Keep Yourselves in God’s Grace

“Continue to grow in Grace and Knowledge” 

The word “grace” occurs about 120 times in the Christian Bible [NT]. A form of the word occurs 170 times in 159 verses in the King James Version. Jesus NEVER uses the word though his beloved apostle John does. [John 1:14, 16, 17]

What is “grace”? The English word is from the old English via the French and then the Latin gratia which remains “gracia” in Latin-based languages. In those languages, like Spanish, it generally means “thanks” while one form refers to a gifted person. The English word has wide ranges of meaning: pleasing quality, favor, good will, thanks. In theology it is defined as: a] the unmerited love and favor of God toward man; b] divine influence acting in man to make him pure and morally strong; and, c] the condition of a person thus influenced.

The Greek word is CHARIS, CHARIN, CHARITOS, CHARISMA. From this word comes the English “charity” [an unmerited favor or gift] and “charismatic” [a gifted person]. Though generally most translators stick to the old English word some scholars render the word: unmerited favor, undeserved kindness, gift, blessing, favor, and others.

THE USE OF “GRACE” IN THE EARLY CHURCH

The word occurs less than a dozen times in the Acts of the Apostles. [Acts 4:23; 11:23; 14:3, 26; 15:40; 18:27; 20:24] There are several that help us to understand the use of CHARIS by the first disciples.

At Acts 13:43 the disciple Luke writes about Paul’s activities: “After the meeting was dissolved, many of the Jews, as well as those worshipping proselytes, kept following Paul and Barnabas, who had spoken to them, persuading them to remain [KJV: to continue; WEY: hold fast to] in the GRACE of the God.” [NCMM] The word “remain” suggests one may lose God’s unmerited favor or grace. How this can happen is explained in later uses of the word.

Peter uses the word when giving his own beliefs before the first Christian synod: “We [Christian Jews] believe that we shall be saved by means of the unmerited favor of the Lord Jesus.” [Acts 15:11 NCMM] Peter’s context is whether the burden of the Law of Moses ought to be placed upon non-Jews. It is not the Law of Moses that will save, but the “grace” or unmerited favor [free charity] by means of Christ Jesus.

Paul exhorts Christian elders: “Now I entrust you to the God and to the word of his GRACE which is able to strengthen you and give you the inheritance among all the those who have been sanctified.” [Acts 20:32 NCMM] Paul associates “the word” of the Christian message found in the Bible with “grace.” Both are factors resulting in spiritual strength and ultimately attaining the heavenly inheritance with the Saints.

PAUL’S USE OF “GRACE”

Indeed, the word “grace” is among Paul’s favorites, occurring over 100 times in all of his epistles. We note Peter uses the word about 9 times in his two epistles, and James twice in his, Jude once in his. The apostle John does not use “grace” in his first and third epistle. The word does occur once in 2 John. In Revelation “grace” occurs only twice.

Let us examine Paul’s use of CHARIS. It occurs most often in Romans and most often in passing. Several contexts express Paul’s inspired ideas on “grace” or divine unmerited charity. At Romans 3:24 Paul writes: “As a gift given freely, by His unmerited favor [GRACE], they are pronounced innocent by the atonement in Christ Jesus.” [NCMM] Others render this: KJV: being justified freely by his grace; BAS: have righteousness put to their credit, freely, by His grace; WMS: anybody may have right standing with God as a free gift of His undeserved favor. It is God’s charity - a gift of kindness given without earning it - that results in the state of justification, or being declared righteous and non-guilty of inherited sin. [Romans 5:12] This gracious gift was given as an act of divine charity when God provided the “atonement in Christ Jesus.” The word “atonement” here comes from the Greek HILASTERION (from which comes the English “hilarity”) meaning “propitiation” as in “propitious.”

Paul writes that our ability to approach God in acceptable worship is based on Grace: “It is by [Jesus] also we now enjoy an approach [to God] through His GRACE in which we now stand.” [Romans 5:2 NCMM] To benefit from God’s Grace one must remain standing in it. This Grace does not benefit everyone as in universal salvation. Paul writes: “However, the charitable free gift was not also as the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one man [Adam] many died, how much more will the GRACE of The God abound to the many as an undeserved gift by the one human, Jesus Christ.” [Romans 5:15 NCMM] Paul agrees with the Nazarene himself who said his ransom would come to bless “many” - not all. [Matthew 20:28]

Paul contrasts the Law of Moses with that Grace through Christ: “Now, however, the Law entered beside so that the trespass may be increased. But, where the sin increased, GRACE abounded super-abundantly. Therefore, just as the sin reigned as king resulting in death, so the GRACE may reign as king by means of righteousness [resulting in] ageless life by means of Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Romans 5:20, 21 NCMM] The Law increased transgression by defining and punishing hundreds of offences. But, no matter how many sins increased because of the Law, the Grace of God by Christ abounded more by forgiving even more sins.

