The Mystery of Grace

What Is Grace?

The Apostle Paul clearly taught that Grace was a fundamental component of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Here is what he wrote in the later part of his life as he journeyed towards Jerusalem:

And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22-24)

His ministry, he wrote, consisted primarily of testifying of the “gospel of the grace of God.”

The word “grace” is the English translation of the Greek word χάρις (charis), which means “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.” (12)

Today, the term has been adapted to mean the prayers said before a meal or to describe the beauty of a ballet dancer’s movements.  Throughout the history of the Church, however, the theological implications of Paul’s teachings have been much debated, and they are equally controversial in today’s Christian world.

Most recently, primarily because of the difficulty new Christians have in living holy lives, due to the extreme sinfulness of the conditions in today’s world, the term “hyper-grace” has been introduced to describe the teachings of those who believe that once Christians have been born-again, they no longer need to repent of their sins because they are automatically forgiven by the Blood of Jesus the moment they are committed” (Source).

You Must Be Born Again

The example of Nicodemus is especially helpful in clarifying this issue, for although he was a teacher and a Pharisee who tried in all ways to follow the Laws of Moses, Jesus told him that he needed to be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God.  Merely attempting to obey the Laws of Moses, or practice holy living, in one’s own strength and power is not enough; instead, one must first be regenerated, or born again, and then to begin living and walking in the Holy Spirit rather than in the flesh.

The Prophet Ezekiel looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s grace, prophesying that all believers would no longer be heirs of Adam’s sinful nature, but instead would be regenerated: 

And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

The Apostle Paul also taught the following truths to the New Testament Church:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, (II Corinthians 5:17-18).

In fact, the phrase “new creature” means “new creation,” or a “whole new species of being that has never before existed.”

Indeed, when our Heavenly Father sees us after we are born again in Christ, He sees us as His children, and we call Him “Our Father,” as in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples (See Matthew 6:9-13).  Also, the Apostle Paul consistently taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way:

Also, the Apostle Paul taught that we believers need to see ourselves the same way, as born again children of God, no longer bound by our prior sinful nature inherited from Adam:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18)

The Apostle Paul and the other New Testament writers agreed in their exhortations to believers that Christians must not “sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1).

In his teachings to the Romans, Paul also related that we have received abundant grace:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)

Further, Paul taught that we cannot receive either justification or righteousness by our own works:

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, so 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, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:4-9).

The Problem of Legalism

It is through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption that we are saved, therefore, not by our own works.  The Laws of the Old Testament, says the writer of the Book of Hebrews, were given to prove to us that we cannot follow them completely.  They were given to teach us about our own inadequacies inherent in our sinful natures.

The Apostle Paul wrote that sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Some have taken this truth, however, to conclude that they may continue in sin, continue to live unrepentant, sinful lives, so that “God’s grace may abound,” although Paul explicitly denies this false teaching:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3).

Have you ever tried actually to keep your New Year’s resolutions?

How easy is it to follow a diet to lose weight?  Knowing what I cannot eat only means I want it even more because I continue to think about what I cannot have!

Relying on our own strength and will power to conform to God’s standards of holiness and righteousness is actually impossible, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Too many Christians live lives of frustration as they attempt to be holy by using their own abilities and resources.  They resort to legalism, demanding that not only they but also all Christians follow a list of laws that demonstrate their holiness.  When I was a child, these included not listening to the Beatles, not dancing to popular music, and not going to a bowling alley or a movie theater.

It was through one man’s sin that many were made sinners (read the story of the Fall of Adam in the book of Genesis).  In His mercy, God instituted a system of redemption for the Children of Israel  (see the “Laws of Moses” in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible).  By God’s grace, they received forgiveness through the keeping of the Laws of Moses, which entails relying on the blood sacrifices of animals that take the place of the sinners’ subjection t”o the “law of sin and death,” removing the sins of the people and redeeming the Israelites from the consequences of their sin.

In the same way, Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” or so John the Baptist described Him.

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:18-21).

Notice the last part of this passage, which states that “even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).

The Law was given, therefore, to show us what is sinful, not to demand under the New Covenant that we follow absolutely all of the rituals given by Moses. Grace reigns, therefore, and we can rely on the promises of God for His unmerited favor; He is not holding our sins against us because of the redemption we have gained through the sacrifice of Jesus, who took our punishment upon Himself on the cross.

It is difficult to imagine how God’s grace might be amplified even more than the grace provided by the superlative nature of God’s love towards us since while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  However, some Christian preachers and teachers have illogically decided that sinning actually allows God’s grace to work (as if He needs our help!).

In fact, many Christians have concluded that they may continue to live in sin and have never truly repented of their sins, merely continuing in their prior sinful conditions.  Such ideas have led to multiple accusations of “hypocrisy” against the Church and particularly among Church leaders, whose sins are loudly declared in the media.   However, these false teachings  of hyper-grace teachers explicitly contradict the clear teachings of the New Testament:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Significantly, just making a decision not to overeat or not to view pornography makes doing so all the more difficult because the “Law” we impose on ourselves only keeps the temptation before us day and night.  Under the New Covenant, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit and made to be new creatures; consequently, we should “have no more consciousness of sin.”

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Instead of vainly attempting to follow the letter of the Law of Moses, therefore, God has given us a better way as a result of His grace.

The way of righteousness is not written on tablets of stone, giving us a constant awareness of sin in our lives, but instead, His Laws are written on our hearts since we have been regenerated as new creatures in Christ, having been born again.  See the following passage in Hebrews 10:16-18, quoting from Jeremiah 31:33:

This is the covenant that I will make with them
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws upon their heart,
And on their mind I will write them,”He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:16-18)

Paul gives specific direction on how we can avoid having a consciousness of sin (always thinking about what is sinful): “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Phlippians 4:8).

Jesus taught in the New Testament that we are in the process of being transformed, or “metamorphosized” to become like Him:

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

(See more in this article and the subsequent articles.)

The Work of the Holy Spirit

Therefore, through the Holy Spirit, who was given to the Church as our Teacher and the one who convicts of the sin in our lives, as we “take up our cross” and “follow Him daily” (Luke 9:23), we are being changed into His image from day to day.  This takes place by exercising our free will, choosing to follow Him and not the ways of Satan or the world.  The road we walk is narrow, not broad:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Too many Christians teachers have denigrated the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Believers, declaring that the works and operations of the Holy Spirit ceased when the Apostles passed away.

Once again, false teachings have arisen as a result of over-reactions to abuses in the Church.  Legalism has resulted in the “Hyper-grace” movement, and the excesses of some charismatic, or “pentecostal,” believers have led to a dispensational dogma that opposes, essentially, any and all operations of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit was given by Christ to the whole Church: to as many as the Lord, Our God, shall call (Acts 2:38-40).  Since the Holy Spirit was given as our Teacher, we are also taught not to “quench” the Spirit’s fire in our lives in any way (See I Thessalonians 5:19).  The Spirit instructs us in the ways of righteousness, having begun the work of regeneration in our lives by causing us to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6).

To summarize, I will point to what the Apostle Paul wrote in the Eighth Chapter of Romans:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

This means that we Christians have been set free from legalism (trying to follow the “law of sin and death.”  However, we still must live our lives not “according to the flesh,” or according to the lusts of our bodies, but “according to the Spirit.”  Our continual desire must be to be filled with the Spirit so that we do not follow the lusts of the flesh.  God in His mercy and grace has forgiven us of all sin, but we must choose to walk in the steps of Christ, a narrow road indeed!

 

 

 

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