God's Most Precious Gift
In this chapter we are going to look at the value of grace as a gift, but before we go on to that, I want to remind you of two important points:
1. We do what we do by the power of grace.
- Our obedience to the gospel (repent, confess, being baptized) is motivated or powered by grace.
- Our hunger and thirst for righteousness is powered by grace. We desire to be and do good because of grace, not because we want to earn our way into heaven.
- Our service, our giving, our ministries are fueled by grace.
Once we have seen and experienced God's grace in Christ, we cannot help but act in this way to one degree or another.
2. Grace existed in the Old Testament.
To say that people were saved by the Law in the Old Testament and we are saved by grace in the New Testament is incorrect. The Law was revealed in the Old Testament and was necessary to bring man to an understanding that he was a sinner.
However, it was God's grace that first chose the Jewish nation and gave them the Law. That same grace sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit, established the church, preached the gospel and will resurrect the faithful in the end.
The Law is part of grace's plan. Without the Law we cannot appreciate the beauty and generosity of grace.
The people who were saved in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith in the same way we are today. Their sins were sent forward to the cross for atonement and ours are sent back to the cross for the same atonement. They expressed their faith according to the teachings of Moses (circumcision, temple worship, food laws, etc.); we express our faith according to the teachings of Christ (baptism, worship, evangelism, etc.). They looked forward to the time when God would send a savior to save them from sin (their lives were based on the trust that He would one day do this); we look forward to the time when the savior will return and save us from the second death (our lives are based on the hope of our resurrection).
But from the very beginning, everything God did was based on grace, and all who were saved, before the cross or after the cross were saved by grace through faith.
Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.
- Habakkuk 2:4
This has always been the method, this has always been the plan.
In the New Testament God revealed perfectly the plan and the person who would accomplish it, Jesus Christ. This is the main difference.
Grace as a Gift
The New Testament mentions four main gifts from God:
1. The "gift" of the Holy Spirit
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
- Acts 2:38
The Holy Spirit given as a gift to indwell man and one day raise him from the dead.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
- Romans 8:11
This is a gift because we cannot force the Holy Spirit to come to us, He is only given by God to those who obey the gospel.
2. The "gifts" that God gives to the church
8Therefore it says,
"When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men."
9(Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
- Ephesians 4:8-12
God provides prophets, evangelists, teachers, elders to bless His church. These are gifts because God calls, equips and appoints these people to do their work in the church.
3. The Spiritual "gifts" the Holy Spirit gives to individuals in the church – Romans 12; I Corinthians 12
God provided miraculous gifts to some in the church in the beginning (healing, tongues, etc.) and continues to bless individuals with non-miraculous gifts today (serving, leading, teaching, etc.). These are gifts because God blesses the individuals with both the miraculous and non-miraculous abilities that each has.
4. The "gift" of grace
so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
- Ephesians 2:7
The embodiment of the gift of grace is Jesus Christ who accomplishes salvation for us. Grace (salvation through Christ, obtained by faith) is a gift because we cannot earn it nor do we deserve it.
The Value of this Gift
Sometimes you get a gift that you do not fully appreciate right away. For example, a bathrobe at first is not exciting or flashy but after it is broken in it gives many years of comfort. Grace is like that for many people. They do not fully appreciate grace until they mature in Christ and grow in understanding.
The gift of grace is the most valuable. Why? Because without it all the other gifts would not be possible. We could not receive the Holy Spirit, benefit from Apostles and elders or receive spiritual gifts without grace. This is why Paul refers to grace as the "…unspeakable gift."
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
- II Corinthians 9:15
The Expression of Grace
We have mentioned that our faith becomes genuine when it is expressed in obedience, in service and in love. Faith must become visible and concrete to be viable. The fruit of faith justifies and confirms its existence. This is why James said,
But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
- James 2:18
Faith is only a concept until it comes to life and becomes real through a demonstration or a witness of faith. This is why we say that proper biblical expressions of faith are repentance, baptism, service, fidelity, purity, etc.
Grace is also only a concept until it becomes real through some form of expression. The consummate, final, full and perfect expression of God's grace in physical form is Jesus Christ. When we talk about grace, we are talking about Christ. When we are discussing the life and ministry of Christ, we are discussing the grace of God in action. In the same way, when we talk about good works, baptism, holy living, we are really talking about physical expressions of faith.
Paul expresses this idea in Ephesians 2:7 when he says that the riches of God's kindness find their perfect and final expressions in Jesus Christ.
What the Gift Gives us
When we receive a gift, many times the value or joy of that gift is based on what that gift does for us. For example, a money gift gives us the power to purchase what we desire. A music gift gives us the sensual pleasure of this art. A plaque or award gives us a sense of appreciation from others and the pride of achievement.
