GRACE-WHAT IS IT?
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Grace may be the most commonly employed term in Christian preaching and teaching, perhaps the word used most often by all Christian persuasions when describing the new covenant. It is our point of view that we are not defining the term correctly. We have, as Jude warned, turned the grace of God into a license for immorality. Our incorrect understanding of Divine grace has created moral chaos in the churches, and consequently in the secular society that, consciously or not, looks to the Christian churches for moral guidelines.
GRACE—WHAT IS IT?
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17—NIV)
We have, in the above verse, two expressions of God’s will. The first is the Law of Moses. The second is grace and truth, not just grace, but grace and truth.
Perhaps most Christians are acquainted with the fact that the Law of Moses ordinarily is thought of as the first five books of the Bible. Actually a good part of the first five books is history and not law at all.
The most celebrated aspect of the Law of Moses is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are the Covenant of the Lord God with Israel. For this reason the chest in which the two tablets of stone were contained was termed the Ark of the Covenant.
The Law of Moses was straightforward: do this and don’t do that. The Law was not accompanied by the wisdom and power needed to perform the commandments. Since the adamic nature of man is resistant to God’s commandments, the Jewish people did what they could in many instances, but the results were not satisfactory to the Lord or to the conscientious worshiper. For the intense seeker of righteousness, such as the Apostle Paul, the Law produced frustration and condemnation rather than a clear conscience
Yet God insisted it be kept. Numerous Jews rejoiced over the Law and many made a tremendous effort to be obedient. To this day the Law is extolled. But the Law is a heavy burden.
Notice the attitude of the Jews to the Law:
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10—NIV)
The Law was added to control sin until the Seed came to whom the promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled. The Law truly is a light to our feet. If a law could be given that would bring people into favor with God it is the Law of Moses.
I think Christians sometimes do not realize what a wonderful revelation of God the Law of Moses is. If the plan of God was to reform the adamic nature, He could have forgiven our sins through the blood atonement made on the cross, and then given us the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the sins of our nature and keep the commandments and statutes given through Moses.
But God has no intention of reforming the adamic nature of man. God is bringing forth a new creation, a Divine creation created on the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The new covenant changes man from a living soul to a life-giving spirit. No set of rules and regulations can accomplish such total transformation of the human personality.
The grace of God in Jesus Christ came as a relief to the Jews, as we have stated.
He made no distinction between us and them [Jews and Gentiles], for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:9-11—NIV)
This sense of relief has been carried over in a destructive manner to us Gentiles. We conceive of grace, not as an operation of God to create righteous people, new creations in Christ, as a righteous Jew would normally view the new covenant, but as a blanket forgiveness of our sins. It is as though God has given up trying to make people righteous and has extended a complete amnesty. Now we can please God and go to Heaven without much regard for our conduct.
Oh, we ought to try to do good, but God is saving us by “grace,” that is, by an amnesty that disregards our conduct.
So we have the concept that the purpose of the Law is to show us we cannot please God, we must be accepted of Him on the basis of forgiveness alone.
Have I presented a fairly accurate explanation of the current view of “grace”?
The Law of Moses commanded us to live righteously, but the grace and truth of Jesus Christ are an amnesty, a perpetual forgiveness through which we are able to approach God and be received of Him.
This is true at the beginning. The Law, the slave, has brought us to Christ. Now we are in the school of Christ. We no longer have to be concerned about the Law of Moses.
It is right at this point that the Christian understanding has departed from the Scriptures, not recognizing God’s goal under the new covenant. We think God’s goal is to forgive all who will receive forgiveness so they may be permitted to enter Heaven. This could not be more opposed to what God is seeking.
God is not seeking to bring people to Heaven. This is not the purpose of the new covenant. The purpose of the new covenant is to transform the human personality so it obeys by its new nature the eternal moral law of God.
Until we realize that God’s purpose in the Christian salvation is to transform the believers so they keep His moral laws, bringing forth righteousness and praise in the sight of the nations of the earth, we have little understanding of what is supposed to be taking place in us.
Now consider how far apart these two understandings of God’s purposes are.
The first understanding is that God wants us to make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ so we will be forgiven and eligible to go to Heaven when we die.
The second understanding is that God wants to so transform our personality that we become a new creation in which all the old has passed away and all that we are is new and of God’s Divine Nature.
Can you see that these two understandings are totally different? They are not the same at all!
There is such a fog resting on the minds of the Lord’s people that they would agree readily with both viewpoints, not realizing they are not compatible.
We all understand God has given us grace (which in its finest form is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) in order to accomplish God’s will in mankind, particularly in His Church. Would you agree that the purpose of grace is to accomplish God’s will in us?
