There are different responses among Christians to the subject of grace. For some, grace seems to be thought of as a potent danger to be handled with extreme caution as one might handle dynamite or a caustic chemical. They spend more time cautioning people about grace than they do telling them the wonderful news about what God by his grace has done for us. Yes, the Bible teaches that grace can be abused, but that is no reason to fear the subject.
Grace is, after all, the only hope we have of ever overcoming the problem of sin and the condemnation it brings. If God did not reach out to us through His love to bring us unto himself and to restore us to the place and position we were meant to occupy from creation there is no way we could achieve that on our own. His grace is the exercise of His good will toward man in providing the gift of salvation. Faith in Christ is the only way we can realize the grace of God in our lives.
All human approaches to the problem of sin and evil in the world comprehend only the necessity of man saving himself by the keeping of rules and the performance of rituals. This is the root of idolatry. It places man in a higher position than he occupies – capable of more than he can do. By that same token, it demotes whatever is conceived of as god to the position of a being apart from man and making demands for man’s perfection as a result of his own efforts. This god is unwilling or unable to act in any way other than to reward proper performance or to punish failure. Indeed, some religions do not conceive of a personal God at all. In idolatry, whatever is conceived as salvation is wholly up to man, so why even postulate a god at all?
But as we have seen, God is a being who is near to us – one who identified Himself with the human race by partaking of our fleshly nature. He did this in order that He might provide for us His sympathetic aid and do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:15-16).
God provided His grace – His favor – toward man even though we were entirely unworthy of it. In Romans 5:6-10 the apostle says that we humans were weak, sinners and enemies of God and yet Christ died for us. Then in verse 15-17 he calls what God did “the free gift” which has brought to us justification and life.
In a previous article, (KNOWING GOD (5) God With Us), we wrote about the God who is with us. God who is near, not far away. God who takes an active interest His creation. In the process of acting by grace toward us He recreates or regenerates us, making us a new creation. He provides His continuing presence in the person of the Holy Spirit to be with us, to guide and strengthen us. Thus, God is seen as being for us. By His promises and by the Spirit He is leading us to higher and greater service and attainment.
So, how do we respond to all God has done and all He is doing in our behalf? Since all that God does toward us is a gift, the natural and expected response is gratitude.
As the complement to this, charis denotes the emotion awakened in the recipient of such favor, i.e. “gratitude.” … In a slightly transferred sense charis designates the words or emotion in which gratitude is expressed, and so becomes “thanks” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia/charis).
This respondent “charis” on the part of man moves and motivates us as the following from the ISBE indicates.
A rigid definition is hardly possible, but still a single conception is actually present in almost every case where “grace” is found – the conception that all a Christian has or is, is centered exclusively in God and Christ, and depends utterly on God through Christ. The kingdom of heaven is reserved for those who become as little children, for those who look to their Father in loving confidence for every benefit, whether it be for the pardon so freely given, or for the strength that comes from Him who works in them both to will and to do (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia/charis).
This, then, becomes the ground for the life and actions of the recipient of grace. The fear that people will mistake grace for license is hardly well founded. People who do not appreciate what the Lord has done for them may very well “receive the grace of God in vain” as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 6:1. When people truly realize what God has done and is doing and will do for them by His grace they will be profoundly moved through gratitude to live and to act graciously. That is, they will become “charis-matic,” i.e., people with “charisma.” Out of this effect of grace/gratitude we will live as servants of God in ways that reflect the same kind of graciousness we have received.
The Christian does not live under a legal contract with God. He has been set free from all such obligations. He realizes that having received God’s grace he is under a moral obligation to live up to the standard of graciousness that has been shown him. This realization is formative in that it influences us to become more than we were when we received grace. Compliance with a legal contract exerts no power to transform our lives. Since the grace of God is the foundation for the life of the individual there is no limit on the extent to which we can grow nor on the service we can render.
God’s grace is an expression of His character. We, as recipients of His grace are called to the expression of the same kind of graciousness we have received. In other words, we are called by His grace to become like Him. Christ modeled divine grace in that he offered Himself for the restoration of humanity to our rightful place alongside Himself. Paul expressed it this way…
“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 2:8-10).
We walk in good works not by coercion nor by commandment, but by character – not by law but by love. Thus, knowing God and knowing what He has done for us is the key to the transformation of our old selves into the beings God intends for us to become.
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.