Summary: God's grace as the avenue of salvation is sometimes seen as being in conflict with obedience of the believer as a requirement, without which salvation cannot be obtained. Which is it, or is it a combination? Can this dichotomy be satisfactorily resolved?
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THE GRACE OF GOD
Eph 2:8-9 "...by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Soon after moving to Virginia years ago and becoming associated with a small congregation, I was asked to serve on a search committee to find a preacher, as the congregation did not have a permanent one at the time. In the first meeting of the search committee, when members expressed our ideas of the factors that should guide our search, some of the members expressed that they wanted a preacher who “doesn't preach too much about grace.”
I wondered why the subject of the grace of God must be avoided, at spoken about with moderation.
Why not celebrate it? Why not “shout it from the rooftops?”
Questions started popping.
Is it a hush-hush subject, best avoided?
Mustn't let the cat out of the bag?
Mustn't trust everyone with the knowledge of grace?
Afraid people will misunderstand grace?
Is there a danger we will depend too much on grace (or rely on it wrongly)?
How much talking about grace is OK?
Will people understand grace more correctly if it's not talked about too much?
Do we already know all we need to know about the grace of God, and just need to hush about it?
I wondered if my new Christian friends had at some time heard a barrage of sermons falsely claiming that God’s grace eliminates any duty on the part of Christians who are by that very grace licensed to live an unregulated, undirected life in utter disregard of the Bible’s direct commands, inoculated from the guilt of willful disobedience.
Or perhaps we suspect that with undue emphasis on God’s grace, people will think they need only pay attention to what Jesus described as the greatest commandment and the second which is like it: Matthew 22:37-39
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Since Jesus declared that all other commandments in the law are suspended from these two, people will think we need only to recognize them, disregard any more detailed guidance, and everything else will fall into place.
Upon reflection, I realize that in my lifetime experience, many people who have a desire to please the Lord recoil from any discussion of God's grace apart from explanatory--and perhaps mitigating--qualifiers. It causes uneasiness for some of my Christian friends, and evokes quick counter-propositions to a purely grace-based salvation. It seems that there must be more to it--something more ought to be required. It’s a yes-but response.
My friends were more comfortable, and felt on safer ground pointing to obedience, duty, and works as the avenue to the soul's salvation instead of God’s grace. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25 and other New Testament doctrines seem to support it. Grace was deemed to be risky, and seemed contrary to many of the bible’s commands, all of which clearly demand obedience, and which show disobedience as the avenue to death and destruction.
II. What is grace?
Often defined as unmerited favor, God’s divine influence on the heart and its reflection in the life, divine encouragement or sustenance, God's Riches At Christ's Expense, etc.
• Hebrew: chen (khane) graciousness, i.e. kindness, favor, or beauty (rendered “favor” in the O.T.
• In the New Testament the word comes from three Greek words, all stemming from the same root:
Charis, a n. which is defined as (1) graciousness of manner or act, and (2) the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life
• Charisma, char'-is-mah a n. (1) a divine gratuity, that is, deliverance from danger or passion; (2) specifically, a spiritual endowment, that is, religious qualification, or miraculous faculty, (3) a free gift.
• Charizomai, khar-id'-zom-ahee, v. (1) to grant as a favor gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue (2) to deliver, forgive freely, to give or grant.
Grace is exhibited in the desire, willingness, and ability to grant favor as a gift where it is not deserved. By definition, it includes graciousness of manner and action. That divine influence is exercised in the heart of God, and his desire is that grace be exercised in human hearts.