of the Law and was absolutely innocent before God. Jesus qualified for heaven on His own merits.
Unfortunately, you and I are not capable of meeting every requirement of the Law, from birth to death. We have already sinned, and are sure to fail in the future. Our performance will always come short of God's standard, which is perfection. Perfect justice, then, requires eternal punishment for our shortcomings, because the Law says, "The soul that sinneth shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20) You and I qualify for hell on our own merits.
As you already know by studying Transformed By The Big Loophole, God gave us the Big Loophole so that we could get the heaven that Jesus deserved -- because Jesus paid the punishment that WE deserved. That is not fair; that is an example of God's grace.
Now we can define grace.
Grace -- sometimes called "unmerited favor" -- means receiving a benefit or reward that you did not earn or deserve to receive. It is a gift.
The first appearance of grace in the Scripture is in Genesis 6, verses 6-8:6 And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
Notice that God, the great Lawgiver, was grieved because of the sins of men. Men were violating whatever Law that God gave the human race before the Flood. Noah wasn't perfect, but he had a healthy relationship with God. Noah actively sought to please God, and found grace in God's eyes.
Grace means receiving a benefit because the recipient pleases (finds favor with) God.
The term also applies to finding favor in the eyes of an earthly ruler, as we see in Genesis 39 verses 1-5:And Joseph was brought down to Egypt. And Potiphar, a eunuch of Pharaoh, the chief of the executioners, an Egyptian man, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.
2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man. And he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.
3 And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand.
4 And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him. And he made him overseer over his house, and he put into his hand all he had.
5 And it happened from the time he had made him overseer in his house, and over all he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake. And the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had, in the house and in the field.
In this example, Joseph had "every right" to become bitter and turn against God. He had not been treated fairly by his brothers. But he continued to trust and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Joseph found grace in the eyes of God. In turn, Joseph found grace in the eyes of his Egyptian master, Potiphar.
The term also applies to finding favor in the eyes of a person of nearly equal stature, as in Genesis 32 verses 3-5:And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother, to the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 And he commanded them, saying, So shall you speak to my lord Esau: Your servant Jacob says thus, I have lived with Laban and stayed until now. 5 And I have oxen and asses, flocks, and menservants, and slave women. And I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in your sight.
Jacob and Esau were approximately equal in terms of stature in their communities. But Esau held the upper hand in terms of power. Esau controlled the land of his father, Isaac, and was able to muster 400 men to meet Jacob.
Some important concepts have already emerged:
- Grace always flows from the greater to the lesser.
- Grace can be sought from earthly rulers as well as from God.
- In each case, the person in power can EXPECT a certain amount of obedience and deference because of their relationship. God can DEMAND perfect obedience to His will. Potiphar could DEMAND obedience from Joseph. Esau's army of 400 men could have FORCED Jacob to settle in another region far away -- or could have destroyed the entire household.
- In each case, the person seeking grace does MORE than the minimum expected.
We see an amazing interchange between God and Moses in Exodus 33, verses 12-17:Then Moses said to the Lord, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.' 13 "Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people."
14 And He said, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 Then he said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 "For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth."
17 So the Lord said to Moses, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name."
This conversation reinforces several of the earlier points: that grace flows from greater to lesser, that the greater can expect deference from the lesser, and that the person seeking grace does more than the minimum required. We can learn more from this conversation:
- Grace flows out of a relationship. Moses had spent years cultivating his relationship with God.
- Because of the relationship, Moses knew he could ask for certain favors from God.
- Moses was interceding to obtain two outcomes that were obviously near to God's heart. God always seeks relationship intimacy with His people (including you and me).
- Moses was first asking God to show His ways to Moses, so Moses could provide inspired leadership to Israel.
- Second, Moses was asking God to "go with" Israel: to be available to the Israelites on a personal level, and to empower their army on a national level.
- Moses was not trying to change God's mind. He was interceding to obtain the best possible outcome, out of the range of outcomes that God would permit.
- If you grasp this principle of intercession, it will change your life.
Wait a minute, teacher! Only super heroes like Moses can talk to God like this.
You have that backwards, my friend. Talking to God makes ordinary people into super heroes.
