By Ron Halbrook
Salvation prepared by God for man is the greatest story ever told! How truly “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. 2:3). As God’s people, we need to understand how we ourselves have been saved. We also need to prepare ourselves to teach others how to be saved.
What Does the Bible Say About Grace?
In the first place, the Bible tells us what grace is. In Scripture, whatever gives joy, pleasure, or delight is “grace.” “Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure (the word for “grace,” RH), left Paul bound” (Acts 24:27). 1 Peter 2:19-20 uses the word for “grace” twice in reference to our suffering for the Lord at the hands of unjust men. To suffer for wrongdoing is not pleasing to God, but to suffer for the right is “thank worthy,” “acceptable, ” or pleasing. Grace carries the idea of favor or goodwill. In Jerusalem, many souls were converted to the Lord on the first Pentecost after Christ arose; their changed lives were such that they had ‘favor (the word for “grace”) with all the people” (Acts 2:47). Grace suggests the kindness of a master towards his inferiors or servants, especially of God toward man. Noah (Gen. 6:8, 22), Mary (Lk. 1:30), and David (Acts 7:46) all found “grace” in the eyes of God, i.e. they received His lovingkindness or favor. Paul sought this “grace” in behalf of the churches (Rom. 1:7; 16:20, 24).
Man does not deserve the favor and love of God which brings salvation from sin-“all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). This undeserved kindness is spoken of in Romans 3:23-24: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” God does not save those who would present a perfect record of having never sinned. “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness . . . . Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace” (Rom. 4:4-5). Many of the Jews were “disobedient and gainsaying,” so the Gospel was sent to the Gentiles. Does this mean that God wholly cast away His people? No. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
In the second place, the Bible tells us how grace saves. The Father, by grace, purposed or planned salvation for man “before the foundation of the world.” His plan was to adopt “children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:3-7).
God by grace sent the Son to die for our sins-“in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Christ “died for the ungodly . . . . while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him …. much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ . . . much more they which receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ . . . . But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:6-9, 15, 17, 20-21).
God by grace sent the Holy Spirit to provide the revelation of the message of grace. Thus Paul and Barnabus declared “the word of his grace” in Iconium (Acts 14:3). Paul, in his farewell to the Ephesian elders, commended them “to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). When the Colossians heard “the word of the truth of the gospel,” they knew “the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-6). “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us . . . .(Tit. 2:11-12). The Holy Spirit guided in diving this revelation of the fullness of God’s grace (1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16). The preaching of the message of God’s grace “bringeth forth fruit” as men obey the message (Col. 1:5-6; 2:12). After primary obedience, “the grace of God” continues to teach them to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to live “soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). We come into God’s purpose of grace and receive the benefits of Christ’s death when we obey by faith the revelation of grace, the message of grace.
How Do Men Pervert Grace
First, consider the Catholic doctrine of a “treasury of merit.” Some now dead did more good works than God required for salvation, “such as accepting vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience” (E. F. Harrison, Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, article on “Merit,” pp. 348-349). These extra good works, or “merit,” can be transferred to the account of others, both living and dead (in purgatory). This doctrine did not originate with inspired men in the first century, but with Alexander of Halle in the 1200’s (J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. I, p. 203; G. P. Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine, pp. 250, 259). This is a perversion of grace; nowhere does the Bible teach God will extend grace by transferring the faith or obedience or “merit” of one person to another. Actually, this meritorious works is foreign to Scripture.
Second, consider “Universalism,” which says the grace of God will eventually save all men. The Universalist Church stressed this idea, but many people have believed the theory without joining the Universalist Church. The Universalist’s plea and Church has been merged with the Unitarian Church in the Twentieth Century, but the concept is still very common on every hand. John G. Adams wrote The Universalism of the Lord’s Prayer with a chapter on “God’s Glory In the Completion of Grace.” He taught that the influences of Christ’s kingdom “are to reach all, — all who ever did, who do now, who ever will need it . . . the kingdom of God in the Gospel dispensation . . . is universal.” Our “main ground of confidence and hope . . . is the Father’s grace . . . It is not by works of righteousness which we have done or may perform” (pp. 119-120). By the sating power of Christ, “all souls (shall) be blest with God’s salvation . . . we have no reason to doubt the salvation of the most hardened offender” on account of “this saving grace of the Eternal” (pp. 124-125).
Thirdly, there are two extreme views on the relation of works to salvation. The first extreme is represented by Roman Catholicism. God’s grace is transmitted to man through the seven “Sacraments” (confirmation, baptism, marriage, extreme unction, etc.). The sacrament is not only a sign of grace and a condition of grace, it is the means of grace. For instance, the baptism of a baby or a dying person can bring the “grace” of forgiveness-though neither subject can believe or repent. Likewise, extreme unction brings “grace” to a person who may be unconscious. The work itself becomes the means or channel of grace. The Bible teaches no such thing; it teaches that obedience must be of faith to avail with God, and then obedience is not a mechanical means of grace but only the condition of grace-i.e., grace is conditional.
The other extreme is represented by Protestant Reformationism. The Protestant denominational idea is salvation by faith only or at the point of faith, before and without any other act of obedience. If one must do anything, then salvation is not of grace. For instance, in the Methodist “Articles of Religion,” under part IX, “Of the Justification of Man,” we read, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort” (Doctrines & Discipline of the Methodist Church 1944, p. 29). W. T. Conner, well known Baptist preacher, said, “. . , faith, and faith alone, is the condition of salvation” (Christian Doctrine, p. 198). “The New Hampshire Confession of Faith” has been recognized by the Southern Baptist . Convention with some revisions since 1925. It says that justification “is bestowed . . . solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood” (W. R. White, Baptist Distinctives, p. 86). Luther’s Small Catechism poses the question (No. 139), “How do you accept this forgiveness :)f sins?” The answer given is I accept this forgiveness, by believing the Gospel” (p. 139). Question No. 256 asks, “Can anyone be saved without Baptism?” Answer, “It is unbelief only that damns . . . saving faith . . . can exist when for some reason Baptism cannot be obtained” (p. 176). The Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1647, is recognized by several Presbyterian and Baptists bodies. It claims in answer to question No. 33, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace . . . received by faith alone:” This concept is shared by nearly every Protestant denomination in existence, and is a point of major distinction between denominational doctrine and Bible teaching. The Bible teaches we are saved by obedient faith, not faith before or without obedience (Jas. 2:24).
The fourth example of grace abused is the theory of the imputed obedience or righteousness of Christ. Many denominations teach this, including Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran, Baptists and others. Yet most of these groups have some in them who would dissent from the idea. The concept that the obedience of Christ can be transferred to the account of disobedient men can be traced to John Calvin. Calvin said in Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter XVII, “For the righteousness found in Christ alone is reckoned as ours.” In Book III, Chapter XI, he explained, “. . . the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him (man) by imputation . . . the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own” (emphasis added). Following that line, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647 said in Chapter XI, “Of Justification,” God justifies man “by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them . . . .” Question No. 33 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1647, asks, “What is justification?” Answer, “Justification is an act! of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
The following is typical of many Baptist statements of this doctrine. God “imputes or reckons his (Christ’s) righteousness to every one of them, and it becomes their own just as really as if they had ‘wrought it out’ for themselves.” “By the righteousness of Christ we are to understand his complete submission to the precepts and penalties of the law of God, his perfect earthly obedience, and his unparalleled anguish; these he places to the credit of each member of his elect family” (The Baptist Encyclopedia, Vol. I, p. 631). A Baptist preacher says in Preaching the Doctrine of Grace, “The Spirit brings a crisis with respect’ to sin, but immediately he reveals the grace of God in salvation. He makes man conscious of his lack of righteousness for the sole purpose of offering to impute to us Christ’s righteousness” (p. 49).
Some of our own brethren have picked up this denominational dogma, as can be seen in “Truth, Error, and the Grace of God.” “Because of His obedience, those who are in Him can be saved although they never do achieve perfect obedience themselves.” “But there is a sphere where sin is not imputed to the sinner and that sphere is ‘in Christ.’ ” Christ is “a representative lawkeeper who justifies others by His obedience” (Edward Fudge, Gospel Guardian, Vol. 21, No. 44 (Feb..12, 1970), pp. 689-690). Nowhere does the Bible teach that God will transfer the obedience or faith of one person to another, whether it be the obedience of the living or the dead or the Christ! “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). Christ obeyed the will of God in death-the Righteous dying for the forgiveness of the sins of the unrighteous. Because he did that, it is now possible for all who obey him to have forgiveness, righteousness, or justification (Heb. 5:8-9).
The fifth abuse of grace we will mention also can be traced back to Calvinism: once in grace, always in grace. The most blunt statement of this doctrine made in modern times is that of Missionary Baptist preacher Sam Morris; he claimed no sin from idolatry to adultery could separate the elect from God’s grace. The doctrine has been watered down by some teachers to say once in grace, always in grace EXCEPT in cases of idolatry, immorality, or sin by malice aforethought. To cover the cases who do “fall back,” the dodge is used which claims they never were truly in grace anyhow! Though Paul said he was living “by the faith of the Son of God,” he said it is possible to “frustrate the grace of God” (Gal. 2:20-21). He went on to say some had done that very thing: “ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Peter warned those who “have escaped the pollutions of the world” that they may be “again entangled therein, and overcome” (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Sixth, and last, consider the preposterous claim that we are saved sola gratia, by grace alone! Those who say this generally add by faith alone, somehow missing the fact that one thing PLUS another thing is not any thing alone. It would be correct to say salvation begins in the grace of God, but the Bible never attributes salvation to anything alone.
Is There A Contradiction Between God’s Law & Grace?
John 1:17-18 tells us that Christ came to declare God and His word, grace and truth in all fulness. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” But the passage is sometimes cited to prove there was law only under the Old Covenant, and there is grace only under the New. The comparison errs on both sides. Noah, David, and Mary all lived before the New Covenant had gone into effect, but all found grace in the sight of God. Grace in its fulness and completion is revealed in Christ. In view of His eternal plan and therefore the coming death of Christ, God granted the grace of forgiveness to those under the Old Law (Ps. 32). There was both law and grace.
The fulness of grace is revealed in the New Covenant, but is it by removing all law and giving unconditional grace? By no means! Through his obedience in death Christ “became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9). When the Romans “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered” to them, they became “then . . . free from sin” (Rom. 6:17-18). Christians must serve the Lord according to “the law of faith,” “the law of the Spirit,” “the law of Christ,” “the perfect law of liberty,” “the royal law” (Rom. 3:27; 8:2; 1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2; Jas. 1:25; 2:8). Yet this is the covenant in which the fulness of grace is revealed! “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). “And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” (Jn. 1:16).
We must understand the true weakness of the Old Law in order to understand the fulness of grace revealed in the New. The law of Moses is called a “ministration of death” (2 Cor. 3:7). Why? Some would have us believe it is because it involved law. The weakness of the Old was not that it required obedience to God’s will. There was no fulness of grace in that there was no final forgiveness, which in turn means no one could have been saved under that system except by simply never doing anything wrong in the first place. The fact is there was forgiveness and grace under that system only in view of the coming death of Christ. Once he came and died, that Old system availed nothing — for he inaugurated the New Covenant in which forgiveness is full, complete, and final! “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins . . . But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:4,12). The contrast between the systems is not in having law under one and no law under the other, but in not having full forgiveness under the one and having it under the other. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:12-13).
It is more, not less, important that we observe God’s every command under the New! In the New Covenant sealed with Christ’s blood, “how much sorer punishment” should be expected than under “Moses’ law” (Heb. 9:16,22; 10:28-29). Indeed, for we have a perfect “mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6). “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second,” but we today serve God under “the perfect law of liberty” (Heb. 8:7; Jas. 1:25). Serving under that which is so far better, we are so much more responsible.
Christ himself underscored this point. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven . . . Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man . . . (Matt. 7:21-27). “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” but only as, we partake of them do we partake of that life — “whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life” (Jn. 6:63, 64). No wonder Christ said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48).
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
Truth Magazine XXI: 25, pp. 394-397
June 23, 1977