God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! Unmerited Favor! Every major branch of “Christianity” believes in it. Countless minions blindly trust it. Sadly the day will dawn to the sad realization that few accurately understood it. So what is grace?
The Definition of Grace
Translated from the Greek word charis, grace describes a display of favor, especially from God to man. Grace is the tender heart of God through which the plan of salvation was extended to an unworthy humanity. The gospel is, Paul argued, offered by grace and is accepted by faith (Ephesians 2:8). While the denominational world is deeply divided by what Paul wrote next (“gift of God,” “not of works”), his words effectively capture the essence of grace. It is a gift for which no explanation can be given but that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is His gracious heart.
How does one personally access God’s grace? Paul’s answer is, “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). From the very beginning of Christianity the gospel message was preached and the recipients of God’s grace were instructed to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Throughout the remainder of the New Testament believers marched through the portal of grace by simple obedience in baptism (Acts 16:22; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21). It is in baptism that obedient faith embraces divine grace resulting in the confidence of salvation (1 John 5:13). Those who thus obey and faithfully live in Christ claim God’s divine offer of salvation and are vested with grace’s confidence to access the very presence of God (Hebrews 4:16).
Denominations Have Misapplied Grace
Centuries ago Chinese rulers constructed their famous wall. It was built high and thick to discourage invaders. Yet during the first hundred years of its existence China was invaded several times. Their enemies didn’t go to the trouble of climbing across or breaking through, they just simply bribed the gatekeepers.1 Those gatekeepers are like the trusted religious leaders who “sold out” those they professed to protect by offering them a cheap substitute to God’s amazing grace.
The best way to pervert the divine plan of salvation is to redefine grace. This was accomplished within Roman Catholic theology by their identification of two classes of grace: sanctifying (involved in conversion) and actual (individual divine intervention).2 Of course, the Roman Church claims power to restore the loss of even the sanctifying grace provided the fallen Catholic complies with the specified ordinances and the directives of the Catholic priests.
Grace was further adulterated by Martin Luther and John Calvin in what would become known as the Reformation Movement, leaving a lasting influence on doctrine of total depravity, the belief in original sin, the idea was advanced that mankind is unable to contribute anything to their salvation. They asserted that God’s grace was extended to only a preselected portion of the human race, those predestined by God.3 This new doctrine was contrary to the inspired teaching of Paul (Titus 2:11). True grace is available to all.
This redefined “grace” becomes a kind of “Get Out of Jail Free” card for spiritual security. Religious leaders insist that grace’s sole purpose is to protect the believer. Sit back. Relax. Let grace drive you straight to Heaven without any effort on your behalf. “After all, isn’t grace ‘the gift of God,’” they say pointing to Ephesians 2:8-9 as they decry “works salvation.”
It is obvious that no amount of obedience will ever be sufficient to earn one’s way into heaven (Ephesians 2:9). If such were possible Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would have been unnecessary. Grace is a divine gift that must be accepted by a living faith of active obedience (James 2:21-26). It may also be lost (Galatians 5:4). Many who object to the requirement of “works” in accessing God’s grace mainly object to the one “work” most clearly identified with salvation in the New Testament, baptism (although the one doing the baptizing is the one actually “working”).
How Has Their Definition Influenced the Church?
While it may be tempting to resist the idea that the perversion of God’s grace by others has any impact within the church, it is nevertheless a fact. Consider this partial list of controversies that have rocked the Lord’s church in recent decades:
- Instrumental music.
- The Unity Movement.
- The New Hermeneutic.
- Female leadership roles.
- The necessity of baptism for salvation.
Each of these cases mimic the abuse of grace perpetrated by the denominational world. What pattern have they followed? Simply this: the best way to pervert the divine plan of salvation is to redefine grace. The easiest course for anyone seeking to do what the Bible specifically forbids is to embrace this denominational tactic. In their hands the inspired guidelines become simply “love letters,” the divine pattern is drained of its power, and even the clear boundaries between the New Testament church and the denominational world come crumbling down.
God’s true grace does not grant freedom for anyone to live their lives as they wish while still claiming grace’s protection. Grace in fact does the exact opposite. It “teaches” believers to live righteous lives (Titus 2:11-13). Grace is a spiritual “safety net” below the obedient believer, a safeguard for active faith when the inevitable falls occur (1 John 2:1-2). However, those who have grown complacent through a misunderstanding of grace will tend to use it as a hammock! Grace is not an excuse for complacency but an incentive to grow. It offers hope to sinners (Romans 5:1-2). It gives power to prayers (Hebrews 4:16). It draws Christians close to the very heart of God.
In the end “cheap” grace doesn’t save, it costs!
1Pulpit Helps, No Security in High Walls. (Date unknown).
2 CatholicCulture.org, s.v. “Actual Grace,” http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=31646
3 While the word predestination does appear in the New Testament, Paul utilized it to describe all those who would be saved through the New Testament church, a predestined “class” rather than individual predestination.
David Bragg is the Associate Minister at the Northwest Church of Christ in Greensboro, NC