This study seeks to present a Biblical teaching of how we can keep on receiving God's grace, life and power in our lives, so that we can be what we ought to be as Christians, both in the church and in the world. We will examine the subject of what God's grace is, and how it can be received and applied in our lives. This will help us to avoid the cycle of failure, resolutions, repeated failure, frustration and condemnation which is a common problem amongst those wishing to please God.
The problem that we have as Christians armed with lots of theory about what God has done, and what we should be doing, is that we can still find ourselves falling desperately short of our own ideals, principles, convictions and hopes. Sometimes the power to make the Christian life and ministry practical and real seems to be sadly lacking. It is possible to talk about love and yet find oneself bound by selfishness and irritation. It is possible to talk about God's power and compassion in healing and yet be unable to demonstrate it or testify about how He has helped you personally.
This is due in part to a misunderstanding and neglect concerning God's grace – which is the working of His life in us. God has not simply left us commandments and principles to follow, without giving us the ability to live out what He is talking about. Let us see what the Bible says on this point in 2 Peter 1:2-4.
"Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
Grace is not a cover for rebellion and wilful disobedience
Grace is not given to us so that we can indulge in sin without any serious consequences, as some have taught. It is given that we might escape sin's grip and fully do the will of God. It is given that we might escape the corruption that is in the world through lust. Without doing the will of God, no one will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). Grace does not guarantee eternal salvation to someone who knew God but then was overcome again by the corruptions of the world again and would not repent (2 Peter 2:20), nor does it guarantee eternal peace with God to those who never escape the fundamental slavery to sin and rebellion that is characteristic of unregenerate people. What DOES cover the failings of one who has truly committed his whole life to Christ, who has renounced the lordship over his own life and defers to Christ is MERCY obtained through the blood of Christ, not GRACE. God does more than "cover" – He cleanses. The Bible says if we confess our sins he will CLEANSE us and FORGIVE us. This is MERCY, and should not be confused with GRACE, which is empowerment to do God's will. But those who imagine themselves secure and "saved by grace" while continuing in wilful sin and rebellion against God are "turning the grace of God into lewdness" (Jude 4) and are in for a horrible shock unless they repent. There has been a lot of false teaching on grace in the last 100 years and a careful honest look at the Scriptures will refute it.
Grace gives the power to say 'No' to sin, and deny self for the one who is convicted of his need and humbles himself recognizing his need to change. Grace is needed because even the person who totally commits to Christ is powerless to honor this commitment or have a change of heart or nature without God's working in his or her heart.
God has already given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. He has already given us everything we need to live out everything that forms part of the Biblical plan for our lives as His followers. Where is the problem then? The problem lies with our failure to receive and take hold of the grace and power of God in our daily lives. The provision of power for holy living, for gracious living, for supernatural strength and anointing is there for us. Jesus is willing to share all He is with us, so that we can be like Him – not so much outwardly, but especially inwardly – in our thoughts, our attitudes, our love, faith and purity. He is also willing to share a measure of His power with us so that we can continue His mission of destroying the works of the devil and setting others free from Satan's destructive grasp. The question then becomes, "How do we then receive all that Jesus is wanting to offer to us of Himself?" We will consider this issue more later in this study.
It is a mistake to try to earn merit with God by our own religious activities. We cannot earn God's supernatural blessing on our lives through religious activity, sacrifice or anything else.
It is also an error to suppose that simply taking part in some of the ordinances of the Christian church will give us all that we need. Being baptised in water, or receiving regularly the Lord's Supper, or even having hands laid on us in the name of the Lord in themselves will not guarantee our receiving of the favour, power or grace of God so as to make a serious difference for our lives. Multitudes who have at some time received some or all of these ministrations and have been told to be good have found themselves nevertheless powerless to overcome sin within and temptation without. It is a mistake to assume that the power of the Lord is always going to work in us if we outwardly keep certain rituals and practices – even if they are Biblical!
Grace (Grec.: charis) has been defined in many ways at many times. The Bible, especially the New Testament speaks much of grace. It is important to know what it really means.
Grace has been defined as the unearned, unmerited favour of God, but really this is a very inadequate definition. All grace is favour, but not all unearned favour is grace. This definition does helps us to see that it is something good that comes from God, which we don't deserve. It is a gift. "The Lord will give grace and glory" (Psalm 84:11). "God .. gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6).
Two important things to realise about grace is the totally undeserving nature of the recipient (us), and the totally generous nature of the giver (God).
