The Biblical Teaching of Grace: part 1

"For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17). The law basically refers to the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. John is recognizing the greatness of Moses in a past dispensation, and recognizing the importance of Moses in that dispensation.

It is very important to note that the Mosaic Law was good. Romans 7:12, "....the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." When the writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to show the superiority of Jesus Christ over Moses, he says in Hebrews 3:5 that "Moses was a faithful SERVANT," but "Jesus Christ was a faithful SON." When the Bible shows the superiority of grace over law, it never does it by negating the law. Remember, the Bible says that "the law is good." The Bible never says that the law was bad. The Bible never elevates grace by stepping on the law, or by running down the law. The Bible says that "the law is good, the law is holy, the law is just," the law was ordained by God. "The law was given by Moses," and Moses was one of the greatest men of all time, and one of the greatest in the Old Testament. The Jews held Moses in very high esteem. Literally, "For the Law was given through Moses."

Even though the Mosaic Law was good, holy, and righteous, the main problem was that it was weak through the flesh. By that I mean that there is nothing wrong with the law. It told men what they should do, what God required, what God did not want men to do, and how to satisify a holy God. The problem with the law was that it did not empower man to follow it. Therefore, the law was weak through the flesh of man. You see, man is a sinner, not because he commits sinful deeds, but because he has a sinful nature. From physical birth man has a tendency to turn away from God. Every human being born is born with a fallen, Adamic nature referred to in the Bible as "the old man, the flesh, the old nature." Everyone is born with it. It is resident in every cell of the physical body and it causes man to go astray from God. Even for the Christian who has received God's salvation through Jesus Christ, he too still has the old nature and is prone to wander away from the things of God. That is why he needs to learn and apply the Word of God every day of his life, because this will help to follow God's will throughout his lifetime. But for the non-Christian, the only power he possesses, is the power of his sinful nature.

Therefore, the law was good, but it was weak through the sinful nature of mankind. The law told man exactly what God required, but it didn't provide any power for him to do it. I once heard a preacher quote a poem regarding this:


"For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." Grace is the plan of God from eternity past, and truth is the doctrine that expresses it in time. This plan of grace is perfect because God is perfect. A perfect plan can only come from a perfect God. A perfect plan excludes anything man can do. Therefore, the plan of God excludes man's merit, man's ability, and man's talent. This perfect plan may simply be called, "Operation Grace."

God's plan is declared in time through Bible doctrine. Bible doctrine is simply the explanation of His plan categorically so that it can be understood, absorbed, and then applied. Therefore, when we know Bible doctrine, or when we know what the Word of God teaches, then and only then can we relax as a Christian and utilize the grace of God.

John 1:17 presents a contrast. The contrast between Moses and Christ; between law and grace; between the Old Testament and New Testament epistles; between the Jewish Age and the Church Age.

In order to simplify the principles of grace, I am going to explain them by giving them by numbers.

(1). Grace is the plan and system of God that only functions under the law of the Holy Spirit . Rom 8:2-4, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (The Mosaic Law is called 'the ministration of death' in II Cor 3:7) For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, (the sinful nature) God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for a sin offering condemned sin in the flesh: (in the sinful nature, with its overt works and deeds) So that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk (live our lives) according to the standard of the flesh, (the sinful nature, with its overt works and deeds) BUT ACCORDING TO THE STANDARD OF THE SPIRIT." (the filling of the Holy Spirit). This refers to the law of the Holy Spirit which is only operational in the Church Age.

On the other hand, works and deeds are the plan and system of God that functioned under the Mosaic Law. Matt 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Jesus was talking to the Jews and the Jews only. And in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt chapters 5-7, Jesus was talking about the Mosaic Law. And the Mosaic Law was only operational in the Dispensation of Israel. Rom 9:4 says, "The people of Israel, theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, THE RECEIVING OF THE LAW, the temple worship, and the promises."

