Key Word Study: GRACE
Between the two key words of Division and Unity (key words 22 and 25), there are two other key words: Humility (key word 23) and this key word study of Grace.
What do we mean by grace? In Acts 15:11, we see the word “grace” as is most commonly thought of as far as theological terms go and that is our saving grace. “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they,” Peter boldly proclaimed to those who were wanting to put the yoke and bondage of legalism on the new Gentile believers.
When we talk about the church, we should definitely address Grace as a key word, as it has several different applications to the word. We’ve already discussed earlier about salvational grace and that is what is being addressed in verse 11. But have your really paid much attention to the way that Paul starts off almost every epistle he sent?
“Grace to You and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Has a little familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s because in every letter, every epistle we have recorded from the hands of Paul, we have this same formula of an impartation of a blessing. Every letter? Yep. Look it up if you want to, I’ll be here when you come back.
Okay, maybe not the book of Hebrews, but many people do not necessarily ascribe that epistle to Paul. But you have to admit, when you look up Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; and Philemon 1:3, that does seem to be pretty consistent, doesn’t it?
Okay, okay, now in 1st and 2nd Timothy and in Titus, what we commonly call the pastoral epistles, we see a slight variation with the inclusion of the word “mercy.” Maybe he knew that pastors especially needed a little more inclusion of mercy, I know I do. But still, grace and peace are there.
Now for the record, Peter also imparts grace and peace in a slightly different form in 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2 and so does the Apostle John in 2 John 1:3, and again in Rev. 1:4.
So, you may ask, now just what is so amazing about grace? (If you didn’t ask it, Philip Yancey must have). Besides the fact that Amazing Grace is perhaps the most universally known hymn, it would be good to define what grace is.
Grace has at its very core the word which is frequently described as “unmerited favor.” Even more simply it is “undeserved blessing.” It has been explained with the acrostic “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” (Did you notice the little acrostic there? No, I didn’t invent that, unless you’ve never seen that before, in which case, every time you use that acrostic, I want you to say, “copyright: Tim McKeown,” or at least post that on your Facebook or Twitter page and attribute it to me. I did say it first at least to you.)
But aside from that, how does the Bible explain grace? 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” In that passage, like Acts 15:11, grace is that unmerited favor which saves us. But what about when Paul and Peter and John were all wishing “grace” on those to whom they are writing? Weren’t they writing to churches which hopefully were already saved? Of course. So let’s look more deeply in how the Bible also uses the word grace in other ways than salvation and saving grace.
Types Of Grace:
Saving Grace is initialized at our salvation
Sustaining Grace is realized in our sanctification and
Supreme Grace is finalized at our glorification.
First of all, let’s look at saving grace. First, know that it is God who initiates salvation, not us. God is the author of our salvation and thus he is the author of grace. In Ephesians 2: 4-9, we see that grace works in our salvation. It is through grace, God’s gift to us, that salvation begins.
1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
At risk of sounding like an elementary Sunday School lesson or Basic Christianity 101, we need to say first of all that we are saved not by ourselves, but by God’s blessing, God’s favor, His undeserved kindness and gift to us. As I mentioned earlier, we know the word grace not only from the Bible but from the most beloved hymn ever written, “Amazing Grace”. Let’s read the lines (okay, you can hum the tune too).
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
Grace in Greek is charis. That’s right, the same word used in the word charismatic. It’s also used in the word charm. It literally means gift or gifted. Those who have some inbred charisma are naturally gifted and people are naturally drawn to them.
So why would the Apostle Paul in every letter impart a blessing of grace to those who are the church, to those who are already believers? I believe it is in part because Paul wants to convey saving grace to those who in the church may not yet be saved.
But even more, I think it is because within the vastness and the limitlessness and the infinite grace of God, there is more than simply salvation and a gift of eternal life in the word we call grace.
You see, God’s grace, His riches, His blessings do not end at the Sinner’s prayer, oh no. That’s just the beginning. His Amazing Grace does not cease or even diminish once salvation is imparted. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is not culminated at our regeneration. Grace is initialized at our salvation, but it is also realized in our sanctification.
It is in our daily walk with Christ after salvation, that we see the need, the necessity, the absolute centrality of God’s unmerited favor and undeserved blessing. And not just in our daily walk, but every hour, every minute, every second, we are kept, we are sustained and we are in need of and are the recipients of God’s sustaining GRACE.
Now where in the Bible do we see God’s sustaining grace? Virtually on every page and not just in the New Testament but from the beginning do we see God’s favor upon His people. For this study, let’s look at a few passages.
In Acts 14:26, we see this gem of a verse: “From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.” It wasn’t salvation that was commended to Paul and the missionaries, but His sustaining grace, His presence and power which enabled them to do the work.
Let’s look somewhere else for God’s sustaining grace. 1 Corinthians 15:10 says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
It is God’s Saving Grace that raises us
from the mire of sin and shame,
It is God Sustaining Grace that restrains us
from returning to that from whence we came.