Each gift gives us unique things. In the same way the gift of grace does something for us that is wonderful and unique. Only this gift does the following things for us.
1. Grace produces our salvation
The problem with going to heaven is that we know how to go there but we cannot accomplish what is necessary. We know that if we are sinless, we automatically go to heaven.
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.
- Genesis 2:17
Our problem is that even though we know that sin causes death and condemnation (Romans 6:23), we sin anyways. We are helpless victims of our weak flesh and condemned for it
For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
- Romans 7:15
God solves our problem by sending Jesus to live that perfect life in our stead and then offers it back to God as a payment for our imperfect lives. One perfect life offered for all imperfect lives.
God has solved our problem of sin and saved us from judgment, condemnation and eternal suffering. Now we have two ways to be saved: live a perfect life or receive a perfect life through faith in Christ.
God's grace/gift produces a new way to be saved which is available and possible for all.
2. Grace produces righteousness
One of the most unpleasant experiences we have as human beings is the knowledge and the feelings that accompany the fact that we are imperfect, impure and unholy. This knowledge of sinfulness and imperfection leads many to all kinds of warped behavior: some become depressed and insecure; others over-compensate and become proud, cynical or boastful; still others revel in their own evil and plug into its power to obtain their desires in this world.
The gift of grace/Christ, on the other hand, gives the individual "imputed righteousness" in order to satisfy that innate desire to be right with God and self.
There are different kinds of righteousness (being right, being acceptable to God).
- Inherent righteousness is what you have because it is your essential nature. It is what you are naturally. God has inherent righteousness.
- Achieved righteousness is the righteousness we earn or cultivate through willpower and training. This is the degree of goodness and acceptability we have through our own efforts and the conditioning we receive from parents. This is essentially a righteousness obtained through keeping the Law, a righteousness achieved by rule keeping.
- Imputed righteousness is the righteousness that someone else gives you. This is righteousness that God gives you through faith in Christ.
The righteousness (goodness or acceptability) that we need to be with God in heaven is His kind of righteousness. In other words, what is required is not inherent righteousness or achieved righteousness. We need Godly righteousness and we can only have this level of righteousness when it is imputed or given to us by Christ through faith. This is why people who may have a very high level of inherent and achieved righteousness that may even surpass that of Christians are not necessarily saved. They have righteousness but not the quality of righteousness required for salvation. That righteousness level can only be imputed by God Himself through Christ.
And so, the gift of grace is a great blessing because through it we receive the same Godly righteousness possessed by Christ Himself.
26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
- Galatians 3:26-27
No matter how much we try and train we could never achieve the same degree of righteousness through our own efforts as we receive freely and as a gift through faith in Christ.
This is why good people, moral people, nice people or kind people who do not have Christ are still lost. A person may have a high degree of personal integrity and rightness in his life, but these will never be able to substitute for the covering of Christ's own righteousness when he or she stands before God in judgment.
3. Grace produces life
We often think about grace in abstract or future terms only. Grace washes sins, grace produces righteousness, grace gives eternal life.
But grace is a gift for the here and now as well. It is a gift that blesses our daily lives. It is grace that motivates good works, perseverance, joy and obedience in our lives. Jesus said that He was the vine, we are the branches.
3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
- John 15:3-4
This clearly teaches that those who are "in Christ," "in grace," will bear fruit. The vine feeds the branches and so the Lord feeds us, motivates us and enables us to do good works.
The good life we have, the holy life we aspire to, the struggle with sin, the personal spiritual victories, all of these find their original source in Christ/grace.
Do not be afraid that leaning on grace will cut your appetite for good or make you take things for granted. Grace has exactly the opposite effect. Eventually grace produces eternal life.
Falling from grace – Losing this precious gift.
What about the issue of losing grace? Let's get some background information first. There are some extreme positions taken when discussing this issue. For example:
In classic Calvinism the teaching is that there is no possibility of falling from grace. This idea has been set forth in 5 doctrinal statements.
The TULIP acrostic:
Total Depravity: Man is so lost and depraved he cannot respond to the gospel.
Unconditional Election: God, therefore, chooses some for salvation and some for damnation.
Limited Atonement: Jesus dies only for those God chose.
Irresistible Grace: Those God chooses cannot resist His calling of them.
Perseverance: Those who fall away from the faith are those who were never chosen to begin with.
These doctrines ultimately led to the position that once you were saved, you were always saved and could not be lost and that you could not lose the grace of God.
Of course a quick review of the Bible shows that this premise is unbiblical. Think now:
- Adam and Eve (perfectly created) were lost.
- Israel was lost (chosen by God).
- Judas was lost (chosen by Jesus).
- Demas was lost (chosen by Paul).
The book of Hebrews was written to warn people who were definitely saved, to be careful not to be lost!
