Vol. 5, No. 5
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The English word "grace" occurs 170 times in the Bible (KJV), 39 times in the Old Testament and 131 times in the New Testament. The Greek word for "grace" appears 156 times in the Greek New Testament, and besides "grace" is translated as 'thanks,' "pleasure," "joy," "benefit," "acceptable," "favour" and "liberality"; Jesus Christ used the Greek word for "grace" four times (translated as 'thanks') (Luke 6:32-34; 17:9). The respective Hebrew (chen) and Greek (charis) words that are translated as "grace" are equivalent to each other and mean "favor." The most common and maybe simplistic definition of the extension of God's grace toward mankind is "unmerited favor."
After only a little contemplation, then, it is certain that God's grace toward mankind is reflected in both testaments of the Bible and under all three religious dispensations (i.e., Patriarchy, Judaism and Christianity). However, there is much confusion in the religious world respecting the grace of God (e.g., Calvinism, Universalism, unconditional grace, conditional grace). One can only sweep away the denominational fog and confusion regarding the grace of God by resorting to the Bible for God's definition and divine instruction about grace.
The Hebrew word "chen" means "to favor someone"1 and is the Old Testament counterpart of the Greek word "charis." The Greek word "charis" when referring to God's grace toward humanity means unmerited favor. However, charis has several other meanings depending on the contexts in which it appears. "In secular Greek of all periods it is also a very common word, and in both Biblical and secular Greek it is used with far more meanings than can be represented by any one term in English."2
Otherwise, God's grace in both testaments is represented as the Divine's best special attention, motivated by boundless love, toward his humble creation, man. As Olbricht remarked, "Grace is the beauty of God expressed toward man."3 Essentially, the grace of God is taught whenever the "whole counsel of God" is taught, and faithful preachers have not failed to preach God's grace (Acts 20:27, ASV). Woodson noted:
Salvation in Christ is received by the grace of God. This was true on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and has been true in each case of genuine conversion ever since. Brethren have believed, preached and on occasion defended this great doctrine of grace as revealed in the Bible. It is an unfair and erroneous charge to assert that brethren now and in the past do not and did not believe that salvation in Christ is received by the grace of God.4
Examples of God's grace under Patriarchy include Genesis 6:8 and Exodus 34:6. God's grace under Judaism includes Psalm 84:11. Elkins observed:
Who would say that there was no grace under the Old Testament? Was it not by the grace of God that the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness? Was it not God's grace that fed them mamma [sic] in the wilderness? Was it not God's grace that took them safely over the Jordan? Was it not God's grace that protected them from the heathen in the new land? In fact, was it not God's grace that saved them from the land of Egypt?"5
God's grace is amply manifest under Christianity, too, including in the following passages: John 1:17; Acts 11:23; 13:43; 20:24; Romans 1:5; 3:24; 4:4; 5:1-2, 20; 6:1-4, 14-15; 16:20-24; 2 Corinthians 6:1; Galatians 1:6; 5:4; Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 1:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 4:16; 12:28; 1 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 3:18.
Regarding John 1:17, Pharr wrote:
...John 1:17...Certainly the Law was inferior to the gospel, but this text does not teach that there was no grace in the Law, nor does it teach that there is no law under the gospel of grace. In the first place, it should be obvious that the Law given through Moses excluded neither grace nor truth. Although the New Testament provides a clearer view of grace, the Law itself was not antagonistic to it.6
To suppose from John 1:17 that God's grace was not included in the Old Testament would require one to equally erroneously conclude that there was no truth in the Old Testament (Psalm 25:10). John 1:17 does not teach that the testaments are antagonistic toward each other or that grace is absent in the Old Testament, or that grace in the New Testament excludes law keeping, but John 1:17 represents the personification of the grace of God in the very person of God the Son incarnate.
