by Leland M. Haines

Brief Outline form

The grace made available by Jesus Christ is one of the main differences between the Old and New covenants. Grace is a central characteristic of the Gospel, and we must understand its meaning to understand the New Testament.

What is grace? The term has several meanings, but we will consider only those directly related to redemption. Arndt and Gingrich define grace as "a work of grace that grows from more to more. . . . Those who belong to him receive of the fulness of his grace . . . the work of grace in conversion."[1] Strong defines it as "the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflections in the life."[2] Webster's definition reflects the biblical concept of grace: "unmerited divine assistance given man for his regeneration or sanctification."[3] The meaning of "grace" is best understood by its use in the New Testament.

Before we examine the use of the term grace in the New Testament, we need to mention an important aspect of grace. The New Testament always speaks of "the grace of God" (Acts 11:23; 13:43; 15:40; 20:24; Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 9:14; Galatians 2:21; Hebrews 2:9; 12:15; Jude 4; et al.) or "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:11; Romans 16:20, 24; 1 Corinthians 16:23; Galatians 1:6; 6:18; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy 1:14; Philemon 25; et al.) or both (2 Thessalonians 1:12). Grace is not a man-made effort.

Grace plays the central part in justification of the sinner. Justification is the act whereby the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ is considered to have a perfect standing before God. The term is the positive act of God declaring the sinner just or righteous. "The term forgiveness' refers to what might be called the negative aspect of acceptance with God's, namely, the cancellation of guilt for one's sins."[4] Justification is by grace; salvation is the result of grace.

When Peter addressed the Jerusalem conference, he stated that "through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved" (Acts 15:11). Apollos, a man well versed in the Scriptures and who taught accurately about Jesus, went to Achaia, where he greatly helped those who "had believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). Paul emphasized justification by grace, writing, "Being justified freely by his grace" (Romans 3:24); "Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)" (Ephesians 2:5); "our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16); "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling . . . according to his own purpose and grace" (2 Timothy 1:9); "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to a! ll m en" (Titus 2:11); "Being justified by his grace" (Titus 3:7). From these Scriptures we see that grace plays the central part in man's redemption.

Today the justification aspect of grace is well-known and rightly receives much emphasis. However, grace is more. There are exceptional effects produced by grace. It bestows gifts and causes believers to do good works.

Paul emphasized this influence or power of grace in his epistles. One of the clearest statements on the operation of grace is found in his letter to Titus. There he wrote, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lust, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11, 12). As Paul stated, grace brings salvation, but it does not stop there. It continues to operate, teaching and training the Christian how to live a life that stands in sharp contrast to his former life. It teaches him to live a totally different life, "soberly, righteously, and godly."

Another passage showing grace's effect is found in Paul's letter to the Romans. He wrote that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:20, 21). Paul, realizing that grace could be misunderstood, explained its implication in Romans 6. He began this explanation by asking, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (6:1). No! The Christian was raised from the dead as Christ was, "so we also should walk in newness of life" (v. 4). Later he again emphasized this death aspect,

For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. . . . For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid. . . . ye became the servants of righteousness. vv. 10-15, 18

Ephesians 2 tells of what God had done for these Christians. Paul first wrote about the Ephesians' change in lifestyle, then emphasized God's mercy and love, and finally spoke of grace's operation. He wrote,

You hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . . . For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephes! ians 2:1-10

The gift of grace saves repentant sinners, making them His workmanship, created to do good works, that is, the will of God.

To the Corinthians Paul wrote he behaved "with holiness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God" (2 Corinthians 1:12 RSV). God's grace enabled Paul to act in "holiness and godly sincerity."

To the Colossians Paul penned that "the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God. . . . That ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:5, 6, 9, 10).

As Peter wrote in his second letter, Christians have "escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 2:20). At the end of this book, he wrote, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (3:18). It is through grace and knowledge that Christians grow and escape the pollutions of the world.

Grace is at the center of the redemptive process, and its "divine influence upon the heart" is extremely important in understanding redemption. In the New Testament this aspect is strongly emphasized. In the Book of Acts we see that Stephen's martyrdom resulted in a scattering of the disciples out of Jerusalem. Some went to Antioch and preached to the Greeks, and "a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (Acts 11:21). When the church at Jerusalem heard this, they had Barnabas investigate the matter since this was an early outreach to the Gentiles. There he saw "the grace of God" (v. 23); the grace of God produced a visible change in these Gentiles. Later Paul taught the Ephesian elders about "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (20:21). His goal was to "finish [his] course" and fulfill "the ministry, which [he had] received of the ! Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" in Jerusalem (v. 24). This good news of the grace of God was the power behind the repentance and faith he had earlier spoken about.

