By Larry M. Arrowood
Let’s examine grace.
The other day, my eldest son, Andrew, ran a red light. Fortunately, no cars were going the other way through the intersection. Unfortunately, a city policeman was stopped at the light. The ensuing conversation went something like this.
“Can I see your driver’s license?”
“Sure, I’m sorry officer,” Andrew apologized. Studying the driver’s license he asked,
“What’s your dad’s name?”
“Is he the pastor of the Pentecostal church uptown’?”
“What would you say if I just rip you some and let you go’?” the officer questioned.
“Start ripping!” Andrew elatedly responded.
Guilty? Yes. Could he change the fact that he ran the red light? Absolutely not. Did he deserve a ticket’? The law says yes. Further, to stop at 10,000 red lights would not change the issue that he ran one. To obey all traffic rules the rest of his life does not erase the one violation. Andrew could not undo, nor redo. But the officer made the decision not to charge him. Grace! Unmerited favor. But, I ask, should he continue to run red lights?
Grace stands alone. It does not need to be propped up by good works. Christ died for us, expressing grace, while we were yet in our sins. And if good works could save us, Christ died in vain. Why then did Christ die? To pay the debt of the sins of mankind. For grace does not just pardon or excuse sin. When we are baptized (buried with Christ is the Biblical phraseology), Christ’s atoning blood is applied to our sins — it’s as if we died to pay for our sins — and we are free from the debt of sin, for it is considered paid in full. Justice, the deserved punishment demanded that man’s sins be paid for; not just excused. God decided that He would pay that debt by His own death. Though sinless, Christ submitted to a cruel death, thus satisfying the punishment that justice demanded for sin. Does that mean that all of mankind will be saved’? Absolutely not, for the righteous can scarcely be saved [I Peter 4:18]. The basic difference between sinners and saints is the applied grace of God. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]. Has God then shown favoritism, giving grace to a select few’? No. His death brought grace to all mankind; mankind must accept it individually, else all the world — Jews, Gentiles, Moslems, Atheists, Agnostics, Hitler, Jim Jones — would automatically be saved. But the scripture is quite plain; many will be lost while few will be saved. Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it [Matthew 7:13,14].
To whom then is grace applied’? Only to those who believe on Christ. Who are those who believe on Christ? Those who obey His Word.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our’s only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning” [I John 2:1-7].
Aren’t we back to grace needing works to prop it up’? No. We’re talking about the application of grace, not the act nor strength of grace. If grace needs works to make it sufficient to save us, then it is not grace. For grace is unearned nor can it be earned less it no longer be grace, but something else. If man had not failed God in the beginning, we would not be separated from God, so there would have been no need for grace. But, once man sinned, his sin brought separation. He was forever doomed to be cast out of God’s presence, no matter how good he may have lived, he was still lost: separated from God.
We need to understand the factors that existed in the creation of man.
- Man was created with the ability to choose to love and obey God, or reject and disobey God.
- God planted within the garden two trees: one was the tree of life and the other was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God commanded man to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, lest he die [Genesis 2:9, 16-17]. Since man had never experienced death, this had to be accepted by faith.
- Satan tempted Adam and eve to disbelieve and disobey God [Genesis 3:1 – 5].
- Once Adam and eve ate of the forbidden tree, they were no longer innocent, but guilty of disbelief and disobedience — wherein all sin has roots [Genesis 3:6-7].
- Humankind found itself in an immediate state of separation from God [Genesis 3:8, 23-24].
- Thus began the grace of God in redeeming fallen man back to Himself.
- Man did not die immediately, rather he was punished and driven from God’s presence. A spiritual death occurred immediately.
- God promised redemption [Genesis 3:15].
It was God’s grace that made redemption possible. Because of a few who wanted fellowship with God, but more, because of God’s great love for His creation, grace was extended to all mankind [Genesis 4:26; 6:5-9; 12:14]. However, we are talking about two separate things — what grace is and how or to whom grace is applied.
What is grace? It is the unmerited favor of God. The awesome God, who created all, did not have to stoop to save a human race kicking Him on the shin and choosing to follow Satan. We did not deserve nor request it, nor were we able to attain it, God simply decided to make it available to all. While we were yet sinners, Christ died… [Romans 5:8]. Something that interests me is that the scripture gives no indication that God showed any grace to Satan and the host of fallen angels, but to us He did [II Peter 2:4].
How or to whom is this unmerited favor applied? It is applied through the new birth to those who accept it through faith and continues to be applied as we allow Jesus to be. Lord of our lives. Grace in our lives is both the act of a single event — a specific time when it came — but also a continuing process as we walk with the Lord Jesus. Grace first calls us. Grace saves us when we respond. Grace keeps us saved as we remain in Christ. This overall act of grace (Biblical terms include: justification, sanctification, transformation, redemption) could be identified as having three parts. First, is the initial act of grace. This is the new birth experience [John 3:1-7, Acts 2:38-39]. The initial act includes both a removal of our unrighteousness (repentance and water baptism in Jesus’ name) and a filling with His presence (Holy Spirit baptism).
We here see the essentiality of the new birth, for there can be no sanctification without the death of the old man and the rebirth of a new man.