This Scripture passage hints that God has a range of possible outcomes for every event. The intercessor uses his position of grace and influence to lobby for God's very best outcome.
The principle is very clear: Any of us can intercede. Very few of us actually do.
Well, if the rewards are so great, why don't more people intercede like this?
It's probably a combination of factors:
- Most people don't believe it's possible.
- Most of us are not willing to pay the price of admission by investing quality time in our personal relationship with God.
- We get distracted too easily or give up before we get answers.
The "take-home" principle here is that by God's grace toward us, we can find favor in His sight and can intercede with Him to achieve world-shaking results. Are you willing to try? If so, I suggest reading Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb. You can view a quick summary on the Study Tools page of this site. If you have an iPad or Mac computer, you can purchase the book in iBook format on the Apple iBooks website.
Now let's move forward and study the first appearance of the word "grace" in the New Testament, in Luke 1, verses 26-30:And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
In this translation, it is clear that grace is flowing from the Greater to the lesser. Mary had found favor with God, and God gave her the most extravagant reward in history. She was permitted to carry the Lord Jesus in her womb from conception to birth. And she was entrusted with the most sacred job of child raising in history -- despite the hostility and gossip of disbelieving neighbors.
This is a marvelous example of God's grace. Mary obviously had pleased God in the past, and God knew she would put all her heart and soul into her ministry to Jesus. But Mary couldn't begin to deserve that honor. It was a gift from God.
The concept of grace next appears in the Gospel of John, chapter 1. Let's start that chapter at the beginning, verses 1-5:In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Here we get a peek at the true nature of Jesus. He is God, and He created all things. He gave life to all creatures. He is described as light -- the only ray of hope that we have in this dark world.
Notice verse 5: "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The word "comprehended" translates a compound Greek word meaning to seize eagerly. Jesus brought the light of His life into the world, to give us eternal hope. But we didn't eagerly seize it. We didn't get it. Many of us still don't get it very well, but God continues (for a little while longer) to make the light of Jesus available to us.
God's love and grace are very evident in verses 10 through 17:He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth...
16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
These verses absolutely take my breath away every time I read them. We humans are so out of contact with God that most of the folks in Jesus' day didn't recognize Him. God could have performed justice by vaporizing all the unbelievers on the planet after Jesus' crucifixion. But because of His mercy, He has reserved judgment for nearly 2000 years.
Verse 12 is really amazing in its scope and simplicity:But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
Everybody who receives Him and believes (trusts) in Jesus' name qualifies for God's extravagant grace, and is permitted to be adopted as a child of God. The word "receives" translates the Greek word lambano, which can also be interpreted "gets it" or "understands." If you're reading this, you probably already "get it." You probably already understand that trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ qualifies you for eternal life and for an implant of God's own eternal nature in your heart.
This is pure grace. All it takes on our part is a change of attitude and a willingness to submit. This tiny bit of effort enables us to find favor with God. Our faith -- trusting in the completed redemptive work of Jesus Christ -- qualifies us for God's extravagant grace.
This is pure grace, pure unmerited favor. If you think you deserve eternal life because of your natural goodness, then you still haven't received it because you still haven't repented of your self righteousness.
Let's take verse 17:17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
You've heard and read about about the Mosaic Law: hundreds of rules and regulations that we can barely relate to. No human being, except Jesus, was able to keep them all.
Moses was God's instrument for delivering the Law to Israel. Jesus was the truth of the Law -- the very embodiment of the righteous life God wants us to live. Thanks to Jesus and His sacrifice at Calvary, you and I have the opportunity to receive God's incredible grace.
The concept of grace is prominent in the letters of Paul, as we see in Romans chapter 1, verse 7:To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul began his epistles with twin blessings, grace and peace, for his readers. Peace (shalom in Hebrew) is the common greeting of Israelites to this day. Grace (charis in Greek) precedes peace in the sentence, to remind us that only by God's grace can we receive His peace.
God's grace is the absolute central principle of the Gospel message, in Romans 3, verses 23 and 24:For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul reinforces this principle in Romans 6, verse 23:For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Maybe YOU grew up hearing these words, but I didn't. My childhood was spent in a denominational church where salvation was tied to strict obedience to the church's commands. I was almost 30 years old before I heard these verses and understood what a radical concept the Gospel is.
