The True Meaning of the Grace of GOD
Probably the single most important requirement for our continued relationship with GOD is grace. It is therefore no surprise that the primary obstacle in impeding our fellowship with GOD is to confuse and veil the true meaning of the grace of GOD. The process is described in JUDE.
JUDE 4 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace [Greek, charis] of our God into lasciviousness...
Ungodly men had crept in unawares. They quietly slithered in undetected, disguising themselves as teachers, yet found to be false; false brethren, false teachers, false prophets and false apostles. And what is the one ignoble, dastardly, devilish thing they did in their subtlety? They turned the grace of GOD into lasciviousness. Lasciviousness is defined as "unbridled desire", which is a very apt description. These ungodly men accomplished their evil deed by redefining the meaning of GOD's grace. It is my contention that perhaps one of the very first truths lost by the early Church was the true meaning of the Greek word charis, often translated grace in our English Bibles.
Today if you ask someone what the grace of GOD entails, they will most likely tell you something like, "GOD loves them just the way they are", or that the grace of GOD means "GOD's love is bigger then any sin they can commit". They equate GOD's grace as a sort of counterbalance to man's sins. The grace of GOD has evolved into almost becoming our excuse to sin. The beauty and enjoyment of the grace of GOD has been twisted into giving us permission to sin. Not that they openly teach that it is okay to sin, but if we do, because of grace, it's not all that bad, so they think.
Yet we clearly read in Scripture to "sin not" (1 CORINTHIANS 15:34), that "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin" (1JOHN 3:9) and that "the wages of sin is death" (ROMANS 6:23). Yeshua more than once commanded His followers to "sin no more" (JOHN 5:14; 8:11). Actually, the truth about GOD's grace is that it demands that we make the choice to obey GOD and not serve sin (ROMANS 6:12-18).
This word charis, in its bare essence actually suggests favor. The grace of GOD means the favor of GOD, GOD's grace is GOD's favor. GOD giving us grace, means that GOD is doing for us some favor. Therefore we more and more want to be partakers of GOD's favour, GOD's charis (PHILIPPIANS 1:7), to stand in it (ROMANS 5:2), to continue in it (ACTS 13:43).
The question we are to ask when reading about GOD's grace, is what exactly is it, that this favor of GOD is giving? Is it, as many teach, that GOD is wiping the slate clean and ignoring all of our sins, past present and future? When we read with accuracy and precision, Scripture doesn't support that assertion, or anything like it. Let us begin our quest with the very first usage of the word grace in the Bible.
GENESIS 6:8,13-14 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD...And God said unto Noah...Make thee an ark of gopher wood...
Some are surprised to find grace way back in Noah's day, for they have been taught that today is the "age of grace" and assume that grace was practically non-existent in earlier times. But nevertheless, GENESIS chapter six is where GOD has placed its first usage, giving us an insight into its meaning. The first usage of a word or phrase in the Bible is often significant and usually speaks volumes about its definition.
So, what favor did Noah receive as a result of GOD's grace here in the sixth chapter of GENESIS? He received instruction! He got direction on how to build an ark. This was grace given! Not only that Noah would need an ark, and why, but even minute details on how to build it. Notice then that the first usage of grace in the Bible has nothing to do with forgiveness of sin, but with revelation from GOD.
Moses also received grace from GOD. Again, instead of grace having to do with the forgiveness of his sins, Moses considered GOD's grace to be for his instruction and enlightenment, praying, "if I have found grace in thy [GOD's] sight, shew me thy way..." (EXODUS 33:13). Grace offers us something to believe, a path to follow, a direction to go.
Each time we come across this word grace in our Bibles, let us apply this insight to it and see what we can learn. Let's not blindly think of grace as meaning that GOD closes HIS eyes to sins, but let's consider the possibility that by grace GOD is revealing or inspiring in some way. This we will learn is "the grace of GOD in truth" (COLOSSIANS 1:6).
The first usage of charis in the Christian scriptures is given below.