(2). Grace is the system whereby man cannot be blessed by what he does, but can only be blessed by what God has done through Jesus Christ. Rom 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we have been justified (made righteous) through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith INTO THIS GRACE IN WHICH WE NOW STAND." We do not stand under the law, we stand in grace. Rom 6:14 tells us very clearly that " are not under law, but you are under grace." Rom 7:6, "...we have been released from the law so that we can serve in the new way of the Spirit, (the law of the filling of the Holy Spirit) and not in the old way of the written code." (The written code is the Mosaic Law). Rom 11:5-6, " the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace." Gal 2:16, " one will be justified (made righteous) by observing the law." Gal 3:11-12, "...the righteous will live by faith. The law is not based on faith."

(3). The Mosaic Law was the teacher in the past. It taught the Jews the plan of God through object lessons. It taught them what the work of Jesus Christ would involve. It was actually designed to bring them to Christ. Gal 3:24-25, "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ so that we might be justified (made righteous) by faith. Now that faith has come, we no longer need the schoolmaster." Rom 2:20 tells us that it was "through the law that we become aware of sin." In other words, it was the law that taught people what was right and wrong. The law was a teacher. But it is very important to know and understand that the law was only a teacher, it could not save anyone. It was designed to show the total depravity of mankind and cause man to look toward the Savior, Jesus Christ.

(4). Today grace is our teacher. Tit 2:11-13, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. IT TEACHES US to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." I want you to notice that "grace" teaches us. Not the Mosaic Law, not the laws of morality and ethics, but grace. These three verses contain one of the most neglected truths of the Bible. No other passage in all of the Word of God so completely summarizes the subject of Christian conduct. Titus 2:11-13 contains three areas of Christian conduct.

(A). Christian living denies "ungodliness and worldly passions." The Christian realm of today teaches that certain acts are ungodly and worldly. That type of teaching is surface and superficial at best, and legalistic and apostate at worse. Simply put, anything done apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit is ungodly, no matter how good it may appear to be. Working in a church can be an ungodly act if it is done apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit. "Ungodly" simply refers to anything that God cannot honor or accept. And He cannot honor or accept anything done apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit. As far as "worldly passions" go, the knowledge of the Word of God is the only thing that can keep them out of the Christian life.

(B). The Christian life should be lived in "self-control, uprightness, and godliness." Again, the knowledge of the Word of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit is the key, not the legalistic teaching of many churches. Morality is not the issue, the controlling ministry of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of Bible doctrine is the real issue.

(C). The Christian life should be lived in the "great expectation of the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ." The knowledge of the Word of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit is the only way to obtain this attitude of "great expectation." and all of this is the product of grace.

(5). There is a lack of emphasis upon that which constitutes true Christian conduct. There is even a greater lack of emphasis upon that which teaches the believer how to live the true Christian life. The fact is, it is the grace of God, the very same grace which brings salvation that teaches us who are saved how to live a life pleasing to God. But this concept has been entirely overlooked in the Christian realm today.

Anyone who says, "I believe in grace, but I do not think it should be emphasized too much because that leads to careless living" has totally failed to understand God's work of grace on behalf of mankind. Even among believers who accept grace as the only means of salvation apart from any works or merit on the part of man have neglected the fact that the spiritual life can only be sustained, developed, and brought to completion by the operation of that same grace. Growth in the spritual life comes only by the grace of God. II Peter 3:18, "But GROW IN GRACE and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; to whom be glory both now and forever. Amen."

(6). There is a great need for a fuller presentation of the grace of God. Not only in the concept of salvation, but in the area of Christian living. It is very important that Christians realize that the very same grace that saved them, is the grace that teaches them how live a life pleasing to God.