It is important to realize that God may give grace as He pleases. He can set conditions, or waive them. No one can demand grace from God based on what they have done. Grace is something you cannot earn by good works or even by suffering. No amount of religious activity – Bible study, prayer, obedience to church leaders, fasting, church programmes gives you the right to expect God to bless you or help you in any way. Giving money to the poor or to the church does not earn us any right to God's favour or blessings. Your struggle to obey God's commandments does not earn you God's grace either. Nothing you do can make God owe you grace. "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt." (Romans 4:4). The things we do for God or others – our works – if they earned favour with God, this favour would not be grace, but rather something that God owes us according to the principle of what is just and fair. "And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." (Romans 11:6)
The fact that grace is unearned and unmerited does not tell us everything about grace, because it does not tell us what grace does. A more practical definition of grace could be "God's life, power and righteousness coming to us, the undeserving, as a gift." It is through grace that God works effective change in our hearts and lives. God's laws in themselves do not have the power to make us what we should be. It takes God Himself, working in the human life, to make us what we ought to be. At every step, we are dependent on God's life and power to come to us and work within our hearts, if we want to be what God wants and do what He wants.
It follows therefore that we cannot say that our life and power, independent of God, is sufficient to fulfil God's plan. No, every proud religious effort to keep a set of rules, even Biblical rules, is doomed to failure. To live under the law in this way is to be separated from Christ and to be fallen from grace. Paul wrote to some people who had come to fall exactly in this trap. He writes, "You have become estranged from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified [made right] by law [rules]; you have fallen from grace!" (Galatians 5:4).
So then, grace is God's life, power and righteousness coming to us, the undeserving as a gift.
Grace gives us a new life which is not condemned by God. Through God's grace we are forgiven. Grace also transforms our thinking, resulting in the renewal of the mind. Through grace we are sanctified and made holy. Grace enables us to live the kind of generous, carefree life of service and joy that God would like every one of His children to experience.
We will now consider more in detail what the grace of God does.
Grace saves us
"For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast". (Eph 2:8,9).
It is important to see here that by God's grace we have been saved. It is not by works. Salvation is all that God does in taking a fallen man and making him into a son of God – righteous, holy and glorified. Legally it all belongs to us now. God's grace works to make it a reality in our being. First God saves our spirits, making us born again. Then in this life He saves our souls – our minds, emotions and wills, as the process of sanctification in this life unfolds. He also saves our bodies – firstly in part through divine healing and health, and then eternally through the resurrection and redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). All this, and anything else which God does in salvation, is strictly on the basis of God's grace. God's gift, not our works, made it all possible.
Grace justifies us
"… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). See also Titus 3:7.
We may be considered to be right by God only because of the grace of Jesus Christ, which is available to us because Jesus willingly layed down His life for us – paying the price we deserved for our rebellion against God. Our justification is not something we receive because of good works, but because of the payment Jesus paid for us at the cross when he suffered and died.
Grace santifies us
Indeed, not only our right standing with God, but also our right living depends on grace. God does not leave us to struggle in our own power to think, speak and act correctly. He gives grace after grace. "And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace." (John 1:16). We need to "continue in God's grace" (Acts 13:43) in order to go on with God. The Word of God's Grace "builds us up and gives us an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). As we hear about all that God's grace does for us, our faith grows and we can then receive the actual grace to make all this a possibility.
The work of sanctification and perfection belongs firstly to God, not to us. This is why it says, "But may the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen and settle you." (1 Peter 5:10). It is as the "God of all grace" that the Lord "perfects, establishes and strengthens us."
Grace gives us the power to conduct ourselves correctly in the world. "For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in all simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you." (2 Corinthians 1:12). It is only by God's grace, and the graciousness He puts in us, that we can conduct ourselves simply and with godly sincerity in the world.
By Grace We Have Strength to Stand Against Opposition
A Christian must stand in the grace of God (Romans 5:2). He must be strong in the grace of God. "You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:1). The Scripture says plainly that is is "good that the heart be strengthened [or established] with grace" (Hebrews 13:9). "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." (Ephesians 6:10,11). All the armour of God is received by the grace of God. We did not pay for the "breastplate of righteousness" or "the shield of faith" or any other parts of that armour. It is therefore by drawing on the grace of God that we are going to be able to resist temptation and stand against all the temptations and trials that Satan wants to discourage us with and make us fall, if possible.
Under Grace we are not ruled by the Power of Sin
Some imagine that the correct understanding of grace frees the believer to do whatever he wants – to sin against his conscience, against others, against the Word and against God. However, this cannot be correct, since the Scripture says, "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Paul asks, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" His response is clear. "Certainly not!" (Romans 6:15). Grace is not a license to commit sin. It is a force that both pardons us and empowers us to live right, without falling into temptation.
