THE FACTS OF LIFE -
Whenever I approach the subject of
"God's grace", I invariably feel a sense of
wonder and awe at the extraordinary concepts it
embodies. In fact, there are subtleties
of meaning only a Greek speaker from the New Testament era
could fully appreciate. Without doubt, it will be worth our time to take a closer look
at this notion to enrich our future studies. The Greek word for grace
is χάρις (charis)
and is used over 130 times in
the New Testament. The Hebrew equivalent of grace, "khane",
appears in the Old Testament where it is translated "to find favor".
Interestingly enough, in almost all O.T.
references, it is used interactively between human beings.
One exception to this, however, is found in Genesis 6:5 where Noah receiving favor in the
eyes of God, an event which culminated in the building of the
ark and the salvation of mankind.
I mention this here
only to point out the context in which these historical events occurred.
You'll recall, of course, that God had become angry and grieved the extreme
wickedness of mankind. The general degradation of the
earth's population had become so pervasively perverse that
God's righteousness could stand it no more. But it is
precisely this extreme condition
which introduces one of the chief characteristics of grace:
its undeservedness. By Noah's day, mankind had become
the absolute antipathy of God's holiness and, in such a state,
clearly merited destruction. Justice called for
satisfaction, law demanded punishment and righteousness required
condemnation. Yet God did just the opposite by
unexpectedly providing a means of salvation by grace.
previous studies I've referred to this divine proclivity as
the "glory principle" and we find it expressed time and time
again throughout Scripture. Here's the way it works.
THE GLORY PRINCIPLE: Although
mankind was "made in God's
image", the Edenic disobedience provided our
primogenitors with the one
thing for which they were not created: a conscience! On the
divine drawing board, Adam and Eve were designed to be
unaccountably imperfect. Since they were not
made capable of being inherently righteous,
they were, by nature, designed to be fallible. But the
original design also called for innocence of mind such that,
although they were expected to fall short of God's standard of
conduct, it didn't matter. They were incapable of doing
wrong because they knew no wrong... except one: procuring the
one thing they were not intended to have, a conscience. This design "mismatch", for lack of a
better word, gave mankind the knowledge of good but not the
ability to do it. Thus, degradation was inevitable and by the
time Noah was born, it had reached an all time low. And,
that was exactly the backdrop needed to demonstrate the
contrasting height of God's goodness.
Glory, like many things, shines brightest in
darkness. So, in that blackest hour of man's decadence,
when God's divine retribution was certain, the unexpected
happened yet again. God provided an unanticipated act
through which His holiness was satisfied, mankind was saved
and His grace brought glory to His name. Under
those dark, foreboding clouds of rain, God did not wield a
bright sword of justice on all, rather He painted the clearing
skies with His rainbow of promise all because Noah's
faith found grace, unmerited favor, in God's eyes and we,
today, exist because of it.
Just as in the Garden of Eden, when God did the unexpected and
graciously reserved mankind's punishment for the last Adam,
and just as He
saved mankind from the just punishment of the flood by
honoring Noah's faith through grace (Hebrews 11:7), He
likewise demonstrated His amazing grace to us through His
undeserved provision of eternal life.(Romans 5:15). Indeed, for as sin
abounded, God's grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20)
to the praise of the Glory of His Grace. (Ephesians 1:6).
But, man's salvation by grace is only the beginning of an
ongoing "grace based relationship" with the Heavenly Father.
Grace doesn't stop with the gift of salvation. In fact, it's only the
beginning of all the benefits afforded the child of God
throughout this life and into eternity.
Grace, properly understood, is the
instrument through which God's power is continuously bestowed on the
carry out God's Will daily. If you recall, this was what the Apostle Paul cited as the sole source of those
phenomenal gifts and capabilities he used in service
to God. He unhesitatingly declared, "I labored more abundantly than anyone else...