There is a false idea circulating around, and a very popular one, that the Mosaic Law, or the ten commandments, or the so called "golden rule" teaches people how to live godly lives. Those who believe that say, "Does not the Mosaic Law set forth high standards of moral living so that people may know how to live a life pleasing to God?" Not only do unsaved individuals hold this view, but a large majority of believers, in a greater or lesser degree consent to it. However, this view is not in harmony with the Biblical concept of grace. Unsaved individuals are not righteous by following the Mosaic Law. If that were the purpose of the law then it would have been one of the most colossal failures of all of God's plans. Rom 2:19 tells us, "That by the law every mouth is silenced and the entire world is held accountable to God." But some will say, "Was not the Mosaic Law given to God's people, Israel, to teach them the conduct He required of them?" Yes, but in giving the law, God also provided a system of sacrifices as a ground for extending mercy when they broke the law. This shows that God knew that the law could not teach righteousness so as to produce godly living.

One of the errors that had crept into the Galatian church was that after being saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ they thought that the Christian was made complete by keeping the Mosaic Law. If this were true, it then could have been said that the law is a teacher of godliness. But Paul, in writing against this error said in Gal 3:24-25, "...the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, so that we might BE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH. But after that faith is come, (after we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ) we are no longer under a schoolmaster." (we are no longer under the law). I want you to notice that "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." In other words, it is by the law and the failure to fulfill its commands that individuals are brought to Christ, who is the source of grace. When that has been done there is no further need for the law as a schoolmaster.

Another statement that also definitely affirms that the law is not a teacher of godliness is found in Rom 6:14, "For sin shall not be your master, because YOU ARE NOT UNDER LAW, BUT UNDER GRACE." This is saying that whoever is under the law is dominated or ruled by sin, or the sin nature. From this it is very clear that while God, in the law set forth standards of life for people, the law was never expected to produce righteousness in the lives of individuals. The reason is that the law merely tells people what they must do. Then it is left up to the individual, entirely in his own strength, to do that which the law demands. Because of man's sinful nature, that is impossible. That is why the law cannot be a means of producing godliness in man. This is confirmed by the words of Rom 8:3, "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." (referring to the sinful nature). It is therefore of great importance to recognize that in order for all teaching of righteous living to be effective, it must NOT be grounded in law, but in grace. Any appeal to godliness not related to grace is based on a false premise.

(7). To reject the Mosaic Law as a teacher of righteousness is not to say that there are no standards for Christian conduct. Grace also sets standards, but these standards are on a much higher and greater level. Those who attempt to follow the law are on a high human level. But those who follow grace are on an infinitely higher divine level. Furthermore, grace is not only on a much higher level, but it also supplies all that is needed to live according to its standards. One provision of grace is the Holy Spirit. He is the gift of God's grace. Jesus said in John 16:13, "He will guide you into all truth" (all doctrine). He is not merely a sign post that points to high ideals. He is a divine person indwelling every believer in Jesus Christ to guide in "all truth." This is something entirely unknown by the law. Jesus said in John 10:10, "...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest." In John 1:4 it says that Jesus came, "...full of grace and truth." The grace that Jesus brought gives us spiritual life (salvation), and through the teaching of that same grace it makes that spiritual life full and complete. In Phil 1:6 Paul wrote, "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." The beginning of the work was "saved by grace." The carrying on of that work is "teaching by grace." God never saves a person then leaves him to himself to finish the good work. The Lord Himself completes that which He has begun. The same grace that saves us is the same grace by which spiritual growth is achieved.

(8). The teaching by grace is not for the unsaved. According to Eph 2:1 the unsaved are said to be "dead in trespasses and sins," and cannot be taught by grace until they have experienced the spiritual new birth.

(9). Grace is always at war with legalism and religion. You will face this issue for as long as you live. Therefore, it is very important that you understand what grace means. It means that God does the work, and man receives all the blessing because of the work of God on his behalf. But man can only receive those blessings through the learning and application of the Word of God and the development of faith. Rom 10:17, "Faith only comes through learning, the learning of the Word of God." (See Bible lesson on The Bible and Faith ). Legalism and religion on the other hand means that man does good works and good deeds and God is supposed to bless man for what man does. This is the opposite of grace. God cannot bless man for anything he does. If He did, He would compromise His perfect character. Rom 4:1-5, "What then shall we say that Abraham, our father, discovered in this matter? If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he would have something to boast about, but not before God. What does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now when a man works, his wages are credited to him not as a gift (not as grace) but as an obligation. (He earned them). However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness." (That's grace). Rom 11:6, "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, then grace would no longer be grace."

