UNDERSTANDING GRACE (#3)

There is among some an apparent fear of the subject of grace. There has been so much misunderstanding and so much misapplication of what the Bible actually teaches that many tend to shy away from it. There is a fear that we will make the same mistakes some have made or that we may be perceived as teaching error if we simply teach grace from a positive point of view. When and if they teach on the grace of God they must approach it negatively, teaching what grace is not more than showing what it is and what it does.

There is also the fear that people will either, as the ones of whom Jude wrote, “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality” (Jude 1:4), or that they will attempt to “cover” their sins and errors – or those of others – by the grace of God. The fear is that people will become careless about sin, deny their need to repent and confess their sins and be lost. Or they will accept into fellowship those who are in “error.”

As children of God we cannot be ruled by fear. Grace was never meant to be a source of fear and dread – it is not something from which to run. Surely God did not bestow His grace upon us to have us shrink back from it lest we make some mistake concerning it. If God did not hesitate to show His grace to lost mankind out of fear that some would abuse it, why should we fear to teach it and rejoice in the benefits of His grace as well?

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Paul was writing in the 8th chapter of Romans about the Christian’s freedom from the slavery and dread that law brings. In the 7th chapter he had said that even with his best attempts he couldn’t live up to the demands of the law. In the 8th chapter he gives the solution to the dilemma between human desire for God’s approval and the law’s condemnation.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1).

How is this about grace? Simply in the fact that there are only two alternatives – either we save ourselves by the keeping of law (which Paul said he couldn’t do) or we receive the benefits of the grace of God. This is the underlying theme of the Roman letter. After his assessment of both the Jew and the Gentile in chapters 1-3, here is his summation and his introduction of grace as the solution;

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23-24).

The Jew had no advantage over the Gentile because he had the law. The Gentile was not left out of God’s blessings because he didn’t have the law. Both are justified before God by the same means. Both receive justification as a gift that comes by grace. None earn their salvation. The sinner who comes to God receives that gift by faith in the Son of God so that there is no ground for boasting of our accomplishment (Romans 3:25-30). The Jew and the Gentile are saved alike.

This is what was so hard for the Jews to accept. Their source of pride, aside from being descendants of Abraham, was that they had the law. They prided themselves not only for being of the lineage of Abraham, but because they had, they thought, obeyed the law. Some of the Jewish Christians sought to solve the matter of the acceptability of the Gentiles by teaching that they had to be circumcised and keep the law in addition to having faith in Jesus. They thought the Gentiles had to “earn” their position before God just has they thought they had earned theirs.

In the book of Galatians Paul deals with the same issue. He flatly denies the teaching of the Judiazers by pointing out that before God there is no difference between people regardless of social, ethnic, prior religious connections or national distinctions:

“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29).

By His grace God accepts all who come to Him. By grace He brings all people of faith into a single body. By His grace all those people who are brought together are made one church. The apostles by understanding the grace of God in this great venture of bringing all things in heaven and earth together, (Ephesians 1:8-10), would not allow for there to be two bodies of believers. This would have defeated God’s grace and perpetuated division and enmity between distinct groups of people. It is by grace that we have been brought together and we dare not thwart that grace by division.

More tomorrow….

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