The essence of grace

374 the essence of grace Sometimes I hear concerns that we are putting too much emphasis on grace. As a recommended corrective, it is then argued that, as a counterweight to the teaching of grace, we could consider that of obedience, justice, and other duties that are mentioned in Scripture, and particularly in the New Testament. Those who are worried about "too much grace" have legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, some teach that how we live is irrelevant if we are saved by grace rather than works. For them, grace is tantamount to not knowing any commitments, rules, or expected relationship patterns. For them, grace means that pretty much everything is accepted, since everything is already forgiven in advance. According to this misconception, grace is a free ticket - to a certain extent a blank power of attorney to be able to do what you want.


Antinomism is a form of life that propagates a life without or against any laws or rules. Throughout church history, this problem has been the subject of scripture and preaching. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr of the Nazi regime, spoke of "cheap grace" in his book Succession. Antinomism is addressed in the New Testament. In his reply, Paul referred to the accusation that his emphasis on grace encourages people to "persist in sin so that grace may become all the more powerful" (Romans 6,1). The apostle's answer was short and emphatic: "Be far away!" (V.2). A few sentences later he repeats the allegation against him and replies: «How now? Shall we sin because we are under grace, not under the law? That is far away! » (V.15).

The apostle Paul's answer to the accusation of anti-nomism was clear. Anyone who argues that grace means that everything is allowed because it is covered by faith is wrong. But why? What went wrong there? Is the problem really "too much mercy"? And does his solution really consist of counterbalancing this grace?

Which is the real problem?

The real problem is to believe that grace means God makes an exception in terms of observing a rule, command, or obligation. If Grace actually implied granting rule exceptions, then with so much grace, there would be as many exceptions. And if one says God's mercy, then we could expect him to have an exemption for every one of our duties or responsibilities. The more mercy, the more exceptions, in terms of obedience. And the less mercy, the fewer exceptions granted, a nice little deal.

Such a scheme perhaps best describes what human grace is capable of at best. But let us not forget that this approach measures grace in obedience. He counts them both against each other, whereby it comes to a constant back-and-forth-Gezerre, in which never comes peace, because both are in conflict with each other. Both sides destroy each other's success. But fortunately, such a scheme does not reflect the Grace practiced by God. The truth about grace frees us from this false dilemma.

God's grace in person

How does the Bible define grace? "Jesus Christ himself stands for God's grace towards us". Paul's blessing at the end of the second letter to the Corinthians refers to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Grace gives us free will in the form of his flesh-born son, who in turn graciously conveys God's love to us and reconciles us with the Almighty. What Jesus does to us reveals to us the nature and character of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the faithful imprint of God's nature (Hebrews 1,3 Elberfeld Bible). There it says, "He is the image of the invisible God" and it was "God pleased that all abundance should dwell in him" (Colossians 1,15:19;). Whoever sees him will see the father, and if we recognize him, we will also recognize the father (John 14,9:7;).

Jesus explains that he only does "what he sees the Father doing" (John 5,19). He lets us know that only he knows the father and only he alone reveals him (Matthew 11,27). John tells us that this Word of God, which has existed with God from the beginning, took human form and "showed us a glory as the only Son of the Father," full of grace and truth ". While «the law [was] given by Moses; grace and truth [...] became through Jesus Christ. » Indeed, "from its fullness we have all taken grace after grace." And his son, who has been in the heart of God forever, "has proclaimed him to us" (John 1,14: 18).

Jesus embodies God's grace towards us - and in word and deed reveals that God himself is full of grace. He is grace himself. He gives them to us from his being - the one we meet in Jesus. He gives us neither out of dependence on us nor on any obligation towards us to give us benefits. God gives grace because of his generous nature, that is, he freely gives it to us in Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Paul calls grace a generous gift from God (5,15-17; 6,23). In his letter to the Ephesians, he proclaimed in memorable words: "For by grace you have been saved by faith, and not from you: it is God's gift, not from works, so that nobody can boast" (2,8-9).

Everything that God gives us, he gives us generously out of kindness, out of the heartfelt desire to do good to everyone who is different from him. His acts of grace arise from his benevolent, generous nature. He does not cease to let us freely participate in his goodness, even if he encounters resistance, rebellion and disobedience on the part of his creation. He reacts to sin with us of free forgiveness and reconciliation, which is given to us by virtue of his son's Atonement. God, who is light and in whom there is no darkness, voluntarily gives himself to us in his Son through the Holy Spirit himself, so that life may be given to us in its fullness (1 John 1,5; John 10,10).

Has God always been merciful?

Unfortunately, it has often been argued that God was originally (even before the Fall) promised his goodness (Adam and Eve and later Israel) only if his creation meets certain conditions and fulfills obligations that he imposes on her. If she didn't match that, he wouldn't be very kind to her either. So he would not grant her forgiveness and eternal life.

According to this wrong view, God is in a contractual "if ... then ..." relationship with his creation. That contract then contains conditions or obligations (Rules or laws) that mankind must abide by to receive what God proposes to them. According to this view, the first priority for the Almighty is that we abide by the rules he has established. If we do not do it justice, he will withhold his best. Even worse, it will give us what is not good, what does not lead to life but to death; now and forever.