(10). Grace only comes through Jesus Christ, and apart from Him there is no grace. John 1:16-17, "From the fullness of his grace we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." All things that are said to be of grace are also said to be "in Christ, by Him, or through Him." Eph 1:3 says that "In Him is redemption through his death, the forgiveness of sins according to the RICHES OF HIS GRACE." Rom 3:24 says that he who believes is "justified FREELY by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." The one who receives Jesus Christ by faith, receives with Him all the gifts of grace.

Grace, then, is God's provision to bring into being, sustain, and complete His new creation in Christ Jesus. This is only possible because of Jesus Christ. By His death, He fully satisfied all the demands of God's justice. As grace came by Jesus Christ, only those who receive Him are under grace.

(11). There are three phases in the plan of God. Phase 1: Salvation. Phase 2: The Christian Life. Phase 3: Eternity. There are also three aspects of grace as it relates to the three phases of the plan of God.

PHASE 1: SALVATION. The first work of grace gives us a new position before God. This is fully accomplished the moment we believe in Jesus Christ. At the point of salvation we are placed into union with Jesus Christ. This is our new position after salvation, we are said to be "in Christ." Rom 8:1, "There is now no judgment to those who are in Christ Jesus." This new position is accommplished by grace. We don't earn it nor do we deserve it. Eph 1:7, "In Him we have redemption through His death, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of HIS GRACE." All who believe "are justified FREELY by his grace through the redemption that came through Jesus Christ." (Rom 3:24). Reconciliation has been made through the death of Jesus Christ, which He tasted by the grace of God. Col 1:21-22, "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you through Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and from accusation." These and all other things that make up the believer's positon are directly or indirectly said to be by grace.

PHASE 2: THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. The Word of God has a great deal to say about the grace of God in the Christian life. Every believer stands in grace and has success in it by faith. Rom 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom WE HAVE GAINED ACCESS BY FAITH INTO THIS GRACE IN WHICH WE NOW STAND." This alone is assurance that God is ready to act in grace in every circumstance of our lives.

(A). Every step of advance in the Christian life is because of grace. What Paul said concerning himself applies to every believer in Jesus Christ. I Cor 15:10, "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." The words, "worked harder" does not refer to Christian service activities like witnessing, praying, giving, etc., etc. It refers to self-discipline and concentration. Self-discipline and concentration are probably the most difficult works to do on a consistent basis. Self-discipline is needed when you are under Bible teaching. According to I Cor 15:10, all that a believer is and everything done by him, is to be the result of the grace of God. Apart from His grace nothing can be accomplished for God.

(B). Grace is more than sufficient for anything we face in life. In reply to Paul's threefold prayer to be relieved from "the thorn in the flesh," God told Paul in II Cor 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." Here God's grace sustained Paul at a time of great affliction. In this is seen the sufficiency of grace for all times under all circumstances.

(C). The grace of God delivers believers from the power of the sinful nature. Rom 6:14, "For sin (referring to the sinful nature) shall not be your master, because you not under law but under grace." It is only grace, God's infinite provision, that can break the power of the sinful nature in our lives and set us free. How different this is from the teaching that an overemphasis on grace might cause Christians to be careless. This idea is strictly human viewpoint. There can never be too much teaching on grace.

