What is ‘Grace’?
‘Grace’ is one of those common words that we use so much that it is easy to miss its meaning. Theologically, it refers to the unmerited, undeserved, unearned favour of God shown to all people. One person defined it as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Here are some thoughts about this from Paul and John: “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” [Rom 5:6-9. NLT]
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” [Eph 2:8-9. NLT]
“What marvellous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it — we're called children of God! That's who we really are.” [1 John 3:1. MB]
What an incredible thing to know that through Christ, we have a heavenly Father who loves us as his children, not based on our performance, achievement, or goodness. God’s grace is still amazing! We are saved by grace and we are to walk or live in grace, which is also the enabling power of God to live the Christian life.What about the ‘Law’?
Now that we are under grace and not law (Rom.6:14-15. Gal.5:18), is the law still relevant? We need to understand that grace can be abused (see Jude 3-4). The extremes of legalism (a focus only on law) and of lawlessness (a focus only on grace) should be avoided. A proper understanding of grace helps us see that grace is not lawlessness.
Notice what John said about Jesus: “For the LAW was given through Moses, but GRACE and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Jesus is full of grace and truth. We see this in his response to the woman caught in adultery. When her condemners had all left, he said, “Neither do I condemn you.” That was grace. Then he said, “Go and sin no more.” That was truth. Both are important.
Notice what Paul says about grace: “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.” (Titus 2:11-14. NLT)
So what about the law? Haven’t the Ten Commandments been nailed to the cross (Col.2:14)? To answer this question we need to understand the difference between the ceremonial law and the moral law. The ceremonial law was fulfilled and abolished at the cross while the moral law continues. Why? To quote professors Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart: “The Old Testament is not our testament. The Old Testament represents God’s previous covenant with Israel made at Mount Sinai, which we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore, we can hardly begin by assuming that the old covenant should automatically be binding upon us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding upon us unless they are renewed in the new covenant. That is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God's people (cf. Rom. 6:14-15).” Jesus and the apostles re-affirm nine of the Ten Commandments under the new covenant. The only one of the Ten Commandments not reinforced is the keeping of the Sabbath day.How does this apply to the Christian life?
The Old Testament Law involved Ten Commandments written externally on two tables of stone written by the finger of God. It told people what to do but gave them no power to do it, then condemned them for not doing it. The letter kills. Grace gives us two commandments (love God and your neighbour) written internally on the tables of the heart and mind. Through the power of the Spirit we are empowered to obey God and we live under the grace of forgiveness. The Spirit gives life!
God’s grace comes to transform our lives. The Old Covenant was DO and LIVE (Gal.3:12). By works and obedience to the law we are accepted and justified. The New Covenant is LIVE and DO. Not “in order to …” but “because of …” Become what you are (children of God – like him). Spirit empowered. Grace is a free gift. You are accepted, forgiven and loved (by faith), so now forgive and love (demonstrated by good works of obedience).
Because of the sin nature which still has not been eradicated, we cannot be perfect but we can grow and move towards perfection (Heb.6:1-2). When we sin, forgiveness is available to us (Mt.6:12. 1 Jn.1:9). Though already forgiven, we are to appropriate it daily through repentance and faith.The Law of Love
God loves us – that is a constant state of his heart towards us. Once you realise this, you long to love him in return and do those things that are pleasing to him. Because I am God’s child and because he has loved me so freely, I want to live a life that will please him and bring him great joy (Eph.2:8-10). God wants us to be rooted and grounded in His great love, not our fear or insecurity (Eph.3:14-20). Let love be your “root” (life source) and your “foundation” (support and strength).
Love fulfils the law. Grace is about living by the law of love (Rom.13:8, 10. Gal.5:14. Jas.2:8). Jesus said, “If you love me, obey what I command (Jn.14:15).” God’s commands are for our good. We should love his law (Ps.119:97, 113, 163, 165) because it reflects his nature and provides us guidance for living life to the full. Avoid the lawlessness of the younger brother and the focus on moral strictness of the older brother (Luke 15:11-32). Receive the love of the Father and love Him in return. Walk in a love relationship with Him. That is what grace is all about.Sample Discussion Questions
- What does ‘grace’ mean to you? What is your personal experience of grace?
- What does the image of God as ‘Father’ mean to you?
- Have you seen grace abused by people?
- What do you think ‘legalism’ is? Share your experience with it and its impact.
- Discuss the Ten Commandments. How are they relevant today for a Christian?
- What difference would it make in our lives if we simply focused daily on loving God and loving people?
- In your family or relationships, how does forgiveness work? Yes, we should choose to be forgiving at all times, even before someone hurts us. How do we feel if someone doesn’t apologise to us? How do we feel when they do?
- Discuss this statement: “Obedience is the ultimate act of worship.”
- How could a fresh revelation of God’s love and grace change our lives?
- How can we be more gracious to other people, passing on the grace we have received?
- Pray for each other – for a fresh experience of grace and for such a strong love for God that leads us to live lives that bring pleasure to Him.