By David Gray
At every level of existence in which man finds himself, God reaches him. This is the history of the human race. There is no condition in which man finds himself but what God has a plan to meet man’s needs on that level. Progressively, starting with man in his innocence before the fall, God came down to man to help him and to save him. God tried every means in every dispensation of man’s existence, yet none of them changed man and brought him into oneness with God, until grace came.
The study of the dispensations is fascinating and revealing. To this present time, six dispensations have passed in review from the time of man’s beginnings upon the earth. To explain, a dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested with respect to obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. It is a period in which God allows man the opportunity of approaching Him on a basis set by God into which man is capable of entering. The tragic truth is, however, that man has failed in every dispensation, except for a few isolated cases. This is not God’s fault. Nevertheless, every dispensation ended in judgment because of man’s failure, and then God, with infinite patience, opened another dispensation on another level and gave man another chance.
For example, in the Dispensation of Innocence, man was created pure, innocent and free from sin, but that dispensation ended in the tragedy in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were marred, stained by sin and expelled from the garden. Nevertheless, God provided a way for man on this level, and instituted the Dispensation of Conscience, whereby if a man would only listen, God would speak to him through his conscience. But this dispensation, too, ended in human failure.
“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:56).
You see, the pangs of a guilty conscience by themselves did not cause man to obey God. Again judgment came, this time in the form of a great flood.
In like manner all the succeeding dispensations ended in failure. God tried to draw man to Himself by instituting human government. That dispensation ended in the dispersal through the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel. Then God made great and wonderful promises to Abraham and his seed and the Dispensation of Promise was born. Again failure came, and the dispensation ended with the death of the firstborn in Egypt and the Passover, resulting in Israel’s escape from Egypt. Shortly after this God inaugurated the Dispensation of Law at Mt. Sinai. But my friend, law did not change the sinful heart of man, nor impart righteousness; so it too ended in the failure of the law to make man holy. The Law Dispensation came to its end at Calvary with God’s judgment upon man’s sins in the person of Jesus Christ.
Sadly enough, friend, there are still people today who try to please God by keeping the precepts of the law, but that dispensation ended at Calvary. Now we are in the wonderful time called the Dispensation of Grace. And we are told,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Of none of the other dispensations could that statement be made. It could not be said, “By innocence are ye saved,” or, “By conscience are ye saved,” or, “By human government are ye saved,” or, “By promise are ye saved,” or “By the law are ye saved.” None of these had power to save. But, thank God, “By grace are ye saved.” We are in that wonderful period of time called “The Dispensation of Grace,” and the power of grace, which is the power of the Holy Ghost, saves us!
Now, in a sense we all travel through all the dispensations. We are born in innocence. We all were in our own little Garden of Eden. But our infant innocence did not keep us from sinning. The Bible tells us that:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
It was not long before our innocence was gone. Perhaps you remember the first lie you ever told. Right then you entered from innocence into a new condition, for your conscience was awake and told you that you had sinned and that you were a sinner. But did your conscience save you? The sense of shame and guilt filled you but did not prevent you from sinning more.
The story of Cain illustrates this. His conscience was guilty because he had offered a wrong sacrifice to God, but his guilty conscience did not prevent him from killing his brother Abel. Knowledge of sin brings a sense of shame and guilt, but that cannot save you. As you stifle your conscience it becomes seared and twisted. Conscience alone cannot save.
Human government in the form of parental authority next tried to restrain and correct you. That, too, is ordained of God. But if you were like most children, you obeyed while Mom and Dad were watching you. Then you disobeyed them behind their backs. When Dad and Mom tried to correct you, you resented it and rebelled against them. No, human government did not save you.
Then Dad tried another tactic: “Son, if you will finish school, make good grades, and keep out of trouble, I will make you a partner in my business. You won’t have to worry, I’ll set you up.” Those were wonderful promises. But you kicked over the traces and sowed your wild oats anyhow. Promises did not save you any more than innocence, conscience, or human government.
Finally the law stepped on the scene and told the parents, “If your boy won’t live right by his own conscience, and if you parents can’t control him and he continues on down his rebellious way, we will have to take action.” A heavy hand comes down on the boy’s shoulder. “See here, Son, straight up. Either obey the law, the “Thou shalts,” and the “Thou shalt nots’,” or it’s the ‘slammer’ for you.” Some of you know what happened. Your inborn rebellion rose up, and it was not long before you were a lawbreaker. The law had no power to change you or save you. It only threatened and condemned you. I know, because we all have that same fallen, rebellious nature.
After going through all this, and finding out that neither innocence, conscience, human government, promise, or law could save, the human soul cries out like Paul.
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:21-24).
Is there any hope? Yes friends, there is hope! The answer comes loud and clear,
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord … ” (Romans 7:25).
You see, Jesus came and brought in a new dispensation-grace.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
“For by grace are ye saved … ” (Ephesians 2:8).
The old song says it so well,
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.”
What did grace do that the others did not do? Grace did more than just scold, argue, give me a guilt complex, lay down laws, or promise something in the future. Grace changed me. Grace made me a new creature. Grace gave me a new life, a hope, power, enablement, the mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost, all by grace! Innocence, conscience, human government, promise, law, all failed. But the power of grace does not fail, because it is the transforming power of the Holy Ghost in your life. Oh Hallelujah!
If we are saved, make it to heaven, it will not be by the works of the flesh, but by the indwelling power of Christ in us. This is what grace is, and it is ours in the Holy Ghost. Those who teach “easy believism” try to claim this promise as their exclusive territory:
“By grace are ye saved … ” (Ephesians 2:8).
But I am not about to turn it over to them. The grace of God gives us power; it imparts power; it endues with power, it is the free gift of the Holy Ghost!
I will continue this theme by bringing you a message on, “The Amazing Power of Grace.” But may I close this message by speaking directly to your heart for a moment, friend. You may be even now as Paul told Titus he once was,
“foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3)
But that is not the end of the story, thank God! And it need not be the end of your story. After painting that dark picture of his past, Paul continues his testimony:
“But after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5).
That is grace, friends. But how did grace save us? Read on:
” … by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-6).
How do we obtain that grace that justifies us and makes us a brand new creature?
“by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).
What does that mean? It means that if you will,
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
That is grace, friends, the free gift of God that will save you and transform your life.
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?
This article “Grace, The Power That Saves Us” by David Gray is excerpted from Harvestime Guest Pulpit Library, 1982.