Let us look carefully at the first understanding: God wants to forgive us so we can go to Heaven when we die. What does grace do to accomplish this purpose?
In order to bring us to Heaven, the grace of forgiveness is given to us. Actually, the historic viewpoint of grace is that it is only Divine forgiveness. The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world has become the Lamb of God that forgives the sin of the world.
Am I correct? Isn’t this how we view grace—as forgiveness no matter how we behave? God found we could not keep His laws so He instituted a grace-period of forgiveness. The believer lives in a state of grace, meaning that God does not regard his behavior but sees only the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Have you heard this preached?
Given the heavy demonic pressure we are living under in the United States of America, if the believers are told they are in a state of grace because they have taken the four steps of salvation, how are they going to react when they are tempted to sin?
You know how they are going to act. They are going to yield to the temptation because of being assured they will not hear anything negative at the Judgment Seat of Christ but will live in Paradise forever.
The pornography available on the Internet is calling to many Christians, pastors and members of in the congregation. It is telling them they can satiate themselves daily with sexual lust. Well, why not? Grace is covering them. God sees them through in the Lord Jesus. What possible harm can come of it?
This is where we are in America today. The unsaved looking on realize the Christians are the same as they. “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.” The unsaved would be fools not to accept such a deal. Just go through the four steps of salvation and presto!—you are Heaven-bound. Otherwise you will burn in Hell forever.
During our jail ministry a young man came to the service. He was mean looking, I will tell you. About halfway through the service he began to soften. Before the service was over he was joining in.
He came up afterward and told the leader of the meeting that his father is a pastor. As a young man he became so disillusioned with the hypocrisy and sin in the congregation that he went off into sin until he ended up in a maximum security jail.
When he heard the preaching of the Kingdom of God and righteous behavior he realized that not all churches were living in lust and disobedience. He promised when he got out to try our assembly.
The churches in America are becoming prisons of unclean spirits because grace is defined as perpetual forgiveness. The believers are protected by an impervious state of grace, a bubble in which they will live until they go to their mansion in Heaven.
How would you react if I told you we are in error in this viewpoint? This is not what Divine grace is. It is not unconditional forgiveness with the end in view of making our eternal home in Heaven. This definition of grace is not scriptural.
Do you remember the second understanding of God’s goal for man—that it is the removing of his old personality and the creating of a new personality in which all things are of God?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (II Corinthians 5:17,18—NIV)
Now, if Divine grace is the Presence of God through Jesus Christ to accomplish God’s purpose, can you see clearly that grace cannot be defined as perpetual forgiveness with a view to our making our eternal home in Heaven?
If God’s intention is to make us a new creation, with nothing being said about going to Heaven, then forgiveness alone is not sufficient. There must be something additional given. Also, total demands on the believer are necessary for such transformation to occur. Whereas in the perpetual-forgiveness doctrine relatively few demands are made on the believer, becoming a new creation indicates severe, sometimes painful change.
Can you see also that defining grace as perpetual forgiveness for the purpose of admitting us to Heaven will destroy God’s intention (if His intention indeed is to change us in some manner)? And this is precisely what is taking place in our day. God’s true plan of salvation through Jesus Christ has been demolished because of a misunderstanding of the true nature of Divine grace.
Does the new covenant include the forgiveness of our sins that are past, and our sins of the present and the future if we are obeying the Spirit of God?
Indeed it does.
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12—NIV)
But—and here’s the point! The forgiveness of sins is not the central issue of the new covenant for it does not accomplish God’s goal of the moral transformation of people. It does not bring them into the image of Christ. Rather the purpose of the forgiveness of sins is to make possible the program of transformation. Transformation is the Divine objective. However, God could not change our personality if we were blocked from His sight because of condemnation resting on us.
The error today is that of viewing the forgiveness of our sins as being God’s central purpose, and we have added the idea that the result of such forgiveness is permission to enter Heaven. This is not the new covenant. The new covenant is the writing of the eternal moral law of God, of which the Law of Moses was an abridged form, in our mind and heart. And the result of this rewriting of our personality is that we might have fellowship with God wherever we are, particularly in the earth, for it is the earth that is the proper dwelling place of the human race—even the glorified human race.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (I John 1:5-7—NIV)
If you will examine the above passage you will see that our goal is fellowship with God, not residence in Heaven. We are walking in the light of God’s perfect will and this is the basis for our fellowship with God. Meanwhile the blood of Jesus, His Son, keeps us from being under the condemnation that would be the case because of the sin and self-will in our personality that have not been dealt with as yet.
Now, let us see where we are. We have said God’s intention toward us under the new covenant is that we might be transformed morally until we are in the image of Jesus Christ. We have stated further that Divine grace is the means of our being transformed.