yet not I, but the grace of God within me." I
Corinthians 15:10. This is
Paul's acknowledgement that all the fervor, power, zeal and
success in his ministry was due to the proper understanding of
But, although it is used frequently in Scripture,
the concept of
grace is often poorly understood in
Christian theology. In contrast to its recurrent
use in the Bible, the word "grace" is seldom used in
conversations today. This is due, at least in part, to
the fact that the deeper meaning of grace has grown
increasingly foreign to our cultural values. That being said, it's especially
important that we establish a clear definition of the word before
moving on in our studies. To keep things simple at this
point, let's think of grace
DEFINED: As with many
words in the Bible, the traditional Greek concept of grace
was enriched by its use in holy Scripture. The underlying
connotation of the word is that of a
favor or gift from one person to another. But,
carries an overtone of condescension in which the favor is
given to another of inferior status and, therefore, is
undeserved. In Scripture, the element of
undeservedness is emphasized, and for good reason. By
demonstrating that the
recipient did nothing to deserve the gift nor is he capable of reciprocating in kind,
the generosity of the giver becomes paramount. In other
words, the graciousness
of the act glorifies the giver
as one who is unusually generous, admirable and good.
This is the connotation found the above phrase "to the
of the glory of His grace". Ephesians 1:6.
Now, let's go a bit deeper into this notion of
"undeservedness" and find that the inability to reciprocate also engenders, at a
psychological level, a desire to give something back.
Barring a pathological attitude of entitlement, average folks feel indebted to and grateful toward a benefactor
who spontaneously gives them a valuable gift.
Notice above, that I made an exception to this rule of
reciprocity by citing the example of "entitlement". There
are times in which recipients of special favors actually
believe that they deserve it. This attitude of
negates the biblical concept of grace by: 1) failing to acknowledge
that the gift is undeserved, thus elevating the egotistical
recipient to a status superior to that of the giver and 2) it
also indicates that the recipient failed to learn from the
example set by such an act of undeserved generosity.
This "entitlement attitude" is frequently seen in spoiled
children and egocentric adults, who grow up believing that the
world owes them something for nothing. This, in essence,
is grace misunderstood and stands in start contrast to the
Apostle Paul's correct perception of its deeper meaning.
Now, just for a moment, let's make this study more personal.
I'm sure that you have, at some point in your life, had an
experience in which you unexpectedly receive a valuable gift
with no means of reciprocating at the time. What
thoughts went thoughts your head? What did you feel?
Well, among other reactions, you may have felt a need to
reciprocate in kind or, at the very least, demonstrate your
sincere appreciation and gratitude.
Now, let's look at the subject of God's grace in your life when you
received His gracious gift of salvation. Do you remember
thought about God's grace back then? How does it compare
with what you now know about grace? If you've
grown in grace and knowledge of Christ, as indeed you should,
can you now echo Paul's words:
"Today, by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace
taught me this lesson... I worked harder than everyone else, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." (I
Corinthians 15:10). With this simple statement, Paul
demonstrates what God's grace looks like in the lives of
believers today when they correctly understand the true
meaning of God's grace.
Admittedly, many people have trouble grasping the practical
aspect of God's grace at work in our lives today. So
let's look as a few of the basic facts about grace:
and foremost, it's important for us to realize that
God's Grace is ongoing. It didn't stop with salvation
but continue to be, moment by moment, the channel through
which God favors us. What does that mean? As
such, grace becomes the channel through which all of God's
blessing, empowerment, help, guidance, wisdom, strength or
anything else we might need for life and Godliness. (I
Peter 1:2-3). Secondly, keep in mind that we can't
wear it out, there's no end to it and it isn't ours because of
some special thing we did to deserve it. God's grace is
limitless, therefore you can never ask God for too much.
Receiving favor from God everyday of our lives depends on His
goodness, not ours. Thirdly, it's a favor you don't
deserve so feel free to ask whatever you want in accord with
His Will. So right now, I'm going to ask you to start
putting this truth into practice. Over the next hour, start
acting like the Holy Spirit is a person inside you, standing
ready to give you what ever you need for life and Godliness,
just like the verse says. If you don't know what you
need, then ask Him to show you in Scripture, through another
believer, through a sermon or in prayer. It's His job to
pray for you and He will do it as a favor to you. Romans
8:26-27. Remember, God's Grace is generic in promise but
specific in provision so ask Him specifically for what He
knows you need and then thank Him for it.
GRACE MISUNDERSTOOD: Unfortunately,
since the concept of grace is so foreign to the natural human
mind, it is often misunderstood. This was certainly the
case for some members of the church at Rome in the Apostle
Paul's day. When we read chapters 5 and 6 of Paul's
epistle to the Romans, we'll find an remarkably
insightful explanation of the relationship between law and
grace. Paul concludes chapter 5 with the words:" The law was brought in so
that the trespass might increase. But where sin
increased, grace increased all the more,
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might
reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through
Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:20-21. These are
two of the most insightful verses we'll find on this topic and
I'd urge you to drop down to the footnote section and read my
comments before moving on. (*4)
After having read and understood the
import of those verses, any true believer would embrace God's
amazing grace with humility, because we don't deserve it, and
gratitude, because it brings salvation from the power and
penalty of sin.
