I have a friend whose experience gives us some insight into the doctrine of the grace of God. He had just returned from Viet Nam where he had served in the Army. Upon his release he had sufficient funds to fulfill a long-time desire to own a new Jaguar. Early one morning he was driving in a remotely populated part of Oklahoma which, he reasoned, was the perfect place to find out how fast the car could go. The speedometer was easing its way past 160 as the powerful sports car reached the top of a small rise. Just beyond, a highway patrolman was waiting. A law-abiding citizen, my friend slammed on the brakes, slid past the officer at 150 miles per hour, and came to a halt some distance down the road.
Before long, the officer caught up and stood beside the sleek convertible. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” he inquired. “Well, roughly,” was the deliberately evasive reply. “One hundred sixty-three miles per hour!” the officer specified. “That’s about what I thought,” my friend confessed, somewhat sheepishly. Guilt was obvious, and there was no possible excuse to be offered. My friend could only wait to discover what this fiasco was going to cost. He meekly waited for the officer to proceed. To his amazement the patrolman queried, “Would you mind if I took a look at that engine?”
The fine points of high performance automobiles cannot be discussed quickly, so both went on to a coffee shop where they could talk further. A while later, both of the men shook hands and went their separate ways. My friend was elated, for the officer had not given him a citation.
That is about as close to grace as one can come on this earth, but it is still not quite up to the standard of biblical grace. (I say that because biblical grace would be demonstrated only if the patrolman had paid for the coffee.)
The principle of grace is as fundamental to Christianity as that of justice is to Law, or love is to marriage. Christianity cannot be understood apart from an adequate grasp of grace. The doctrine of grace distinguishes the Christian faith from every other religion in the world, as well as from the cults.36 Rightly understood and applied, the doctrine of grace can revolutionize one’s Christian life. It is for this reason that we have determined to spend the next three lessons on this fundamental doctrine.
As I approach this study of the grace of God I am fully aware of the fact that most Christians suppose they know all they need to on the subject. A major factor in this misconception is that quick and easy definitions have been given for grace. Grace, we all know, is God’s unmerited favor. In acrostic fashion we have been taught to define grace as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense … GRACE. These are simply inadequate, and thus we must devote this entire message to a more precise definition of grace. We will attempt to accomplish this by a series of statements or propositions which will be explained in some detail.
(1) Grace is a part of the character of God. Grace is most frequently spoken of as a commodity, that is distributed, and such it is. But first and foremost, grace is a description of the character of God, which is displayed by His gifts to men. God is a God of grace, and He desires to make this known not only to men, but also to the angelic hosts.
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:5-12).
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 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 (Ephesians 2:1-10).
This attribute of grace37 has always been a part of God’s character since God is immutable or changeless (cf. James 1:17). Some have supposed that the God of the Old Testament is someone other than the God of the New. But we know that the grace of God is frequently evidenced in the Old Testament Scriptures. Men of God knew Him as a God of grace.
But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger, And did not arouse all His wrath (Psalm 78:38).
“And they refused to listen, And did not remember Thy wondrous deeds which Thou hadst performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But Thou art a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness; And Thou didst not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17).
The grace of God was that attribute which most displeased Jonah, the “pouting prophet,” as some have called him. God called him to preach to the Ninevites, knowing that the Assyrians would later serve as His chastening rod on disobedient Israel. Jonah foolishly fled to Tarshish, attempting to thwart the will of God. By means of a storm, some sailors, and a large fish God arranged a change in his plans. Eventually Jonah did preach to the Ninevites, but his response to their repentance was disgraceful:
But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2).
It was the grace of God that angered Jonah because this time grace was granted to the enemies of Israel. To Jonah, patriotism was more important than preaching or piety. Ironically, it was grace which kept God from dealing with Jonah as severely as his sin would require. How gently God asked Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (4:4).