LUKE 1:30-35 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour [charis, grace] with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end....The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
What was grace to Mary? It certainly had nothing to do with the forgiveness of her sins, for they are not even hinted at. Some think it had to do with Mary's honor in giving birth to the Child and raising Him to adulthood. Maybe we should re-think that assumption. Let's digress from our topic of grace for a moment and consider just how much of a blessing it really was for Mary to give birth to and then nurture and care for Him who was "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (ISAIAH 53:3).
Consider and ponder just what were the real consequences for Mary in this most important event of mankind. Because of king Herod's desire to slay the Child, was she not uprooted in the middle of the night, fleeing as a fugitive for the life of her Son into a foreign land, leaving behind all of her family and friends? That had to be tremendously frightful for a young teenage mother.
And what of Yeshua's growing years? Many suppose that it must have been some kind of utopia for Mary to raise the only begotten Son of GOD. Howbeit, the single incident Scripture gives us of Yeshua's childhood has to do with Mary and Joseph finding Him after three days of searching and declaring "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing" (LUKE 2:48). Needless to say, they were not very happy with the Lad. This being the only event given in Scripture of Yeshua's childhood may give us a good indication of the day to day relationship between GOD's Son and His earthly parents.
After Yeshua began His ministry, His rejection and persecution by the religious leaders had to have a depressing effect upon His entire family. His step-father, Joseph, while no doubt still alive (JOHN 6:42) is never heard from during Yeshua's ministry, suggesting that at best Joseph was not supportive of Him. We know that the religious leaders had threatened any and all with excommunication if they confessed Yeshua as the Christ (JOHN 9:22) and just as the parents of the blind man (whom Yeshua healed in JOHN 9) were interrogated and thus warned, no doubt Yeshua's own family experienced the same threatenings. I'm sure they must have spent many sleepless nights debating with one another on how to handle all the controversy surrounding this eldest Son and Brother.
For Mary, seeing her Son choose a path which she perceived would undoubtedly lead to His destruction, had to trouble her terribly, as it would any mother. Did not Simeon warn Mary by holy spirit that "...a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also..." (LUKE 2:35)? She knew what the religious leaders were capable of doing to a dissenter. We can expect that they had even warned her that she had better find a way to reign in her Son, or else!
We know that His own brothers didn't believe in Him (JOHN 7:5), and that they even attempted to apprehend Him (MARK 3:21). Is it possible that Mary was in league with them for what she may have thought to be for His own good (MATTHEW 12:47)? Is it any wonder Yeshua warned His disciples that, "ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death" (LUKE 21:16)? I'm not suggesting that Mary might have been responsible for His death, but rather, being misguided she was trying to prevent His death, just as Peter did (MATTHEW 16:23).
No, I see no great blessing for Mary in giving birth to this first born Son. Yeshua even said as much when a follower declared, "Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (LUKE 11:27-28).
So then, why did the angel declare that Mary had found favor with GOD? Because of the revelation given her! The favor of GOD to Mary was in the revelation that had to do with what Yeshua would eventually become, after that era had passed away. Twelve magnificent things GOD reveals to her in this one short passage. Once again we see that the manifestation of grace is revelation, as Yeshua taught in the verse just quoted, "blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it". Sure, grace can be evidenced by GOD in additional ways, but most often it is GOD revealing something, so as to encourage and inspire us on to a more worthy endeavor.
The next usage of grace in the Christian scriptures is in reference to Yeshua Himself, "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him" (LUKE 2:40). His manner of growth, growing strong in spirit and being filled with wisdom is in direct proportion to the grace He received from GOD. To Him, grace was not the covering over of His sins, nor even the cleansing of His sins, but instead strength and direction to help Him grow strong in spirit.
The writer of HEBREWS gives like instruction when he writes, "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (HEBREWS 4:16). Grace is help in time of need, not a getting away with sinning. Paul in his letter to the believers at Rome also explained that one's spiritual abilities differ "according to the grace that is given to" them (ROMANS 12:6). Was he not teaching that their spiritual abilities differed according to the different revelations and inspirations of GOD? As such, Paul wrote of himself that he spoke "according to the grace given unto him" (1 CORINTHIANS 3:10), according to GOD's revelation (EPHESIANS 3:3).
