Godís Grace and Manís Inability
Grace is a beautiful word; truly a great Bible truth is resident in this word. Grace is derived from the Greek, charis. Thayer comments thus on charis: "Öthe New Testament writers used charis pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favorsÖ." Hence, grace indicates a benefactor, a favor, and a recipient. Furthermore, the benefactor has the ability and is in possession of something to benefit the recipient. "Grace" as used in the scriptures pertaining to God as the Benefactor and man as the recipient involves more than the simple definition of charis. Thayerís expanded comment on charis is, "Öthe New Testament writers used 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 Christ." (Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 666, full definition determined by usage, dm). Abundant teaching clearly reveals that grace in the matter of God and man is manís only hope and that man without grace is in a circumstance of absolute inability (cp. Luke 17: 10; Rom. 4: 1-8). Salvation, moreover, is either by grace or by meritorious works, not both (Rom. 11: 5, 6). Such is the case because grace, as we have seen it used, necessarily implies the impossibility of salvation by works. If man could "save himself," then there would be no real need of salvation by grace. In reality, attempting to be saved simply by manís obedience negates salvation by grace (ibid.). Salvation credit, if you will, is ascribed to God, manís part being by comparison obscure and minuscule (Eph. 2: 5-9).
"How about Peterís statement in Acts 2: 40, Ďsave yourselvesí?", one might ask. In the Greek, "save yourselves" is in the passive voice. Hence, the literal translation would be something like: "Allow yourselves to be saved" or, "be ye saved" (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Nestle/Marshall). It is apparent from the context that Peter impressed upon them the need to do something or be active in their salvation (Acts 2: 37, 38). However, what they are told to do is simply how they were to receive Godís grace with the emphasis on the Giver, not on any "works" in order to receive (see addendums 1and 2).
The truth of man being involved in his salvation (synergism, see Addendum 2) sometimes incorrectly creates the circumstance for modern day Phariseeism as observed in Luke 18: 9-14. The truth, though, is:
"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).
Some biblical facts regarding God's grace. The gospel (good news) is a result of God's grace (Gal. 1: 6-9). Grace is presented as sufficient and Christians are called by grace (2 Cor. 12: 7-10, Gal. 1: 15). Man is saved by grace, the heart is established by grace, and we are justified by grace (Eph. 2: 5, 8, Heb. 13: 9, Tit. 3: 7). Moreover, we render acceptable service by grace and grace imparts everlasting consolation (Heb. 12: 28, 29, 2 Thes. 2: 16). God's grace also makes us better people and helps us in time of need (I Cor. 15: 9, 10, Heb. 4: 16).
Not realizing our total unworthiness and
helplessness apart from Godís grace encourages too lofty a view of ourselves and
keeps us from really understanding grace. After reading another article in
Bible Truths regarding grace and manís inability, the respondent wrote:
"I am so thankful for your website. This morning I read and studied God's grace. My life will forever be changed. I have been a minister for 6 years. I am now 41 years old and have never understood God's grace like you explained it on your website. I want you to know that I finally understand grace - God's grace. I've heard sermons and songs on grace and have even read scriptures but I never truly got an understanding of God's grace until today.
I know that because of your teaching on grace every ounce of the spirit of pride that once operated in my life has to flee. I finally Ďget ití and understand what the Apostle Paul meant when he said Ďwe are saved by grace lest any man should boast.í I hate to say it but I was a boasterÖ.I thought I was doing everything right (going to church every Sunday, reading my Bible, praying, studying, tithing, giving offerings, and preaching the Gospel). Little did I know that I was actually frustrating the grace of God. Thank you so much for your revelatory and in-depth teachings.
My life will never be the same again. The hymn ĎAmazing Graceí takes on a totally different meaning as of todayÖ."
Let us now in some detail explore and illustrate Godís grace and manís inability regarding specific circumstances pertaining to God and man in a situation involving manís requisite and conditional salvation.
How man initially comes to God. Based on a careful study of the examples in Acts as to how men and women were saved, it is evident that they, viewed as a composite, believed, repented, confessed Jesus as the Son of God, and were baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 36, 16: 31; 17: 30, 31, 16: 33; 8: 35-36, K.J.V, Rom. 10: 9, 10; Acts 2: 38, 16: 33). You will observe that in each of these instances, the emphasis pertaining to salvation is not on those who believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized, but the stress is on the precipitating means of producing these acts. For instance, in the matter of belief, the accent is on God having done so much for man and the recording miracles enabling belief (John 20: 30, 31). Regarding water baptism, an act that many say is not essential, thinking that if its essentiality is admitted, then it would be a work of merit, notice the emphasis on Jesusí death and resurrection as being the impetus for man being baptized (Rom. 6).