David sinned by numbering the Israelites, contrary to the advice of Joab (1 Chronicles 21:1ff.). God rebuked David through the prophet Gad, giving him a choice of one of three calamities: three years of famine; three months of defeat by the hand of their enemies; or three days at the hand of the Lord (verses 11-12). David’s response reveals his grasp of the grace of God:
“I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man” (verse 13).
The gracious character of God was fully manifested in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the revealer of the Father (John 1:18), the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3):
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17).
Paul can therefore write to Titus:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11).
In both His words (Luke 4:22) and His works (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Mark 6:31, etc.) Jesus demonstrated grace. He did not come to judge or to condemn, but to forgive and to save (John 3:16-17; 8:10-11).
We can do nothing else but conclude that God is, was, and will ever be a God of grace. That is His character, and it is therefore the ultimate cause of His graciousness toward men.
(2) Grace is epitomized on the cross of Calvary. While the grace of God is described in the Old Testament, it is not defined until the New Testament. I believe that we cannot grasp the grace of God except in the light of Calvary.
Grace is not merely a part of the plan of redemption, but it is the silver cord that runs through every facet of the work of redemption. Election, the sovereign choice made in eternity past of those who would be saved (cf. Ephesians 1:4), is called a “choice of grace” (Romans 11:5, NASV margin).38 The entire work of Christ in coming to earth, dying for sinners, and being crowned with glory, is said by the writer to the Hebrews to be “by the grace of God” (Hebrews 2:9). In no way was this prompted by man (cf. Romans 10:6-8). Our redemption is “according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). Our calling (cf. Romans 8:28, 30), the sovereign act of God by which we are drawn irresistibly to Him, is said to be “through His grace” (Galatians 1:15). Justification, that judicial pronouncement that we are innocent of any guilt and whereby we are declared righteous through the work of Christ, is a gift of His grace (Romans 3:24; Titus 3:7). When all is said and done, every element of the work of salvation is the work of God through grace and not of our own making. Men believe by the grace of God:
And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he helped greatly those who had believed through grace (Acts 18:27).
The terms “salvation” and “grace” therefore become virtually synonymous:
… which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth (Colossians 1:6).
The gospel is the “gospel of grace” (Acts 20:24); the Scriptures are the “word of His grace” (Acts 14:3; 20:32).
(3) While grace has always existed as a part of the character of God and was epitomized on the cross of Christ, it is expressed in a wide variety of forms. Grace takes many forms in the Bible, and it is well to define it so that the diversity of these forms is taken into account. Since we will discuss some of these later in greater detail, let me briefly enumerate some of the forms which grace takes.
Common grace is that benevolence which is poured out upon all men, regardless of their spiritual condition:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you; in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).
“And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with good and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17).
God is gracious in making provision for the salvation of all men39 and in commanding its universal proclamation. He is also gracious in delaying judgment, thereby giving men ample time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). One might also imply that God is gracious in not revealing more than He does to those who reject Him, since greater knowledge brings greater judgment (cf. Luke 12:47-48).
Saving grace is that generous provision of salvation on the cross of Calvary and the securing of it by divine intervention, as we have already outlined above.
“But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:11).
Securing grace is that manifestation of God’s benevolence by which Christians are kept secure in spite of sin.
Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).
Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! (1 Peter 5:12).
Just as a lost man cannot obtain salvation through any good work of his own, neither can the Christian maintain his salvation by doing good works. Salvation is obtained and maintained by grace alone.
Sanctifying grace is that grace which works within the true believer in such a way as to bring growth, maturity, and progress in the process of becoming Christ-like:
Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43).
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Corinthians 15:10).
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
Serving grace is the enablement to minister in such a way as to manifest the life of our Lord through the saints as members of His body. It refers to acts of generosity and giving (cf. Acts 4:33ff.; 2 Corinthians 8:1ff.). It specifically refers to spiritual gifts (the term “gift” is a derivative of the word “grace”).
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Ephesians 4:7).
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
Sustaining grace is grace given at special times of need, especially during adversity or suffering.