Then again, Paul declared, "by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 CORINTHIANS 15:10). The "grace of GOD", which is to a great degree HIS instruction, is given that we might labor abundantly, not as many teach that we can take ease in knowing that all of our sins are forgiven!
James taught that GOD resists the proud but gives grace unto the humble (JAMES 4:6). If GOD's grace is "undeserved", as many teach, why does HE give it to the humble yet withholds it from the proud? Logically, if GOD gives HIS grace to those least deserving, than HE would give it to the proud, not to the humble. Evidently, GOD gives HIS grace to those who have fulfilled some requirement so as to receive it. The invention that GOD's grace somehow releases us from the responsibilities of our sins, just doesn't fit with Scripture.
Never in his epistle does James connect grace with forgiveness of sin, though he writes quite frequently of sin. Then what grace or what favor does GOD give the humble but withholds from the proud? James has already told us in his first chapter what favor from GOD his readers should seek; "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally" and then again "receive with meekness the engrafted word" (JAMES 1:5,21). Isn't this the critical favor we also would ask of GOD; HIS word, HIS wisdom, HIS revelation and inspiration? This is that grace the humble receive but the proud find elusive.
Here is another example where GOD's grace is for those who have fulfilled the needed requirement.
EPHESIANS 6:24 Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
Grace is not lavished upon the unrepentant sinner, but is reserved for those who love the LORD, who obey the LORD in sincerity. Many people take issue with this and think we are denying something that Yeshua accomplished on the cross. They claim that today is the "age of grace" where GOD no longer holds us accountable for our sins. But, interestingly, the phrase "age of grace" isn't even in the Bible. In fact, age and grace aren't even used in the same verse in the Bible. So why do so many quote it as if it was a foundational truth of our faith? Good question. Perhaps the answer is that with preconceived ideas they misread what is plainly written. One of the verses thus miss-interpreted is in Paul's letter called EPHESIANS.
EPHESIANS 3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation [Greek, oikonomia] of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
The phrase they miss-interpret is "the dispensation of the grace of God". Many Bible teachers think and teach that the word dispensation is equivalent to age. However, dispensation doesn't mean age at all, as is evidenced by its first and most abundance usage in the Christian scriptures where oikonomos is there translated steward (LUKE 12:42 and 16:1-8). It simply means "to steward", therefore "to dispense", like when a pharmacist dispenses medications. In some countries pharmacies are even called dispensaries.
The dispensation of a President could also be called the administration of his Presidency, which so happens to be for a period of time. During that period he dispenses his policies. But that doesn't stretch the meaning of the word oikonomos to mean an age. If the Apostle had meant "age of grace" he could have used the Greek word for age, aion, but instead he chose oikonomos, dispensation. As with a steward, oikonomos means the manner in which one rules, not necessarily the length of time he rules.
Yeshua had said that "he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God" (JOHN 3:34). To speak the words of GOD, one must be given the words of GOD. This is what grace is, to be given the words of GOD.
2 CORINTHIANS 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
Fleshly wisdom is set in opposition to the grace of GOD. Fleshly wisdom does not require that the receiver be humble but rather it is often acquired at great cost from some prestigious University. Yet, revelation and inspiration, which is the grace of GOD is only acquired from GOD as HE determines to give it, "according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (EPHESIANS 4:7). The grace of GOD directs the heart (2 THESSALONIANS 3:5). The grace of GOD is GOD teaching believers to love one another (1 THESSALONIANS 4:9). As the psalmist so aptly wrote it, "....grace is poured into thy lips: therefore GOD hath blessed thee forever" (PSALMS 45:2).
Or as was spoken by Elihu to Job,
"....Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom. But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment" (JOB 32:7-9).
The "grace of GOD" is the inspiration Elihu spoke of. It is this wisdom and understanding, which by the grace or favor of GOD is given to HIS servants.