God’s Grace Defined
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.” (Eph. 1:7-8)
Grace is the good news that Almighty God, acting as the Supreme Judge of all creation, did, by the death of Jesus Christ, perform a judicial act of forever satisfying His own judgment of death against Adam’s race.
“And He is the satisfactory atonement against our sin and not our sin only, but the sin of the whole world.” (1 Jn. 2:2)
Grace is the good news that Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary became the once-and-for-all sin substitute.
“For He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
Grace is the good news that those who are dead in the first Adam can obtain life by being placed into the last Adam.
“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22; 1 Cor. 15:45)
Grace is the good news that Jesus Christ by His death pulled the sting of death from the heart of the human race.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:55-57)
God alone accomplished this work of grace without any interference from man. There was absolutely nothing that anyone could have done to help God perform His act of love, and there is nothing that God left unfinished after He had performed His work of grace. Grace was, and is, and shall remain totally the work of God alone.
Just how people feel about God’s work of grace does not change in any way His work. His truth remains true, whether or not anyone ever believes it. What more can God do than what He has already done?
“Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim. 1:9)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5a)
When Paul taught grace, he did not ask anyone to do anything—to keep any laws or join any church or do good works of any kind. He was explaining what God has already done! What good is religion or reformation to a dead human soul? What good would it do to try to change those who are in Adam by teaching them to live better lives? They cannot change! They cannot reform! They cannot make themselves better! All are dead.
God Gives Grace
Grace for Paul was a life and death matter. Man cannot earn life from God. God must give life to the dead. If we attempt to add so much as one small grain of human work to God’s work of grace in Jesus Christ, then God’s work ceases to be God’s work and it ceases to be grace. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to defend this very point of grace.
“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Rom. 11:6)
God’s grace must begin with God. God extends grace to those whom He chooses. God does not make everyone alive. God’s grace is extended to those whom He has determined to set His love upon. Grace is all of God and God alone.
What is “the gospel”?
“I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel, which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:6-9)
During his first missionary journey, Paul shared the gospel of grace with those of Galatia. A number of them received God’s grace that had been extended to them. Paul then founded many local churches in the region. The Galatians were excited about the love that God had for them and their new-found life and freedom in Christ.
However, soon after Paul’s departure, the Jews from Judea came to these young believers and began to pervert the gospel. A perversion is a twisting of the truth. So how did they twist the truth? They taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1b). They were adding man’s religious works to God’s work of grace.
We can better understand how the gospel was being perverted by the legalists of Paul’s day when we understand exactly what the Bible says that the gospel is.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
There is only one gospel; there are not many gospels. Salvation is not a matter of one person going to heaven this way and another going to heaven that way. There are not, as many believe, many roads to God. God has provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the only way to heaven (Acts 4:12, Jn. 14:6). By means of this work, God has done everything necessary to save those who trust Jesus Christ as Savior.
If this is true, then mixing the Old Testament law or any work of man with the gospel of grace is not the gospel; it is a perversion of the gospel. The perversion confuses and blinds people to the truth. This is exactly how Paul felt about the matter. So serious was this distorting of the truth to the apostle that he states that God should curse those who pervert it. This was no nit-picky Bible fuss between people who really believed the same thing, or the splitting of some theological hair. The truth of eternal life or death was at stake.
Mixing Law and Works with Grace
Why is Paul’s battle for the true gospel significant for Christians today? After all, no one today teaches that a person must be circumcised to receive God’s gift of eternal life, do they?
Remember that Paul’s fight was about mixing law with grace. Today many, many preachers and religious leaders, through blindness, confusion or ignorance, are teaching lies and confusing people. Some who even name the name of Christ continue to blend works into the gospel. This implies that a dead human being can do something to earn God’s grace or that God’s work in Christ was not sufficient to satisfy all of His divine justice. By this serious error, they place themselves squarely under Paul’s curse.
Some common attempts at mixing law (or works) and grace today include:
- Water baptism vs. the gospel of grace
Many today unashamedly broadcast the teaching that a person must be baptized with water in order to be saved. Thus water baptism becomes a work which is added to the finished work of God in Jesus Christ, which results in a perverted gospel.
The Bible reveals that water baptism is a visible, physical symbol of the invisible, spiritual baptism which occurs when a person trusts Jesus Christ for eternal life. God the Holy Spirit actually immerses-identifies the believer into a permanent spiritual union with the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 5:30,32). Since this is a spiritual, unseen work of grace, water baptism is a visible object lesson that allows the believer to show a picture of this real spiritual truth to those who observe. The picture is not the real.
Jesus Christ’s death completely satisfied God’s just judgment for sin. He did not make a down payment and require that we pick up the rest of the tab. Water baptism does have a place in the plan of God for us, but it is not a part of the gospel.
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” (1 Cor. 1:17)
The false teaching that a person must be water baptized to be saved is identical to the false teaching denounced by Paul in the book of Galatians. It continues to blind people today to the good news of God’s wonderful grace. Just as circumcision played no part in saving a fallen, sinful race then, neither does water baptism today.
