The orthodox Christian view of “grace” is that it is the ”unmerited favour of God”; and that is true, as far as it goes. But the same can be said of any of God’s blessings, including life itself. What sinful man truly merits is death, but God’s “unmerited favour” of mercy covers all His works, including the godly and the godless, the faithful and the unfaithful, the believer and the unbeliever. So such an important word as “grace” warrants a deeper understanding, since, if we are to be saved, it is only by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
During the dispensation of the Law, that is, under the Old Covenant, God spoke to His people by way of prophets (Hebrews 1:1). Then came the Son, who was the Word become flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and, in Him, God was speaking to His people (Hebrews 1:2), that is, in His life upon earth. As a result of His life, death and resurrection, Christ Jesus became the mediator of a New Covenant (Hebrews 9:15), thus inaugurating the dispensation of grace.
Now God speaks not to a nation through prophets, but to faithful individuals in His glorified Son, through the Holy Spirit, whose responsibility it is to be with those, forever, that love Christ and keep His commandments (John 14:15,16); to teach them all things and bring to their minds all that Jesus said (John 14:26); to guide the faithful into all truth, and to take from Jesus and give to His faithful people, thus glorifying Him (John 16:13-15).
This, in fact, reflects the role that Jesus carried out on behalf of the Father during His earthly manifestation; now the Spirit has come to take up the task.
Grace then, is God speaking directly to man. We are told that we may come boldly to the throne of grace and that we may “receive” mercy, and “find” grace (Hebrews 4:16); mercy is freely available to all; it is truly an unmerited favour of God. Grace, on the other hand, must be found, which is to say that it must be searched for; and isn’t this so?
Many believers never hear the voice of God speaking to them; they are content to leave the searching to others and hear from them what God might be saying. This, of course, explains why so many Christians are deceived and confused; they will not come boldly to the throne of grace in order to search for, and find, grace. Yet the throne of grace is the only place where grace can be found, and the Holy Spirit is the only ambassador of Christ who can convey His grace to mankind.
Grace requires the direct involvement of three persons; Christ, as the originator, the Holy Spirit, as the communicator, and the seeker, as the one “finding” grace.
Grace (Greek charis), is what is produced by the Holy Spirit acting upon the word of truth. Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:13) that “grace is being brought to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ”; that is, when we first know Christ, His grace begins its flow into our hearts. But it is not once done; grace is brought to us in every revelation or touch of the presence of Christ in our life. Grace belongs to Christ; it is His alone and He gives it to whom He wishes. There is no such thing as a “worker of grace”; grace must come from the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29), not from men. While one can share the grace given to him with others, or be “giving testimony to the word of His grace”, as it is put in Acts 14:3, it is not grace to those hearing, unless the Holy Spirit acts upon it and brings it to life in the hearer.
Grace is the power of God by which a believer can be made faithful, righteous and holy.
Peter writes (2 Peter 1:3-4) of the “divine power” that has been bestowed upon us to lead us to life and godliness in His own glory and goodness, and to allow us to become sharers in the divine nature. This divine power is grace and it enables what the Law did not. The Law pointed the way, but supplied no strength to walk in it. The Law demands, but makes no provision for its demands being met. The Law can awaken a desire to be faithful to God, but cannot satisfy it. The Law can rouse our efforts, but not achieve success. The Law can appeal to our hearts and minds but gives no power beyond what man has himself. Then came grace and it supplied what the Law could not, the “divine power” for believers, who yield absolutely to Christ, to be changed in the heart.
Grace does not merely serve in conversion but is absolutely essential for daily living. The heart disposed towards self and sin needs a constant supply of God’s grace to enable change to take place. When that grace is not sought by the believer, sin begins to re-assert its authority and resume its dominion. The heart of man is naturally disposed towards evil and it is only that continual flow of grace from the throne of grace that can overcome its power. Any attainment in spiritual growth and maturity is attributable to grace and grace alone. It is not merit, or worthiness, or work, but grace. But to receive grace we must seek it; “Therefore we should come boldly to the throne of grace in order that we may receive mercy and find grace in timely help” (Hebrews 4:16).