In Romans 5:1-2, it is clear that grace is available through faith, which itself comes from the Word of God (Romans 10:17). The faith by which God's grace is attainable is the 'obedient faith' with which the apostle Paul prefaced and concluded the Epistle of Romans (Romans 1:5; 16:26).
In Ephesians 2:8-9, faith appears as the doorway through which anyone approaches the grace of God. The type of works about which Paul wrote to the Ephesians is meritorious, which cannot save.
In Titus 2:11-12, the grace of God saves and that grace has been presented to all mankind. However, the grace of God must not be grace only since not everyone will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14; 21-23). The grace of God requires compliance with or obedience to New Testament instruction.
Calvinism teaches an abbreviated form of Universalism, but both Calvinism and Universalism are grossly inconsistent with what the Bible teaches about the grace of God. Calvinism and Universalism teach "grace only," except that Calvinism restricts its application to a select number of certain persons whereas Universalism supposes that every soul will receive the saving grace of God. Nowhere does the Bible teach "grace only," which would negate every other activity of God and man relative to salvation (e.g., obedience, Hebrews 5:8-9). Robinson noted:
We are saved by grace, but NOT BY GRACE ONLY! If salvation were by "grace only" then it would logically follow that all men should be saved for Titus 2:11-12 says, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men..." God's grace has appeared to ALL MEN. Therefore, if salvation is by 'grace only' then all men have been saved! If anyone then is lost, it is God's fault for man has nothing to do with it. But such is not the case.7
It is clear then that God's grace is to all people, for all people alike, and that it is available for every person who was ever born on earth (Titus 2:11). If then, salvation is by grace only, all people are already saved; for God's grace has appeared to all. Christ himself, however, taught that all people will not be saved; and the only intelligent reconciliation of those twin facts lies in accepting the premise of human salvation's being conditional, that is, made to turn upon human acceptance of it through human compliance with the conditions upon which God through Christ and the apostles promised it.8
McCoy concurred when he penned:
If salvation is by grace alone, it would eliminate all need for preaching the gospel since all would be saved, whether they hear it and obey it or not. ...The grace is on God's part, and the faith is on man's part. ...God has chosen to save only those who accept His grace, through faith. It is God's grace that saves, but an obedient faith is essential in order for His grace to be applied. ...Grace is God's gift to man but it is not an unconditional gift.9
The grace of God is the manifestation of his love toward humanity in such a way that affords him the opportunity to redeem fallen man without compromising his holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Deaver explained:
...God's grace does not mean (and does not provide for) the circumstance in which God just overlooks sin. ...There has ever been the tendency upon the part of humans to try to "galvanize sin into respectability."10
For God to simply ignore human sins would dethrone him from being our holy God (Isaiah 59:1-3).
The grace of God is conditional upon an obedient response by those who that grace saves. Doran and B.J. Clarke observed:
There is no question but that we are saved by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8). However, we must appropriate the grace of God unto ourselves through faith which comes by hearing the Word of God and by obeying his commands which set us free from sin (Rom. 10:17; 6:17-18). The apostle Paul ties faith and grace together…(Rom. 5:1-2)."11
I have an allotted task to perform. My performance of this task is not meritorious (Eph. 2:8,9). I can never do enough to deserve salvation (Luke 17:10). Yet, without doing the will of the Father in heaven, I can never enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:21). I do not nullify God's part (Grace) by doing my part (Obedient Faith).12
There are two sides to redemptive grace, as Campbell succinctly remarked, "Grace is God's part of our salvation and demonstrating faith is man's part."13
Reception of God's grace today is conditional upon man's obedience to the "perfect law of liberty" -- the Gospel or New Testament (James 1:25; 2:12). Higginbotham commented:
We are under the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). We are under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). We are under the law of faith (Rom. 3:27). And we are under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2). In fact, we are even told that the saving grace that God has so freely given unto us obligates us to live in a certain manner (Titus 2:11-12). How is it, that in light of these passages, some among us are saying that we are not under law?14
One resists the grace of God by purposely committing sin, for which rebellion one will be severely and eternally punished by a wrathful God (Hebrews 10:26-29). Ted Clarke noted the unmerited and conditional element of God's grace.
