“Grace” is one of the most important words in the Christian faith. Do we use it correctly?
Some of us learned the word through an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense
Or we learned the word grace in contrast to mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.
But often many of us immediately pair grace with an antithesis works. All of these contribute something to understanding Christian grace, but there are challenges. What do we do with grace when we use biblical teaching to talk about biblical responsibilities to do things? How can grace be understood with anything that sounds like works?
Christians are told to DO things.
Jesus tells his followers to do many things: to repent, to follow him, to pray, to forgive, to love… When Jesus declares that he has authority over Heaven & Earth he commands his disciple to make disciples. When we do what we are told and make disciples, Jesus says we are to teach them to do things. What things? All of the things he taught his original disciples to do. The list is long but the point is short: Jesus tells his followers to do what he says. We cannot use grace as a replacement for works, for actually doing things. Whatever we understand about grace it has to work together with, not against, works.
Everything Christians are to DO are to be done by Grace.
John’s gospel begins with an exalted declaration of Jesus as divine Grace & Truth.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:14-17
John’s gospel builds to Jesus culminating his discipleship training by telling the apostle that there is an essential ingredient to doing what he tells them to do. Productivity in Christian living requires abiding in divine Grace & Truth.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
Grace not only removes wrong, Grace also achieves right.
Religious leaders sometimes misuse their authority. The 16th century reformation rejected institutional religious manipulations of vulnerable people. Reformation leaders worked to return the focus to God’s grace. God’s grace was revealed in Christ. God’s word, the Bible, testifies to Christ. Those who have faith in Christ, who he is and what he did, become the body of Christ today. Christ is God’s grace revealed, and we trust in him for forgiveness of sins and for fulfillment of the life he promises us now, and in the age to come.
…it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:4-10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10
Grace for the Christian is how we do what we are commanded to do!
“Grace and peace” is a common beginning to New Testament epistles. Often there is a theological reminder of Christ as the saving Lord over all. Because Jesus is Lord certain beliefs and behaviors people have need to be replaced. Errors in who we are and what we do are both corrected by grace. Where we fall short now, we need truth & grace. Where we want to grow in faithfulness next, we need grace & truth.
Truth & Grace come before us, then into us, then from us.
Studying clarifies beliefs.
Praying personalizes beliefs.
Serving manifests beliefs.
Colossians is a tidy example of how to actively engage grace:
Colossians 1 says we should keep thinking about Christ and his resurrection as the way to understand life.
Colossians 2 says we should be clear about our identity in Christ, that we are to BE at rest in Him as our sabbath, more than any philosophical, religious or human will power promise to pursue.
Colossians 3 says what we can DO to manifest who we are in Christ:
! Treasure Christ most!
– Reject anti-Christ ways.
+ Practice Christ’s ways.
-> Extend your character progress to all of your relationships.
Colossians 4 says that all sorts of people are actively repeating this think/BE/do cycle such that Christ is being formed in them, and that God is being glorified through them, as the process keeps reproducing.