How do you compare to Jesus?
Now you can understand how the concept of grace is essential to your future. If you persist in believing that you can somehow earn eternal life by your good works, then you believe God OWES salvation to you. Maybe YOU are impressed by your good works, but the Bible says that God is not.
In fact, Paul specifically deals with this issue in Romans 4, verses 4-8:Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
Can you seriously believe that you are as good as Jesus, the One Person whose works did NOT come short of the glory of God? If you are less than Jesus in any respect, then your works come short of the glory of God, and you cannot earn heaven on your own merits. This is not an insult, but a statement of fact.
Well, does "grace" mean that I can do anything I want to and still get to heaven?
This is a common question, but it is based on religious logic or human logic rather than Bible logic. The world's religions (not Christianity) all prescribe sets of religious rules -- things you MUST do, and things you MUST NOT do. The religious rules carry the ultimatum, "Do this or die!" Their religious logic says (falsely) that heaven must be earned by doing certain good things and avoiding certain bad things. God disagrees. He says that all of us sin and come short of God's glory, and must be justified freely by grace, apart from the works of the Law.
On the other hand, human logic also tries to warp the Christian Gospel of grace. It is good news to hear that our salvation depends on our faith, and not on our works. But our fleshly logic (not to mention fleshly lust) immediately concludes, "If my works don't matter, then I can continue in my favorite sin!" This is wrong, too.
Paul addressed this issue in Romans 6, verses 1-6:What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? 2 Let it not be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been joined together in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection; 6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.
When you were baptized, you were lowered under the water and raised back up again. This was a picture of how our Lord was buried under ground and raised back up on the third day. Jesus lived a different type of life after his death. Likewise, we should die to sin and live a different type of life after being born again. We should be dead to the attraction of our old lives.
May I be blunt? Dead bodies don't lust for anything. Now that we have a new, eternal nature, we should actively grow in God's grace and love. As we grow in the things of the Spirit, we will become deadened to the lusts that formerly enslaved us. Before we knew Jesus, we spent lots of time serving sin. We should now spend our time serving Jesus, growing in God's grace (favor), and actively seeking to walk in His fulness.
Remember how one of our guiding principles is that we find favor by doing more than the minimum required. This speaks of a heart attitude: the attitude of gratitude.
Paul writes of this attitude in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, beginning with verses 1-3:And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Paul is really blunt about our condition before we were born again. In verse 1, he says we were "dead in trespasses and sins..." Without saving faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ, we were not bad people; we were dead people. We were marching to the devil's drum, headed for the trash incinerator before God made us alive.
Verses 4-9 tell why we are grateful for grace:But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Before we responded to the Gospel of grace, we were servants of sin, dead to the things of God. Now we are called to be dead to sin and servants of God.
What does it mean to "grow in grace?"
Good question. We find saving grace (favor) with God by responding in faith to the Gospel message. Then, out of a heart of gratitude to God, we seek to please God by doing more than the minimum required. God is God, and has all the power. He could demand perfect obedience, but knows we are not capable of it. His heart is responsive to the attitude of our hearts. It pleases God when we sincerely obey His commands and seek His face out of gratitude and faith in His Word.
The more you act in faith, the more blessings you will receive, both now and in Eternity. Sin, by definition, will pull you away from the center of God's will. Your short-sighted pleasure seeking will cost you untold blessings.
Jesus makes a precious offer to you in Matthew chapter 11, verses 28 to 30:"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Jesus offers you rest from your religious burdens.
Jesus offers you His "yoke" -- an opportunity to be a contributing member of His Body here on earth.
Jesus offers you a "yoke" of service that is easy and light compared to the bondage you formerly submitted to.
Jesus offers you the opportunity to spend time in fellowship with Him -- He who is gentle and lowly in heart.
Jesus offers you rest for your soul.
Are you willing to receive His gracious gift and grow in His grace?
If you would like to ask further questions or discuss this in more detail, please feel free to send an e-mail by clicking the "mail-to" link below. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can (assuming the first rapture event hasn't already happened).
Closing Prayer: Lord, I truly WANT to grow in Your precious grace. Forgive me of selfish complaining and self righteousness. Touch my heart with your love and joy, that I may find rest for my soul, I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.