I believe we’re prone to fall into one of two basic soteriological errors:  “It doesn’t matter how I live since I’m forgiven.”  “If I don’t behave then I won’t be saved.” Those who’ve grasped God’s eternal salvation don’t think either way.
The key is in what God means when He says, “By grace you are saved.” (Ep 2:8) If we’re confusing grace with mercy, leniency, getting off easy, we miss His intent. Grace and mercy aren’t the same; they’re quite different.
We start out presuming salvation’s up to us, not God, and that’s where we go wrong. From that wrong place someone lies to us about what we need to do to finally end up in Heaven. Maybe some ritual called “accepting Christ,” and/or a certain behavior pattern that’ll be good enough for God. But it’s all wrong, because we’re starting at the wrong place.
Salvation isn’t up to us; it’s entirely in God’s hands. We’re born dead in sin (Col 2:13), enemies of God (Col 1:21), alienated from His life. (Ep 4:18) A dead man can’t do anything to raise himself; he can’t even want it. We need supernatural power; a miracle.
That’s where grace comes in: grace is “divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life.” (Strong) It’s God’s power intervening in our deadness (Ep 2:5), divine life energizing human life (1Co 15:10), enabling us to believe (Jn 6:29) and conforming us to the image of Christ. (Ro 8:29)
The very desire to seek after God actually comes from God (Php 2:13); finding this within should encourage us to pursue Him until we find Him (He 11:6), relentlessly asking Him to quicken us … until He actually does. We can’t afford to settle for anything less. (Mk_8:36)
Grace is God choosing us (Ep 1:4), enabling us to seek Him and find Him (1Co 1:30), to obey Him, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to have faith (Ep 2:8), to know that His promises are true, that He’s faithful.
We can have a relationship with God where:  He’ll never impute sin to us, crediting us with a perfect righteousness for Christ’s sake that’s independent of how we live (Ro 4:6-8), and  where He’s conforming us into His image (2Co 3:18), to live according to His Way. How we live is evidence of His sanctifying work (Php 1:6), so it does matter; yet the saved don’t worry about losing salvation because it’s His work, not ours. (Ep 2:10)
5 thoughts on “By Grace”
Some might argue that since we can “fall from grace,” (Ga 5:4) it’s possible to lose our salvation by sinning, which would contradict our definition above. But it this very belief itself which implies we’ve already fallen from grace; Paul’s warning is: “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Ga 5:4) We don’t fall from grace through failure in obedience, but through thinking we can do anything to justify ourselves before God; such belief inherently separates us from the the work of Christ, Whom God has provided as our righteousness. If we choose to cling in any form or fashion to our own righteousness, then we forfeit His by definition.
Another might argue that since we can “receive the grace of God in vain,” (1Co 6:1) there is no security or efficacy in grace itself.
On the surface, in isolation, the text is challenging regardless what we believe about grace: if grace is merely forgiveness and mercy, how is it possible to receive mercy in vain? Once we’re granted mercy and forgiveness for a particular set of sins, can we actually undo this? We can certainly choose to continue in sin, more and beyond what God is willing to forgive, but the initial mercy offered was effectual in at least staying our judgement and giving us further opportunity. This mercy, in itself, cannot be totally in vain or without any effect.
As always, the fuller context is helpful: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)” (1Co 5:20 – 6:2) Paul is presenting the gospel, good news, a promise of grace, of divine power for spiritual resurrection and transformation, and appealing to us to receive it; he does not presume that we’ve already received it, only that it has been presented to us and is available to us.
“In vain” suggests that the benefit God offers us is not ultimately realized by us; the offer of divine power in itself does not help us if we don’t receive and embrace it. The fact that the appeal/offer is made does not mean we have received the offer; those who don’t respond have indeed received the offer, but this in itself does not help them. They’ve received God’s offer of grace, the news of His willingness to help them, in vain.
A similar text seems relevant: “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (He 4:1-2) God genuinely offers salvation to all men, but He doesn’t move in all men to receive it. There are differing levels of grace: a grace to hear and consider, and a grace and enablement to fully embrace and receive. God evidently works His grace through appeals to the human will, but this does not imply that God is not the One ultimately enabling the will. He actually does enable the will in the elect through His commands and appeals, which create His intended effect in the elect while falling on the lost like light on the blind.
One can fail grace. See Hebrews 12:15
Esau gave up his inheritance. He pleaded with God but was rejected.
We should not forget or give up our inheritance that God has given us.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God!
Thank you for the comment Dale! I agree this is an important verse to consider. I have another blog on this, “Lest Any Man Fail,” that might be of interest to you. I am asking others to help me fully understand what this means.
The Greek for “fail” here is “hustereo,” which means “to lack, be deficient.” It is translated “destitute” (He 11:37), “come short” (He 4:1), “suffer need” (Php 4:12), “lack,” (1Co 12:24), etc.
I think the way to understand this text is that we can be deficient in grace, not that we can have grace and fail it. We should be continually seeking the grace of God (He 4:16), His enabling power; we should never be lax here.
Esau was a “profane person,” one who did not value spiritual things; he was deficient in grace. He “despised his birthright,” (Ge 25:34) the privilege of being the spiritual head of his family, but he deeply valued the physical blessing that went with it. He lost them both.
When we sense a “profane” way in ourselves or others, a spiritual deadness of any kind, we should be prayerfully concerned, asking God to quicken us/them, give us/them grace so that we/they will be aligned with Him and close to Him. (Ps 119:25, 37, 40, 88, 107, 149, 154)
Grace is one of the most important words in our spiritual vocabulary. We should be careful to understand its definition in context the way God uses the word.
Here are some verses which, I think, only make sense if the above definition of grace (divine enablement) is understood:
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” (Ro 12:3)
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” (Ro 12:6)
“Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.” (2Co 8:2)
“Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.” (2Co 8:7)
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” (2Co 9:8)
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1Co 15:10)
“Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.” (Ep 3:7)