"Grace" is God's "favor" upon us, which we do not and could not deserve. Through Christ, God has given us what we need rather than what we deserve. However, we can receive God's grace only as we accept the conditions which God attaches to it (2 Corinthians 6:1).15
Hearn correctly discerned that law and grace are not mutually exclusive, and that conditions may pertain to grace as well as law.
While the gospel is a legal system, it does not destroy grace. Neither do conditions minimize nor in any way reflect upon grace. A human will is a legal document. If someone were to select you to be a beneficiary of his will, that is grace. If he adds conditions to the inheritance, it is still grace, for he does not have to include you either with or without conditions. ...Without doubt one is justified by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). But the grace is appropriated to oneself through faith that is expressed in overt acts of obedience. ...the grace of God is made available through faith that is active, that is obedient."16
Warren observe that mankind is neither saved by grace only nor unconditionally.
If men are saved, they are saved by the grace of God (Tit. 2:11; Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 15:11; et al.). No one is -- or can be -- saved by meritorious works (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 11:6; et al.). But this truth does not mean that men are saved only by grace (on the part of God) without any works at all (on the part of men). If grace were the only consideration, then all men would be saved (Tit. 2:11). Yet, Jesus made clear that "few" would be saved, in contrast to the "many" who would be lost (Matt. 7:21-23). While God offers -- through His grace -- salvation to all men (Tit. 2:11; cf.: John 3:16; Heb. 2:9), this offer is not unconditional! God offers salvation to all men, but He conditions that offer with the contingency that men by faith lovingly obey the requirements which are set out in God's word. Even though men are saved by the grace of God -- and not by any meritorious works -- it is still the case that Jesus taught that it is those who do the will of God who enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:21-23).17
That the grace of God anticipates a judgment of the works of man to receive his eternal habitation shows that God's grace is conditional (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12; 1 Peter 1:17).
The apostle Paul obviously established a relationship between faith and God's grace (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-12). Faith is obviously the vehicle through which God's grace is attained.
The apostle Peter tied faith and grace together as they relate to salvation (1 Peter 1:9-10). Faith is obviously as essential to salvation as grace, and faith, to be acceptable to God, must be living and active (James 2:14-26; Hebrews 11).
Faith -- and acts of faith (obedience) -- appropriate God's grace to man. Choate noted:
Although we are saved by grace, that does not means that there are no conditions, no commands to obey, and no responsibilities on man's part. ...God has extended his grace to man in making it possible for man to be saved. Now man must reach up by faith to accept that grace. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). ...But grace cannot apply to those who reject God's grace by refusing to obey him.18
The grace of God is ineffective toward disobedient souls (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
There are several elements to which the Bible attributes saving power, which elements represent activity on both the divine and human side of redemption. The Godhead's parts to human salvation include: grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), mercy (Titus 3:5), the blood of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:14), revealing the Gospel (Romans 1:16; 2 Peter 1:21) and sending a Savior (John 1:16). Mankind's parts to human salvation include: faith (John 8:24), hope (Romans 8:24), repentance (Luke 13:3), confessing Christ (Romans 10:9-10), baptism (Acts 10:48), faithfulness (Revelation 2:10) and obedience (Hebrews 5:8-9). God doing his parts regarding human redemption does not cancel human participation, and men doing their parts regarding human redemption does not cancel divine participation.