Romans 3:21-26 says that grace is God’s free gift of righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. It serves a two-fold purpose; firstly, it allows God to overlook the sins that have been committed previously – this is justification; secondly, it is a source of God’s power that will enable us, if we yield ourselves to it, to become children of God (John 1:12) living holy lives and becoming like Christ – this is sanctification. So grace is given to declare us righteous at conversion and to enable us to be righteous thereafter.
“….yet not I, but the grace of God with me…” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Paul is talking of His apostleship and how, by God’s grace, He was brought from one persecuting the Church to one who was an apostle to the gentiles. He laboured mightily, he said, but then acknowledged the truth; it was not himself, but the grace of God that did the work. He was but an empty vessel. And to remind Paul of this, he was given “a thorn in the flesh”, a “messenger of Satan”, that he might be harassed and so avoid being puffed up in pride. But God reassured Paul of the fundamental nature of the New Covenant; “…my grace is sufficient to you; for my power is made complete in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And it is only in our weakness – total emptying of self and surrendering all to Him – that grace can work. We will only be filled to the extent that we are empty.
“…..according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me, according to the working of His power” (Ephesians 3:7). It was the grace of God that prepared Paul for his apostolic work. As he submitted to it in faith, that is, as he trusted God to do what He promised, he was changed from what he had been into what he became. It was grace that did the work, but only because Paul surrendered to Christ’s lordship and handed over his own life to be re-fashioned by God in the image of Christ. Thus, he trusted, or had faith, in God’s promises and became an effective worker of God’s grace amongst the gentiles.
There are three possible lives for the Christian; one entirely under the Law, one entirely under grace and a mixture of partly law, partly grace. This last is the one described as Old Covenant Christianity and it was this that the epistles warn against. Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Jude; all address the problem of Christians failing to have faith, which is absolute trust, in God’s grace and allowing Him to do the work of sanctification. Abraham “did not hesitate in unbelief at the promise of God, but was empowered in faith, giving glory to God” (Romans 4:20). Unbelief is failing to have faith, or absolute trust, in the promises of God as to what His grace will accomplish in us. Abraham was empowered by trusting God. So are we all, if we allow Him to do all. And His promise is to make us holy in Christlikeness.
“For failing to understand the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, they were not submitted to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3).
This is the problem. Christians who either do not truly comprehend that it is by God’s grace alone that we can be changed “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18), or who feel it is too hard to let go of everything and trust God for all, devise a different system of righteousness, in which God has a place but in which man still has absolute control. True faith, that which is reckoned as righteousness, must allow God to do all. (See Romans 4:5). God’s righteousness is derived from that faith that allows grace to do its work of producing God’s holiness in us.
Faith must be such as releases the working of God’s grace by the surrender of the man. The grace that pardons is the same as the grace that sanctifies. It is the power of God to do both. There is a danger in falling short and settling for the grace that pardons only. This is a common danger into which many Christians fall. The grace of God cannot be compartmentalized. As little of the grace you have that sanctifies, then as little of the grace you have that pardons. In failing to understand this, Christians are faced with a double edged sword. On the one hand, if we think that God’s grace cannot be more exalted than in bestowing pardon on the vile and unworthy, there can arise from this a, subtle, inward feeling that if God is so magnified by our sins more than anything else, He probably doesn’t expect us to be free of sin in this life. This strikes at the very root of grace, which is to lead us into a life of holiness. On the other hand, ignorance of the power of God’s grace to do all of the work alone to produce sanctification in the one yielded in faith to it, leads to believers being thrown on their own resources and relying on their own efforts.
Thus, a life of weakness and bondage under the Law is the result and they never know that grace is meant to do all alone, if we will but let it. This is Old Covenant Christianity at work.