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).
So the Bible definitely teaches that it is possible for a person who is truly saved through faith by God's grace to then be truly lost. That includes you and me!
There is no one teacher of this particular doctrine but we, in the church of Christ, in an effort to confront and correct Calvinism may have gone too far and become pessimistic at times. Pessimism does not have any formal set of doctrines, it is more like an attitude that many possess in the church.
Pessimists do not only teach that it is possible to fall away, they teach that it is probable that apostasy will come and overreact to any effort at change in the church. The main error of Pessimists is that they misunderstand three ideas about grace:
A. The idea of falling from grace
2Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
- Galatians 5:2-6
What does Paul say "falling from grace" is? We sometimes equate "falling from grace" to "falling into sin," which means that in order to remain in grace a person needs to be sinless.
Falling from grace is when you leave grace in order to go to a "works" system in order to save yourself. Do we think that perfect adherence to the rules of worship saves us? Do we think that proper understanding of the key concepts saves us?
Being in grace is the realization that your performance is very limited by sin and your knowledge is imperfect, but you are saved anyways because God's grace permits you to be saved through believing and trusting in Jesus, not perfect knowledge or rule keeping.
B. The idea that we create grace
12So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
- Philippians 2:12-13
In other words, in order to remain in God's grace, we have to "work" at it. You have grace but unless you work (perform well) each day, God will remove it.
When Paul wrote this he was addressing a congregation that he had begun and led and loved but had not seen in a long time. He compliments them on their perseverance and good faith (even in his absence) and then gives them a word of encouragement.
1. Work out your salvation
The verb means to finish or to complete. To complete the process that was begun in them at their conversion.
We are saved from judgment and condemnation but until Jesus returns we must preserve that salvation by remaining faithful (i.e. despite our sins, we continue to believe and follow Jesus). Finishing (or working out) salvation means to remain faithful. It does not mean that we must do something to earn or deserve what grace has freely given us. The key is to preserve not to deserve.
2. In fear and trembling
We should not have fear or trembling of God because of punishment. We have been saved from that.
We should have fear and trembling of the evil seductions and the wicked plans of those who would try to destroy what we have. These words are meant as an encouragement to be on guard against those who would try to steal what is ours. Fear the devil, fear the world but do not fear God.
3. God is the one who wills and works
If God is the one who wills and works within me, why should I "work out my salvation"?
Paul reassures them that despite the obstacles, despite the evil in the world and despite the weakness of our flesh, we possess God's Holy Spirit and have His inspired Word. Through these, God will guide our work and motivate our will so we can reach our goal.
Through God's grace we are not only saved, but that salvation is protected while we are still vulnerable to sin (while we still can fall) by God's Spirit and Word.
C. The idea that assurance leads to arrogance
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
- Romans 6:1-2
If someone sins more because he thinks grace covers his sins, that person does not understand the gospel and has never been touched by grace.
Assurance (confidence, peace, joy) is the primary fruit of grace, not arrogance (laziness, spiritual pride, immorality). Grace motivates love, service, piety and faithfulness.
Some think that it is arrogant to claim 100% certainty that they are saved and going to heaven. They think that not to be too sure about salvation is somehow being modest.
7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
- II Timothy 4:7-8
Note here that Paul is assured of his crown because he finished, he fought and he was faithful, not because he was perfect in knowledge or performance.
To be sure of salvation is the final goal of grace, it is what God wants His grace to do in our lives.
We need to see grace in the light of the gospel. It is not a commodity that we can buy or exchange. It is not a thing that we can earn or let slip out of our hands. Grace is like a relationship, it involves a relationship with God. It is a relationship with God based on faith, not perfection. For example:
- I am married. I am not a perfect husband, but I am a faithful one.
- I am a preacher. I am not an all-knowing preacher, but I am faithful to my calling.
- We are Christians. We are not sinless Christians, but we are faithful ones.
Because of grace, God allows us to have a relationship with Him based on our faith rather than our perfection. This is His precious gift to us.
- Summarize what you know about the power of grace and how that makes you feel.
- Cite some examples of God's grace from the Old Testament.
- Summarize the four main gifts described in the text and state the importance of each:
- Read Ephesians 1:3-14. List the gifts God has blessed us with.
- Share a time when you've received a gift that left you breathless with joy and appreciation. How does this compare with the gift of grace?
- How is grace expressed in our lives?
- What does the gift of grace give us?
- Provide an explanation of the following gifts given by grace:
- Our salvation
- Produces righteousness
- Produces life
- What is meant by falling from grace and what is the tragedy of it happening?
- How can we keep from falling from grace?
- Read Romans 6:1-11. How does Paul explain the idea that we should no longer sin deliberately?
- How does this lesson help you and others build a greater relationship with Jesus and grow spiritually?