- Church membership vs. the gospel of grace
Does a person have to be a member of a church, or a particular denomination, in order to go to heaven? This question confuses countless millions who are held sway by religious leaders promoting their church or cult as the only way to heaven. God is satisfied only with the work of Jesus Christ on the cross as payment for our sins. When we try to add to that work by performing certain religious acts to save us, we are perverting the gospel, and “grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6).
- Turning from sin vs. the gospel of grace
Must a person turn from sins in his life in order to receive God’s life? Tremendous confusion surrounding the biblical doctrine of repentance fuels this controversy and trips up many sincere seekers of truth. “Turn or burn!” many religious leaders shout.
If “turning from sins” played a role in salvation, then these questions arise: Does my turning from sin in some way really finish what Jesus Christ said He finished completely? What does it mean to “turn from sin?” Which sins should a sinner turn from? What about the sins we don’t even know about in our lives? How exactly are we to turn from them?
The gospel of John, the book in the Bible most often used to present the good news of Jesus Christ to people around the world, never uses the word “repent.” John tells us how to have life eternal, but repentance is nowhere to be found in the book.
When adding a “turn from sin” view to the gospel of grace, a religious teacher has added works to the gospel. The problem with man is not sins. Sins are just the evidence of the problem. The problem with man is sin—the spiritual death that we inherited from Adam. God is not impressed with those who abstain from certain sins or cultural taboos in order to gain His favor. God is impressed only with His perfect Son’s finished work on the cross. As believers in Christ, we should turn from sin, not to receive life, but because we have been given life.
- Giving your money vs. the gospel of grace
Few teachers are guilty of teaching that a person can buy his way into heaven through gifts to the church or worthwhile charitable organizations. The sad truth is, however, that many people believe that their standing before God is enhanced by the amount of money they give to their church or charity.
The leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther, vehemently attacked the religious frauds that taught that as “soon as the coin in the chest doth ring, souls out of purgatory spring.” Such frauds are at work today, insinuating that a generous pocketbook can influence a person’s standing before God. It took the death of the Second Person of the Trinity to satisfy completely the righteous demands of a holy God. What amount of money could man give to help God do what He has already done?
- Doing penance vs. the gospel of grace
Often when a person recognizes the evil of sin within, he chooses to try to deny the gratification of a sinful impulse. Sincere people have even resorted to punishing themselves physically in an effort to deal with the sin nature.
Some religions prescribe special steps to take, or penances to pay for sins committed. The performance of these penances is somehow expected to be sufficient punishment to appease God for their sins. God, who deemed it necessary and appropriate to bruise His own Son in order save those who will trust Him by faith, will be satisfied with no human effort no matter how sincere it might be. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saves us” (Titus 3:5).
- Keeping the golden rule vs. the gospel of grace
Often the Bible’s beautiful instruction for God’s people to love others is elevated to become the most important truth in the Bible. With such a high priority placed on this command, many people may be under the delusion that if a person simply strives to love others as he loves himself, then his standing before God is secure.
Man, who was born spiritually dead, falls tremendously short of the glory of God regardless of how much he strives to love and care for others. That is why Jesus Christ had to die on the cross for us. We can in no way add to that work of salvation, even with such a lofty goal as caring for others.
- Walking a church aisle vs. the gospel of grace
Many churches in the South have a public invitation to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. The pastor invites people to walk down to the front of an assembly, thus making public a spiritual decision to receive the gift of salvation made available by the finished work of Christ. This public profession, however, plays absolutely no part in the slightest way in the salvation of the believer. It is sad that the public invitation is not explained clearly in many churches. There is always the danger of someone believing that a public profession (walking down an aisle of some building) is necessary in order to become a Christian. The passage often used to teach that a public profession is necessary for salvation is Romans 10:9-10: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.”
Paul’s Jewish kinfolk had been taught from childhood and believed sincerely that the God that they worshiped was one God (Deut. 6:4). They also knew that their God’s name was Jehovah (Ex. 3:14). God was asking them to believe that Jehovah had made himself visible and knowable in human form in the person of Jesus Christ.
In order to be saved, the Jews must believe that the One they had helped to crucify, the carpenter from Nazareth, was none other than Jehovah God revealed in human flesh. To confess Jesus as Lord (Jehovah) would mean that they recognized His work of grace for them on the cross. To believe with the heart that God raised Him from the dead is to believe the gospel by faith, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-3). Said simply, for the Jews to confess Him as Lord would be the same as believing that He is Jehovah God. Walking down a church aisle and confessing Christ publicly is not in view in this passage and has never saved anyone, but trusting in Jesus Christ will.
- Obeying God’s law vs. the gospel of grace
Many people believe that keeping the Ten Commandments is how a person gets to go to heaven. Others believe that keeping the Sabbath and going to the sanctuary and bringing their tithes to the storehouse are laws that are to be kept by Christians. God’s law was never designed to give life.
“If there had been a law, any law, which could have given life, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21)
The Ten Commands reveal that we are sinful before God (Rom. 3:20-21) and point us to personal faith in Jesus Christ where there is life (Gal. 2:16). Amazing grace is God giving life to the dead. God gives life to the dead the moment that faith is placed in His Son.
“They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (Acts 16:31)