Scriptures teach that both grace and the Holy Spirit work to transform the sinner. Let us now look at several Scriptures that show the transforming influence of the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit . . . that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. . . . if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:11, 13); "The offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost" (15:16); "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18); "The washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). The work of the Holy Spirit does not contradict the work of God's grace. God's grace can work through the Holy Spirit: "! We have received . . . the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. . . the Holy Ghost teacheth" us (1 Corinthians 2:12, 13).

There are many Scriptures that show how grace works. The apostles received "great power [to] witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33). In Iconium Paul spoke to Jews and Gentiles, "speaking boldly in the Lord, who [the Lord] was bearing witness to the word of His grace" (Acts 14:3 NKJV). Paul testified, but it was the Lord who bore witness to the Word of His grace. When the apostles and their helpers went on their mission journeys, they were "recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled" (Acts 14:26; cf. 15:40).

Paul's life is an example of God's grace at work. He was a zealous Jew who intensely persecuted the church and by the grace of God became a prominent apostle and builder of the church. He "received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith" (Romans 1:5). Later in this book he twice referred to this grace: "Through the grace given unto me" (12:3), and "I have written the more boldly unto you . . . because of the grace that is given to me of God" (15:15). Paul recognized that his part in building the church was not due to his own effort but was entirely of God's grace: "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation" (1 Corinthians 3:10).

Above all, Paul could say of himself, "By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul knew "when it pleased God . . . [He] called me by his grace" (Galatians 1:15). Paul could write that "the dispensation of the grace of God. . . is given me" (Ephesians 3:2), and that he "was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach" (vv. 7, 8). To Timothy Paul wrote that he was thankful that Jesus enabled him to be a minister though he was once "a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious." He knew that "the grace of our Lord was! exceeding abundant with faith and love" toward him (1 Timothy 1:13, 14).

Grace is also a power in all Christians' lives. Paul wrote about Christians having "gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us" (Romans 12:6); during severe affliction and poverty "the grace of God [was] bestowed on the churches of Macedonia" (2 Corinthians 8:1); and that "God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. . . . By their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you" (9:8, 14). Christians through grace have rich blessings and experiences. The author of Hebrews wrote, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16), and that "it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace" (13:9). God's grace will help us to hold fast w! hen we are tempted, help us in our weaknesses, and is the power that establishes us in the faith. Also, the importance of grace is shown in most of the New Testament epistles' opening and closing remarks.

Since grace is so important, How does one receive grace? First, grace is "unmerited favor" because it offers salvation that we do not deserve instead of the eternal damnation we do deserve. No one receives grace by their own merit or righteousness. This unmerited aspect of grace means it is a free gift.[5]

The fact that grace is a free gift is emphasized in several New Testament Scriptures: We are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24); "The free gift . . . the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ" (5:15; cf. 20, 21); "the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:4); "the grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Corinthians 9:14, 15); "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:6, 7); "by grace are ye saved . . . it is the gift of God" (2:8); "Now our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting c! onso lation and good hope through grace" (2 Thessalonians 2:16); "Who have saved us . . . according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:9); and "[God] giveth more grace . . . giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). These Scriptures and others make it clear that grace and redemption are gifts.

In summary, the grace of God makes salvation available to us. The two aspects of grace--its influence upon men's hearts and its free gift--receive major emphasis throughout the New Testament. The question is now, How is grace made available to men? Several things--repentance, faith, and the new birth--work together to make grace available. The interaction of these will be discussed after reviewing each.

God's grace to you and peace.

1. William Arndt and F. Wilber Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, 2nd edition, p. 878.

2. James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, New York: Abingdon Press, 1890, p. 77.

3. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

4. John C. Wenger, Introduction to Theology, Scottdale, Penn.: Herald Press, 1954, p. 284.

5. Many think the term grace means free gift. But since Scriptures speak of the "free gift" and "grace" in the same passages, these terms represent different concepts.

Above from Redemption Realized Through Christ by Leland M. Haines, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI. USA. All rights reserved.
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July 1, 2000