Some prefer the idea that Grace allows them the freedom to sin as they wish for no matter what they do God will be forced to forgive them because of his Grace. This thinking does not originate with Paul: “What, then, shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that [His] GRACE may abound? Never may that occur! [Since] we died to the sin how will we still live in it? Or, are you ignorant that every person baptized into Christ Jesus was baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried with him by baptism into his death. So that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead, by the glory of the Father, so also, we should walk in a newness of life.” [Romans 6:1-4 NCMM] The person living in Grace no longer lives in sin. There is a difference in sinning and living in sin as Paul explains in chapter seven. It is an ignorant idea that a Christian can continue sinning and still remain in His Grace.

Rather than habitually walking in sin, the Christian blessed with God’s Grace “should walk in a newness of life.” Or, MOF: live and move in the new sphere of life; WEY: live an entirely new life; AMP: habitually live and behave in newness of life. We reach Paul’s main point. An old life has been left behind during baptism. When the disciple is raised out of the water of baptism a new life attitude and life-style begins. [Compare 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:14.]

Paul insists that a Christian standing in Grace not let sin control their lives. Though no longer under the Law of Moses, does the fact one is not “under Grace” mean one may sin freely? No, for Paul writes: “Because sin should not lord it over you, [GDS: no longer control you] for you are not under [the] Law but under GRACE. What then? Shall we continue to sin because we are not under [the] Law but rather under GRACE? May it never be so! Do you not realize that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves to be obedient, you are his slaves whom you obey. Either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” Paul associates obedience to God as resulting in righteousness while under Grace.

One cannot disassociate obedience to God from God’s Grace. Paul continues: “However, thanks to The God -- though you were once slaves of the sin [under the Law of Moses] -- you obeyed from the heart because you were committed to that type of teaching. But, having been freed from the sin you have [now] become enslaved to the righteousness.” [Romans 6:14-18 NCMM] Obedience to God arises out of a commitment to a certain form of teaching, that of the Nazarene. None of this can be removed from God’s Grace.

Thus Paul does not teach that works are unnecessary, for he exhorts to good works throughout his epistles. [1 Timothy 2:10; 5:10, 25; 6:18; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14; Hebrews 10:24] Indeed, all humanity will be judged by their works according to Paul’s Gospel. For he quotes both David and Moses when he writes: “However, in harmony with your hard and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in a day of wrath when the righteous judgment of The God is revealed. [The God] ‘will reward each one in harmony with [their] works’ [Psalm 62:12]. Indeed, to those who endure in good works -- glory, honor, and incorruption to those searching for ageless life. But, to those who out of selfishness disobey the truth, obeying rather unrighteousness --- wrath, anger, oppression and distress -- upon every human soul who persists in working harm to others -- first to the Jew, but also to the Greek. But, glory, honor, and peace to everyone who continues to work at good --- to the Jew first, but also to the Greek. ‘For there is no partiality or favoritism of persons with The God. [Deuteronomy 10:17] … According to my good news through Christ Jesus [this is how] it will be in the day The God judges the secret things of all humankind.” [Romans 2:5-11, 16 NCMM]

Indeed, God’s Grace is often associated with godly works. Those who possess God’s Grace are characterized by works of a certain kind. [1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Ephesians 2:10; 3:7; 4:7, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Titus 2:11, 12]

Can one fall from God’s Grace? His Grace is not absolute or unconditional. For Paul himself writes: “Christ has become nothing to any of you who are seeking acceptance with God through the Law: you have fallen away from GRACE.” [Galatians 5:4 Weymouth Translation] Those who strive - and insist that others do the same - to gain God’s favor by keeping the Law of Moses have “parted from Christ.” Such are no longer under God’s Grace.

A Christian may also by habitually sinning “scorn” God’s Grace. For Paul writes fearsome words when he quotes Moses and Isaiah: “For our sinning willingly after we receive the heightened knowledge of the Truth leaves no sacrifice regarding sins. But rather some fearful expectation of condemnation, ‘a fiery zeal’ [Isaiah 26:11 LXX] ‘ready to consume the rebellious.’ [Deuteronomy 17:6] Any person who disregards the Law of Moses dies without compassion upon ‘the testimony of two or three.’ [Deuteronomy 19:15] How much worse do you think the punishment will be upon the person who has trampled underfoot the Son of the God? Who has esteemed the ‘blood of the covenant’ [Exodus 24:8] -- in which he was sanctified -- as something common, [and thus] outrageously scorned the [spirit] of GRACE? For we realize the One who said: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” [Deuteronomy 32:35] And, again: “Yehowah will judge His People.” [Deuteronomy 32:26] It is a dreadful matter to fall into the hands of a Living God.” [Hebrews 10:26-31 NCMM] Indeed, Paul exhorts: “Carefully watch that no one fall short of God’s GRACE, nor any ‘root of bitterness sprout up’ [Deuteronomy 29:18 LXX] causing trouble and the defilement of many.” [Hebrews 12:15 NCMM]