Grace Teaches Us Godliness
Rather than teaching us to sin freely, grace is "teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11,12). Here we see how closely related is the concept of grace with the working of the Holy Spirit. For it is the Holy Spirit Himself who convicts of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:7). It is the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that "teaches us concerning all things" as we learn to abide in Jesus (1 John 2:27). All these things: the anointing, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God, are closely related. We can say that the anointing itself is a very special and important expression of the grace of God.
When we sin, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us feel this personally. He gives us an opportunity to repent. When we sin, He helps us to feel that something is wrong. He does not do it by condemning us (telling us that we are now condemned), but by convicting us (showing us where we are wrong), and by removing the fulness of peace and joy from our lives. We should let the peace of God rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). If not, we will sense something is wrong. All this is an expression of God's grace. God wants to lead us to repentance, so that we will neither suffer loss, nor be destroyed.
Grace makes us what we are in God
"But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10) What we are in Christ is because of God's life and power which has been at work in us. No one can make himself a great man of God. Even the callings to be this or to do that in God's Kingdom are by grace (Galatians 1:6). Paul said that God called Him by His grace from His mother's womb (Galatians 1:15). This means that it was God, not Paul, who initiated Paul's being chosen for apostolic ministry. In a similar way, Jeremiah was called from His mother's womb to be a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). We cannot become special ministers of God without His calling. We can only be what God gives us grace to be. If through His grace we fulfil a special function in God's Kingdom, then it was not on the basis of our merit and work, but rather, because of God's grace – God's gift, God's favour.
Does this leave us without responsibility before God? No, it is very important for us to take hold of the grace of God, so that we can be what God intends us to be. We will see more on this in a later section.
God's Grace Empowers Us for Service
As we have stated before, the anointing for service is a part of God's grace. The ability to exercise a gift or ministry from God comes from God! This can be seen in the following Scriptures:
"From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed" (Acts 14:26). The early church recognised that these apostles needed God's grace in order that the work they were supposed to do be accomplished.
"Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name" (Romans 1:5). It was by the grace of God that Paul was able to get so many Gentiles in different lands to believe and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation." (1 Corinthians 3:10). Paul was able to do his work of laying the foundation in the Corinthian church only by the grace of God. This grace was for Paul the ability to do his work as an apostle.
"For I say, through the grace of God given to me, to everyone who is among you…" (Romans 12:3). It was God's grace that gave Paul the power and authority to say to the church at Rome and to us as well what he had from God to say. A similar idea can is expressed in Romans 15:15, 16. "Nevertheless, brethren, I have written to you more boldly on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles." Here we can also see that it was the grace of God which gave Paul the power to be a minister of the gospel.
"… I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Ephesians 3:7,8). We can see hear that the ability to be a minister, to preach the gospel among the peoples of the world comes through the grace of God.
"Having then gifts that differ according to the grace that is given to us: let us use them." (Romans 12:6). The receiving and operation of the gifts we have from God depends upon the grace that is given to us. Therefore it is through grace that we have certain gifts and ministries of the Spirit among us.
"Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia" (2 Corinthians 8:1). In the context we see that this grace mentioned was grace that made them to operate powerfully in the ministry of giving, even beyond their natural ability (2 Corinthians 8:3).
"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Ephesians 4:7). This verse makes it clear that grace has been given to each one of us believers that we might be able to serve with the gifts that God gives us.
In conclusion we see that God's grace empowers us for the service of God in three ways. Firstly, by making us a minister or servant of Christ. Secondly, by giving us gifts and ministry abilities necessary. And thirdly, by giving us power and authority to operate those gifts and ministries. It is God's grace that gives us the right words and the right way to communicate those words. It is God's grace that actually spreads through us to work in those that are hearing and receiving the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:15).
God would like us to be so full of His grace in our lives that we can say with Paul the apostle: "His grace towards 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). The grace of God is not received by works, but it produces work done in God. Grace, which is God's life, comes into us and begins to live in us. And God is working even now (John 5:17). In the same way, His grace is to work in us and through us so that we can be all and do all that He wants.
God's Grace Enables Us to Reign
God's Word says, "much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17). We have been made kings and priests to our God (Revelation 1:5). Grace is necessary to rule and reign in life. Grace is necessary to exercise authority in the way that God desires. God rules, but not harshly. He rules in grace, justice, mercy and truth. In order to exercise authority over the situations that we are in, we need to receive more and more of God's grace. This grace gives us power not only to use authority over the demons behind many of the negative situations in life, but also to lead and direct people in a way that will build them up and not destroy them.
1. Believe. The Scripture tells us that Apollos helped those who had "believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). Even the faith which saves us comes through God's grace. We don't produce faith – we receive it as a gift from God. "For by grace you are saved, through faith, and that [faith] not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." (Ephesians 2:8).
