We cannot make it to the throne in glory apart from the grace of God. What is “grace”? How does it work? Are there rules governing when it applies and when it does not? May this brief study of grace help you to make wise decisions that bring you to the judgment seat of Christ with joy!
Definitions of Grace
Let’s start with the basic meanings of the word before we examine the contexts of the word’s occurrences.
Strong’s Concordance, Grace, #2580 (Old Testament): chamad; “to delight in.”
Strong’s Concordance, Grace, #5485 (New Testament): charis; “graciousness” in manner or act; especially the divine influence on the heart, and its reflection in the life.
Vine’s Expositiory Dicitonary of Biblical Words, Grace, (OT):
A. Verb. Hanan; “to be gracious, considerate; to show favor.” In modern Hebrew hanan seems to stress the stronger meaning of “to pardon or to show mercy.”
B. Noun. hen; “Favor, grace.” Whatever is “pleasant and agreeable” can be described by this word. When a woman is said to have hen, she is a “gracious” woman (Prov. 11:16). Hen also denotes the response to whatever is “agreeable.” Verbs are “Give favor” and “Obtain favor.” The idioms are equivalent to the English verbs “to like” or “to love.”
Vine’s Expositiory Dicitonary of Biblical Words, Grace, (NT): charis; (a) that which bestows or occasions pleasure, delight, or causes favorable regard. (b) the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds. To be in favor with is to find “grace” with.
Conclusion: God’s grace is not an inexorable power over us, or a rule, like natural law, or a force. It refers to His friendly disposition of kindness, mercy, and favor.
God’s traits of holiness, immanence, power, authority, full knowledge, and so on, cannot change. Can grace change? Are there conditions governing when God’s kindness is given or withheld? Let’s study several passages that show that grace is conditional.
Humility and Grace
“Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5).
“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore the scripture saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
In James chapter four we learn that the readers had prayed and not received because they asked for things to spend it on their pleasures (4:3). God’s kindness is very great, but He is not like a Genii where you ask for whatever you wish and it will be given. If a person acts contrary to the will of God – and thus acting as an enemy of God (4:4), God does not extend His kindness to helping his enemy succeed. Rather, God “resists” the proud, but shows mercy, kindness and favor to the humble. According to Vine’s, the Greek for “resist” means “to range in battle against.” This battle of God is against His own children who are proud. James therefore tells his readers to “submit to God,” “resist the Devil” (4:7), “Draw near to God,” “purify your hearts” (4:8), and “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (4:10) if they find themselves convicted of sin.
James and Peter both agree that God will withhold showing kindness toward us if we are proud. He may withhold kindness such that He will not answer our prayers (James 4:3), or will even allow the Devil to have a limited way with us (James 4:7. See also Job 1 and 2). Pride especially limits God’s grace; Peter, after telling us that God resists the proud, then tells them to humble themselves that He might exalt them in due time ( 1 Peter 5:6). Then in verse 8 he tells them to resist the Devil. From these passages I gather that the Devil’s special tool to pry us away from God’s grace is to incite God’s children to pride, which was the Devil’s personal weakness.
God wants to exalt us in due time – this may refer to ruling with Christ. Satan does not want to see us obtain this exalted position. He lost his position of prestige in the heavens and wants to keep out as many of us as he can. His vice is pride, so with self-knowledge of his own pride he lures us from God.
“Resist him [the Devil], steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:9-10).
We may resist the Devil and be steadfast in the faith, or we may not. We are told to resist, meaning it is not automatic that we (or God’s grace) will do it for us. God will “perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle” us according to His kindness, but we must not assume that His kindness is so powerful that it will sweep us off our feet as a power that overrides our will.
“The goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). When we comprehend the awfulness of sin and the goodness of God, we should willingly turn from sin. Some people’s hearts are touched by the kindnesses of strangers and friends, while others take it for granted. Our hearts should be touched when we know what good things God has in store for us.
Faith and Grace
First Peter 5:9 (quoted above) exhorts us to be “steadfast in the faith.” Faith is a vital requirement if we wish God to continually work in us. Several passages tell us that faith releases God kindness toward us.
“for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).
“through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).
God desires that all men be saved and be adorned with the righteousness of Christ. How is that salvation obtained? First John 2:2 tells us that Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was enough to put away all the sins of the whole world. However, God applies the benefits of Christ’s work conditionally. If we come in faith, then God applies the benefits and we are saved. If we do not come in faith, then we don’t get the benefits.
God’s great gift of salvation is by His kindness; instead of granting us salvation, He could destroy us immediately in righteous judgment. He chooses to make this salvation and righteousness available conditionally through faith. There’s a reason it’s by faith – because our works have condemned us. No good deeds can save us because we cannot do enough good deeds to erase our bad acts. The judgment stands firm: “they have all gone out of the way; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no not one” (Rom. 3:12).
All of a killer’s good deeds are not enough to excuse him from imprisonment for the one crime he committed. And we have committed a multitude of sins – more than enough to be justifiably sent to the fires forever. By God’s kindness, salvation is by faith and not works! By making salvation and righteousness appropriated by faith, God opens the door for all to be saved and come to the end in glory, as the following verse attests.
“For this cause it is of faith, that it may be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16).
In Rom. 4:16 we find that faith is distinct from law, that is, from trying to be made righteous by good deeds. If we try to fabricate our own righteousness by currying God’s favor by good deeds, we will fail. But here is the kicker: if we live by faith, trusting God, then that is enough to make God’s promise sure to us. (The promise in this case is that we may be heirs of the world with Abraham, which occurs at Christ’s coming kingdom when the meek shall inherit the earth – Rom. 4:13, Matt. 5:5.) If we walk in faith, God will release the kindness He promised. If we walk after the law or the flesh, then this grace will not be given and we will not undergo preparations to inherit with Christ. As we see with the Galatian church, that is exactly what was in danger of happening.
“I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6).
“Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
The Galatians were turning away from faith to law (“another gospel”). Instead of trusting in God for righteousness, they were trusting in following the Jewish laws, such as circumcision (5:6). They were fallen from favor because they were not walking in faith. This favor was shown earlier when God blessed them with the Holy Spirit working in them (3:1-9). The works of the Spirit (one of God’s expressions of kindness) are released by faith. When we walk in the Spirit, we do not follow the desires of the flesh (5:16). So the Galatians were in a double bind: turning away from faith meant turning to the flesh, and that meant they were in danger of not inheriting the coming kingdom (5:21) as well as not receiving the present blessings.
Other passages warn us against losing God’s grace.
“looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled” Heb. 12:15).
“And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1).
We may fall short of God’s favor by indulging the flesh – in this case, by being bitter over the chastening of God in our lives (12:1-12) where we should be grateful. With the operation of the Spirit, we will endure the chastening like Christ, who endured the cross by setting His heart on the joy set before Him (12:1-3) – sitting on a throne with God.
“And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you” (1 Pet. 5:10).
As Christ endured suffering patiently and obtained a throne, so we will continue in God’s gracious provisions if we suffer patiently. What is our reward for suffering by faith? “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12).
“Let us therefore draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need” (Heb 4:16).
God’s kindness is so great that we may come again and again to God’s throne for cleansing, mercy, and help of various kinds.
“Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).
God offers us exaltation in a wonderful kingdom. Let’s take hold of God’s favor God’s way. Let’s walk in faith, humbly submissive to the Spirit. In this place of yielding there is a chance to experience an ever-expanding kindness of God’s love in our lives.
“You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, bewaare lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked;
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Pet. 3:18).