Grace 101

Over the years, I have written many blogs and "letters to myself" on grace and thought to compile them here. Just maybe, something might be of help to someone else; I surely hope, for God be the glory. Apologies for poor English - this is not my mother tongue.

One of the refrains from the Reformation in the 15th century is Sola Gratia - grace alone! With this, the reformers tried to re-establish the Biblical truth of "saved by grace alone", without any help or "add-ons" of good deeds, morals, humanitarian values or whatever modern people can find to add-on (even money). This refrain was against the church of the time, the Catholic Church who, over centuries, deformed the gospel of Jesus Christ into a new legalism - as if that which the Jews and the Pharisees developed over centuries was not enough to learn from. Apparently, according the Catholic Church, there is no way that someone can have assurance of faith because you would never know "if you have done enough". That's exactly what grace is NOT. Maybe their reasoning behind this was to motivate people to do more and by so doing, warrant your salvation. But we know, that is not how it works.

graceConsequently (and ironically), this doctrine lead to what we labelled "abundant good deeds". By this is meant that someone might have done so much more that is necessary for his/her salvation, that there is "something left" for someone else. For example, Paul has done so much, that his "left-over deeds" can be transferred by intercession to someone else who has failed or has not enough. Just imagine how desperate and hopeless such a doctrine may let you feel, especially if you think you are one of those who might need some more. "Have I done enough?" My question is: Will we ever be able to do "enough"?


This is where GRACE comes in! Grace wants to relieve us from this burden of "have I done enough". The Bible teaches clearly that we are saved by grace, and by grace alone through faith (Eph 2:8-10; Romans). Ah, will some say, but faith is an add-on. Again the Bible says that even faith is not from ourselves and that we can only believe when it is "worked" in us by Jesus. Therefore, not even faith is something we can choose which would constitute something from our side as an add-on.

Lets follow this argument of saved by grace: James 2:10-14 says that even if we commit one sin, one of the 10 commandments, it is as if we have failed in all 10. Logically then, if you have lied once, you have stolen, murdered, and used God's name in vain. And remember, the 10 commandments are summed up by "Love God and love your neighbour". It then follows that one cannot achieve a 5/10, or 6/10 or even 8/10 - its all or nothing. So we are guilty and deserve nothing else than eternal death (Rom). Furthermore, Exodus 34:17 teaches that God hates sin and being a just and truthful God, he will punish such sin. Rom 6:23 teaches that the "wages of sin" is death. It follows then that the only thing any person deserve, is eternal death because we find ourselves daily in this desperate situation of realising our failures (I know I do and Paul did too - see Rom 7:19).

So then, what prevents us from eternal death? Only grace! Because we cannot add-on to salvation (even our intentions are interspersed with sin), or even try to do any "good", only grace can save us. And that is why Jesus came to this earth - to take the punishment of Ex 34 on Himself in order for us NOT to be punished. And only through Him, can we have eternal life and be confident (assured) about it because of the promises in the Bible (Joh 1; 6; 1 Jon 5).

Another startling fact is: He didn't come "after or because we have changed and became good people"; he came and saved us while we were still living in sin and rejection, or as the Bible puts it, while we still "hated" him and not even having any intention to do "good". What is there to deserve in such a state?

A good example of grace can also be read in 2 Sam... King David wanted to do a favour to his friend, Jonathan and requested if there is any relatives if him, to which a disabled far next-of-kin was remembered - Mefiboset. Remember it was still a time where disabled persons were "persona non gratia" - so to speak. David took him into his household and for the rest of Mefiboseth's life, enjoyed the life of a king. He could not do anything to deserve such favour and could not "add-on" anything to keep this favour towards himself. It was by David's grace that he enjoyed such privileges.

The counterpart of grace is legalism. Probably the reason why so many people fall back into legalism is: its clear what I have to do and what I have to NOT do. No grey areas; no difference in opinion; its a measurable objective - and maybe that's exactly the problem. We measure each other to determine "how far are we" towards eternal life or being saved. Exactly what Jesus said we should not do and it becomes clear why He said that if we start to understand grace - because we have not done anything to deserve being saved, and we do not add-on to warrant it.

Legalism is a new way of compiling a set of rules people must abide by (do's and don't's): one should do this; one should not do that; a Christian doesn't do this; or look like that; it is proper for a Christian to...... etc. Says who? And who determines whether I abide or not? And if not, are "the church" or new Pharisees going to expel me? This is judging.

Grace on the other hand, is without any merits. It doesn't matter who you are, were, have done, do - nothing matters. Only if you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour; as the one who paid the price for that which you was supposed to get.

The first "complaint" one might here about this is: "so, you say that you can do whatever you want and continue to live in sin, you are and will be saved". It may sound like that, but reading the book of Romans (who interestingly enough asked the very same question to Paul in Rom 6), you will realise that that is not what grace means. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Think about this: your kids know you don't like something; they try to abide by it but do fail from time to time. Do you ever come to a point to say: "that's enough, you're not my child anymore"? You might be furious and will surely discipline and guide them, but they never fail to be your kid. If you as a parent understand this; how much more not our Heavenly Father? Put it another way; we don't get children to improve our relationship with our spouse; we want to get children BECAUSE of the loving relationship. Its first the relationship, then the "consequence" thereof. I don't do goo deeds to enter into a relationship with Christ; we are in a relationship with Christ and the consequence of that is us wanting to do good, to improve towards holiness.

Charles Swindoll in "Grace Awakening" (p52) says about this notion: "if it sounds as if we are saying that you can do anything and continue to live in sin, then that is real grace being preached". But if we are preaching "new" laws and do's and don't's, we are treading dangerously on legalistic grounds.

But is that not making grace "cheap"? No. Cheap grace says sin is "not sin"; it justifies sin instead of the sinner. Grace justifies the sinner. For example, cheap grace would say prostitution is OK; nothing wrong with it. Grace would say the prostitute is and can be forgiven - go and sin no more.

What if we do sin again? Of course we should not go and keep on living in sin, but we are still only human and sinful by nature. It might happen (and I'm sure all of us can think of things we have confessed, only to find ourselves falling again). It is and will be a constant battle but we know that we do have the power of the Holy Spirit with us to help us eventually overcome (only to start with the next issue :-) ). But the understanding of grace means that we do not have to doubt of our identity in Christ and our status before God every time we fall - as if any sin will throw us out of eternal life - because its not the doing or not doing which caused or adds-on to us being saved. Its grace alone - Sola Gratia. Martin Luther said: "Love God wholeheartedly....and do whatever you do". The first is the moral compass; the second grace.

Legalism is a new bondage - grace is liberating.

Grace 102...

 

References:

  1. Credit for the graphics to http://personaltao.com/teachings/taoism/what-is-grace/ and http://grasslandchurch.com/2013/09/the-grace-of-god-convincing-grace/

 

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Photograph: Jay Jefferson

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