By Grace ...
The greatest of all God’s gifts is Jesus Christ. The Hebrew writer tells us that it was by God’s grace that Jesus “tasted death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). Further, Paul wrote, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.” (2 Th 2:16-17). No mortal tongue can recite the magnitude of saving grace. There are not enough writing materials in the world to fully describe saving grace and there is no human mentality that is able fully comprehend it. Grace is the love and goodness of God all combined in the person of our Savior.
Paul wrote, “Even when we were dead in trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:5-10).
Grace has a technical definition: “God’s unmerited favor toward man.” One of the very best Bible scholars of all time, Hermann Cremer, wrote, “We may, perhaps, add that no language so fully and accurately presents a synonym for it as does the Old High German ‘ginada,’ literally, ‘a coming near,’ or ‘an inclining towards.’ ... The English word grace corresponds fully with the German Gnade.” (Biblio-Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, page 572, published by T & T Clark.)
Grace is a divine kindness mixed with love and pity from the Almighty to all men. It is in the same category as mercy, but not the same. Someone has described the difference in grace and mercy as, “Mercy is what keeps sinful men from getting what they deserve -- death. Grace is sinful man getting what he does not deserve -- salvation.”
The kindness of God that provides sinners with a means of finding full pardon and relief from sin is described for us by an inspired man. The great apostle Paul wrote, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13). What clearer statement can be found? How marvelous is our God and Maker to have inclined Himself toward us and loved us through His Son, Jesus Christ. How great the grace that Christ provides in giving Himself for us! Listen carefully to the next verse, verse 14. “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”
Did you catch the significance of that? Think of it -- He gave Himself us! He did not give some object, some price, some gift for us -- He gave Himself. He did not ask someone else to give something for us -- He gave His life. His blood was shed to purchase for Himself a very special people and those people make up His one and only church. Again, listen to Paul. Speaking to men who are called “elders.” He said, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This may be one of the most baffling statements in divine revelation. It goes far beyond man’s feeble ability to comprehend the vastness of God’s grace toward man.
One of the things making it so mystifying is Paul’s statement in Romans 5, verse 8. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That is what is so amazing and incredible. One might understand how another could make a great sacrifice for a friend, a very dear member of the family -- but an enemy? How could that be done? No wonder that the Greek word for grace took on a different meaning when it was applied to God’s inclining Himself to mankind. Therefore, we can appreciate the statement found in Hebrews -- “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, (listen very carefully friends) by the grace of God, might taste of death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). What a wonderful story of true love!
Saving grace is God’s deep expression of love to mankind. Salvation is His gift through grace. Saving grace is not restricted to a special race of people. It embraces all men of all nations. The apostle Peter was called to the house of Cornelius, the first Gentile converted to Christ. Cornelius had gathered his household to hear what Peter would say. Peter’s words must have been warmly welcomed. He said, “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).
The text we are studying, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” furnishes us comfort by good hope that no matter who we are, what we have done, or whatever circumstances surround us, grace will save us.
Grace is an absolute essential in salvation. No mere man can save anyone. No man can, by his own power and initiative, achieve salvation. Salvation comes as God’s gift to man. The gracious offer of salvation is through grace and the only way anyone can save self is to accept God’s grace on the conditions He has given. That is why we read such statements as Peter’s word to the Jews in Jerusalem on Pentecost. “Save yourselves from this untoward (perverse) generation” (Acts 2:40). Save yourself how? By God’s grace, of course. But how is one save by grace? Is it something automatic, or is there something man must do in order to be saved by grace? Let’s look a bit further into this.
On the day of Pentecost people were told to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). In order to be saved by grace, to benefit from the death of Christ, to enjoy the salvation God graciously provides, these people were to repent and be baptized. Who were they? They were a group of people who, hearing Peter preach, had come under the conviction that Jesus Christ is the true and only Messiah, the Son of God Almighty and that through Him, and only through Him, is remission of sins possible. So, as penitent believers, they were baptized (immersed in water) for the remission of sins. They were saved by grace.
The people to whom Paul wrote, “by grace you have been saved,” he personally commanded them, as believers, to also be immersed for the remission of sins. Acts 19:1-5 reads, “And it happened while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said to them, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ So they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Now briefly, just notice a few things. First, these people who were saved by grace were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Baptism did not nullify grace. But grace would not have saved them, or anyone else, in disobedience to the Lord. One cannot be saved by grace and disregard God’s word. One cannot reject God’s will and be saved. A case in point is found in Luke 7:30. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” Second, the one baptism that saves is part of God’s teaching grace. Third, baptism that saves causes one to know something of the Holy Spirit. It is very obvious that anything called baptism that does not include something to make people aware of the Holy Spirit is not true baptism. That is why the apostles always baptized people “into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Without God’s grace none of us would ever even know of salvation -- but with it, we learn what to do to please Him. The very knowledge of what the word grace means comes through revealed truth. Revealed truth is God’s way of showing His grace. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Since God was gracious enough to provide salvation, and Jesus was gracious enough to give Himself, and since God’s grace teaches us what to do, should not we be gracious enough to do exactly what He commands? Should we expect grace to save us when we do any less than those God saved by His grace in the first century? Surely not!
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