Nevertheless, we must choose to exercise the faith which God has given us (Romans 12:3). God has given us the grace to believe. We need to use that grace in whatever measure we have received it until now.
By the grace we have, we must believe God – His Word, His promises, His commandments, His judgments.
2. Receive. God's Word says, "much more those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17). Paul says in Romans 1:5, "We have received grace and apostleship." God may give grace, but we must also be willing to receive it.
Grace must be received as grace. It cannot be received as payment for good behaviour or good works. If we are thinking to receive grace from God on the basis of our good behaviour or good works, we will not be able to receive it as grace. We will therefore not be able to receive it at all. This is why God many times seems to greatly bless a sinner recently turned to him and gives them a great ministry, while seemingly ignoring many "good church people" who have been struggling faithfully for years – but with a wrong mentality concerning grace.
3. Continue in It. "Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God." (Acts 13:43). It is vitally important that all of us, especially those who have recently turned to God and trusted in His grace, continue in the grace of God. We need to allow God to keep guiding our hearts to the place where He can continue to work in us by His grace. In the moment when we cease to allow God's grace to work in us, in the moment when we no longer abide in Christ through disobedience; in that moment we start to dry up as Christians and that life of God in us begins to lose its effectiveness. God will not force us to remain in His grace. It is something He gives us the power to do, but we must choose to go on. Don't give up!
4. Use and Manage it. "As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:10). Every born-again Christian has received a spiritual gift, and should use it. We have all been given grace to serve somewhere. God's grace takes many forms. There are many different anointings. A steward or manager must use what has been entrusted to him and multiply it. Otherwise, he is not being a good and faithful steward.
This means that whatever gifts and abilities God has given us by His grace, we should use them for His glory. God's grace and blessings were not given simply for us to sit in church and feel good. Rather, they were given that we might not only be blessed, but also be a blessing.
5. Spread It. "For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God." (2 Corinthians 4:15). Grace and peace will multiply as more and more people spread it. We can spread God's grace through giving, through preaching the gospel, and by "speaking such a word as is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). It is the privilege and responsibility of every true Christian, and not just of a special few, to spread God's grace to as many as possible. When we to this, more and more people will give thanks to God, and so pleasure will come to the heart of God.
In the light of all that we have seen so far it is clear that it would be difficult to over-estimate the importance of God's grace as far as our lives are concerned. Without grace we would not only be useless as Christians in God's sight – we would also be lost. There is no work that man can do to make him "good enough for God". Everything that we do outside of God's grace is worthless. Everything good that comes in us and through us is only by the grace of God.
It is therefore very important that we respect God's grace and follow the Scriptural warnings not to sin against the grace of God. To sin against the grace of God has serious consequences. If we wilfully go on sinning against God in this way, we "insult the Spirit of Grace" and "no sacrifice for sins remains" (Hebrews 10:26,29).
It is good to see the whole Bible in the light of grace, and not of law. If we read the Bible only in the light of law, it will condemn us, but never set us free to please God. By reading and interpreting the Bible in the light of grace, we may have hope for this life and for eternity – because we see the reality of forgiveness and blessing in Christ. At the same time, if we properly understand grace, it will lead us to God and away from sin. To see grace as an enouragement for sin is to "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness". This false understanding of grace is very dangerous.
We therefore see that it is good for us to study, understand, receive and apply the grace of God to every aspect of our lives.
There are a number of different sins against the grace of God mentioned in the Scriptures.
1. Setting Aside the Grace of God (Galatians 2:21)
This is teaching that efforts to adhere to moral laws are all that is required for us to please God. It is a denial of our need for God's partnership in our transformation.
2. Receiving God's grace in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1)
This implies it is possible to actually receive God's grace, and yet fail to take hold of it and flow with it in such a way as to allow any good fruit to result.
3. Turning the Grace of God into Lasciviousness (Jude 4)
This is teaching that we can sin sexually, live to please our flesh or commit other sins and somehow the grace of God makes it so that we are still right with God while we go on like this.
4. Falling from Grace (Galatians 5:4)
This is to reject Christ after you have known Him, and turn back either to a system of rule-keeping and self effort, or to slide into sinful and rebellious ways, hardening the heart to God.
5. Falling Short of the Grace of God (Hebrews 12:15)
This is to fail to come up to the mark God has enabled you to attain by His grace.
6. Insulting the Spirit of Grace (Hebrews 10:29)
This is to speak against God, His ways, His system of salvation through the cross and the Holy Spirit.
7. Turning Aside from Grace (not continuing in it)
This is to get our eyes off God and go after other things.