We have come in this series of articles to a subject that is difficult for us as human beings to wrap our minds around. The difficulty lies, to some extent, in our failure to comprehend the goodness and the greatness of God. This often is associated with an overconfidence in man’s ability in terms of human salvation. To some of these, grace is too good to be true. Like jaded, sales hardened consumers who are leery of the spiel of the telemarketers peddling their goods, they are wary of the subject of grace. It is just too good to be true, they think. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” or “I can do it myself” is the attitude of these.
The ironic thing about it is – it is too good to be true. That is, if we look at it from a human point of view. From an understanding of grace as it is presented to us in the Bible, it goes even beyond what we humanly could think possible.
Think about the parable we ordinarily refer to as that of the prodigal son (Luke 15). That really is a parable about the loving father who received a wayward son back without demanding anything from him. He didn’t scold, rebuke or require penance. He received him back into the family, reinstated him to his former position and gave a party to celebrate the lost son’s return. That wasn’t what the son asked for. It certainly wasn’t what he expected. It was far more than he could ever have hoped for. All the son did was come back to the father. What happened to him then was all due to the goodness of the father.
Or think about the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). The vineyard owner hired laborers throughout the day with some working only one hour before “quittin’ time.” Those who had toiled all day complained when the last hired received the same wages as they. The master reminded them that they had agreed to work for the amount they had received and that it was his business to pay others the same if he wanted to. God will never be unfair to anyone. If it is his choice to be more than fair to some, that is His business.
By the way, we all are like the last hired laborers. We can never do enough – can never be good enough – to deserve what we receive from God’s generous, gracious hand. Is God unfair to give us eternal life because He is good?
When thinking about the subject of salvation, others can see nothing but grace and often overlook human accountability (“God is so good He will not allow any soul to be lost”), responsibility and divine justice when thinking about salvation and our relationship with God.
Just what are we talking about when we speak of the subject of grace? The word (charis) itself was a common word which had a variety of uses in the Greek language, many of which are found in the Bible. However, we are interested in what the word means when used in reference to God.
When we speak of the grace of God we are not to understand it as an intrinsic quality of His being. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (quoted here) says of the word when used in the sense of God’s grace toward us that it means…
“…a mental attribute [which] may be translated by “graciousness,” or, when directed toward a particular person or persons, by “favor”(via eSword).
We often say that grace means the “unmerited favor” of God. Perhaps we have used this definition so often that we merely assume that we understand what it means. When we are speaking of the infinite being of God, perhaps there is more that needs to be taken into consideration.
We observed in the last article in this series that God is merciful. That means that toward some He chooses not to impose the sentence the law requires upon those who violate it. Law makes no provision for the offender to escape the punishment he is due. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” has chosen to raise us up who were dead in trespasses (Eph 2:4-5). Thus, mercy has a negative connotation – of something not done. Of course we obtain a positive benefit from God’s choice not to exercise retributive justice against us. But grace is different from mercy. Where mercy does not act to condemn the sinner, grace goes beyond in that it acts, exerts power, accomplishes things.
Consider the following passages from the Ephesian letter. The apostle in the first chapter reveals to his readers the prayer he prayed that his readers would understand…
“…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:19-20).
Notice that he speaks of the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” that was according to the power that raised Jesus up from the dead. Then in the second chapter he explains what that means to believers. He said that God…
“…even when we were dead in our trespasses, 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, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:5-10).
Notice that it is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead that makes us alive, saves us, raises us up and seats us together with Him in the heavenly places. All this Paul relates to salvation by grace. It was God acting in our behalf just as He had acted in raising Jesus from the grave. This power of grace brought about a new creation – us who believe in Christ.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
In this verse there is the divinely expected response to God’s grace. Grace brings forth gratitude expressed in good works. We are His workmanship – His handiwork. How do we respond to the realization that God has made us new, raised us up or restored us to our divinely intended position of being seated with Christ?
We will deal with this question in our next article in this series.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.