What Is Grace?
The apostle Paul speaks extensively about grace. He insists that salvation be given us only by grace. It is impossible for us to obtain a perfect righteousness by our own faith or our own good works. It is Christ’s faith and His works that count. This is why God gives us salvation by grace—as a gift.
“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.”
Grace and works are exact opposites. Rewards come by the practice of works, but mercy comes by the application of grace. In the Bible, salvation is always and exclusively by grace.
The best explanation of grace is disclosed within the writings of Paul himself. The Greek word that Paul used is “charis.” It means essentially “a gift” or “favor.” In Luke 1:30, charis is translated “favor”; in l Corinthians 16:3, “liberality”; and in 2 Corinthians 8:4, “gift.” It is certainly the opposite of works or wages. In fact, it has nothing whatever to do with any works (either good or bad). Paul makes this quite clear.
“And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
Without controversy, grace is a pure gift and so thoroughly remote from anything connected with deeds, works, wages, or debts. Paul makes this plain. He shows that debts incurred by works and grace are opposites of one another in meaning. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Romans 4:4). Grace is something given when a person deserves the very opposite. An evil man deserves punishment (all of us would readily admit). But if he is given what God calls “grace,” then he is given a handsome reward instead of the punishment that all of us know he deserves and should endure.
Grace always has to do with something freely given. Note the consistent teaching of Paul on this matter. “Being justified freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24). Grace is associated with “the free gift” in Romans 5:15 and again in 5:16. This award is called “the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15). The gift is also called the “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17).
Conversely, the law is always associated with works and deeds. The breaking of law results in wages being paid—the wages of death (Romans 6:32). Sin and death come by law. As Paul said, “the law entered, that the offence [sin] might abound, but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). Grace came to counter the just demands of the law. Though breaking the law caused death to come to mankind, still the free “gift of righteousness” is presently granted to redeem mankind. And while sin reigns unto death for all humans, “even so might grace reign through righteousness unto age-lasting [aionian] life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:21).
The New Testament shows that the righteousness of God comes as a gift to mankind. Some might wonder if it really is a gift. There is Philippians 2:12 which says “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Does that not prove that some “work” is necessary after all? Yes, but whose work? The next verse says, “for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (verse 13). Though Christians have something to perform to be proper law-abiding citizens in our communities, and we are told we are created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), the works that we always should perform are not a means to secure salvation. We do good works because we know we are saved, not as a means to obtain salvation. The only works essential to redemption and salvation were those performed by Christ Jesus on our behalf—not our own works!
In the early years of my professional training in the field of theology, the chancellor of the college I attended had the habit of explaining what grace meant in the epistles of Paul. He used the illustration of his watch. He would call attention to the Rolex watch he had on his wrist and then brings into the story a beggar who came asking for a handout.
The chancellor’s explanation of grace was this: He would take off his Rolex watch and place it on a table in front of the beggar. Then he told the beggar that the watch was his if he would walk to the table and pick up the watch. If the beggar did what the chancellor required, then the watch would be his—freely and without cost. At least, this is what the chancellor explained was a free gift to the beggar. He then went on to say that humans secure salvation in Christ in a similar fashion. Christ offers salvation to us by “putting it on the table in front of us,” but it is necessary for us to do our part. According to the chancellor, we had to “walk over to the table” and accept the “free gift” by repenting of our sins, expressing a belief and faith in Christ, confessing Him before men and trying with all our hearts to obey the commandments of God. He believed salvation would “freely” be ours if we “walked over to the table on which salvation was placed and picked it up.” Note that it was a necessary act for the beggar to walk over to that table to retrieve the gift that was given to him.
The truth is, however, that illustration of the watch and the beggar was NOT the teaching of the apostle Paul on the matter of grace. Why? Because “works” were involved in the transaction! The works that the beggar had to perform may have been very minor, but they were still works and this is precisely what the apostle Paul said grace was not.
A true explanation of grace by using the illustration of the chancellor and the beggar, would be for the rich man to place his Rolex watch on the table and tell the beggar it was his, whether he walked over and picked it up or not! This is the true explanation of grace. With grace, the beggar was given full possession over the watch without any requirements by the chancellor.
