“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
So begins a well-known American hymn. And although the words and mood of the song leave some false impressions, it is certainly correct to say that God’s grace is amazing. But what is equally amazing is how few people really understand what the Bible doctrine of grace is all about! Yet our very salvation depends upon God’s grace, for “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
Certainly those whom God has called to salvation must not remain in ignorance of this basic Bible doctrine.
In a general sense, the word grace in the Bible merely means favor, and usually refers to God’s favor toward those who love and obey Him. But, especially in the New Testament, it is used specifically to refer to God’s greatest act of favor God’s calling of a sinner to repentance and the extension of God’s forgiveness-- which lead to eternal life.
Numerous false concepts about grace circulate through the turbulent waters of this world’s religious dogmas.
For one, some people have never bothered to distinguish the subject of grace in their minds from the related but nonetheless separate subjects of faith, justification and sin. When they think of grace, therefore, they confuse it with one of these other subjects and thus miss the meaning of grace altogether.
Others believe that God will extend grace without repentance, or without obedience to the law (which they invariably believe is “done away”).
All of these conceptions are wrong. To be sure, the word grace does show God’s love. But the meaning of grace, when examined, is far different from the false concepts mentioned above.
In general, the word grace simply means favor, and can be used of favor shown by God or man. Thus we see how Esther found grace or favor in the sight of her husband King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:17). Noah found favor (“grace”) in the eyes of God, who as a result saved him and his family from the Flood (Gen. 6:8).
But in the New Testament the word grace, through repeated association, refers to a special act of favor by God the act of forgiving the sins of those He calls-- and giving them the promise of eternal life. Rom. 5:14-17 makes this plain.
Read John 1:17.Here we are told that grace came through Jesus Christ. Christians know that through Jesus we receive forgiveness and reconciliation to God. And in Romans 5:21, Titus 2:11 and Titus 3:7, we are told that the end result of God’s grace is eternal life!
Now that is indeed a wonderful gift an unmerited and unearned act of favor from God to man!
Most professing Christians would agree with the plain statement that “we are justified by grace.” Yet it is at precisely this juncture that the Bible parts company with the beliefs of men about grace.
To be sure, the Bible does indeed teach that we are justified by grace. Read Eph. 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” And Romans 3:24 declares we are “justified freely by His grace.” See also Romans 4:16 and Titus 3:7.But what does it mean to be “justified by grace”? Few really understand.
Read these verses just cited in your own Bible. They speak of at least four different, but related, areas: faith, justification, works and grace.
Today, religious people are confused by these words and tend to lump them all together as one subject with some meaningless and incorrect statements like “The law is done away,”
or “All you need is grace,” or “Just believe, that’s all.”
Here are some brief definitions of these terms: Justification is the process and result of having your sins forgiven. Works are things you do your self like charitable acts, rituals or even, in some contexts, acts of obedience to the law. Faith is belief in God (backed up by action) and is the necessary ingredient God looks for before he forgives a sinner. Finally, grace is the favor that God shows when He grants forgiveness and eternal life.
Therefore, to be “justified by grace through faith” means to be forgiven by God (justified) not because of our goodness but because of God’s favor (grace) if we believe Him (Faith). Now that is simple to understand.
When God says we are justified by grace. He means we are justified because of the unmerited and unearned favor God shows us and not because of anything we have done.
It was not our goodness that resulted in our calling, but God’s goodness. It was His kindness, love and favor His grace and nothing more! We did not earn the calling, and we cannot earn forgiveness or eternal life. These are all gifts examples of God’s unmerited favor. His grace.
Still, the false concept that humans can somehow earn salvation has persisted. In Pauls’ time, for example, Paul had to explain that we are justified by grace and not because we happen to be the physical descendants of Abraham, to whom the promise of forgiveness and salvation were originally made. The Jews of Paul’s day took great pride in being the descendants of Abraham, but were clearly told their ancestry had nothing to do with their justification. Read Romans 4:16-18.
Further, the Bible reveals that we are justified by grace and not because of our works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6). In this context, “works” are anything a person may do in an attempt to please God and earn salvation because of it. But such things do not earn us forgiveness or eternal life. Salvation is a free gift given because of God’s favor (grace).
In Christ’s time, the “works” spoken of here were usually understood to be rituals or charitable actions, but might include even some parts of the law still binding today, if the motivation was to earn salvation. Thus we are told quite plainly that we are justified by grace through faith and not by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16-21; 5:4).
But good works are not wrong, and neither is the law. It is just that we are not justified by them. We do not earn salvation by doing them.
So again: We are justified by God’s grace, and not because of race, works or the law. (Of course, God does demand our living faith in Him, since we are saved by grace, but through faith Eph. 2:8.
Few professing Christians would subscribe to the false belief that we can earn salvation by works or law-keeping. But an opposite falsehood prevails that since God is indeed a loving God we therefore need not keep the law any longer.
To support their theory they often quote such scriptures as Romans 6:14: “You are not under law but under grace.” But how can anyone believe that this statement means we need not to keep the Ten Commandments, for example? Does such a one believe it is OK to steal? To murder? To lie or covet? Of course not! And why do they not read the next verse? It says, ‘What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
Remember, sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4).When Paul says we should not sin, he is saying we must not transgress the law! Clearly, being under grace does not mean the law is done away. It merely means we are forgiven because of God’s favor, and not because we keep the law.
The Bible plainly states that grace requires us to go on and obey the law. We are to follow righteousness (I Tim. 6:11), and righteousness is defined by God’s commandments (Ps. 119:172).
In Romans 3:8, Paul soundly condemned the false teaching that grace means you can sin at will. And Jude labeled those who “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” as “ungodly men” marked out for “condemnation” (Jude 4).
Here are some important scriptures about this topic: Esther 2:17, Genesis 6:8 the word grace merely means favor. Romans 5:14-17 in the New Testament, the word grace refers to God’s favor shown in our calling and forgiveness of our sins. Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace. Romans 4:16-18, Romans 11:6, Galatians 2:16-21 we are not justified by race, works or the law. Romans 6:14-15 being under grace rather than under the law does not mean we can sin. Romans 3:8, Jude 4 the doctrine of grace without law is branded as heresy.
Few people even professing Christians understand the biblical doctrine of grace in its full import. But when we do when we come to understand the enormity of our sins and the enormity of God’s forgiveness because of His love we can truly praise Him for it. His grace is indeed amazing.