Why Grace is Still Amazing, one more time1
We’re now ready to finish by looking at the final four characteristics of grace.
(5) Fifth, when it comes to salvation, grace stands opposed to works (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6). However, when it comes to sanctification, grace is the source of works. This simply means that whereas we are saved by grace and not of works, we are saved by grace unto good works. Good works are the fruit, not the root, of God’s saving grace (see esp. Eph. 2:8-10). It thus comes as no surprise that in Scripture grace and salvation stand together as cause is related to effect. It is the grace of God which "brings" salvation (Titus 2:11). We are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
One of the more tragic things that I observe among professing Christians is their tendency to think that although they may have been saved by grace alone, from that point onward it’s up to them. In other words, they concede that they couldn’t save themselves, that God in Christ has graciously given eternal life and forgiveness of sins to them because of what Jesus has accomplished. But the remainder of their Christian life, on the other hand, is one that is based on their good works, their good intentions. Grace got them in, but whether or not that’s where they stay and whether or not they ever grow spiritually is now up to their efforts, their obedience.
(6) Related to the previous point is that grace is an instructor in righteousness; grace teaches us to pursue holiness.
Grace does not merely save, it sanctifies. It does more than remove our guilt; it is the power that removes our guile. Grace “trains” us or “instructs” us (Titus 2:11-14). The Greek word has the idea of a pedagogue or teacher who leads children step by step in their assigned lessons. Grace teaches and chastises and counsels and comforts and encourages and guides and convicts us. It is an ever-present and all-sufficient power.
But what does it teach us? Here grace is personified, as if it were a professor or instructor in a classroom. It educates us in the art of holiness. Negatively, it teaches us to deny ungodliness and to deny worldly desires. It teaches us to say No! Positively, it teaches us to live sensibly or soberly, righteously or justly and godly in this present age.
(7) Seventh, this grace is free! Just think of it – free grace! But, of course, if grace were not free it would not be grace. True indeed, but what a glorious tautology it is. What a magnificent redundancy! We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). There is no price tag on grace. There is no charge.
The moment you try to purchase grace with your good deeds, you kill it. You destroy it. Grace cannot be bought or bartered for or obtained at auction. It is a gift.
Consider the practice of many TV evangelists: “For a gift of $100 to this ministry we will send you a free book by the Reverend Stevie Shyster.” Or, “Sow your seed of $500 into this ministry and Pastor Harry Huckster will send you a free gift of this anointed prayer cloth.” Which means that if you don’t send in your monetary contribution you won’t receive your book or prayer cloth. Folks, if you can’t receive the book without sending $100, it isn’t a gift. It’s a payment! If you can’t receive the anointed prayer cloth unless you send $500, it’s not a gift. It’s a purchase!
Grace is utterly free! You can’t pay or give or do anything to get it. And you can’t pay back or compensate or make up anything to the person who gave it. That doesn’t mean you aren’t to be thankful for the free gift of grace. Of course you are! Gratitude is always the appropriate response. And love will invariably flow from your heart. And there will invariably be, or at least should be, a longing to obey and honor the God who has freely given grace to you.
(8) Grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature. It is surely that, but an examination of the usage of this word in Scripture reveals that grace, if thought of only as an abstract and static principle, is deprived of its deeper implications. Grace is power! Grace is the energizing presence of the Holy Spirit working in and through us to do what God commands.
The grace of God, for example, is the power of God's Spirit converting the soul. It is the activity or movement of God whereby he saves and justifies the individual through faith (see esp. Rom. 3:24; 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.
Grace is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished, and proceed through that life. The energizing and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God. After Paul had prayed three times for God to deliver him from his thorn in the flesh, he received this answer: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Although Paul undoubtedly derived encouragement and strength to face his daily trials by reflecting on the magnificence of God's unmerited favor, in this text he appears to speak rather of an experiential reality of a more dynamic nature. It is the operative power of the indwelling Spirit to which Paul refers. That is the grace of God.
We should also consider in this regard the many references to the grace of God in Paul's opening greetings and concluding benedictions (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess.1:1; 2 These. 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 Cor. 13:14).
John Piper has pointed out that without exception the blessing at the beginning of each of Paul's letters says, "Grace [be] to you," while the blessing at the end of each letter says, "Grace [be] with you." Why? Piper suggests that "at the beginning of his letters Paul has in mind that the letter is a channel of God's grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow 'from God' through Paul's writing to the Christians. So he says, 'Grace to you’” (66).
But what becomes of this grace after his readers are done with his letter? The answer is that grace is now to be with you. "With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch” (66-7). Thus we learn that "grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living” (67).
Let’s look especially at how grace operates from what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:12 - “For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”
It’s important to note that Paul envisioned his entire existence, both in public and private, whether in the mundane affairs of life or in the ministry he discharged at Corinth and elsewhere, as being energized and sustained and guided by “the grace of God”! His conduct or behavior was governed by the power of God’s gracious presence.
The word “grace” is not here a reference merely to a principle by which God operates among us or even the truth that he saves us according to his kind intentions in Christ rather than on the basis of alleged good works. Grace is God’s sustaining, empowering energy through the Holy Spirit by which Paul was enabled to resist the temptation to boast of his own accomplishments or trust in his own insights or yield to the pressure to conform to the world’s expectations.
If Paul was single-minded, it was grace that did it! If Paul was sincere, it was grace that did it! If Paul was governed by God’s will and not the ways of the world, it was grace that did it!
Let me conclude with the following observations.
If when you sin you run away from God rather than to God, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If when you contemplate your own value as a human being you rehearse in your mind personal accomplishments rather than the person of Christ, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If you typically say to yourself: “I obey, therefore I’m accepted,” rather than “I’m accepted, therefore I obey,” you have failed to grasp the reality of divine grace.
If you are motivated by fear and insecurity rather than joy and confidence, you have failed to understand the grace of God.
If your confidence is in baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church attendance, faithful giving, or any other religious activity, rather than who Jesus is and what he has done for you, you have failed to understand the grace of God.
If when you look at other Christians you resent them for their spiritual growth, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If, when you grow and increase in conformity to Christ, you pat yourself on the back and silently congratulate yourself for doing what other Christians have not, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If when you fall short of personal goals you envision God scowling at you rather than smiling, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If you think that God doesn’t love and cherish you because you are overweight or underpaid or outperformed or inadequate, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
If you think that God loves you because you aren’t overweight, or because you are highly paid, or because you seem more than adequate for every responsibility, you have failed to fully embrace the grace of God.
And finally, if when you contemplate the free forgiveness of sins you are tempted to use that as an excuse to sin all the more, you know nothing of the grace of God.