The act of prayer. Prayer is a wonderful privilege belonging to the faithful child of God (cp. Prov. 28: 9, I John 3: 22). The Christian need not faint, but express his needs to a caring Heavenly Father (Luke 18: 1). Prayer presupposes Godís willingness to hear, bless, and guide his people (Matt. 6: 9-15). In the matter of prayer, God is seen as omniscient and sovereign (Matt. 6: 8). God is aware of each of his children, even in the case of their temptations and the individually providing of a way of escape (I Cor. 10: 13).
Again, relative to prayer where is any allowed or justified glory for man to claim? God is a loving Father, attentive to the needs of his children and who only provides what is good for them (Matt. 7: 7-12). Some say, "Yes, but man must ask; hence, there is the place for merit on manís part!" Man is to ask and obey Godís commandments (Matt. 7: 7, 6: 8, I John 3: 22). Asking and obedience do require effort or work, but in view of Godís role in prayer, where is any opportunity for resident glory or merit in the mere fact of man asking or humble obedience? (Matt. 7: 7, 6: 8).
The circumstance of teaching the gospel to others. Christians are charged with the responsibility of teaching the gospel to the lost (cp. Phili. 2: 16). In fact, individual Christians teaching those with whom they come in contact is the primary cause of the phenomenal spread of the gospel in the First Century (cp. Acts 8: 1-4).
The message of the gospel is Jesus died for all men and Godís grace has also appeared to all men (Heb. 2: 8, 9, Tit. 2: 11ff.). "Gospel" means "good news" and the good news is that man can have remission of sins based on Jesusí blood and through and in Jesus, have the hope of eternal life in heaven (Matt. 26: 28, John 14: 6).
When the Christian extends the word of life, does he have any inherent merit or glory, especially in view of all involved in the gospel? Nay, verily!
With the foregoing in mind, now revisit Ephesians 2: 8:
"7: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2).
Concerned reader, we could enlarge the list of things that are involved in the life of the Christian and acts that are certainly required of both the lost and the Christian, but in each instance we would continue to see that all marvel and wonder go to God and not to the human participant. Indeed, I repeat, human participation is necessary ("through faith," Eph. 2: 8), but such participation does not provide bragging opportunity (I anticipate a number will have problems with this material on grace and manís inability. Some, those who deny manís essential involvement in his salvation, will take issue. Those who go too far the other way and advocate too much for manís part in his salvation, works of merit, shall also take issue. May I kindly but with great confidence, notwithstanding, say that if you experience difficulty, the cause is more than likely a mistaken view on your part of Godís grace and/or manís inability).
Addendum 1: When James wrote that man is "justified by works," he is presenting "faith in action," not works whereby man receives the glory and the credit (Jas. 2: 24). For a fact, salvation or justification is not by "faith alone." Such faith (mental only and inactive) only places one on the level of demons, for they believe in the sense of faith alone (Jas. 2: 19, cp. Gal. 5: 6). Paul, in his treatment of "works" is addressing works of merit, which would result in the doer being owed a debt (Rom. 4: 1-8). Please be informed that faith itself; that is, saving faith, is a "work" (John 6: 29). However, it is not a work of merit, emphasis being placed on man and placing God in a position to have to by means of payment grant eternal life. All man has earned, in truth, is spiritual death (Rom. 6: 23).
Addendum 2: In theology, there are two views of salvation by grace that constitute the extremes of the doctrinal spectrum. To juxtapose them, there is the common doctrine of monergism, Greek suggesting one and the One being God. Hence, the teaching, "salvation is by Christ alone," thus making man passive, inactive, and only a recipient. Monergism is in the vernacular, expressed by "salvation by faith only." The opposing doctrine is synergism, Greek suggesting participatory action on the part of more than one. If monergism were correct, there would necessarily be universal salvation because if it is simply left up to God, independent of the volition of man, all men would be saved (2 Pet. 3: 9). The truth is only a few shall be saved (Matt. 7: 13, 14). Man is presented as participating in the gift of his salvation (Acts 2: 11-47, etc.). This participation is simply man accepting Godís grace (hence, synergism, but not in the case of works of merit, as some synergists teach, only in the circumstance of manís participation).