Understanding Grace

Intro: How do you get to heaven? Do you know the way?

A few months ago Rebekah, Diane and I traveled to Indiana to attend Mary Greves’ funeral. In the course of our travel we had to go through a part of Indiana that was not familiar to us, so we utilized the gps system in the car. As we traveled along it continued to tell us the road we needed to travel, how far we had to go, and even when we would arrive. It all worked fine until we came to sign that read, “the bridge is out”. We had to turn around, get out the map and find another way. The gps, as smart as it was, did not know that the bridge had been washed away in a flood. We could not go the way we had planned. But there was another way and we arrived at our destination.

There are many people who only think they know the way to heaven. But the way they are traveling is not open. Do you know how people are saved? Today we are beginning the second half of our study this month on love and grace. What does the bible teach about grace?

I. God’s Love and Grace: We cannot understand grace apart from our recognition of the love of God, Please read with me from Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:4-9 – 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. Grace is WHAT God gives. His great love for us is WHY He gives it. In my investigation of my salvation, and the eternal plan of redemption, there are times when it needs to be as simple as that to me. I must never accept any theology that denies or diminishes the love and grace of God.

II. We are Saved by Grace. Paul says it twice in the passages of Ephesians 2 we just read. There is no other way to heaven except by the grace of God. Paul says it pretty clearly, doesn’t he? We are saved by grace, through faith. We have nothing to boast about.

• Note: I strive to teach the truth in an understandable way. I do not want to be misunderstood. But at times it may happen. Nothing I am going to teach about grace is intended to diminish the clear Bible teaching on the conditional nature of our salvation or the necessity of obedience to all of God’s commands.

A. What is Grace? The word “grace” derives from the Greek, charis (khar-ece). In secular Greek, this word was related to chairo, “to rejoice.” As far back as Homer it denoted “sweetness” or “attractiveness.” It came to signify “favor,” “goodwill,” and “lovingkindness” — especially as granted by a superior to an inferior. In the New Testament, “grace” is found 155 times; Paul uses the word 100 times. It appears 24 times in Romans alone, and even in the short epistle to the Ephesians he uses it a dozen times. It denotes the giving of a good gift apart from merit. It is getting more good than we deserve. Two popular ways to describe grace:”unmerited favor“; it is “favor bestowed when wrath is owed.”!

B. Grace in the N.T. describes more than just the attitude of God toward us. It describes the way in which God saves us – the method or system by which God bestows salvation on us. This is the focus of our study today.

III. Grace and Law: The NT discusses salvation by grace in the context of that which it opposes – salvation by worksof law.Paul announced to Christians… “You are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14).

A. In this statement Paul is referencing two distinct and competing systems of salvation. These are the only two choices. The difference between the two is summed up in Rom 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1. The key words here wages and gift. Those relating to God in terms of wages will eventually get what they have earned or deserved by their works during this earthly life. This is the law system, and it operates according to the strict dictates of the holiness of God.

a. Those who choose the alternative way of relating to God will receive their reward as a free gift, or by grace. In fact, their reward will actually be contrary to what deserve.

b. Romans 3:27 – 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Here Paul calls these two competing systems the law of works and the law of faith. In this verse the word “law(nomos) is used in an unusual, very general sense. The NIV acceptably translates it as “principle.” It denotes a system or arrangement of salvation.

1) So the law of works is a system of salvation that works on the principle of works, or wages.

2) The law of faith is a system of salvation that works on the principle of faith, whereby we trust in the efforts of another, or as a gift. “Works” and “faith” here are thus parallel to “wages” and “gift” in Rom 6:23 and parallel to “law” and grace” in Rom 6:14.

B. These two opposing systems of salvation are two ways of relating to God or being acceptable to Him. Two distinct principles of judgment – ways into heaven. Illustrated by two roads to the same destination. – the way of law & the way of grace. They are distinct paths. Theoretically it is possible to reach your destination by either road.

IV. Law as the Way to Heaven: How does the law system work? This system operates under the strict holiness of God alone. The holy God gives us what we deserve, or the wages we have earned by our works of obedience to his commands. Romans 10:55 For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”

A. The impotence of the Law System: It is theoretically possible to enter heaven via the Law – by law-keeping. The ground rules for a law system are “Keep the commandments; escape the penalty; break the commandments, suffer the penalty.”