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Perhaps some of these distinctions are a bit arbitrary, but the point remains that grace is manifested in a variety of ways. Grace seeks us and saves us; grace keeps us secure; grace enables us to serve and to endure the tests and trials of life. Grace will bring about our sanctification in this life and will ultimately bring us to glory. From beginning to end we are the object of divine grace.
(4) Grace is pure. If we were to describe grace to the chemist, we would say that grace is an element, not a compound. In more biblical terms, grace is never a mixture of divine benevolence and human effort:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).
Grace is entirely the work of God, unprompted by man, undeserved by man, and without regard to anything that the object of grace will later accomplish:
And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:10-12).
It was God’s choice that Jacob rule over Esau without regard to any works which either would do; in fact, Jacob was chosen even before he was born. A longer look at the life of Jacob would indicate that God’s purposes for Jacob’s life were accomplished in spite of him.
J. I. Packer describes grace this way:
What is grace? In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards men who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty ones might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. ‘(God) hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).40
To make even the slightest contribution to our salvation is to rule out the possibility of grace. For one thing, any contribution on our part would be exaggerated in our own minds. Someone has told the story of a man who was condemned to death for embezzlement. The royal family took pity on the man, however, and determined to help him. The king contributed $2000 from the royal treasury, while the queen gave $1000 and the crown prince $980. The people in the gallery passed the plate and collected another contribution of $19.90. The total amount of $3999.90 was only a dime short of that which was required, but it was not enough. The king reluctantly said that the man had to die. The crowd in the gallery sighed. Suddenly the condemned man reached into his pocket and found a dime, just what he needed. He was free!
The point of this story is that no matter how small the contribution of the condemned man, it would become, in his mind, of too great importance. God is demonstrating His grace to the world and the angelic hosts (Ephesians 1:3-12), and He will not share His glory with sinful man. It is either all of grace or it is not grace at all.
Worse yet, our efforts to contribute to God’s saving grace are an affront to Him. Suppose, as someone has suggested, that the President of the United States invites you to a magnificent banquet. It is an evening that you will never forget. But as you leave that evening you greet the President at the door and wish to show your appreciation. You say to him, “Mr. President, I want to thank you so much for the wonderful evening. I know this must have been a very great expense, so I would like to make a small contribution to help cover the cost.” You then press a dime into his hand and leave. That is no compliment. That is an insult! Grace does not require, nor will it accept, any contributions from its recipients.
All of this has been stated somewhat negatively. In reality, though, this is a very positive truth: the grace of God is absolutely free! We do not have to earn it—indeed we cannot earn it. This truth is not an easy one to believe because we have come to doubt that anything can really be free any more. An advertisement tells us that we will get a free pizza, but the small print informs us that we have to buy a large pizza first. We are promised a weekend on the lake with $50 spending money, but we know that we will be open game for the salesman so long as we are there. God’s grace is not like that. We cannot earn it, nor will we find that after we are saved we come to regret our decision because of some small print in God’s offer of salvation.
(5) Grace is sovereign. Since we have no claim on God’s grace and cannot contribute anything to it, then grace must be sovereignly bestowed. As God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19; cf. Romans 9:15). The necessary conclusion is that which follows in Romans 9:16:
So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.
Some are greatly troubled by the fact that grace is bestowed sovereignly, but what other basis is there for its distribution? In Romans 9:14 Paul asks the question: Can God be just when grace is given to some but not to others? He answers his own question by reminding the reader that justice can only condemn all men, for all have sinned. We dare not plead for justice with God, for justice can only be satisfied by our condemnation. Grace operates on a totally different basis. Grace does not give men what they deserve, but what God delights to give, in spite of their sin. God is only unjust if He withholds from men benefits which they rightfully deserve, but He is gracious in bestowing upon men salvation and blessings which they could never merit. C. I. Scofield has been quoted as saying,
Grace is not looking for good men whom it may approve, for it is not grace but mere justice to approve goodness. But it is looking for condemned, guilty, speechless and helpless men whom it may save, sanctify and glorify.41
(6) While the Law is the standard of righteousness, grace is the source of righteousness. While the Law defines righteousness, only grace delivers it. The Law was never intended to be a means of obtaining grace; it was given to demonstrate to men that grace was desperately needed:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets (Romans 3:19-21).