Paul writes that it is impossible to restore or revive those who “have impaled the Son of the God all over again.” Note his caution: “For it is impossible to restore to repentance those who have fallen away because they have been illuminated once for all time, have tasted the heavenly free gift, have become partakers of holy Pneuma, have tasted God’s excellent message as well as the powers of the New Age to come. Because they impale the Son of The God all over again for themselves and as a result expose him again to public reproach. For the ground, having received and swallowed the rain many times also gives birth to green vegetation for the proper use of those who cultivated it -- and this receiving again the blessing from The God. In contrast, if the ground produces thorns and thistles it is unacceptable and near cursing, resulting in a burning of the ground.” [Hebrews 6:4-8 NCMM]

With this Peter agrees when he writes: “These false teachers promise a certain liberty and freedom while they are really slaves to their own moral depravity. Remember that any person who is conquered by another person becomes a slave to that person. Because if these new Christians have so recently escaped worldly degradation by means of their intimate relationship with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- but now become all wrapped up and conquered by the world -- the final circumstances become worse than what they were before. For it would have been much better never to known accurately known the righteous Way than to back slide from the Holy Commandment. In their case the inspired Proverb has been fulfilled: ‘The Dog has returned to eat its own vomit.’ ‘The Sow who was washed clean has wallowed in the filthy muck’.” [2 Peter 2:19-22 NCMM Paraphrase]

SAVED BY GRACE WITHOUT WORKS?

Some, like those mentioned above by Peter, present a Christian Gospel with absolute freedom, and argue that “once saved, always saved.” In this specious argument they quote Paul and try to prove that works are wholly unnecessary as though God could care less what one believed or did as long as they said, “Lord, Lord.” [Matthew 7:21-23; 25:44]

It should be understood when reading Paul in Romans that he is largely directing his thoughts to those Jews in Rome, particularly those Christian Jews who insisted on the observance of the Law of Moses. Consider what Paul writes: “Because by works of the Law [of Moses] all [Jewish] flesh ‘in His sight are never pronounced innocent’ [Psalm 142:2]. … As a gift given freely, by His GRACE, they are pronounced innocent by the atonement in Christ Jesus. [It is him] whom The God exhibited for a display -- as an atonement by believing in the blood [of Jesus] -- while in the past God tolerated the sins which previously occurred [under the law], exhibiting His righteousness. So, now at present, [God] is just in pronouncing innocent the person believing in Jesus. … So, where is the boasting? It is completely stopped. By what principle? Works [of the Law of Moses]? Never! Rather, a principle of conviction. For we consider that a human may be pronounced innocent apart from [the] Law.” [Romans 3:20, 24, 27, 28 NCMM]

Here when Paul mentions “works” he has in mind the observance of the Law of Moses with its hundreds of regulations. For example, the strict observance of the Sabbath will never result in a true justification before God and the gift of His Grace. God’s Grace is given apart from observance of the Law of Moses by virtue of deep and active faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

With such works in mind, Paul uses the example of Abraham, “For if Abraham was pronounced innocent by means of works he would have reason to boast. Not (of course) toward God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham had deep conviction in The God and it was credited to him unto righteousness. [Genesis 15:6]” However, the payment is not credited to the one working as if it were charity, but as a debt. But, to the one not working, but believing in the One who pronounces the irreverent innocent, his belief is credited as righteousness apart from works.” [Romans 4:2-5 NCMM]

SAVED BY GRACE

One of Paul’s major themes is “saved by Grace.” Let us consider what he says and what he means.

Paul writes that no Jew could ever achieve righteousness before God by observance of the Law of Moses: “Because by works of the Law all [Jewish] flesh ‘in His sight are never pronounced innocent’ [Psalm 142:2]. … [Romans 3:20 NCMM] No person may ever boast that they are perfectly innocent before God based on the observance of the Law or personal works of righteousness. “For if Abraham was pronounced innocent by means of works he would have reason to boast. Not (of course) toward God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham had deep conviction in The God and it was credited to him unto righteousness. [Genesis 15:6]’ However, the payment is not credited to the one working as if it were charity, but as a debt. But, to the one not working, but believing in the One who pronounces the irreverent innocent, his belief is credited as righteousness apart from works. Also, even as David spoke: ‘Blessed is the person to whom God credits righteousness. Blessed are those whose lawlessness is forgiven and whose sins are covered over. Blessed a man whom the LORD [YHWH] never credits sin.’ [Psalm 32:1, 2]” [Romans 4:2-8 NCMM] Whenever God forgives a person it is because of His Grace.