The truth is, the chancellor never did understand what Paul meant by grace. He always felt mankind had to participate with God in obtaining salvation. He believed that humanity had to do at least a little work of its own to be saved. And true enough, probably 95% of preachers and Christian laity today accept the same erroneous teaching. They find it difficult to believe that “Christ did it all.” But that is exactly what Christ did do—He did it all! Christ is the only one who could do these things properly and obtain from the Father a perfect record of obedience and holiness. But God the Father lets Christ be our substitute in all dealings He has with mankind. That means the Father allows Christ and His righteousness to be put to our account. Christ pays all our debts to God and we inherit grace from Him. This is done because Christ paid the penalty for our misdeeds and God then “declares each of us righteous.” Wonderful!
To Paul, it was not our own works of faith, righteousness, holiness and commandment-keeping that gets us saved. It was Christ’s perfect obedience to God that does it. But should not mankind repent of their ways? Yes, indeed, and all men will one day repent when God inspires them to do so; but salvation is not accomplished by what man does or does not do. Salvation is solely from grace. Remember, Christ died with all the world’s sins on His back (and even he died unrepentant of those sins he was carrying for us before His death), yet Christ was still saved through God’s grace. Paul taught that grace is a free gift without the slightest works (whether good or bad) coming into the picture.
And look at what mankind receives by this Imputation of Christ’s obedient life to us. Paul summed it up well by teaching:
“But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made UNTO US wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”
1 Corinthians 1:30
By our acceptance of Christ and our being in Him, God has “made us to be” or, to put it another way, “reckoned unto us” (or imputed unto us)
These are the same virtuous qualities that Christ now has and the Father has made them over to our account through God's principle of grace, even though we, of ourselves, do not deserve them.
What God the Father does is take away all sins off our records through the death of Christ and then he imputes a perfect righteousness to our account. When we come before the bar of judgment, our demerit side of the ledger is wiped clean of any defilement and our credit side is filled with all the righteous deeds accomplished by Jesus Christ while on earth. What a glorious thing Christ Jesus and God the Father did for us through the agency of their grace. We are absolved of all guilt; no punishment awaits us in the future judgment of God. We are reckoned to be as holy and as righteous (in the eyes of the Father) as is Christ Himself.
Let us consider the fact that all of us are still sinners. What about sin in our lives that still plagues us from time to time? Since we are declared righteous (justified) and reckoned to be holy by the Father, should we then let down on good works and let sin run rampant in our lives? In no way! The apostle Paul answered this matter very forcefully. He knew the tendency of man would always lead to wrongdoing.
“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?”
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death or of obedience unto righteousness.”
Those who continue the deliberate practice of sin and unrighteousness can suffer serious consequences in this life for their departure from the right way of living. Paul was adamant in condemning Christians who took the matter of grace lightly and used it as an excuse for wrong living.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [age-lasting life].”
Though our salvation in Christ is secure because it has been given to us by grace and not by our works (whether good or bad), we can suffer much tribulation and anguish in this life if one shunts aside the practice of good works and begins to revel in evil acts. The apostle Paul described the wretched condition of a man in Corinth who was practicing immorality and doing so openly. Paul had some severe admonitions to give that man. He said:
“Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit [of the man] may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 5:5
Sure, salvation is guaranteed, but we can still be chastened because of evil deeds. Still, there is hope. Do not give up yet. God can even rescue us from the problems we now face.
Indeed, the rewards of a good life in this present era of time can be forfeited if a person abandons practicing good works—to show forth righteousness in this life. And while such people will eventually be saved through the grace of Christ, because salvation itself is not based on our works—whether the works are good or bad—they are in for some serious judgments while in this flesh if they cast aside the principles of right living. Note what Paul taught:
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day [of reckoning—whether now or in the future] shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built upon [upon the foundation, Jesus Christ], he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself SHALL BE SAVED, yet so as by fire.”
1 Corinthians 3:11–15
A person who continues deliberately practicing sinful acts, that he or she knows to be wrong, may even be chastised to the point of not making the first resurrection. The first resurrection (which the apostle Paul called in Greek “the out-resurrection” in Philippians 3:11) is a reward Christ gives to those diligent in their practice of good works and a reasonable conduct of life. Those brought forth from the dead at Christ’s Second Advent, will see the thousand year reign of Christ on earth known as the Millennium (Revelation 20:1–5). But those who persist in sinfulness and unrighteousness will not witness that glorious reign of Christ known as the Kingdom of God. Paul warned Christians who persist in evil,
“Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous. nor drunkards, nor revelers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but you are sanctified, but you are justified [declared righteous] in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9–11
“For this you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
They will have to wait much later until the dispensation of the fullness of times (Ephesians 1:10) before they will be resurrected to attain the salvation that God has granted to us through His grace.