The second area of grace has been termed continued sanctification. The grace of Christ continues to be applied in our lives day by day. And God who is “slow to anger, and plentious in mercy” [Psalms 103:8], directs our lives. We find grace to bear, grace to change, grace to overcome. Our love for Christ and appreciation for His atoning work at Calvary causes us to aggressively and continually seek His face, study His Word, and serve His purpose. But here we have nothing to boast of save Christ alone, for we understand our previous condition. And we understand that our present state of worthiness still rests upon His continual grace in our lives, for we cannot attain righteousness on our own merit. But as we grow in grace and knowledge of Christ we become keener to our sins, quick to repent of sins, less prone to sin, (for sin hath no longer dominion in our lives) and we aggressively seek to cast off the sins and weights that so easily beset us [Hebrews 12:1]. It is here that we never sink so low that grace cannot catch us, nor rise too high that we no longer depend upon His grace. We also realize that we should seek to “walk worthy” of His grace [Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, I Thessalonians 2:12]. The indwelling Spirit and the instruction of scripture become our guides. Those that continue in this area of grace will partake of the third area, which is termed “final sanctification”. This takes place at the Rapture. Our journey will be completed! Grace will have done its perfect work. All the while we serve Christ, grace is applied through faith [Ephesians 2:5, 8], but faith is never passive; faith motivates and inspires us to action and obedience to God’s word, for grace, like a blanket, covers only those who get under it.
It would be comforting to say that God’s grace is so awesome that all the world will be saved by it. But the scripture is too brutally clear to even give consideration to such thoughts. We have no right to paint a distorted picture of God as Mr. Nice, neglecting the scriptural concept of His hatred for sin, and His promise to judge sin. He is neither Mr. Nice Guy nor Mr. Good Guy: He is God, the judge of all the earth, and He will do what is right. He has determined that judgment for sin is right but He has prefaced it with grace. But grace does not stop the judgment of God that is to come. All will be judged. Grace simply allows the debt of born-again believers to be paid for by the atoning blood of Christ. All who have not experienced the new birth will be judged guilty of sin at the GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT. All will owe the debt of sin.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:11-15].
God gave grace, but He does not force grace. He, in love, made provision for salvation, yet He created mankind with a free will to choose or reject this salvation.
Did not all in Noah’s day have opportunity to be saved? Unfortunately, most refused to enter the ark: they drowned in the flood. Were not all of Lot’s family invited to escape God’s wrath on Sodom’? Nevertheless, only Lot and two daughters accepted God’s mercy; moreover, his wife, who left the city with them, was turned into a pillar of salt because she looked back, evidently signifying where her heart remained.
Of course some argue that we’re now under the grace of the New Testament, and not under the curse of the law under which Noah and Lot lived. But consider both these examples preceded the giving of the law. Furthermore, the grace of God abounded in the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve were but chased from the garden, otherwise, they would have been killed. The sparing of their lives was an act of grace. Finally, Calvary was not something that God came up with after the law proved insufficient, rather, it was God’s visible manifestation of His grace toward us; moreover, mercy is a divine attribute. It is a part of the nature of God. It existed before the creation of man. Calvary was God’s ultimate manifestation of His grace. No acts of God’s grace to mankind will equal the love of God manifest that day on that hill called Golgotha. This was the fulfilling of the true heart of God which has always been: man literally saw God’s manifold grace displayed. How can we reject such love’? And such love existed in the beginning — God knew that He would one day die out of love for His creation. Consider the scripture:
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8].
God’s grace has remained throughout man’s existence. Even the law could be considered a part of the work of grace, in that it showed us we were sinners in need of a savior.
For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more than, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: [For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come [Romans 5:7-14].
The law was not just some nasty trick that God played on Israel. It served a distinct and important role in God bringing mankind to a redemptive state from the fall. It showed the ethical and moral principles of God, principles that never change; hence these principles were to be applied not only to the people of Israel, but they are applicable still today to all that love God. When Christ came, He did not come to do away with these ethical and moral laws; instead He came to explain and to fulfill them. Christ, likewise, lived by these laws. We’ll cover later what has changed.
Consider then, without the law, we would remain in our sins, unaware of our filthy state. Each generation would have grown worse and worse. This was the situation in Noah’s day [Genesis 6:1-5]. But the law of God caused us to see ourselves apart from God and eternally lost. To break God’s law is to defy God. Quoting again from Jerry Bridges:
That God would use such a word in this instance is all the more striking because the prophet who defied God didn’t commit a scandalous sin. He simply did what God had specifically told him not to do — to eat or drink in the land of Samaria or return by the way he came. Yet God regarded his sin not as mere disobedience on the level we associate with that word but as defiance. Again, the seriousness of sin is not simply measured by its consequences, but by the authority of the One who gives the command.’
Then comes the message of grace. Thus, both the law and Calvary have worked together to bring us to repentance. The law then was a part of God’s big picture of grace. We see both His wrath and His grace.
Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off [Romans 11:22].
But let us quickly point out that the law did not, nor could it, save us. That took God’s grace. Simply put, we owed a debt of sin which we had no human means to pay. Christ came, and though sinless, paid with His own life’s blood, our debt of sin; a debt however, which He did not owe. That is grace.
Christ alone went to Calvary for our sins. He alone paid sin’s ransom. He alone signed our pardon. Grace! Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
The above article, “Grace Examined” was written by Larry M. Arrowood. The article was excerpted from chapter 2 in Arrowood’s book Grace Faith Works.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.