The New Testament teaches both that works displace God's grace and that works are required to appropriate God's grace. Does Paul (Romans) contradict James (2:14-26)? Woodson observed correctly, "If only one kind of 'works' is under consideration, the contradiction is unresolvable; but, if two different kinds of 'works' are under discussion, there is no contradiction."19
There is a type of works that is counter to God's grace. Romans 4:4-5 describes meritorious works that were characteristic of the Old Law, which works are antagonistic toward God's grace. Elkins noted, "In the Romans letter, Paul talks about the elimination of the dispensation and not about elimination of obedience to Christ."20 Woodson commented, "The works condemned are those which seek to put God under obligation, to receive one's deserved standing before God…"21 and "Works of the law of Moses, works of human merit, works of man's device or origination, etc., do not and will not save by the grace of God."22
There is a type of works that is necessary to enjoy God's grace. Pharr and Warren noted:
God does not require man to earn salvation, but rather gives salvation to those who trust and obey. ...It is not unconditional favor for those who do not seek to please Him.23
While some men may not like it, the Bible still teaches that even though men are not saved by meritorious works, they are saved by the works which God demands (Jas. 2:24) in the sense that they cannot be saved by the grace of God without doing these works! This is the case in spite of the fact that after one has obeyed these works, he is still to recognize that salvation from sin is a gift, not a wage (Rom. 6:23; cf. Lk. 17:10).24
Baptism is incorrectly said by proponents of grace only to be a meritorious work. Brewer put the matter in proper perspective.
...old fallacy…If you think that people must be baptized to be saved, you then will have to insist that they will have to comply with every commandment in the scriptures, every Christian duty, meet every obligation and keep the whole law letter-perfect or there could be no salvation. This fallacy assumes baptism is meritorious and that the individual saves himself by meeting the demands of a legal system. Since this is the ground of his salvation, then he will have to meet all the demands of this legal system. This is untrue. This is not our teaching concerning baptism and, therefore, has no value as an argument at all.25
The same Scriptures that teach of faith, repentance, confessing Christ, etc. also teach that man has human responsibility respecting being immersed for the remission of his sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21).
Grace is but one of several elements to which the Bible attributes saving power. Some elements to which are attributed in the Bible saving power are the responsibility of God, whereas other elements to which are attributed in the Bible saving power are the responsibility of mankind (e.g., grace -- God; faith, obedience -- man). Deaver described the relationship of these respective roles.
Ephesians 2:8,9...Thus is declared: (1) man's salvation is the gift of God; and that (2) this salvation has two sides: there is the divine side, and there is the human side -- God's side and man's side. The grace side, divine side, involves (includes) everything which God has done in order to make it possible for a human being to be saved. The faith side -- the human side -- includes everything which God requires of the human being in order for him/her to be saved. Always in God's plan the availing faith is the live, active, working, obedient faith. Specifically, this availing faith cause one to repent of his/her sins, to confess his/her faith in the Christ, to be baptized for the remission of sins, and to live righteously in this evil world.26
God's grace was never intended to cover the sins of impenitent persons (Romans 6:1-2). Duncan wrote regarding this, "One who sins without compunction [without any uneasiness], and refuses to be penitent and try to live right is beyond the reach of the grace of God."27 Brewer added, "Even though we blunder and stumble, there is mercy and forgiveness, provided we are not rebels or willful and habitual sons of disobedience."28
The conditional nature of God's grace requires obedience to the Word of God. As Jackson, B.J. Clarke and Warren observed, this is the intricate way in which God's grace works toward man, but not absent of man's participation.
First, the grace of God is universally available to the human family through His Son. ...Secondly, the Bible clearly teaches that the Lord's grace is conditional. ... But thirdly, if it is to avail, the grace of God must be continued in.29
Even after I have done all that God has asked me to do, I still don't deserve to be saved (Lk. 17:10). Yet, I cannot be saved without obedience (Heb. 5:8,9). I must remind myself that my salvation is not deserved because I obey, yet my salvation is not possible if I do not obey. Let us show appreciation for God's amazing grace by submitting to his terms of obedience in hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, being baptized and living faithful lives.30
Men are saved by the grace of God when their faith leads them, as penitent believers, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38).31
Dear Reader, what have you done with the grace of God (Romans 10:17; 5:1-2; Hebrews 5:8-9; Acts 3:19; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 22:16; Revelation 2:10)?