The problem with the Law of Moses was that there was no Divine grace accompanying the Law that was given, leaving the worshiper to keep the holy commandments in his or her own adamic nature. But grace and truth have come by Jesus Christ that we might enter successfully into the new covenant.
If grace is the means by which we enter the new covenant, then included in the grace must be the wisdom and power necessary for our entering successfully into the covenant.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10-12—NIV)
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:18—NIV)
“Are being transformed into his likeness.”
And once more:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29—NIV)
“Conformed to the likeness of his Son.”
Is it clear to you in the above passages that the heart of the Christian salvation is change? Is it clear also that a grace that only forgives is not able to produce what God is after?
There is no doubt God intends for us to be transformed into the Lord’s likeness, to be changed into the image of Christ. What grace has God given to us that we can be successful in the program of change into His image?
- The atoning blood of Jesus Christ that forgives our sins so God can keep working with us even though much sin and self-will remains in our personality.
- The body and blood of Jesus Christ which are Divine resurrection life within us.
- The Holy Spirit who serves as our guide, our comfort, and our power.
- The testimony of the Apostles of the Lamb.
- The born-again experience.
All these serve as the grace of God to us. None of these was available to those who labored under the Law of Moses.
No patriarch, priest, or prophet under the Law of Moses had the experience of Christ being born in him. Christ conceived and formed in us is the Kingdom of God. Christ conceived and formed in us is, in fact, the entirety of the new covenant. It is Christ, the Law of God, who is written in our mind so we will understand the will of God. It is Christ, the Law of God, who is written in our heart so we might be motivated to do the will of God.
Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Grace to us, not just the grace of forgiveness but the grace of a new creation in which our old nature is crucified with Christ and our new nature, as part of Christ’s resurrection Life, lives at the right hand of God.
Those who hold the old point of view maintain vigorously there is nothing we are to do but believe in Jesus. He has done, is doing, and always will do all that is necessary for us to enter the Glory of God. The writings of the Apostles do not agree with this understanding of the Christian salvation. The New Testament contains hundreds of commandments that we must keep if Christ, who Himself is the New Covenant, is to be formed in us.
We have to pray. If we find it difficult to pray without ceasing, as the Apostle commands, we are to go to God and ask for wisdom and strength in prayer.
We have to study the Scriptures. Again, God will help us if we ask Him. If we do not pray and read the Scriptures (if they are available) we will get nowhere as a Christian. Jesus does not read the Scriptures for us, but He will assist us if we ask Him.
We have to assemble ourselves with fervent believers if such are available.
We have to be ministered to and minister so Christ may grow in us and others.
We have to put our sins to death through the Holy Spirit.
We have to give of our material means, as we are able, to help those in need.
We have to obey the Lord when He tells us to go here or do this or that.
We have to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
We have to seek righteousness, seek holiness, seek obedience to God.
We have to refrain from doing things that cause others to stumble.
We have to abstain from all appearance of evil.
We have to abstain from immorality, strife, slander, gossip, hatred, jealousy, witchcraft, drunkenness, and the other signs of the adamic nature. If we walk in the Spirit of God by prayer, faith, and obedience the Spirit will enable us to overcome the works of the flesh.
The New Testament contains hundreds of such commandments.
But these are not the new covenant. These are practices, some of them drawn by the Apostles from the Old Testament, that hold us before the Lord so Christ can be formed in us. It is Christ formed in us, living in us, that is the new covenant.
We understand therefore that defining grace as perpetual forgiveness not only misses the mark, it leads the believers straight into sin. They are under the impression God does not see their behavior, He just keeps on forgiving them through Christ until finally they die and go to live in Heaven forever.
Because the temptation to sin is so strong in our country, and grows stronger with each passing day, the Christian churches in many cases are exhibiting the worst kinds of fleshly behavior. In some instances the ministers have become foolish, self-seeking, money-loving, not exalting the Lord but exalting themselves. You can imagine how Jesus Christ feels about this. The root of the problem is a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of Divine grace.
The Lord Jesus is soon to return. He is not coming to “catch His waiting bride to Heaven.” This is not the purpose of the return of the Lord. Rather the Lord is coming to establish justice and righteousness on the earth.
The Lord will not return alone. When He appears His saints will appear with Him. The Lord and His saints, His coheirs, will establish the Kingdom of God on the earth.
Since this is the true vision of the Scriptures, can you see how utterly necessary it is that we be transformed?
The church people of today in America, to a great extent, are silly, immature, jumping up and down next to their pews to prepare for an “any-moment rapture.” Our common sense ought to tells us a much better preparation for meeting the Lord would be for us to forgive our enemies. (How about the elderly and infirm. Are they going to be left behind because they cannot practice for the “rapture”? What nonsense!)