The time for the Kingdom of Christ and of God is the Millennium period—the one thousand-year rule of Christ. The apostle Paul said that the rule of the Kingdom would last even beyond the period of the Great White Throne. It will conclude at the end of the dispensation of the fullness of time when Christ conquers the last enemy “death.” This is when the final resurrection of the dead takes place and there are no more individuals remaining in the “death-state.” This is the resurrection at the end [in Greek: the telos] when even death itself is destroyed. At that time Christ will hand all rule back to the Father. This is when the Kingdom (that He governs on God’s behalf) will end.
“Then comes the end [the telos, the last resurrection at the end], when he [Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father.”
1 Corinthians 15:24
It would be a sad thing if any Christian missed out on experiencing the Kingdom of Christ and God that will occur on earth and in other areas of the heavens. But only those who are in the first resurrection (taking place at Christ’s Second Advent) will witness that glorious period of time throughout its full span. This is the reward that each Christian receives who does not reckon grace as an opportunity to continue doing wrongful acts. 2
The apostle Paul made it clear that those who repudiate the doctrine of God’s grace, and treat it with disdain or in a frivolous manner, will not be resurrected with such attitudes or given the reward of the Kingdom phase of history. This will be the most majestic period that mankind will ever witness. It would be a great calamity to each person who misses the Kingdom of God.
In fact, if a person sins willingly after having come to the knowledge of the truth on what grace really means, and begins to treat it with disrespect and dishonor, sore consequences can come to the person in this life and he or she in the future will not experience the Kingdom!
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, violence, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders. drunkenness, reveling, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Mankind is warned to practice the principles of right living, which after all is only a reasonable requirement for the happiness and well being of civilized man. But for those who persist in wrong living, the Book of Hebrews has some strong words to say to them.
“For we know him that has said, ‘Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense,’ saith the Lord. And again, ‘the Lord shall judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
God tries to rescue His people from falling into a lifestyle of wrong living. We read further in the Book of Hebrews:
“For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges, every son whom he receives.”
And God can chastise severely.
“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off.”
Without actively trying to practice right living principles, people can be “cut off" from such rewards as the Kingdom of God. This does not mean, however, that the grace of God would be thwarted and people will not eventually be saved. Before these dire warnings were given in the Book of Hebrews, the author was aware that God “hath perfected FOREVER them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Ultimate salvation is something all humanity will experience. That is something that has been secured by Christ for mankind without the works of man (either good or bad) being involved. Yes, everyone will be saved and brought to a full knowledge of the truth of God.
“Who [God] will have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:4
True. All humans will finally repent of their sins and wrong attitudes and be forgiven their sins. They will be reconciled to God.
“For the love of Christ constrains us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. ... And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world UNTO HIMSELF, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:14, 18–19
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him.”
“And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This last verse shows a voluntary and willing submission and confession to Jesus Christ to the glory of God. This is true because the apostle Paul showed that such confession is inspired by the actions of the Holy Spirit on such individuals (1 Corinthians 12:3). If one checks every occasion in the Old or New Testaments where the word “to confess” or its cognates are used, it will be seen that it is always placed in a context of persons using their “free will” and with heartfelt contrition. This scripture thus shows that all things in heaven, on earth and under the earth (the angels who are kept in chains in the bowels of the earth) will one day willingly proclaim the Lordship of Christ to the glory of God the Father.
And though every person will eventually find salvation in the dispensation of the fullness of times, those who persist in evil acts can miss out on the glorious period known as the Kingdom of Christ and God. Those who,
“sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins.”
This applies to those who count “the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29). This type of sin is called “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” that Christ talked about (Matthew 12:31) and referred to by the other apostles (James 5:20; 2 Peter 2:20–21; 1 John 5:16). Yet this sin is not unpardonable in the ultimate sense. It is only “unpardonable” during this present age (up to the Second Advent of Christ) and in the next age to come (when the Kingdom of Christ appears on earth and lasts for the Millennium). That is what Christ taught. Note carefully.
“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world [Greek: age], neither in the world [age] to come [the Millennium]!”
This sin is different from ordinary sins because in this case the person who knows better actively and deliberately turns against what he recognizes to be the truth. Such people are doing “despite unto the Spirit of grace.” Unlike we who can have our sins forgiven in this age and when Christ returns to have all our sins forgiven at the judgment when the Kingdom of Christ appears on earth (at the start of the Millennium), these abject sinners who do despite unto the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age, nor during the Millennium. They will not be living during the Millennium to gain forgiveness of sins.
