False Theories About Grace
We have a school of interpreters who magnify the grace of God above everything else in the program of God. They ignore God’s justice, laws, and all conditions governing the attitude and grace of God in the lives of men. They make null and void literally thousands of Scriptures revealing and regulating God’s dealings with free moral agents. They state some good things about grace, but they go to the utter extreme in trying to make grace the sum total of all there is about God and His plan.
It is true that from God’s standpoint grace cannot be withheld from man because of demerit, it cannot be lessened by demerit, and it cannot be mixed with the law of works, but this does not do away with the fact that there are conditions to meet on the part of man if he wants certain benefits of grace. Not one statement in the whole Bible says that there is an unconditional grace of God to men, or that there is a grace from God which men can get if they live as they please in disregard of the laws and justice of God. When we say that grace is not withheld because of demerit we simply mean that God’s grace will cause Him to forgive all sin when certain conditions are met. When we say that grace is not lessened by demerit we simply mean that sin does not do away with or decrease the grace of God toward a sinner when he meets certain conditions according to the Word of God. When we say it cannot be mixed with the law of works we simply mean that no work of man can merit God’s blessings that come only by faith through grace and by meeting the plain conditions laid down for a sinner to meet in order to get these blessings.
When a person realizes that he is a sinner; that God’s grace is greater than his sins; that he has no merits of his own to earn favor with God; and that if he comes to God meeting the requirements of reconciliation he becomes immediately a recipient of God’s grace. If God withheld His grace from a penitent sinner because he was a sinner, then no person could be saved. If sin lessened the grace of God to a penitent sinner then no person could be blessed, for sin would be greater than grace, and sin would not permit grace to be manifest. If blessings were earned by works, then they would not come by grace.
It is also true that God is not under obligation to save sinners because of some human merit, but it is true that God of His own accord and because of grace obligated Himself to pay the debt of sin for man. Since God has accepted of His own free choice the undertaking of paying man’s debt, He is now under obligation to man to give each one the same freedom of choice in accepting the cancellation of the debt. God is under obligation now to save all those that do accept the work of Christ for them. God cannot in any one case refuse to manifest His grace to any sinner that accepts the work of Christ for him. God is not under obligation to bless any one sinner that refuses and rejects the offer of God and the work of Christ on the cross. The choice is now left up to each sinner and not to the further choice of God. God’s choice has already been made, and His work in the paying of man’s debt is finished, and He is obligated to give to all who accept the full benefits for which Christ died.
Naturally, men are saved by grace, but not without the free and voluntary choice of acceptance of the work of Christ and proper confession of sins to God and faith in the blood of Christ. All the grace of God in existence could not save one soul if that soul refused the merits of that grace. Thus, in the final analysis, man governs his personal salvation by his power of free choice. Salvation is naturally the work of God for man, but God cannot save man without his free consent and co-operation with God from the new birth to the grave. So the idea that man’s salvation depends only on the grace of God and on grace alone, and that it is the work of God only and the work of God alone, is false.
If all depended soley upon God to save all sinners, and they had no part in the process of salvation, then all would be saved alike by God, for the salvation of all men is His desire (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). If it were left up to God alone, then He would be under moral obligation to save all regardless of their consent or He would be a respecter of persons and a breaker of His own law (Jas. 2:1, 9).
It is true that grace is pure kindness and unmerited favor from God, but since God voluntarily chose to pay man’s debt and save him from Hell on the grounds that man should accept this work for him, God is now fulfilling an obligation to man, which is an obligation of His own free choice, not one that man has merited. In other words, man’s works or human merits did not earn for him the obligation on the part of God to save him. This obligation is a voluntary one on the part of God for helpless man. This is why God’s grace is real, unmerited favor and love toward man.
It is this human element in the working of grace that the above-mentioned school fails to recognize. This school magnifies grace as the only thing that is capable of saving man and contends that man can do nothing to get the benefits of grace. It ignores man’s free moral agency, man’s responsibility in his own damnation should he be lost; and it ignores repentance, confession of sins, prayer, the giving up of sin on the part of man, or anything that God has required of man to be saved. It ignores the human element after one is saved and brushes aside all the conditions of continued salvation plainly laid down in Scripture that man must meet in order to be saved in the end. It lays all blame and responsibility upon God should man fail to do what God requires of him to be eternally saved. It makes God personally accountable for the loss of every soul should anyone be finally lost after he has believed. This school holds to some of the most foolish and unscriptural theories about God, grace, and salvation of any that claims any degree of faith in the Gospel of Christ.
