Grace Defined And Examined


In Romans 7 we have what I call Paul’s frustration passage of what it was like living under the Law of Moses. Paul is speaking of the fruitless struggle under the law to find justification there-under. He speaks of his inner struggle over sin.

He begins in verse 14 by saying, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. Now then, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.”

As Paul continues we see a legal but a noble Jew frustrated by the fact that he was never able to live up to the demands of the Law. Law was good, it was spiritual but by itself, it cannot save. The instrument of eternal redemption, which depended upon justification had not yet been set in place. but that was to change.

John 1:7 says, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” Earlier in verse 14 John said, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” See also Romans 5:17 / Ephesians 2:8-9.

The amazing grace of God has made all the difference. “Amazing Grace” is probably the most favourite and most often sung hymn today. “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.”

Is it any wonder that we love this old song?

When asked to define grace probably the most common answer given is, “the unmerited favour of God.” While this expresses a truth about grace it falls far short of telling us what grace really is. The concept of grace is so profound and great that no finite mind or human language can fully comprehend or explain it.

Just the thought that Almighty God, the great I AM, the Creator of this vast universe would pay any particular notice of us at all, fills us with awe and at the same time humility.

To think that he “would make himself nothing, taking on himself the very nature of a servant” fills us with even greater awe. Then to die on a Roman cross, so that he might save helpless humanity is as Paul says, “Immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.” We can only exclaim with Paul: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

This is what grace is all about, an indescribable precious gift of salvation that we are in no way deserving of. Grace implies that God gives to us freely and entirely of his own sovereign will the gift of salvation. It is not offered to us on the condition that we promise to pay back a particular amount.

In fact, grace implies that we can pay nothing in return. Man has no assets with which he can pay. All the money in the world and all of our good works could never repay what was done for us. Man can only accept completely or reject completely what has been done for him gratuitously. The bottom line is that in spite of our good works we are all sinners. John reminds us, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” 1 John 1:8.

I understand that at AA meetings a person will introduce himself, “I am John Doe, I am an alcoholic”. Maybe occasionally it would be good for me to say, “I am, I am a sinner,” if for no other reason than to remind ourselves of what I really am.

Grace presents a problem for human pride. Man prides himself on his ability to take care of himself by doing his own thing. The truth is that for man to be saved it was necessary for Christ to humble himself and present himself as a servant in order for grace to reach man.

The concept of servanthood does not mesh well with human pride. This is why it is hard for a proud man to be a man of faith because he trusts in his own strength and resources. Grace humbles us bringing us to our knees by putting our trust in God’s strength and not our own accomplishments. If man were to try and take matters into his own hands concerning his salvation and tried to achieve God’s grace by his good works and then as Paul says, “Grace would no longer be grace” Romans 11:6.

Also, Paul says, God’s gift of grace is, “not of works, lest any man should boast” Ephesians 2:9. Man is only deceiving himself if he thinks he can devise certain works that will assure himself of salvation.

The Medieval Latin church devised many works of penance to earn one’s escape from purgatory and enter heaven. This led to the Protestant Reformation because men realised that meritorious works cannot provide salvation. Our salvation is totally dependent upon God and not on any works of man’s puny works.

There are two erroneous views on the relationship of grace to works that members of the Lord’s church have held to. First, grace and works function as a synergism (a co-operative work) in effecting man’s salvation.

Man’s own righteous works repay back a part of his debt to God, and what he lacks, then God fills in the gap of what is lacking with His grace. Grace then spans the gap between what we cannot do for ourselves and what God requires us for salvation. This view is a result of confusing justification with sanctification.

The second error is that at the point of baptism, man is forgiven of all his past sins upon the grounds of Christ’s blood. From that point until the end of his life we must “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12.

At the judgment, our lives will be weighed on the divine scales of righteousness and if our good deeds outweigh our evil deeds in his life Jesus will say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” Matthew 25:21.

However, if the reverse is true the Lord will exclaim, “Cast the servant into the outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vs 30). This concept shows a reliance on good works as the means of our salvation. The truth about the whole matter is that God in no way supplements man’s works of righteousness by the addition of his grace to tip the scales in man’s favour. Paul says, “God credits righteousness apart from works” Romans 4:6.

Man’s meritorious works are not an acceptable currency in heaven’s court. Isaiah says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags’ Isaiah 64:6. Paul told the Galatians “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” Galatians 3:27. This clothing does not wear out and then has to be patched after baptism with God’s grace.

John tells us that “If we walk in the light as the is in the light the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses (continues to cleanse) us from all unrighteousness.” Paul describes God’s people as “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing;” rather they are “holy and without blemish” Ephesians 5:26-27.

The proud Greek intellectuals were offended at the idea that a man they did not even know had died for their sins and was raised for their justification. Crosses were reserved for the vilest of criminals thus they saw it as foolishness according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:23.