Christ did not mean, however, that these vile sinners would never be forgiven sins in all circumstances. They simply will miss out on the blessings of forgiveness in this present age and miss out on seeing the rule of Christ on this earth during the Millennium and the judgment of the Great White Throne. When they are finally resurrected at the beginning of the dispensation of the fullness of times (Ephesians 1:10), they will look back and see what they missed out on as a reward. They (and the spiritual powers in the heavens that have sinned and caused mankind to sin abundantly) will then submit to Christ and confess His Lordship to the glory of God. Recall again the teaching of the apostle Paul on the ultimate harmony to emerge between God and man, and between God and all spiritual powers in the heavens, on earth and under the earth.
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”
The proper way, therefore, is to remain faithful to Christ. If people blatantly persist in the practice of evil and abandon all conscience toward evil, such people will suffer great losses. Not only can such people be handed over to Satan the Devil for punishment now, but also they will miss out on experiencing “the world to come.” This is why the apostle Paul was so severe in his writings toward outrageous sinners who persisted in their sins and break off any attempt to repent of them. He said, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:5). And, “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
Eventually they will, much later in the dispensation of the fullness of times (Ephesians 1:10), finally be reconciled to God and be saved. There is not the slightest doubt that all mankind will be saved at that time. God assures this.
At this point it is essential to remind ourselves of one major doctrinal fact. The important phrase “Kingdom of God and Christ” is not to be equated solely with the teaching of “salvation.” The “Kingdom of God” is part of a salvation, in the sense of a reward to those brought up from the dead at the first resurrection, but it does not represent the totality of salvation itself. The fullness of salvation is to experience being born into the very family of God and this will happen to all in the dispensation of the fullness of times. To be in the first resurrection means that we will witness and experience the Kingdom of God as well. It is an extra reward that all of us in Christ will receive if we remain faithful and thankful to God for what Jesus Christ has done for us. This is what Paul was endeavoring to experience by being in the “out-resurrection” —the first resurrection that occurs at Christ’s second advent—and this is what he wanted for all the Christians to whom he wrote. In effect, those of us who remain faithful in this age will inherit salvation and the Kingdom of God (the reward) at Christ’s advent. And while all will eventually gain salvation, all will not experience the reward—the Kingdom of God and Christ. It is just that simple!
Paul was well aware that ultimate salvation is gained through the grace of God (and not of our works—either good or bad) and because it is of grace, salvation is secure for all. Jesus Christ “shall also confirm you unto the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
In fact, the apostle Paul expressed perfect confidence that salvation would be granted to all because it is God who started His work of salvation in us. All of us should be confident in our salvations.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it [Greek: complete it] UNTIL the day of Jesus Christ.”
In fact, salvation for all mankind was secure in the plan of God before the foundation of the world. Both God the Father and Christ, back at that remote time, reckoned that grace would be the means for all mankind to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Paul taught this.
“Who will have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 2:4
“Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN.”
2 Timothy 1:9
This fact was the teaching of the apostle Paul and it is impossible to improve on it. We were saved by grace (through the purpose of God in Christ) before the world was ever created and mankind put upon it. Indeed, all of our sins and imperfections were placed on the back of Christ even back at that time. 2 Since all this was accomplished in the plan of God before any of us was born or breathed a breath of air, then these things must have been imparted to us by grace—by the free and unmerited gift from God Himself. True enough, that is how salvation is always awarded to mankind. It is by God providing His grace for us.
The next chapter will deal with how Christ’s atoning work will be applied to all of us in a legal sense. It is important that we realize what the Atonement of Christ entails. It is a subject woefully misunderstood by multitudes of people who read the Holy Scriptures, and this includes those who have been Christians for many years. It is time to recognize just what the Atonement of Christ really is.
This reward of living during the Kingdom phase of history is NOT
salvation itself (which will inevitably come to all humans by grace and not
works). But as a reward for having a proper attitude of thankfulness to God
and Christ, and trying to live a decent and proper life, God will want each
of us to have the
reward called “the out-resurrection”—the first resurrection which takes place at the Second Advent. Those who do not make the “out-resurrection” will wait until the Kingdom of Christ and God is concluded to enjoy the salvation that all have been promised through grace. God will not reward people with bad attitudes with the first resurrection.
2 Those sins and imperfections were imputed to Christ through the biblical doctrine of Imputation. But not only were our demerits imputed to Christ so that he could die for them (in our stead), but all the righteousness, holiness, and virtues of Christ himself have also been imputed to each of us before the foundation of the world.
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