(D). It is through grace that a believer becomes spiritually strong. II Tim 2:1, "You then, my son, BE STRONG IN THE SPHERE (realm) OF GRACE that is in Christ Jesus." Only through grace are we able to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Without grace it is impossible to advance in the spiritual life. Everything that God gives us to grow spiritually is based on His grace. We don't earn it nor do we deserve it. We don't deserve the fact that Jesus Christ bore our sins in His own body on the cross. We don't deserve to be filled or controlled by the Holy Spirit. We don't deserve to have a completed canon of Scripture. We don't deserve the right to be able to learn and apply spiritual truths from the Word of God. We don't deserve any blessings from the hand of God. And if anyone thinks that he deserves anything from God, then he is arrogant and proud and living a life that is totally apart from the plan and grace of God. Heb 13:9 tells us, "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings (legaism, religion and human philosophy). For it is good for your hearts to be strengthened (stabilized) by grace..." The alternative to a heart being "stabilized by grace" is a restless heart that is fearful and full of worry. That is the experience of a great number of believers who do not understand the greatness of God's grace. Believers who struggle in their own power and have doubt, depression, frustration, and worry, do not have a "stabilized heart." Don't think that just because you may worry or doubt from time to time that you have failed. There isn't any sin that we can commit that can keep us from growing in grace. Our failure to apply the grace of God to our sins is where the trouble rests. I John 1:9 should be the first grace principle we learn after salvation. We must realize that a simple acknowledgement of our sins is enough to be forgiven. That is grace. We don't earn it, nor do we deserve it.

(E). You cannot serve God apart from grace. II Cor 9:8, "...God is able to make ALL GRACE ABOUND TO YOU, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." "All you need" refers to possessing all the assets necessary for you to grow in grace. Paul in writing to the Corinthian Christians said II Cor 8:1-2, "...we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." Giving is a grace function, not a law function. Anyone who says that you must give money, or that you must give a certain dollar amount or a certain percentage is not teaching grace. Grace giving is brought out in II Cor 9:7, "Each one should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly, nor under cumpulsion, for God loves a gracious giver." In other words, a believer who understands grace. I Cor 16:2, " God has prospered you..." Giving under grace is more stringent and demanding than it is under law. The law only required ten percent. Giving under grace may be anywhere from ten percent to ninety percent. We are to "give as God has prospered."

God has given us grace at salvation, and for the Christian life as we grow spiritually and receive a greater understanding of grace, we are to apply grace to others, just as God has applied grace to us. The Macedonian Churches took up a collection for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. The Macedonian believers were poor, and under pressure themselves, yet they gave to help the brethren in Jerusalem. But what most people don't understand is that the brethren in Jerusalem were believers who were involved in legalism and ritual. They were totally unworthy of the money that came from the believers in Macedonia. But that is grace. Those Macedonian believers expressed the concept of grace. Those Christians in Jerusalem didn't deserve help, but they received it anyway.

There isn't a pastor or a church in the entire world that deserves any money from anyone. But because of grace, God desires Christians to give. Not because they have to, but because they want to. That is an application of grace. There are a lot of people giving a lot of money to a lot of churches for a lot of different reasons. But, if it isn't an application of grace, then it's meaningless. I've heard people say that they were going to stop giving money to their church because they didn't like what the church was doing with it. Now there is nothing wrong with that as long as they leave the church. But the ones I've known who say that still attend the same church. Their attitude is that of arrogance, not grace. They are to give as unto the Lord, not because they like or dislike the pastor, or church policy.

(F). Paul spoke of his own preaching as being by the grace of God. Eph 3:8, "Although I am less than the least of all the saints, THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN TO ME: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." Not only his own preaching, but all ministering to the church, Paul says is to be by grace. Eph 4:7, "But to each one of us GRACE HAS BEEN GIVEN AS CHRIST APPORTIONED IT." Eph 4:11-12, "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastor-teachers, to prepare God's people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Heb 4:16, "Let us then approach the THRONE OF GRACE with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." There is a provision from God to completely support us in our time of need. This is by grace and grace alone. We don't earn it, nor do we deserve it. II Thess 2:16-17, "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and BY HIS GRACE GAVE US ETERNAL ENCOURAGEMENT and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." The benediction of grace in the Christian life is "eternal encouragement and good hope culminating in encouraged hearts and strength in every good deed and word." There is nothing in life for which there is not grace. Because grace is so essential for every detail of the believer's life, there can be no danger of teaching too much grace. The real danger is in not understanding grace and in not teaching it enough.

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Copyright 1999 by Robert H. Kreger. All rights reserved. Anyone may reproduce this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent.