Rarely is service rendered without expectation of return. Perhaps this is the reason grace is so difficult to understand. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around something completely unmerited. It is, therefore, common to hold a flawed understanding of God’s grace for sinners. Here are three common indicators that you hold an unbiblical view of grace.
1. You think grace is only for certain people.
Grace is intended for certain people—sinners. Sinfulness is the common denominator of all who have been saved by the grace of God. Since the fall of mankind, every human born of the seed of man has been born into sin. The Apostle Paul reminds us of this reality:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph. 2:1-3)
Paul describes the rap sheet of an individual destined for destruction, but this record also qualifies an individual for God’s amazing grace. Jesus did not come into the world for the righteous, but for sinners like you and me (Luke 5:52). We cannot boast in anything we do therefore we have no reason to believe we deserve grace more than anyone else.
2. You think grace gets you in the door, but hard work keeps you there.
The late Episcopal Priest Robert Capon once wrote: “The Gospel of grace must not be turned into a bait-and-switch offer…Jesus must not be read as having baited us with grace only to clobber us in the end with law." Is this how you see God’s grace toward you? Jesus saves initially, but it is our job to maintain our salvation through obedience to his law.
The Bible corrects this misconception. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church––a congregation that has its fair share of disobedience––the Apostle assures them that God will establish and sustain them to the end.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:4-8)
Paul assures his reader that they will be sustained until the Final Judgement. This ruling is not based on the faithfulness of the Corinthian church whose conduct even makes the pagans blush (1 Cor 5:5). No! God’s declaration is founded upon his own faithfulness––a faithfulness that will sustain them (and us) to the end.
3. You think grace is comfortable and cheap.
Grace is free, but it is not cheap. It cost the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, we are assured that God’s grace is all-powerful to put to death our sinful nature and raise us to new life in Christ. Grace that leaves us in sin would not be saving grace—we need grace that recreates.
But our sinful nature elbows in, twisting our perception of God’s grace. If you think grace is cheap, then you might as well take full advantage of it, right? “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we get into heaven.” Paul anticipates such a response in his letter to the Romans. After explaining justification by faith in Christ, who merited salvation on our behalf, Paul predicts the question: “What are we to say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1).
This is Paul’s opportunity to lay down the law. We expect Paul to give us a list of things to do but that is not how Paul answers his rhetorical question:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:1–4)
Instead of answering lawlessness with law, Paul points to our baptism. He redirects our attention to our true reality—union with Christ’s death and resurrection. In baptism, the old nature has died and the new man is born. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, explains it like this:
[Baptism] indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Luther believed it is important to daily look to our baptism and the reality it signifies—that the old man is dead and dying along with his evil desires, and the new man is taking his place. Grace is certainly not cheap—and it is not comfortable. Instead of licensing us to run headlong into sin, Jesus recreates us. As surely as he was raised from the dead, so we walk in newness of life.
The gospel of grace is the power of God to save all types of people, it is sufficient to preserve you to the end, and is effectual to drown sin and death and raise you to new life in Christ. By grace you have been saved!