When this school of thought argues that grace is pure kindness, not the fulfilling of an obligation; that it is God’s kindness to sinners whether they sin less or more; that it is wholly unrelated to human merit; that it is not the treating of a person as he deserves, nor treating him better than he deserves; that it is treating a person graciously without the slightest reference to what he actually deserves; that it is never decreased or increased from the standpoint of God; and that it offers a standardized, unvarying blessing to all alike; its arguments are partly true, but this one thing has been overlooked by this school, and that is that the manifestation of the grace from God is governed by man’s free moral agency on the part of each individual. That is, God is limited to what He can and will do for any individual by grace by the will, faith, and obedience of each prospective recipient of grace.
To teach that God does not forgive a sinner because He is big-hearted enough to remit the penalty, or that God does not have mercy on a sinner, but that He saves solely because of grace, is to demonstrate ignorance of the Gospel and of what grace is. The fact that God has already “taken away” the sin of the world on the cross and that Christ is our substitute and has already borne the righteous judgments of God against sin does not prove that God is unmerciful, or that he is not big-hearted or that grace is something separate and apart from the redemptive work of Christ and God. The truth is that God manifests grace to men who do not merit it and cannot merit it. It is also true that God is love. He is big-hearted. He is merciful and He is kind and compassionate to those who have gone astray from His family.
When men become so technical as to separate grace from the mercy, love, and kindness of God to men, they demonstrate the worst kind of ignorance of truth. Such high-sounding phrases concerning grace that they use to magnify it as separate and distinct from all redemptive processes may sound wonderful to many people who revel in trying to find hidden mysteries in the Word of God, but to simple believers of Scripture such is foolish. Such teachers may get inflation of their spirits beyond measure and feel that they are wonderful in manufacturing technicalities and in trying to magnify grace, but in the light of plain, simple Scriptures and common sense, such theories are foolish and false. Let us take up a brief study of the words “grace,” “kindness,” “love,” and other terms as they are used of God, man, and redemption, and see if such fallacies can be found to be scriptural.
A study of these words proves that “grace” is not used in either Testament as something separate and apart from the big-heartedness, love, compassion, and kindness of one individual to another, whether it be man to man or God to man. It is used repeatedly of the manifestation of the favor of one person to another, and this favor is governed by the disposition, life, service, faith, acquaintance, relationship, and attitude of the recipient of the favor.
Noah found grace in the sight of God because he was righteous, and God favored him because of this (Gen. 6:8; 7:1). God had mercy on him and his family. If Noah had not been righteous God would not have had mercy on him. He would have destroyed him and his house with the rest of the ungodly. This cannot be disputed if we believe the record. When Lot found “grace” or “favor” in the sight of God it was because of God’s mercy and because of Abraham, the friend of God (Gen. 19:19, 29). When Moses and Israel found grace in the sight of God it was because of God’s mercy and choice (Exod. 33:12-17; 34:9). They were His chosen people because of Abraham, who God saw would obey Him and command his children to serve the Lord (Gen. 18:17-19; 22:12). Those same people whom God had chosen and who found grace in God’s sight were destroyed because of sin, for grace does not tolerate sin in those who were one time blessed with grace (Exod. 32:30-35; Num. 14:22-35; Jude 5). When men in the early Church found grace from God it was because they humbled themselves and accepted of their own choice the salvation of God. When they failed God they were cursed, as were the Israelites and men and angels of past ages (Acts 1:25; 5:1-10; Rom. 11; 1 Tim. 1:19-20; 5:11-15; Heb. 6:4-9; 10:26-29; 2 Pet. 2:20-22; Rev. 2:5).
It is folly to talk about being forgiven of sin or being saved without this salvation being an act of grace and mercy. Everything that God does for one is an act of grace and mercy. The fact that God has already paid the debt for man does not mean that actual forgiveness of sins today is not an immediate act of His grace. No sinner is saved personally until he accepts the work of Christ, and since sinners have to do this in their own lives today, then the grace of God manifests itself today only when one accepts Christ as a personal Saviour. This does not mean that God becomes good enough to excuse sins apart from the work of Christ. It is that God becomes personally gracious to each sinner the moment he accepts the work of Christ for him. The work of Christ was done centuries ago, but it does not benefit the individual until he chooses to accept it. God blesses by His grace the sinner when he surrenders, and this cannot be done in one life until the sinner turns to God and permits the grace of God to be manifest to him. No sinner will ever receive the grace of God until he personally humbles himself and calls upon God for mercy. God is free to forgive at the moment one confesses because Christ has already paid the debt for him. It is only when man knows the truth and accepts it that he is set free (Job 33:23-24; Jn. 8:31-32).