Tragically, to the religious crowd of Paul's day, these verses
carried a more sinister, self serving message. Some of
the more opportunistic professing Christians reasoned that, if
by sinning, God's grace abounds toward us, then we may
confidently increase God's grace by sinning more and more each
day. Granted, that argument may sound logical on the
surface, but it reflect a total perversion of the meaning and
purpose of grace. Rightly so,
Paul forcefully answers this depraved rationale by declaring
emphatically: "What shall we say, then?
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God
Absolutely not!" Romans 6:1-2 This
fallacious reasoning, born of the natural man's calloused
desire to sin without penalty, is the epitome of grace
One of the most chilling indictments to be found in the entire
Bible is one related to God's grace. The book of Hebrews
was written to a group of Jewish believers who were in danger
of rejecting the Gospel and falling back into the law and
commandments for salvation. The writer patiently and
eloquently points out to them that the law and commandments
could never give them the salvation they` were seeking, for
the law only brought the awareness of sin, not redemption from
it. Hebrews 10:4. Therefore, if they rejected the "lamb
of God" as their savior, there would be "no sacrifice left for
sins, only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging
fire that will consume the enemies of God. " Hebrews 10:26-27.
What could someone possible do to merit such scathing words of
condemnation? Here's the terrifying answer: any who have
"trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an
unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them,
and who has insulted the Spirit of grace"
Hebrews 10:29. Here, once again, we can clearly see the
value God places on His patient favor toward mankind. To
despise, ignore or denigrate the marvelous gift of God's
salvation, by the death of His son, is an act inevitably
punishable by eternal separation from the gracious Giver.
Thankfully, the writer is using hypothetical language when he
describes this frightening scenario. He was not, in
fact, directly accusing the true believers of falling away
from the faith. In fact, he ends the chapter with a
bright word of assurance to his readers. Confident in
their professed faith in the "Lamb of God", he writes: "Now,
we do not belong to those who turn back and are destroyed, but
to those who have faith and are saved." Hebrews 10:39.
But grace can be misunderstood in less obvious, but more
insidious, ways too. Early on in my career as a Christian
counselor, I discovered a number of key issues that
repeatedly surfaced in therapy. One of them had to do
with a misconception of God's grace in the Christian's life
today. Some believers,
especially those raised in a strict Christian environment, carry
infantile misconceptions of religious concepts into adulthood
and, in consequence, suffer needlessly from fear, anxiety and
guilt. It is true that issues of sin, guilt, punishment
and grace are all related in Christian theology but they are
sometimes linked inappropriately and bring grave emotional
disturbance to overly sensitive believers. For example,
I've often seen sincere believers overcome with what they call
"feelings of guilt" (*1) because of some behaviors or
thoughts deemed sinful. In their minds, sin must be
punished in some manner so that justice may be served.
From early childhood they believe that they are safer in a
just world kept in balance when punishment is meted out to the
offender. It's much like the uneasiness experienced by
some when only lone shoe drops and they can't relax until they
hear the other one hit the floor too. This may sound a
bit silly, but that's the nature of a neurotic behavior.
Even in the face of clear Scriptural
teaching on the subject, there are some conscience sensitive
Christians who believe that, when over taken in a particular
sin, just asking forgiveness time and time again is too easy.
In spite of their sincere struggle to overcome sin, they
continue to feel guilty, thinking they are getting "off the
hook" with a simple ten second prayer for forgiveness.
What's the result? Since someone has to pay, they hurt
themselves with remorse, anxiety,
fear and depression all rolled into one self defeating and
ineffective punishment.... and then, after they have suffered
for a while, the world is just once more! More
than once, I've heard these troubled folks say, "but I don't
deserve to be forgiving!" My usual reply is: "Of course
you don't deserve it, you dummy, that's why it's called grace.
It is an unmerited favor, an undeserved gift, unwarranted
provision which means you don't deserve to be forgiven.
