There is no greater theme that can occupy manís attention than salvation. As one begins to focus, one sees both God and man involved in manís salvation. Paul is addressing manís role when he wrote, "Öwork out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phili. 2: 12). Paul then turns his attention to Godís part when he penned, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (vs. 13). Man brings the "faith" (humble acquiescence) and God provides the "grace," Paul states another way (Eph. 2: 8-10). No man can be saved without accepting in simple obedience Godís grace and no man can be saved without Godís essential grace (Heb. 5: 8, 9, Tit. 2: 11-14). The resident warning in the scriptures is to not receive Godís grace in vain (cp. 2 Cor. 6: 1, see addendum 1). Before we further examine the theme of "essential grace," let us consider what grace is. The acclaimed lexicographer Henry Thayer wrote thus regarding grace (Greek charis):
"Ömoreover, the word charis contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deservedÖ.the New Testament writers use charis pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favors even upon the ill-deserving, and grants to sinners the pardon of their offences, and bids them accept of eternal salvation through ChristÖ" (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 666).
Regarding the foregoing comments on the Greek word translated "grace," we know that charis is so used because of such verses as Romans 11: 6 in which "grace" and "works" (earned salvation) are being placed in contrast:
"6: And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work."
There were those in the audience being addressed by Romans who mistakenly thought that they could observe the commands of the Hebrew scriptures and be saved. However, Mosesí system required flawless obedience in order to obtain salvation through that system and there was no immediate provision of grace to cover any short comings. Some reasoned that the solution was to combine their traditional religion (Law of Moses) and Christianity. Romans 11: 6 is emphatically saying that such is not possible. If one could earn salvation by perfect law keeping, then, there would be no need for grace. On the other hand, provision for a condition short of sinlessness cancelled out "work" or earned salvation.
A biblical fact that appears hard for some to understand and accept is that Christianity is a system of combined "law" and "grace" (cp. Gal. 6: 2, Eph. 2: 8). Hence, "Öthe perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1: 25). Associated with Moses was "law," which implied perfect law keeping to be justified and associated with Jesus is "grace" (John 1: 17, 2 Cor. 8: 9). Since all men sin, salvation only through law is not possible. There is the circumstance of essential grace (I John 1: 7-10, Tit. 3: 5). Jesus stressed the plight of man not being able to earn his salvation in his following statement:
"10: So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17).
The idea of "unprofitable servants" is indicative of the fact that man, in his lack of sinlessness, must depend on Godís mercy and grace to address his imperfection.
I recently worked with an individual who was very spiritually disturbed and confused, even to the point of severe anxiety. Here is what he said (I shall refer to him as "Joe"):
"I have studied the scriptures and learned that I must obey Godís commands in order to be saved. Regardless of how sincerely and determinedly I attempt to live sinlessly, I still sin on occasion. What am I do? Am I eternally doomed to hell due to my lack of ability to flawlessly keep Godís laws?"
Joe manifested a good attitude and respect for the commandments of the New Testament (cp. I John 2: 1-6). However, Joe had not properly considered Godís part, His essential grace. Allow me to submit that any teaching relative to salvation that omits the role of either man or God, is patently false. Joe was omitting God.
Grace is essential for a number of reasons. Grace is essential due to the fact that man is "justified by grace" (Rom. 3: 24, Tit. 3: 7). Godís grace makes man better in lifting him up out of the mire of sin (I Cor. 15: 9, 10, 2 Cor. 1: 12). The service of the Christian is "made acceptable" by grace (Heb. 12: 28, 29).
Many verses set forth the essentiality of grace in areas of urgent practicality. For instance, it is by grace that the gospel, Godís power unto salvation, is effected (Gal. 1: 6-9, Rom. 6: 14, 15). Man is initially called to God by grace (cp. Gal 1: 15). The heart is "established by grace" and grace can be sufficient for the many trying experiences life offers (Heb. 13: 9; 2 Cor. 12: 7-10). Moreover, we can have "everlasting consolation" and "good hope" by or in Godís grace (2 Thes. 2: 16).
I think all would agree that if all the above benefits of grace were removed, man would be in a hopeless state of spiritual despair. However, which individual benefit could be excluded? Could we spiritually flourish without "justification" (being pronounced pardoned, Rom. 3: 24)? How about the absence of just being able to render acceptable service to God? (Heb. 12: 28, 29).
One great truth associated with Godís essential grace is the fact that it is made available to all men.
"11: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12: Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13: Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; 14: Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Tit. 2).
Notice, Godís grace has "appeared to all men," hence, essential grace is universal in design and availability. It is understood, though, man must appropriate grace. Otherwise, we would have universal salvation, which is not the case (cp. Matt. 7: 13, 14). Grace "teaches us," a concept lacking in most theologies. Godís grace teaches the implementation of a certain lifestyle and the avoidance of another, ungodliness and worldly lust.
Regarding grace being essential, perhaps no stronger verse anywhere can be considered than Titus 3: 5:
"But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5: Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."
In the setting of salvation, God and man, it is "not by works of righteousnessÖ." The emphasis seems to be on, "Öwhich we have done." It, salvation, is "Öaccording to his mercyÖ." Still, baptism is necessary in that it is, "Öby the washing of regenerationÖ." All of the combined "works of righteousness" that man could offer will not, cannot, and do not meritoriously eventuate in manís salvation.
In striving for perfection, a good goal, Matt. 5: 48, Joe lost sight of Godís essential grace (see addendum 2). If we are not careful, we, too, can by so totally focusing on manís part, forget about Godís part.
"4: Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5: But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4).
The intent of this material is not to eliminate or even de-emphasize manís obedience and way in which he accepts saving grace or to use grace as a means to justify sin (cp. Rom. 6: 1ff.). However, we must also remember that without grace, salvation would not be obtainable. The matter must not be, "How much can I fall short and still have grace to cover my imperfection" but, rather, "I shall sincerely try with all my heart and ability to serve God the best I can and then look to Godís grace to address the shortcomings." In closing, I leave you with Paulís famous words regarding the grace of God:
"9: For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10: But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon 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" (I Cor. 15). "21: I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2). (You might like reading, "Save Yourselves")
Addendum 1: Grace must have a certain requisite environment in order to flourish and produce salvation. Grace never reigns in a climate of disobedience (Rom. 2: 6-9). In fact, we are told that grace reigns in the milieu of righteousness (Rom. 5: 21). The "righteousness" in which grace reigns is not Christís personal righteousness, which some teach is arbitrarily and unconditionally imputed to the sinner, but manís humble submission to Jesusí teaching and Lordship (Luke 6: 46, cp. Ps. 119: 172).
Addendum 2: God has promised that, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrineÖ" and, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded (striving for perfection, vs. 14, dm): and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you" (John 7: 17; Phili. 3: 15).