1 Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1985.
2 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft.
3 Owen D. Olbricht, "The Beauty of Grace," Fulton County Gospel News, Mammoth Spring, AR, Vol. 28, No. 5, May, 1994, p. 2.
4 William Woodson, "The Doctrine of Grace," Spiritual Sword, Memphis, TN, Vol. 26, No. 3, April, 1995, p. 4.
5 Garland Elkins, "The Plan of Salvation: Does Grace Eliminate Obedience?" Yokefellow, Memphis, TN, Vol. 26, No. 11, November, 1999, p. 2.
6 David R. Pharr, "Grace & Truth Foreshadowed," Gospel Advocate, Nashville, TN, Vol. 139, No. 6, June, 1997, p. 28.
7 Garland M. Robinson, "Are Sinners Saved by the Grace of God?" Light for Living, Corinth, MS, Vol. 8, No. 17, April 26, 1992, p. 3.
8 James Burton Coffman, James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library, CD-ROM, Abilene Christian Press, Abilene, TX, 1989.
9 V. Glenn McCoy, "By Grace Through Faith," Power, Southaven, MS, Vol. 10, No. 1, January, 2001, p. 2.
10 Roy Deaver, "Questions/Bible Answers," Biblical Notes, Austin, TX, Vol 21, No. 1, January, 1992, p. 15.
11 Adron Doran, "The Word of His Grace," Firm Foundation, Houston, TX, Vol. 109, No. 7, July, 1994, p. 1.
12 B.J. Clarke, "God's Part and Man's Part," Power, Southaven, MS, Vol. 1, No. 6, June, 1992, p. 1.
13 Roger D. Campbell, "Are Christians Under Grace or Law?" Seek the Old Paths, Corinth, MS, Vol. 8, No. 7, July, 1997, p. 2.
14 Steve Higginbotham, "There Is No Grace Without Law," Therefore Stand, Groveport, OH, Vol. 15, No. 11, November, 1999, p. 83.
15 Ted J. Clarke, "The True Grace of God," Fulton County News, Mammoth Spring, AR, Vol. 31, No. 12, December, 1997, p. 1.
16 Roy J. Hearn, "Grace Appropriated Through Law," First Century Christian, Brownsboro, AL, Vol. 18, No. 2, February, 1996, p. 10.
17 Thomas B. Warren, "Christians Do Not Shun the Doctrine of Divine Grace -- They Joyously Proclaim It!" Knight Arnold News, Memphis, TN, Vol. 21, No. 49, December 5, 1995., pp. 1-2.
18 J.C. Choate, "The Grace of God," Christian Bible Teacher, Abilene, TX, Vol. 41, No. 4, April, 1997, p. 116.
19 William Woodson, "Grace and Works," Spiritual Sword, Memphis, TN, Vol. 30, No. 1, October, 1998, p. 40.
21 Woodson, "Grace and Works."
22 Woodson, "Doctrine of Grace."
25 G.C. Brewer, "Grace and Law: Legalism and Liberalism, Part VIII," Firm Foundation, Houston, TX, Vol. 108, No. 4, April, 1993, p. 9.
27 Bobby Duncan, "A False Concept of God's Grace," Knight Arnold News, Knight Arnold Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, Vol. 18, No. 32, August 11, 1992, p. 2.
28 G.C. Brewer, "Grace and Law: Legalism and Liberalism, Part VI," Firm Foundation, Houston, TX, Vol. 108, No. 2, February, 1993, p. 14.
29 Wayne Jackson, "God's Grace Is Amazing," Power, Southaven, MS, Vol. 1, No. 8, August, 1992, p. 1.
30 B.J. Clarke, "God's Amazing Grace," Power, Southaven, MS, Vol. 2, No. 3, March, 1993, p. 4.