To say that appreciation describes this writer’s sentiment in being afforded the opportunity to edit this month’s issue of the Carolina Messenger would be inadequate. Many good brethren have written for this paper over the years and have contributed greatly to its success. The former editor and the current one have set a standard in this paper that makes it a challenge for anyone to try to emulate. Therefore, this writer considers it a great privilege to have the opportunity to edit the Messenger for the month of October. This issue is offered to the reader in hopes that it will both encourage and challenge as is, no doubt, always the hope.
The theme of this particular month’s paper is grace. A few years ago, this writer heard a preacher address the charge, that some in the brotherhood make, that the church of Christ has “rediscovered” grace. The preacher rightly disagreed with the notion that the Lord’s church had “forgotten” about grace, and, thus, needed to “rediscover” it. In truth, faithful congregations of the body of Christ have sought to denounce the denominational concept of “grace.” “Grace” is sometimes used in denominations as a license to permit just about any practice that is contrary to the pattern found in the New Testament. Furthermore, “grace” is also sometimes used by denominationally-minded brethren to add something to worship that God never authorized. This year, a congregation in Tennessee decided to add another worship service to their line-up where instrumental music would accompany their singing. The other two worship services, offered to their members, would remain acapella. When the announcement was made to the congregation to add this instrumental service, the congregation was reminded that it had always been a “grace-filled” church. Needless to say, there is much misunderstanding among folks regarding grace as the Bible defines it.
Discussing grace with other Christians often begins with defining it using the well-known definition of “unmerited favor.” In other words, God showed favor or kindness towards man by sending His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world. At the same time, this favor or kindness was undeserved or unmerited by the objects of that favor or kindness—namely, humankind. While it is true that humankind did nothing to deserve that favor or kindness, that fact is only one side of the coin. What about the fact that humankind’s merits had deserved something? What about the point that man had been diligently working towards earning something from God and deserved God to pay out those wages? Paul indicated what man had been working for and the rightful wages that man deserved, “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23a). The rest of that verse, however, speaks to God’s grace, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b). This year, at Polishing the Pulpit, Kirk Brothers pointed to a definition of grace given by Jack Cottrell that might be helpful in succinctly defining grace while being consistent with the Bible. Cottrell was said to define grace as, “Favor bestowed when wrath is owed.” As Kirk Brothers went on to explain, “The word grace . . . means more than . . . I got something I didn’t deserve. . . . The word grace, as defined by God, actually means I got the opposite of what I deserved. It’s not that I got a gift I didn’t work for; it’s that I deserved to die and I got to live.” These words do not sound like a new discovery in the life of this brother in Christ. If one can understand the concept presented by Paul in Romans 6:23 then one can understand the Bible’s definition of grace.
At the same time, understanding the Bible’s definition of grace is not sufficient if an individual wishes to benefit from God’s grace. This issue of the Messenger speaks to that point as one especially considers the articles written by Bolen and Knight. The Bible communicates to the reader that grace involves a great many things pertaining to the life of the Christian. A Christian that understands and appreciates the grace of God realizes that it does something for the Christian. For instance, the grace of God is involved in a Christian’s death to sin. Paul, in writing to the Romans, says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2). These words are especially timely in light of the aforementioned “grace-filled” congregations guilty of committing sin by adding things to their worship that God never authorized. Grace does not excuse sin. Grace involves death to sin.
Additionally, as Paul indicates to Titus, grace plays an active role in the everyday life of the Christian. After receiving salvation through grace (Titus 2:11), grace instructs the Christian in the matter of his or her lifestyle. First of all, grace is involved in teaching a fundamental requirement of one that claims to follow Christ—that requirement being self-denial. Paul writes that grace is involved in “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts . . .” (Titus 2:12a). “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” is, no doubt, tied to the requirement that Jesus presented to his disciples, “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Selfishness produces the pursuit of “ungodliness” and “worldly lusts.” Self-denial, which the Bible ties to God’s grace, abandons those things.
Second, according to Titus 2:12, grace is involved in teaching one how to live in a deliberate and positive way before the world. Grace teaches one to live “soberly” or in a self-controlled manner. Grace teaches one to live “righteously,” which is a description of one who desires to do what is right, as defined by God’s word, regardless of what everyone else does. Grace teaches one to live “godly,” or in such a way as to be pleasing to God (cf. John 8:29). Furthermore, grace teaches one to live this way—in the only place one can live—“in this present world.” Obviously, if Christians choose to live this way, they will not be popular with worldly-minded people or denominationally-minded brethren. This way—the biblical way—of understanding grace is quite different than the load of goods that the “church of Christ has rediscovered grace” crowd is trying to sell folks. Sadly, those folks appear to be more interested in catering to the wants and desires of certain people rather than the wants and desires of God.
Third, according to Titus 2:13, grace produces hope in the life of the Christian. Due to God’s saving grace, the Christian is said to be “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In this life, the Christian is given the hope of eternal life in prospect. After the judgment day, eternal life will be realized for every faithful Christian. As a matter of fact, Paul began his letter to Titus by speaking of that hope when he says, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2).
Paul’s words to Titus indicate that God’s grace saves (Titus 2:11), instructs (Titus 2:12), and brings hope (Titus 2:13). Those facts would seem to communicate a great deal more than the generic sense in which “grace” is often presented by denominations and unfaithful congregations of the Lord’s church. Somehow, grace to them is more undefinable and difficult to grasp. This position conveniently opens up a door of opportunity to help them misapply “grace” and use it to supposedly justify introducing unscriptural practices into worship. If anyone questions this justification and misapplication, they can simply say, “We have rediscovered grace” or “we are a grace-filled church.” If an opportunity to help those individuals that are misunderstanding God’s biblical concept of grace happens to arise, then such opportunity should be utilized for the sake of their souls and the souls of those they are influencing. Any departure in the Lord’s church from the “doctrine of Christ” (2 John 9) should cause the hearts of brethren to weep. Jesus loves his church and desires for her to be spotless, wrinkleless, blemish-less, and holy if he is going to acknowledge her as his bride (Eph. 5:27).
In addition to all of these matters relating to the grace of God, as well as the ones discussed in the articles by Bolen, Knight, and Richey, the reader is encouraged to take note of Bill Young’s article concerning “The Grace of Giving.” Special attention is given in that article to the way that God’s grace affects and should affect every Christian’s attitude towards giving. When an individual sits down with the word of God and really wants to learn about God’s grace, it is truly amazing to think about how God’s grace affects every aspect of the Christian life.
Finally, this writer would like to encourage the reader to think about how God’s grace works together with faith, law, and works. Knight’s article gives some excellent illustrations and communicates some important truths about how each of these biblical concepts must be present to accomplish God’s will in the life of the Christian. Grace cannot be discussed in isolation any more than the other three concepts. That truth is an important point to show folks that need to be reached with the saving message of the Gospel of Christ. May it be every Christian’s desire to share the message of God’s amazing grace with the lost in the way that God intended.