1. All you have to do to get to heaven under the law system is to keep the commandments. But here is an important qualification: one must keep all the commands all his life, and keep them perfectly. Only perfect obedience-absolute righteousness-will earn heaven. There will be no balance-scale judgment, with 51% obedience being sufficient for entering heaven; it must be 100%. James 2:1010 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. Galatians 3:1010 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”

2. Though it is theoretically possible to enter by law, in reality no one will do so, because no one has kept all the commandments. So Paul says… Rom 3:19-20 – 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

a. Rather, under the law system everyone gets the wages he deserves, so everyone who has sinned is destined for eternal death in the lake of fire. This is Paul’s conclusion in Romans 1-3 – Because of the universality of sin, no one will be saved by the system of law or law-keeping, the system of works, the system of “being good enough.” The law-road into heaven is closed. The bridge is out and there is no way to cross over. Your sin has created an impassable chasm.

B. “Be merciful to me, a sinner” – God has always been willing to reveal to us where we stand. After their disobedience, God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and His presence. Through their own effort, there was no way back. The road was closed. Then why did God give Israel a law to keep if law-keeping was not the way to God?

1. The proliferation of God’s law at Sinai was not to make it more difficult for man to make his way back to God, but rather to demonstrate that he could not get back through law keeping. The law made sin evident and thus brought men under condemnation. As we read in Romans 3:20 – … for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

a. Rom 7:7I would not have known sin except through the law. Paul goes as far as to say that “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56) because in law, sin exerts its presence and power through universal condemnation.

b. So what is the conclusion? Romans 3:23 – 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The prophet Isaiah said to Israel, “…your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2) …”But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags;” (Isaiah 64:4)

2. In Luke 18 Jesus depicts two different assessments of oneself in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican. When they come to the temple to pray the Pharisee says, Thank you Lord that I am good enough (not like others). The Publican says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (18:10) Which one was justified?

V. Grace as the Way to Heaven: After sin closed the road, the appearance of Christ has opened up a new way to God. The way of grace. This is the good news of the gospel. How does Grace work?

A. As noted earlier the ground rules for law are these: “Keep the commandments; escape the penalty. Break the commandments; suffer the penalty.” But here are the rules according to which grace operates: “Keep the commandments, but suffer the penalty. Break the commandments, but escape the penalty.” This does not seem right to us. We instinctively judge things by fairness, and want to stand up for justice. It simply is not fair for an innocent person to be punished, and for a commandment-breaker to escape the penalty deserved by his sin. Lawbreakers and criminals should get justice, so on the judgment day we would expect justice. But here is a question that everyone should seriously ask himself: “Do I really want God to be fair with me on the day of judgment?”The only fair (just, deserved) treatment for sinners is hell, the wages of sin is death (separation from God)

1. So grace is not fair. “Break the commandments, but escape the penalty.” It is in fact the exact opposite of fairness. Such grace is not just “unmerited favor”; it is “favor bestowed when wrath is owed.”!

B. But what about the other half of the ground rules of grace: “Break the commandments, but escape the penalty. Keep the commandments, but suffer the penalty.”

1. This too is unfair in every way. This also seems irrelevant sense no one has kept the commandments. Everyone, except One.

2. One person has lived a perfect, sinless life. This same person has suffered the penalty for everyone else. Jesus Christ! This was God’s plan from the beginning. Without this part, there is no basis for the other. The fact that the sinless Christ has suffered the penalty is the only reason God can say to sinners, “Even though you have broken my commandments, you may still escape the penalty you deserve.”

a. God has provided a way for us to be righteous before Him… Rom 3:21-26 – But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

b. The essence of the grace system is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us,

1) “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” – Jesus kept the commandments but suffered the penalty

2) that we (the sinners) might become the righteousness of God in Him. We have broken the commandments but still can escape the penalty.

c. Some have said that “Grace is when you do everything you can, and God makes up the difference” This definition reveals a crucial misunderstanding of the Gospel. I cannot contribute anything of value toward my redemption. The blood of Jesus is the only currency that spends in heaven. Let’s sing the words to the old song – Rock of Ages – verse 2 (# 368)
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no languor know,
These for sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and Thou alone:
In my hand no price I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling.

Conclusion: There is so much more to say about God’s grace. It is the only way to heaven. But do not misinterpret this good news. The grace of God is undeserved, but not unconditional. We are saved by grace through faith. This saving faith always calls men to obedience. In a lesson to follow we will consider the place of faith (and obedience) in the way of grace.

  • When the good news of salvation by grace was preached by the apostles it was a call for specific obedience to God’s commands of belief, repentance, and baptism.
  • Mark 16:15-1615 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
  • Acts 2:3838 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.