It is God’s Saving Grace that He bestows upon us
without cost, requirement or price
It is God’s Sustaining Grace that beckons us
to labor in love for our merciful Christ.
It is God’s Saving Grace that grants us faith
to have the promise to walk in heaven above
And it is God’s Sustaining Grace that gives us cause
to spread on earth His Saving Grace, Peace and Love.
God’s grace was not just to save you from the penalty of sin, grace is also freely given so that we can be delivered from the very power of sin. Paul says if you see anything good in me, it is not I who do it but it is God’s grace which makes me who I am. His grace wasn’t a one-time shot, nor was it in vain but his grace compels me to labor all the harder, all the more abundantly for He not only saved me, He sustains me. To underscore the power of grace versus the power of sin, Paul concludes chapter 15 to the Corinthians with this great word in verse , “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
For one more example of God’s sustaining grace, look at Acts 20:32, “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
Look at what not only grace does to the believer but what the word of His grace does. The word of grace builds us up (sustaining grace) and gives us an inheritance (supreme grace). Some people say that we are saved by grace but we are kept saved by our works. Just think about that for a moment and you will see how ridiculous that is. Why would God save us by grace if He did not intent to keep us saved by His grace. It would be like a child receiving a gift at Christmas and the giver saying, “Now, son, this here toy is a gift and it is yours because I gave it to you. But now, if you want to play with it, or if you want to keep it, you are going to have to pay me for it each and every day.”
“Now wait a minute,” some may say, “My phone company gave me a gift of a I-phone, and it was free, but in order to use it, I have to pay a monthly charge.” If that is the case, that phone is not free, nor is it a gift, it is a shrewd motivation that hooks you into a contract of paying for that phone through monthly installments. Manufacturers of “free” and low cost printers do the same thing and then recover the cost of the gift by sticking you with super expensive printer cartridges. Buy one, get one free, is not “free” and neither is it truly a free salvation if you receive it by grace but keep salvation by works.
When Peter explained to the others in Acts 15 that those who received salvation by grace did not have to put on themselves the yoke of legalism and works that they could not bear, he was addressing the issue of circumcision. It was “no small dissension” among them and I should say so. We have people in our church who won’t join because they won’t get baptized by immersion—I cannot imagine how many men we would lose if we put the yoke of circumcision on them, let alone keeping the other elements of the law.
Grace doesn’t bind us to the law, grace builds us up in liberty from sin. If it weren’t for grace, we could not keep ourselves saved. We would not grow in respect to our salvation. I always want to know from people who believe saving grace is free, but sustaining grace is somehow merited or kept by works and could actually be lost, what make them think that supreme grace is eternal and everlasting. As Acts 20:32 says, we who are being sanctified by the word of grace also have an inheritance of eternal life by grace.
If saving grace keeps us from the penalty of sin and sustaining grace keeps us from the power of sin, supreme grace keeps us from the presence of sin. It is the finalization of our salvation. Supreme grace is the ultimate in our three parts of salvation, also seen as justification (saving grace), sanctification (sustaining grace) and glorification (supreme grace).
Years ago, I dreamed I went to heaven (no, I am not going to break into a song thanking you for giving to the Lord and no, I am not going to write a best-selling book about my dream) and in that dream I wanted to see if I was really in heaven. So I tried to do something that you are not supposed to be able to do in heaven: I made myself have a bad thought. In my dream, I was disappointed that I could still sin in heaven. I actually woke up very glad that I had not actually gone to heaven because if we could sin in heaven, heaven would not be heaven.
Speaking of the gates of heaven, John wrote in Revelation 21:27 that “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.”
Eternal life is God’s gift to us. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death, but the gift (charisma) of God is eternal life.” It is in this context of Acts 15:11 which Peter puts our salvation in the future result of God’s grace, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
This concept of three aspects of grace is seen in Jesus’ words as well. We are in the world and yet not of the world (John 17:11, 16). Also in John 5:24, Jesus describes the three aspects of salvation as having “passed from death to life” (past tense), “has everlasting life” (present tense), and “shall not come into judgment” (future tense).
A particularly difficult passage in the book of Revelation (shocking I know to think that some parts of Revelation would be hard to understand) is Revelation 22:11. Here, the angel who is explaining things to John is telling of the final state of the unrighteous and the righteous, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” Radio commentator J. Vernon McGee said this verse is perhaps the scariest verse of all of the book of Revelation for those who are condemned. But I also see it as perhaps the most reassuring verse for those of us who are going to experience God’s supreme grace. In eternity, we are going to grow and increase in our righteousness and holiness.
The fallen angels lost their place in heaven and could never regain it. They are reserved for judgment (Jude 6). Fallen humanity who receive salvation will gain the holiness of heaven by God’s grace and we shall never lose it. Peter who spoke in Acts 15 about our inheritance must have truly longed for this supreme aspect of grace, because he again spoke about being heirs together of the grace of life in 1 Peter 3:7. He spoke of “the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” in 1 Peter 1:13. And he concludes his letter with this great and blessed hope, “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 5:10).
There are no better words than these to conclude this study on the key word of grace to the church!