At its heart, legalism is a humanly-devised system whereby a man may strive to produce his own righteousness by rigid adherence to a prescribed code of conduct. It is almost always external in nature, that is, it evaluates actions rather than attitudes and motives (cf. Matthew 6:1ff.). Worse yet, legalism tends to lower the standards God has set. In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord persisted in raising the standards set by the scribes and Pharisees, not lowering them (cf. Matthew 5:17-48). Because of their lowering of God’s standards the rich young ruler could unashamedly say to our Lord, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up” (Mark 10:20). What an incredible thing to be able to say. Only a legalist could do so. While the legalists of Jesus’ day placed burdens on men that they could not bear (Matthew 23:4), they found all sorts of loopholes by which to avoid the demands their traditions made on others (Matthew 23:16-24). Jesus lightened the burden, not by lowering God’s standards, but by providing enablement to meet them (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 8:1-4).
No matter how pious legalism appears on the outside, it dishonors God by revealing a deep-seated distrust of God. Stop and think about it for a minute. Why do men insist upon putting agreements in writing? Why are legal contracts necessary? For only one reason—men are fallible. At best, we tend to forget the things we have committed to do. At worst, we never intended to do them in the first place. A legal contract gives one man a basis for forcing another to do what he has promised.
Do you really believe God is so unreliable that we must create a contract which binds Him? All of the biblical covenants are those which were initiated by God, not man. And most of these covenants are unconditional; that is, they are not conditioned by any action on man’s part, but only on the faithfulness of God Himself. Legalism by its very nature implies that God is so untrustworthy that we must be sure to get it down in contractual form. Far better it is to leave blessings in the hand of the One who is gracious.
I heard a true story which serves to illustrate this point. Not many years ago most employers discriminated greatly in their hiring practices (as many still do!). As a result it was necessary to attempt to correct this evil by passing Laws which punished discrimination. One afternoon an employer was called upon by a minority labor leader, who demanded that a certain number of minority laborers be hired immediately. The employer thought about it for a moment and then picked up the phone, instructing his secretary, “Miss Jones, I want you to fire the last 25 minority laborers I hired.” The reason, he explained to the demanding leader, was that he had hired 25 more minority laborers than the Law had required. Now I do not wish in any way to condone or condemn what either of those men did. I simply wish to point out that the demands of the Law are only required where evil men are involved (cf. 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Where grace prevails, Law will only restrict gracious activity, not promote it. Legalism cannot co-exist with grace:
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:4).
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).
(7) Grace is given only to the humble. When our Lord came to the earth, He came to minister to the poor, the suffering, the needy. To the “poor in spirit” Jesus offered the riches of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had come to this earth in order to minister to those who were in need and knew it. When Jesus chose to associate with the needy rather than with the elite of His day, it greatly offended the Jewish religious leaders:
And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17).
Pride offended turned to jealousy (cf. Mark 15:10), so that if the religious leaders of Israel couldn’t persuade Jesus to endorse their ideology, they concluded that He must be done away with (cf. John 11:47-50).
Jesus put His finger on this matter of pride when He told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in Luke 18. The Pharisee had no appreciation for his own sinfulness, and thus he could pray, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12). The tax-gatherer, however, was humbled by the awareness of his sinful condition and so petitioned a gracious God for mercy: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said it was this humble sinner who went home justified (verse 14).
Grace is the goodness of God on behalf of sinners who humbly acknowledge their own deficiency and thus their dependence upon God’s grace for forgiveness and salvation:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; cf. 1 Peter 5:5).