The Jews rejected the gospel for different reasons. It discounted their law-keeping and personal righteousness as if they were of no value and could not earn them eternal life. Paul sums up their problem in Romans 10:30. “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

There has been a problem today with some of us in accepting salvation by grace. First, we are afraid it might open the door to an abuse of grace. There are always those who want salvation but are unwilling to live up to the commitment implied in baptism where we bury the old sinful life and continue thereafter in a new life of devotion to God. There were those in Paul’s day who evidently felt this way about grace.

Paul raises the issue in Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” His answer is, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

The truth is when a person decides to become a Christian he counts the cost. He is ready to dethrone all the idols that have ruled his life. He now is ready for Jesus to become his Lord and Master. This is not to say that his commitment to Christ will always be a perfect commitment. None of us are ever capable of this kind of perfection. However, there is an eager willingness to faithfully try.

A second reason why we are slow to accept salvation by grace is that we are afraid it does away with the importance of our good works. The truth is, good works are the inevitable result of true conversion. They are the products, not the grounds, of our salvation.

Some get the cart before the horse. They think their good works are the grounds for their salvation. Thus, many try to earn their way to heaven. Good works are the “things that accompany salvation”
Hebrews 6:9.

However, if good works are not present, neither is salvation because obviously there never was a commitment, to begin with. As long as we are penitent of our sins and seek to do God’s will, God is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.

When we “subject Christ to public disgrace” Hebrews 6:6 by producing only “thorns and briars” (vs 8), we then have severed our relationship to God’s gift of grace. Someone may try to take advantage of God’s mercy by seizing on God’s willingness to forgive and save them regardless of how they live. This is cheap grace. It never works because they are simply deceiving themselves. Paul says, “God cannot be mocked.” If a man sows to the flesh he will reap destruction. On the other hand, if he sows to the Spirit he reaps eternal life according to Galatians 6:7-8

There is a third reason why we have been slow to accept any teaching on grace. We have been so conditioned to oppose the false teachings about God’s grace that we tend to view any teaching on grace with suspicion. We fear the speaker may be implying the false doctrine of “once in grace always in grace” or that he might be implying that one is saved by grace only.

The N.T. teaches none of these false doctrines, thus we have no need to fear what is actually taught on the subject of grace. And so, it is for this reason we have been slow to teach about the grace of God. Yet it is a major doctrine of the N.T. Grace is an attribute of God’s nature.

God wants to forgive man of his sins and restore the relationship he had with our first parents when He walked with them in the garden of Eden. His grace was mediated by his own willingness to pay for men’s sins through the crucifixion of his son on the cross. Man’s response to God’s grace should be grateful obedience.

Unfortunately, man limits God’s grace by his refusal to accept His grace. God freely extends this offer of mercy to all because “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” But he does not force His grace on anyone. This would-be counter to his creating man as a free moral agent with the freedom of choice. God’s nature is such that he will not override man’s free will. Thus, the choice is up to man.

Thanks be to God for his redeeming grace which has made us free from the law of sin and death! Because Christ paid the price, we do not have to tremble under some exacting point system with our salvation always teetering on a knife edge.

We entrust our souls to him; he entrusts his grace to us, knowing that as long as we love him we will not abuse that trust. He loved us enough to die for us. We love him enough to live for him and, if need be, even die for him. “Love always trusts.”


1. Why is it so important that a Christian understand grace?

It is a major doctrine of the N.T. the Greek word for grace is “charis” and occurs over 120 times in the N.T. Grace is a major doctrine of the N.T. and we need to know the truth about this subject.

2. What difference does the concept presented in this lesson make in your life?

We can be certain of our salvation. We are not left frustrated as Paul said the Jew was under the Law of Moses. We can now experience the joy of our salvation. The difference is that “grace and truth” have now replaced the old law.

3. Does the understanding of grace change your image of God?

It should for some. God is not an exacting taskmaster just waiting to catch us in some sin. “God is not willing that any should perish.” His grace is freely available to all men.

4. Does God use his grace to fill in the gaps left by our imperfect lives?

No, because any good works regardless of how many good works we have done are not enough to earn our salvation. Grace is a gift given to us from God. It is a gift that cannot be earned, we can either accept or reject it.

5. Does God weigh our goodness on his divine scale against our sins and then tip the scales in our favour if our good outweighs our bad?

Again, our good works are not enough that we can demand salvation. Any good work is imperfect because we can always look back and say we could have done better.

6. Why are we slow to accept the fact that our salvation is based on grace?

Probably because we have been so conditioned to oppose false teachings about grace that it is easy to become sceptical when one teaches on grace. Grace seems to oppose our concept of good works.

7. Can a Christian be guilty of seeking cheap grace?

No doubt many Christian are perfectly satisfied to do nothing and expect to receive all the benefits of His grace.


"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart."