By Ron Halbrook
Amazing Grace! how sweet the sound That saves a wretch like me! (John Newton, 1725-1807)
There is a gap of infinite proportions between the perfect holiness of God and the wretched sinfulness of man. God’s grace is the bridge across that gap. The better we grasp the purity of God on one hand and man’s utter defilement by sin on the other, the more amazing becomes the sight of God’s grace-and the sweeter its sound! That should be the result of our study on man’s need, God’s gift, and the means of receiving this gift, the dangers of perverting it, and the privilege of proclaiming it.
Man’s Desperate Need
The sacred and happy fellowship of man with God was broken by sin. The universe was designed and equipped by God to be a blessing to man in every way. God made man in the divine image-an eternal spirit, a pure spirit, and a spirit with moral and spiritual capacities enabling man to enjoy fellowship with his Maker. God blessed man with a body and with access to “the tree of life,” a tree whose fruit perpetually sustained the life of the body. An abundance of delicious foods was provided by trees of every variety. Man was blessed with the job of looking after the gorgeous Garden of Eden, and thus with the joy of accomplishment. The crowning gift to Adam was Eve-a companion made from his rib and perfectly suited to share with him all of life’s bounty.
The record of Genesis 1-2 reveals that God is good, generous, gracious-the Giver of every good and perfect gift, the God of all grace. Grace is “the friendly disposition from which the kindly act proceeds” (W.E. Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, 11:170). Adam and Eve could never earn, merit, or deserve the loving-kindness of God. Man’s fellowship with his Maker was full and free. How welcomed was the sound of God’s approach! How precious were every moment and every memory of man’s communion with God!
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). “Ye shall not surely die,” Satan lied, as he sang the attractions of sin. Eve listened, and ate. Adam ate. In one moment, by one sin, the horrible pall of death fell upon them. Now, they knew sin. They experienced the passing pleasure, and then . . . . Then, they experienced sin’s night, its guilt, its shame, its unspeakable horror! Now they knew pain, fear, terror, dread, and despair. Righteousness, joy, and peace vanished. The warmth and love of fellowship with God were gone. They truly knew sin with all of its wretchedness, poverty, misery, blindness, nakedness, disease, and bondage. They were living corpses!
Adam and Eve heard the approach of their beloved Friend and Master. Oh, for a place to hide! Yes, they knew sin. They could not undo their sin, could not remove its debt and defilement. All their past good works could not save them. Excuses could not avail.
God held them accountable for their sin. Man looks on the outer world. Just as God’s grace was demonstrated there, sin’s destructive force would be demonstrated there. Physical consequences fell upon the human family, and they were driven from the Garden. The result was physical disease, degeneration, and death. Those sorrows are constant reminders to us all that Satan is our enemy and sin is his instrument to destroy us. Those sorrows humble us and bring us back to reality time and time again-the reality of our desperate need for God’s grace, for His pardon, and for His fellowship.
God’s Supreme Gift of Grace
Many people view the Judgment as a time for weighing their good deeds against their bad deeds-and whichever weighs the most will determine a person’s destiny. But no amount of good deeds by Adam, before or after his sin, could outweigh the effect of even this one sin.
We are all lost if our lives are weighed on the scales of justice alone. If a person is arrested for robbing “just one bank,” he must face that one deed before the judge in spite of all of his promises not to rob again. A football player runs with the ball from one goal line to the other and steps out of bounds only one time at the fifty yard line. Will it do him any good to plead with the referee about all the yards run in bounds before and after the infraction? Is it a touchdown if the runner was sincere, or if a teammate deceived him and urged him to continue running? We must understand Adam and Eve’s despair-every sinner’s despair-your despair and mine-before we can appreciate God’s supreme gift.
While Adam and Eve staggered under the weight of their sin, God by grace promised a Savior who would bear that weight away. The son of woman would some day rise up to bruise Satan’s head, to destroy his work of sin, and to defeat his purpose of condemnation upon man (Gen. 3:15). Immediately, the human family was taught to offer animal sacrifices, which pointed to the Savior’s perfect sacrifice of Himself for sin (4:4). Later, God promised that the Savior would come out of faithful Abram’s seed-“in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (12:1-3).
Could this one sacrifice be sufficient for all sinners? Yes, the prophet said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). Yes, this innocent Servant of God would willingly suffer for all the guilt of all the sinful world. Amazing grace!
God gave the descendants of Abraham the Law of Moses because of their transgressions, to more deeply impress upon their hearts the guilt of their sins. That Law was heavy with rituals, forms and ceremonies, none of which could save of themselves, but all of which kept the slush people in training to understand the mission of the coming Messiah. Though the blood of animal sacrifices flowed like rivers, the sins of the Jews were pardoned only in prospect and Israel was annually reminded of this growing debt. But in the day of the Savior, the Law of Moses with its elementary forms and its load of debt would be replaced by a New Law of righteousness, peace, and joy to be written into the hearts of the people of God. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:31-34).
How are all these blessings made possible? “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If God did so much for us while we were enemies of God, while we were yet wicked and wretched, we cannot doubt that He will supply our every spiritual need and save us in the end now that we are friends of God justified and reconciled in His Son, Jesus Christ. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:1-10). Christ is raised from the dead, is reigning in glory, and is bringing to fruition every promise of God. Amazing grace!
Conditions For Receiving Grace
Grace provided unconditionally for our pardon “while we were yet sinners.” But our personal reception of the gift of pardon is conditional. We read of other gifts received conditionally. God offered Abraham a land, but to receive it he was called upon to leave his native country. “By faith Abraham …obeyed” (Gen. 12:1; Heb. 11:8). The generation of Jews which approached the land in Numbers 13-14 did not obtain it because they disobeyed God. The Lord told Joshua, “I have given into thine hand Jericho,” but obedience to special instructions was required in order for him to possess what God gave (Josh.6). Naaman was cleansed of leprosy when he dipped in the Jordan River seven times. This gift was available the moment Elisha spoke, but could not be received until Naaman met the condition of obedient faith (2 Kgs. 5). So it is with our pardon from sin.
How do we personally receive God’s amazing grace in the forgiveness of our sins? Jesus said that when men hear the gospel of God’s grace, they must believe it and be baptized in order to be saved by God’s grace (Mk. 16:15-16). Through Peter, the Spirit of God told sinners how to be saved by grace: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). In Acts 19:5, sinners at Ephesus, “were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Concerning these very people at Ephesus, the Holy Spirit later said,
For by grace are ye saved by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
When and how were they saved by grace through faith? When they were baptized! Baptism for remission of sins is salvation by grace through faith!
After we receive God’s grace in the pardon of our past sins, we must continue in His grace. Christ teaches us how to live each day, always putting off the old man and putting on the new (Eph. 4:17-32). He is our Savior and our head in this new relationship of God’s grace (1:22-23; 5:23). We have privileges and duties in the local church (Acts 2:42; 14:23; 20:7). If the child of God stumbles and falls into sin, God’s amazing grace reaches out still and we receive it as we repent of error, confess wrong, and pray to be forgiven (Acts 8:13-24; 19:17-20; 1 Jn. 1:5-2:2). We can despise “the Spirit of grace” by hardening our hearts, refusing to repent, and so departing in unbelief forever (Heb. 3:12ff; 6:4-6; 10:28-29).
Grace throws a rope to the man drowning in sin. He does not deserve that grace and can never earn it. Unable to reach safety by swimming to it, he must take hold and continue to hold on to the rope in order to be saved by grace.
Perversions of Grace
False teachers in the first century perverted the gospel and “the grace of Christ.” Anything more or less than the apostolic word is a perversion of grace and the Apostles warned against it: “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9). We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices today.
1. The popular idea is that men will be saved by sincerity alone, or faith alone, or grace alone. If it were grace alone, all men would be saved because God desires none to be lost (2 Pet. 3:10); but, all will not be saved (2 Thess. 1:7-9). We receive saving grace not by faith alone, but by “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26; 6:17). “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24). If sincerity alone can save, all of the following are “nonessential”: the New Testament pattern for the church (1 Tim. 3:14-15), baptism (Mk. 16:16), Christ (Jn. 8:24), the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and God (Heb. 11:6). Many who sincerely cry, “Lord, Lord,” will be lost (Matt. 7:21-23). Jesus said that we must know the truth of God’s grace to be freed from sin (Jn. 8:32). That is why men are lost in idolatry, Masonry, cults, Catholicism, denominations, and sects.
2. Satan’s preachers say, “Since we are saved by grace, there is nothing to do in order to be saved. ” God’s Son taught that “the work of God” is to “believe on him whom he hath sent,” and that men who will not do it “shall die in your sins” (Jn. 6:29; 8:24). God’s only begotten Son, whom we must believe, also said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5, 16). Once we enter that kingdom of grace, we just “be careful to maintain good works”-this is “faith which worketh by love” (Tit. 2:8; Gal. 5:6). These truths destroy the claim of “once saved, always saved,” i.e. the claim that once we are saved there is still nothing to do in order to receive the final redemption. The Holy Spirit told those who departed into heresy, “Ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
3. The Devil’s ministers speak of “irresistible grace” and a “direct miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit .in conviction and conversion,” This means that sinners are waiting on God to act. But God urges sinners to act-to “save yourselves” by obeying the gospel or else be self-condemned (Acts 2:40; 13:46). If sinners must wait on God, He is responsible for their lost state and is a respecter of persons for saving some and neglecting others (10:34).
4. Error argues, “We don’t need the church since we are saved by grace.” Christ is the Head and Savior of the church, which He “purchased with his own blood” (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23; Acts 20:28). To be saved “by grace” is to be reconciled unto God “in one body”-the church! (Eph. 2:8, 16). The kingdom, body, or church of Christ refers to our relationship with Christ, including all duties and privileges He gave us in the local church. Just as there is only one true God, there is only one true church which is the fulness of divine grace (1:3, 22-23; 4:4).
5. In an effort to declare the conditions for receiving grace “non-essential, ” Satan pretends that they are “works of human merit. ” Thus, man cannot exercise his own faith in the gospel upon hearing it but must wait for God to give faith as a miraculous gift. Or, man upon believing cannot be baptized as the means of calling on God for pardon, lest he should earn salvation. The truth is that faith and baptism are just as essential in God’s plan of grace as is hearing the gospel (Mk. 16:15-16). These conditions mean that sinners cannot be saved by their own merit and so must receive God’s grace in the manner He chose to give it.
6. Another perversion says, ” If we believe the basics and are baptized, violations of the Bible pattern (instrumental music in worship, premillennialism, institutionalism in church work, church sponsored social meals and recreation, etc.) are forgiven even as they are committed. When error is sincere, grace does not require such `mechanical and meritorious works’ as repentance, confession, and prayer for pardon. ” This theory reflects a weakening faith in the authority of the Bible pattern, compromise with the popular idea of salvation by sincerity, and capitulation to the denominational dogma that conditions are works of merit. Leroy Garrett started at this very point, later conceded baptism on the same theory, and is now “sympathetic with . . . universalism”-grace wholly unconditional (Restoration Review, Nov. 1984, p. 366). Human speculation about grace is not the Word of God’s grace. What saith the Scripture? “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God” (2 Jn. 9). Whosoever! “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth,” you can be restored to God’s grace only be meeting the conditions of grace (Acts 8:18,24; Jas. 5:16-20.)
7. To kelp people from obeying God now, Satan preaches that grace will be extended to the lost after death. The second-chance idea comes in many forms: prayers for the dead, baptisms of the living for the dead, and theories about the dead hearing the gospel in hades or being raised to hear it later. The Bible says with finality that God provided His grace in Christ to the living and that after we die we face the certainty of judgment (Heb. 9:27-28). It’s now or never! Spread The Good News Of Salvation By Grace!
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Tit. 2:11). God wants all men to hear of His amazing grace. It is broad enough to take in everyone, if only men will receive it. The Lord is patient, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). During the time of God’s patience, we have the wonderful privilege of telling men about His grace.
We must show men their desperate need for God, the supreme gift of His love, the conditions for receiving it, the dangers of perverting grace, and the joy of sharing God’s grace. “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (Jn. 4:35). In other words, men perish while we delay. Like men and women of the first century who caught the sweet sound of God’s amazing grace, let us go “everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:3-4).
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 2, pp. 38-39, 51
January 17, 1985