(8) While sin is an occasion for grace, grace is never to be an occasion for sin. Many of the objections to the biblical doctrine of grace originate from the abuses of this doctrine in the lives of Christians. Any biblical doctrine can be misapplied in such a way as to justify sin in our lives. In Romans 5 Paul taught that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (verse 20), but he quickly went on to say that this is no incentive to careless living:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
We who have died to sin cannot casually and carelessly persist in sin, for it is inconsistent with our new life in Christ. Grace must never be used as an excuse for sin:
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God (1 Peter 2:16).
(9) Grace is always granted in harmony with God’s other attributes. It is possible at this point to misunderstand the grace of God by supposing that grace somehow is granted at the expense of God’s holiness or His justice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grace does not set aside the requirements of justice; it satisfies them. The Christian is no longer guilty before God and need not stand under the condemnation of God for sin. But someone does have to pay the penalty for sin. For the Christian that person is our Lord Jesus Christ:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In Romans 3 Paul dealt with the need for grace to be shown in such a way as not to violate the justice of God:
Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26).
Grace, then, meets the demands of justice and holiness rather than to set them aside. Grace is never granted at the expense of any of God’s attributes. This is a comforting thought which we should pause to ponder. Can you possibly conceive of a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing and yet whose power could be employed at a mere whim? During the Hitler regime the Nazis had seemingly unlimited power combined with an intelligence network that was frightening. That knowledge and power were frequently exercised at the expense of justice, truth, and mercy. God is not like that. God’s infinite power and wisdom are always employed in accord with His attribute of grace. Praise God for that!
(10) Grace is both positive and negative in what it gives. Grace is the outpouring of God’s unsolicited and undeserved goodness upon sinful men. This goodness, however, may not always be recognized, for sometimes it comes in the form of pain and suffering. Paul wrote to the Philippian saints:
For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).
The word “granted” is the verb form of the word “grace.” Few would disagree that belief in Christ is a gift of God’s grace, but Paul insists that suffering is every bit as much a gift from God. This is so because trials are sent into the life of the saint in order to perfect his faith and to draw him nearer to the Savior (cf. Hebrews 12:1ff.; James 1:2-4).
Stated another way, God is gracious to men not only in what He provides, but also in what He prohibits. Look at the grace of God in the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were told that they could freely eat of every tree of that garden, save one. That was a provision of grace. What an abundance of good things that garden must have contained. But God also forbade them to eat of the fruit of one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now Satan successfully diverted the attention of Adam and Eve from the gracious provision of God to His one prohibition. What they did not realize (and Satan surely did not point out) was that God was not only gracious in the provision of the garden with all of its delights, but also in the prohibition not to eat of the one tree. How painful for Adam and his wife and for mankind were the consequences of partaking of what God prohibited!
My friend, God is good not only in what He gives, but also in what He withholds and what He takes away. While we may not understand the reasons why, if we believe that God is a God of grace we must be able to say like Job, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Let me conclude with just a couple of observations and applications of the doctrine of the grace of God, remembering that we have not yet completed our study on this great doctrine.
First of all, I have come to see the doctrine of the grace of God as one of the dominant themes of the Bible. In musical terms, the grace of God is like the melody line of a beautiful song. As a rule, only one note carries the melody, and all of the other notes serve to compliment that note with a harmony. I believe that grace is the dominant note in God’s dealings with man. His justice, His holiness, His omnipotence, and His omniscience are all an integral part of the music of His character and activities, but grace stands apart and above them all.
Is that really the way that you and I view God most of the time? I must confess that it is not so with me. Often times I find myself thinking of God in less complimentary ways. I am surprised when “good things” come into my life, and I know they are from God. And when suffering or trials enter my life, I tend to think that God is somehow punishing me or giving me what I deserve rather than dealing with me according to grace.