God’s choosing of the 1st Century Jewish remnant from among all the hundreds of thousands of Israel was by Grace and not observance of the Law of Moses. “So, then, also, at the present time a remnant [of Israel] has come to be by [God’s] choosing and [GRACE]. However, since it is no longer the [GRACE] that results from works it results from [GRACE].” [Romans 11:5, 6 NCMM]

Paul writes in a similar manner in some of his other epistles. “I do not nullify the GRACE of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” [Revised Standard Version] Christ died so that men and women could receive God’s justification - His pronouncement of “Not Guilty” - and be declared righteous from sins traceable to Adam. Any man or women who claimed divine justification could occur based on observance of the Law of Moses has abandoned Christ: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from GRACE.” [Galatians 5:4 Revised Standard Version] Paul believes that one can “fall from Grace” by insisting on observance of the Law of Moses as a requirement for salvation.

God’s forgiveness leading to freedom is based on His Grave through Christ. “It is by means of that One we are liberated by a ransom based on the blood of Jesus Christ. The God forgave our short-comings because of the wealth of His Grace.” [Ephesians 1:7 NCMM Paraphrase]

Paul makes the simple and famous statement: “You have been saved by GRACE!” [Ephesians 2:5 NCMM] What does he mean by this? Perhaps it can be illustrated with the analogy of a drowning victim. A person is drowning in the ocean surf. With a final breath a call goes out: “Help me!” The lifeguard responds and rushes into the surf, pulling the person to the safety of the beach. No one would argue the person had been “saved.” Was the person “saved” because of former righteousness? Not at all. It was grace or unmerited kindness on the part of the lifeguard. Is the person grateful? Absolutely. Does this rescue mean the person can never drown again? Of course not! Might the rescue cause gratitude manifest in expressions of thanks? Surely.

Paul continues in Ephesians that God’s saving Grace will be accompanied by certain kinds of works. “This GRACE does not come about because of individual accomplishment so that not one person may brag. In corporate in Christ we were produced to walk in good works. These works were provided for in advance so that we would conduct our lives according to them.” [Ephesians 2:8 NCMM Literal] So, though being “saved by Grace” those who are so blessed will be characterized by two apparent factors: a] Conviction resulting in action; and, b] Loving charity to others. [1 John 3:23] In other words: a “saved person” is a person of deep conviction who now shows the same grace, unmerited favor, or undeserved charity to others by works of loving concern.

We may summarize the work of God’s Grace in this way: consider the parable of the Good Samaritan.

LK10:30 And so Jesus replied to him: “A certain [Jewish] man was descending from Jerusalem on his way to Jericho and he came upon bandits. They stripped him of everything he had and beat him until he was half dead. LK10:31 Now by coincidence and a certain [Jewish] priest was descending by the same way. And when he saw the [Jewish] man he passed by on the far side of the road. LK10:32 Also, in a similar manner a certain Levite happened on the same place, and approaching and seeing [the Jewish man] he also passed by on the far side of the road. LK10:33 However, a certain Samaritan was traveling and came upon the man and saw him. He was filled with compassion, LK10:34 so he drew near and bandaged his wounds, pouring wine and oil over them. Then he put him onto his animal and brought him to an inn and there cared for him some more. LK10:35 The next day upon leaving the Samaritan gave two denarii to the inn-keeper and said: ‘Take care of him and whatever it costs you extra I will repay when I return. LK10:36 Who of these three seems to you to have become a neighbor to the man who had fallen among the bandits?” LK10:37 And so [the man versed in the Law of Moses] answered: “The person who demonstrated charity.” Jesus said to him: “Go and you do the same!” [NCMM]

Now was the unfortunate Jew who was beaten and robbed “saved” because of personal works of righteousness? No, but rather because of someone’s grace or “unmerited kindness.” Will the person who was the object of someone’s empathy and kindness feel grateful? Yes, we hope so. Is it likely, having been shown so much charity [or, grace], this person will be moved in the future to also show such charity [or, grace] to others. If the person repeats such charity to others then we can say that such a person is filled with grace or charity.

Thus, by God’s Grace, if you have been imbued by His Grace it will become self-evident to those who know you. For they will see in you such Grace manifest in your own daily charity and kindness to others. “Go and you do the same,” Jesus challenged.

“As a result, my beloved, since you all possess this prior understanding, be on guard that you are never misguided by the inaccuracies and misinterpretations of those who defy God’s Law. You could possibly stumble from your own firm footing. Rather, continue to grow in Grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory now as well as far into the Day of Eternity. Amen!” [2 Peter 3:17, 18 NCMM Paraphrase]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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