For, if you deserved it, you would deprive God of displaying
His goodness and glory! He forgives you not
because you are good, but because He is good.
Once again, I'm sorely tempted to
spend some time on this subject but I don't want to get too
far afield of our topic. I will, however, just comment
in passing that emotional disorders involving depression,
anger, remorse (*2) and "guilt" derive from a
misunderstanding of what the Scriptures tell us about grace.
First of all, I hasten to agree with the fact that sin, all
our sin, those habits and thoughts displeasing to God, do
demand punishment. But, thank God, that punishment was
already paid for over 2,000 years ago on a rugged cross in a
far away land. Jesus paid that price for your sin and
mine, past, present and future so who are you to doubt that
with your actions? In counseling, I usually point
out to these dear believers that it would be extremely rude,
condescending and ungracious of them to snub their nose at a
precious gift offered to them out of love. Yet, that's
exactly what they're doing when they insult their Heavenly
Father by rejecting His gracious promise of forgiveness,
purchased by so dear a price at Calvary. Of course, even
after learning to accept God's forgiveness for daily sin and
experiencing the joy it brings, there's still the underlying
problem of overcoming the sin which occasioned guilt in the
first place... but more about that in the study on "The Great
GRACE BE UNTO YOU: We see this
phrase "grace be unto you" used time and time again as a
salutation in New Testament epistles. But have you
ever stopped and realized that the very same grace of Paul's
day is, in fact, extended to you on a daily basis today?
In fact, all
those special gifts (favors) Paul lists in I Corinthians 12,
were given by the Holy Spirit to each and every believer in
the church at Corinth. In fact, the very Greek
word for "gift", "χάρισμα",
(charisma), is a derivation of the word "grace" xáris
(charis). Thus we can think of grace as an "favor
endowment", something undeserved by you and freely given by
the Holy Spirit. Moreover, whether your know it or not,
you have been given a special gift by the Holy Spirit for the
edification of other believers.
Read I Corinthians 12:4-11 and
see if you can get an idea of what your spiritual gift might
be. Whatever it might be, it is indispensable for the
health and growth of the Body of Crist. Somewhere,
someone needs your ministry for growth and spiritual health.
Next time you get together with another believer in whom you
have confidence, ask what he or she things might be your
1. You may have noticed that I
put the above phrase "feeling of guilt" in quotes. This
was done to point out that "guilt", as referenced in
Scripture, is not an emotion or feeling. It is, rather,
a legal state of having committed a specified or implied
offense or crime. Emotions, or feelings, are independent
of a guilty verdict. A guilty person may be happy, sad,
depressed or apathetic and it doesn't change his legal state,
he is still guilty.
What are generally considered to be "feeling of guilt" are, in
fact, a blend of anger, depression, sadness, loss, confusion,
2. Remorse is another of often
misunderstood words which demand clarification if we are to
better understand Scripture. Remorse, in contrast to
repentance, is the recognition of a past act which can not be
undone, resulting in a sad, depressive emotional state devoid
of hope. Repentance, on the other hand, is the
recognition of a past wrong act for which the individual is
responsible, feels regret and asks for forgiveness. An
integral part of "repentance" is a change of heart, viewing
his offense was wrong and, following forgiveness, does a 180
degree turnaround and determines to avoid repeating it in the
future. The key to these two similar terms is the time
element: remorse is stuck in the past with not no hope for the
future. Repentance looks to the past for a lesson to be
then turns around to move into a future free of that offense.
3. Notice the order in which the words
"thoughts" and "feeling" are presented. With rare
exceptions, thoughts (cognition) preceed feelings (emotional
arousal) Emotinal arousal is seldom spontaneously
generated apart from some cognitive process which went on
before. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule but, in
general, emotions are natural responses to some thought that
previously passes through our minds. This simple fact
affords a powerful tool to moderate or control emotions
through cognition. (see II Corinthians 10:5-6)
4. Law and Grace: Romans 5:20-21.
"The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might
reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through
Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:20-21. As
you read those two verses over carefully, several key facts
emerge: 1) the O.T. law was given, not to save people through
obedience to the commandments, but to show the failure of
those who attempt it. In fact, the more a person's
knowledge about the law increased, the more they saw sin in
their daily lives. However, contrary to human thinking,
God's grace included the element of "limitlessness" so that as
sin increased, so did the availability of God's grace.
The more the sin, the greater God's grace.