There is nothing Satan would rather convince you of than that God’s way is the way of drudgery and the dismal. God, according to Satan, never has a smile on His face, but always a frown. Yet Paul refers to his God, the God of grace, as the One who “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). It is Satan who desires to keep us from enjoying the good things of life:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude (1 Timothy 4:1-4).
This study of the grace of God has reminded me of the goodness of God in His dealings with mankind in general, and with me in particular. Whatever comes into my life, it has come from the God of all grace, who has purposed to enrich my life by His gift, whether it be in what He gives or what He denies me.
Another thing that has come to mind in this study is the startling realization that it is the grace of God that fallen men most detest. If lost men really thought that God is a harsh and cruel deity who deals severely with all who offend Him, they would cower in His presence, and they would do everything possible to avoid His wrath. Men do not fear God, however; they disdain Him. They interpret His grace as weakness and His delay of judgment as inability to achieve His purposes. Men who are sinners do not want to admit their own guilt and thus do not want to petition God for grace. They will have heaven on their own terms or not at all. Thus lost men will go to hell because they hate grace and will have none of it.
Man does not like to think of God showing grace. “Grace—which means the full and free forgiveness of every sin, without God demanding or expecting anything from the one so forgiven—is a principle so opposed to all man’s thoughts and ways, so far above man, that he dislikes it. His own heart often secretly calls it injustice. He does not deal in this way and he does not like to think of God doing so.”42
My unsaved friend, if you have never realized it before, God is gracious. In His grace He has spoken to men through His Word, informing them that they are sinners and warning them of the wrath that is to come. In His grace God has sent His Son to the cross of Calvary in order to satisfy the requirements of His justice by punishing His Son in their place. If you will but admit your sin and your helpless state and call upon Him for salvation, you will be saved. God’s grace is for sinners like you and like me. He will either deal with you in grace, or you must face the consequences of rejecting His gracious offer of salvation.
36 “Furthermore, the concept of grace is the watershed that divides Roman Catholicism from Protestantism, Calvinism from Arminianism, modern liberalism from conservatism. The Roman Catholic Church holds that grace is mediated through its priests and sacraments, while Protestantism generally does not. The Calvinist feels that he glorifies the grace of God by emphasizing the utter helplessness of man apart from grace, while the Arminian sees the grace of God cooperating with man’s abilities and will. Modern Liberalism gives an exaggerated place to the abilities of man to decide his own fate and to effect his own salvation entirely apart from God’s grace, while conservatism holds that God’s grace is necessary for salvation. Man is evolving, according to Liberalism, into a kind of superman who is coming to the place where he needs no outside help, certainly not the grace of God.” Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963), pp. 10-11.
37 Many are the theologians who have recognized grace as an attribute of God. Buswell, for example, writes: “The goodness of God in this sense—that is, the grace of God—is the most amazing theme in all the Bible. The most astounding truth ever proclaimed is that God is and remains absolutely just and at the same time He justifies—He makes just and right—the one who, being unjust, unrighteous, defiled, and guilty, puts his faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).
“Oh the goodness of God, the goodness of God! This is the gospel message. This is what the Bible is all about, from the sacrifice of Abel, all through the generations of man’s sin and God’s longsuffering, until the new heavens and the new earth ‘wherein dwelleth righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:13).” J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962 ), I, pp. 69-70.
38 I realize that in Romans 11 the choice made is that of a nation (Israel) rather than an individual. While there are other differences as well, the point here is that election in principle (whether of individuals or nations) is a matter of grace, not works.
39 There is a lively discussion at this point on the subject of limited atonement. I will only say this: I believe the death of Christ made provision for the salvation of all men (cf. 1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:2). I believe the death of Christ actually purchased the salvation of only the elect. I believe the death of Christ thereby provides the basis for a universal offer of salvation while recognizing that only some (namely, the elect) will be saved.
Some believe that this creates an inconsistency within the Godhead: “How can Christ die to save all men if God only chose to save some?” I believe God purposed the death of Christ to be broader than just procuring the salvation of the elect, but also in providing payment for all.