The writer of a recent book declares we are entering an age of deception. I believe this. From what I see of the Charismatic move, of which I am part, we are in deception already. Things are not getting better.
Recently a minister stood in front of the congregation and reminded them how former pastors had left them but they are fortunate because he has remained with them. (Can you imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul acting in such a manner?) At this the congregation burst into applause. He did not exalt the Lord. He exalted himself. All of this is foolishness and characteristic of our time.
The people are self-assured, arrogant, smug. They will turn away from anyone who tells them they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. I suppose it is only the super-saints that are supposed to do this.
The preaching of lawless grace is evolving into the most ridiculous excesses as ministers are telling their congregations there is nothing they are to do but believe and wait for the “rapture.” Very little of the New Testament is expounded. Sunday after Sunday the “rapture,” the supposed escape from trouble, is emphasized again and again as though it comprised the major part of the text of the New Testament. This is not food for the lambs or the sheep.
It is evident we are coming to a fork in the road. As the Lord begins to declare the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, many of the pastors may cling to their deceptions out of fear of losing their congregation. Maybe this is a good thing because then each individual will have to seek God for himself in order to find out what the Bible really says.
Perhaps a Gideon’s army will be drawn from the Pentecostal ranks, a warlike remnant. If so, they will draw further and further away from the immaturity that prevails in the churches that maintain the lawless grace-rapture-Heaven emphasis. I have little doubt but that the congregations that do not turn and begin to serve God in righteousness will become synagogues of Satan. In this case they will slander the true work of the Lord.
How do you feel about all this? Have you gone to Jesus and asked Him for the truth?
Read the New Testament. See if the emphasis is on a salvation formula, such as the “four steps.” See if indeed salvation is supposed to be a ticket to Heaven. Look for such a viewpoint in the Scriptures.
Then search for passages that indicate salvation is something we have to work at each day. Watch carefully for the Apostle Paul’s warnings concerning those believers who continue to sin. See if Paul tells them it doesn’t matter if they live in the flesh or if he emphasizes they stand in danger of not inheriting the Kingdom of God.
Forget today’s teaching and reread the New Testament. Say “Amen” to every verse. Forget about Dispensationalism and everything else you have ever heard.
I know this is threatening. No one wants to believe he has been wrong for many years.
But a true seeker of truth, a person of integrity, does not care how long he may have been wrong. I saw Dr. Ray Jarman turn to Christ after many years as a successful minister when his secretary pointed out to him the truth of the Gospel. There was a man of integrity! His large church got rid of him when he began to tell the truth.
There is no problem with having been wrong for many years. But there is a huge problem if we are faced with the truth and then do not have enough integrity to change. Even though it may be embarrassing, God will honor us if we are faithful enough to pursue the truth at whatever cost to ourselves.
If God has shown us in time to make a change, we are blessed indeed. But there is absolutely no profit whatever in continuing with what we know to be incorrect. Many souls may be at stake, including our own family, and we do not want to pass into eternity knowing we have been a false witness of God!
I have been preaching for fifty years. Yet I like to think if I find I have been incorrect I am enough of a person to admit I have been wrong and change to what is scriptural.
It is reported that one older minister when confronted with the falsity of the “rapture” teaching said to the effect, “Why won’t you let an old man be at peace?” He was saying, “It does not matter what the truth is, I want to be comfortable.”
God deliver us! Of all people in the world, a minister of Jesus Christ ought to be a seeker after truth! Can you understand the reason for this? He is responsible for the eternal welfare of people.
Many of us are off the track today. It is time to change. We are preaching our traditions, not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to go back to the Lord, ask Him to open the Scriptures to us, and then do what He commands.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that the lawless-grace message of our day has nothing to do with the Epistles of Paul. Nor does it take much brains to understand that Paul’s comforting words to the saints in Thessalonica with deceased relatives was by no stretch of the imagination an escape hatch for those on the earth at the time of Antichrist and the Great Tribulation. There is nothing whatever in the text of the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians to suggest an escape from trouble for people already raised from the dead, and yet the totally unscriptural tradition of the “pre-tribulation rapture” continues as though it was solidly supported by the most rigorous exegesis.
Let all of God’s saints examine the Scriptures and then turn away from the destructive heresy of the “pre-tribulation rapture.” It is leaving the believers unprepared for the age of moral horrors we are entering.
Grace—what is it? Grace is the power and virtue of God in action through Jesus Christ to take fallen man, forgive him, and then recreate him in the image of God.
(“Grace—what Is It?”, 3802-1)