The Gospel of redemption is called “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3; 20:24, 32). Men are justified by grace (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7). All blessings come by grace (Jn. 1:16; Eph. 1:7; 2:7). It brings salvation (Titus 2:11-13). It is the source of answered prayer (Heb. 4:16). It can transform our lives (1 Cor. 15:10). It enables men to make great sacrifices (2 Cor 9:8). It comes through faith (Eph. 2:8-9), the Holy Spirit (Zech. 12:10; Heb. 10:29), God’s choice (Rom. 11:5-6; Gal. 1:15; Exod. 33:19), Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:4), and humility and choice on the part of man (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). It comes in various measures (Eph. 4:7; Rom. 12:3-6; 15:15); and is governed by the individual faith (Rom. 4:16; 5:1-2), humility (Jas. 4:6), and the will power and life of the believer (Heb. 12:15, 28; 13:9; Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
Further proof that grace is governed in the individual life by the will power and life of each person is clear from the fact that a person can receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). He can frustrate grace in his life (Gal. 2:21). He can fall from it (Gal. 5:4). He can cause it to fail in his life (Heb. 12:15). He can turn it into lasciviousness (Jude 4). He can sin in spite of grace (Rom. 6:1). And he can continue or discontinue in it as he pleases (Acts 13:43). Christians can minister grace to others (Eph. 4:29; Phil. 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:10) and grow in it (2 Pet. 3:18). Grace is an attribute of God that is used along with the words “mercy” and “compassion” in connection with sinners (Exod. 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17, 31; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4).
It might seem like blasphemy to some to believe and teach the above-stated facts about grace, but facts are facts and when they are stated in plain Scriptures that any man can read for himself, it is foolhardy to reject them. To hold to some theory of man that some church makes the sum total of its religion is not worth the price one has to pay. It would be best to be honest with all the Scriptures on a subject and believe them all instead of twisting a few to mean something they do not say and flatly rejecting what many others say on the same subject.
It may appear to these interpreters that we are making man’s will greater than the grace of God. But we answer that this is true not only of grace but of many other attributes of God that cannot possibly bless rebels when they choose not to accept of these blessings. It is not so much that man’s will is greater than any attribute of God, but that God cannot do, and He has promised not to do certain things for man until man accepts of His grace and freely chooses and submits to the work of God in him. God simply cannot and will not break His own laws and be a despot for any man. He will not force any free moral agent to conform to His will. Therefore, it is up to free moral agents to choose whether they want God’s grace, love, or favor and to what extent. If it were left wholly up to God’s will in the matter, then all free moral agents would conform to His will, and all would be blessed alike, and all would enjoy the grace and favor of God to the full. As it is now, no one can accuse God of not having love for all men if they want to become recipients of that love. The fact that all are not saved and even all the saved do not partake of God’s love to the same extent proves that God’s blessings according to His grace are not wholly dependent upon Him. Neither are they wholly dependent upon the free will of man. It takes both the will of God and the will of man in full co-operation to demonstrate the fullness of God’s love and grace. One cannot work for the good of one master when he is serving the other. Thus, God’s grace or love is naturally limited by the free moral agency of man.
To argue that forgiveness is not an act of grace is to contradict the many Scriptures cited above that say we are justified, and we receive salvation by grace. To separate grace and the mercy of God in forgiveness is also unscriptural, for God cannot be gracious to anyone to whom He shows no mercy. Mercy and forgiveness of sins go hand in hand (Deut. 5:9-10; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 26:11; Lk. 18:13-14). Scores of times in Scripture men have asked for mercy when asking forgiveness and blessing (Ps. 51:1-13; Prov. 16:6; etc.). God is by nature gracious, merciful, loving kind, good, and compassionate (Exod. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 111:4; 145:8). To separate His graciousness from the other characteristics of God and magnify it above His justice and all else about God just for the sake of upholding a church theory concerning grace is more than intelligent people can do.God’s Plan for Man.See the book