“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.” These words from Ephesians 2:8-9, are well known to most people who cherish their Bibles. It is sad to say that many who preach this wonderful part of a Believers life do not understand what it is. Grace is so often misunderstood and misused. Oh, they do understand a part of what it means, but the application of grace is much too narrow.
The way grace is usually perceived is “the unmerited favor of God.” While there is certainly unmerited favor which God shows to us, it may surprise some to find that this expression is not found in the Bible. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible does not list that as a meaning for any of the occurrences of the word “grace.” The edition of Webster’s Dictionary which I have does not list that as a meaning of the word “grace.” Although it lists many different things that the word can mean. Where did this definition come from? Probably from some theologian’s mind. I don’t think he, whoever he was, understood the grace of God.
I have already conceded that we are given the unmerited favor of God, and this is especially so when we ask His forgiveness at conversion. Paul, writing to the Romans says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God (Romans 3:23-25).” Unless a person understands that they are under God’s condemnation for sin, and confesses this to God and asks His forgiveness, turning from their sinful life to Him, they cannot be a Believer. God does not excuse or overlook a sinful life. Forgiveness for sin was obtained by Jesus, for us, when He was crucified. We don’t deserve forgiveness. We don’t merit forgiveness by turning over a new leaf. As Ephesians said, it is a “gift.”
Let’s look at the definition which Strong’s gives to the word GRACE (5485, CHARAS) “The graciousness of manner or act.” But that is still a little vague. Reading further we find, “the divine influence upon the heart and it’s reflection in the life.” Here lies the heart of the message of Grace. This is the application which God wished us to have for the word. To understand this application would drastically change the lives of many people who are living outside the will of God, yet think of themselves as Christians.
Turning back to the early part of the life of the Savior, we read in Luke 2:40, that He, “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.” Jesus did not have “unmerited favor” (Luke 2:52) tells us He grew in favor with God, but it does not say “unmerited favor.”
John also refers to this in John 1:14, where he says Jesus was “full of GRACE and TRUTH.” He was not full of “unmerited favor,” but of the divine influence on His heart and it reflected in His life.
None of us are perfect, only the Messiah fits that category. But as Peter admonished us, “GROW IN GRACE and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 3:18) He didn’t mean increase in your lack of merit for the favor of God, but to increase your knowledge of our Savior and what He taught so God’s divine influence upon your heart, upon your mind, will reflect God’s will and character in the way you live. That is what God sent the Messiah to this earth to accomplish.
All too often, Grace is used as an excuse for sin. It is used as a “whitewash” to cover willful disobedience. It is bad enough when people choose not to obey God, but when Grace is used as an excuse for sin, these people usually teach others and many accept the idea thinking it came from the Bible. A scripture reference that is often quoted by such people is part of Romans 6:14, “for ye are not under the Law, but under Grace.” This does not say it is okay to sin; far too many have their own definition of sin. John says it is the transgression of the Law. Back to Romans now, Paul asked the question, “Shall we sin, because we are not under the Law, but under Grace? God Forbid.” Does Grace free us of the responsibility of obedience to God’s Law? If all this seems to contradict itself, keep in mind that there are two separate laws referred to throughout the scriptures, and God made a distinction between them from the beginning.
Back in Deuteronomy when God first wrote the Ten Commandments on tables of stone and gave them to Moses, He instructed Moses to put them in the arch which he was to build. Moses did just that. (Deut. 10:2,5)
During the forty years that Moses led the children of Israel in the wilderness, God instructed him in both civil and religious issues for the nation. Near the end of his life, Moses had all these ordinances written down, and after Moses had “made an end of writing the words of this Law in a book, —Moses commanded the Levites — take this book of the Law, and put it in the side of the ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.” So the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God, on stone tablets, were inside the Ark of the Covenant. The “Law” was written by Moses, in a book, and placed in the side of the Ark. Two distinct Laws.
One of the great contentions during the Paul was the subject of circumcision. It was required on every male child of Israel or he could not be part of God’s people, nor inherit any of the promises given to the children of Israel. With the coming of Jesus and His ushering in of the Gospel, there was a change in the covenant between God and His people. The book of Hebrews tells that now God’s Laws are written in our hearts (Heb. 8:10), and there has been a change in the ordinances. The offering of animal sacrifices was no longer required or accepted. The death of Christ now is the only sacrifice for sins (Heb. 9:9-14). Paul was concerned that people were being taught that all the things under Moses law were required before people could become Believers. It is this law that Paul said we were not under, and when he said, “shall we sin because we are not under the law?” He could have worded it differently to say, “Just because we are not required to observe all the laws as written by Moses are we then to disregard the Ten Commandments?” To quote Paul’s own answer, “God forbid.” He goes on to discuss the subject of people continuing in sin, breaking the Ten Commandments, and ends the chapter by saying, “the wages of sin is death.” It is up to us to choose obedience to righteousness, or to continue in sin and suffer eternal death.
The sacrificing of animals, and the following of rules of conduct, could never take away sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus’ life did. Remember that Jesus told the people early in the account of Matthew that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill. He fulfilled all needs of redemption, replacing the ceremonial laws of Moses; but of the Ten Commandments He said, “whoever breaks the least one, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mat. 5:19).” One of the parables speaks of a person who came to the wedding feast without a wedding garment on and that one was cast out. We need to be careful that we are not guilty of trying to get into God’s eternal Kingdom without a wedding garment. Of course this is a parable, and is speaking of the spiritual principles by which people live.
Jude 4 warns that there were some in his day who “turned the Grace of God into lasciviousness.” He then goes through a list of different people who followed sinful ways and what happened to them. The writer of Hebrews speaks of some who have “done despite unto the Spirit of GRACE (Heb. 10:29).” For those people who “sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment (Heb. 10:26-27)” We didn’t merit God’s forgiveness for what is past but let us grow in the influence of His SPIRIT in our hearts and minds and let it reflect in our way of living. Let us not think that just because He has forgiven our past sins that He is not concerned about any disobedience today. Should we disobey His Commandments because we are under GRACE? GOD FORBID.