WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE "SAVED BY GRACE"?
" The popular definition of GRACE is "unmerited favor". Therefore we are told that to be saved by grace is to be saved by unmerited favor. Is that really true? I used to think so until I searched God's word. By using a good concordance and looking up every appearance of the word "charis" or grace, I found that its use fits mainly into these three categories:
Let's look at the category of MINISTRY first.
The Apostle Paul often speaks of the grace given him to be a minister. Consider Ephesians 3:7-8:
"Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace which was given me by the working of his POWER. To me...this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ."
Notice that here Paul speaks of grace as if it was a divine enabling or empowering:
"this grace was given to preach" he says, "by the working of his power." This is why Strong's Dictionary gives the figurative meaning of grace as "divine influence upon the heart". There seems to be no room for doubt of this definition when Paul says:
"By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me." (1 Cor 15:10)
And we must not ignore that passage in 2 Corinthians 12:9 so dear and comforting to many, in which Paul sought the Lord three times about the affliction he was suffering. The Lord's response was this:
"My GRACE is sufficient for thee: for my STRENGTH is made perfect in weakness."
"Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that THE POWER OF CHRIST may rest upon me."
There it is friends, with no room for doubt - His grace and his strength and power are one and the same. Whenever we wonder what God's grace means, we should think of this verse and its proof that grace means "divine empowering".
Now lets take a look at the second category: SALVATION.
What happens to the view that grace is divine empowering when we consider the verses that concern salvation? Let's take a look at a few and decide. In Acts 20:32, Paul said to the Ephesian brethren:
"And now I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to BUILD YOU UP and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
In that passage, God's grace is identified with holy living, and likewise in Titus 2:11 Paul says:
"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, TRAINING US to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright and godly lives".
Here, God's grace is responsible for training us to turn from sin and live righteously. So we find that when applied to salvation, the definition of grace as divine empowering seems unquestionable. You might be surprised to know that Webster's Dictionary agrees with this aspect of grace. It says:
grace "in theology,...(b) divine influence acting in man to restrain him from sin."
And so, when we consider our question "What does it mean to be "saved by
grace?" as found in Ephesians 2:8:
"For by grace are ye saved through faith."
We see that through faith, we are saved by the divine influence of God which restrains us from all sin and trains us to "live godly and upright lives". To be saved by grace is that supernatural transformation from a commandment-breaker into a commandment-keeper.
And yet before I began to study this subject of God's grace, I had always been taught that grace had this one meaning: "Unmerited Favor!". Doubtless, many of you readers have been exposed to this same idea. Where did this idea of grace as simply unmerited favor come from?
The answer is found in the third category: CALLING!
When God called us, that is when He put a burden on our hearts to seek Him through His Son, it was on the basis of His grace, or "unmerited favor". We did nothing to earn this "calling". Neither were we called on the basis of our own goodness. That is Paul's message in Romans 11:5-6:
"So too at the present time there is a remnant CHOSEN BY GRACE. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace."
When God called us out of a life of sin to walk with Him, He chose us, not because of any merit on our part. He simply had "mercy upon whom He would have mercy".
Well, by now you might be asking: "This is all very interesting, but what is its importance to me as a Christian? Friends, here is the importance of understanding grace. In the Apostle John's description of the holy city, it says:
"Blessed are they that DO his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life..." (Rev 22:14)
There is a necessity laid upon us to make our lives spotless and undefiled in the sight of God. It is the grace of God, or "divine empowering" that gives us the power to keep his commandments. It is a serious error to replace that definition of grace with "unmerited favor". The tragic result of that error is that we end up thinking that this necessity for holiness does not exist; that eternal life is arbitrarily handed out as a gift by unmerited favor with no effort required on our part. We might consider obedience to God's commandments to be a good idea that keeps us out of trouble and earns us rewards in heaven.
But, we conclude, even though we might disobey God's commandments "occasionally", we will still have eternal life because salvation is by the grace of unmerited favor.
That idea may make sense to us, but friends we have arrived at that conclusion through a mistaken concept of grace. Let us remember:
THE GRACE OF GOD DOES NOT REMOVE THE NEED FOR HOLINESS, ON THE CONTRARY...
HIS GRACE MAKES POSSIBLE THE HOLINESS WE NEED.
If we continue to commit sin, on Judgement Day we will be among those who called Jesus 'Lord, Lord', but will be told by Him: "Depart from me ye that work iniquity"
Those poor souls had been called by God's grace (unmerited favor) but refused God's grace (divine influence to restrain from sin). Their end is eternal destruction!"
John Condon (Edited by Harold and Donna Kupp)