This wrong view sees the law as the most important attribute of God's nature and thus also the most important aspect of his relationship to his creation. This god is essentially a contract god who is in a relationship based on laws and conditions with his creation. He leads this relationship according to the "master and slave" principle. In this view, God's generosity in terms of His goodness and blessings, including forgiveness, is far from the nature of the image of God that she propagates.

In principle, God does not stand for pure will or pure legalism. This becomes particularly clear when we look at Jesus, who shows us the Father and sends the Holy Spirit. This becomes clear when we hear from Jesus about his eternal relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. He lets us know that his nature and character are identical to that of the Father. The father-son relationship is not characterized by rules, obligations or the fulfillment of conditions in order to obtain benefits in this way. Father and son are not in legal relationship. You have not entered into a contract with each other, according to which non-compliance on one side of the other equally entitled to non-performance. The idea of ​​a contractual, law-based relationship between father and son is absurd. The truth as revealed to us by Jesus is that their relationship is marked by sacred love, faithfulness, self-reliance, and mutual glorification. Jesus' prayer, as we read in Chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, makes it abundantly clear that that triune relationship is the basis and source of God's action in every respect; for he always acts according to himself because he is faithful.

With careful study of the Scriptures, it becomes clear that God's relationship with His creation, even after the fall with Israel, is not a contractual one: it is not built on conditions to be met. It is important to be aware that God's relationship with Israel was not fundamentally law-based, not an if-then contract. Paul was also aware of this. The Almighty relationship with Israel began with a covenant, a promise. The law of Moses (the Torah) came into force 430 years after the introduction of the federal government. With the timeline in mind, the law was hardly the basis for God's relationship with Israel.
As part of the covenant, God freely confessed to Israel with all his kindness. And, as you will remember, this had nothing to do with what Israel itself could offer God (Ex Mo 5: 7,6-8). Let us not forget that Abraham did not know God when he assured him that he would bless him and make him a blessing for all nations (Genesis 1: 12,2-3). A covenant is a promise: it is freely chosen and granted. "I will take you to my people and I will be your God," said the Almighty to Israel (Ex 2 6,7). God's oath of blessing was one-sided, he came from his side alone. He entered into the covenant as an expression of his own nature, character and nature. His closure with Israel was an act of grace - yes, grace!

A closer look at the first chapters of Genesis reveals that God is not wrong with his creation according to a kind of contractual agreement. First of all, creation itself was an act of voluntary giving. There was nothing that earned the right to exist, far less than good existence. God himself explains: «And it was good», yes, «very good». God allows his goodness to freely benefit from his creation, which is far inferior to him; he gives her life. Eve was God's gift of kindness to Adam so that he would no longer be alone. Likewise, Almighty gave Adam and Eve the Garden of Eden and made it a profitable task to take care of it in such a way that it became fertile and shed life in abundance. Adam and Eve did not meet any conditions before they were freely given these good gifts by God.

How was it after the fall, when the sacrilege made its entrance? It turns out that God continues to exercise his goodness voluntarily and unconditionally. Was not his intention to give Adam and Eve the opportunity of repentance after their disobedience, an act of grace? Also consider how God provided them with skins for clothing. Even her rejection from the Garden of Eden was an act of grace that was to prevent her from making use of the tree of life in her sinfulness. God's protection and providence towards Cain can only be seen in the same light. Also, in the protection he gave Noah and his family, as well as the rainbow assurance, we see God's grace. All these acts of grace are gifts given voluntarily in the name of the goodness of God. None of them is reward for the fulfillment of whatever, even small, legally binding contractual obligations.

Grace as undeserved benevolence?

God always freely shares his creation with his goodness. He does this forever out of his innermost being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Everything that makes this Trinity manifest in creation comes from the abundance of its inland community. A legally and contractually based relationship with God would not honor the triune creator and author of the covenant, but make it a pure idol. Idols always enter into contractual relationships with those who satisfy their hunger for recognition because they need their followers as much as they do theirs. Both are interdependent. That is why they benefit each other for their self-serving goals. The grain of truth inherent in the saying that grace is God's undeserved benevolence is simply that we do not deserve it.

The goodness of God overcomes evil

Grace does not come into play only in the case of sin as an exception to any law or obligation. God is merciful regardless of the factual nature of sin. In other words, there is no need for demonstrable sinfulness to be merciful. Rather, his grace persists even when there is sin. It is true, therefore, that God does not cease to give his goodness his creation of his own free will, even if it does not deserve it. He then voluntarily gives her forgiveness for the price of his own reconciliation atoning sacrifice.

Even if we sin, God remains faithful because he cannot deny himself, as Paul says: "[...] we are unfaithful, but he remains faithful" (2 Timothy 2,13). Since God always remains true to himself, He then shows us His love and holds on to His sacred plan for us, even if we rise up against it. This steadfastness of grace granted to us shows how serious it is to show goodness to God's creation. "For Christ died when we were still weak for us atheists ... God shows his love for us in the fact that Christ died for us when we were still sinners" (Romans 5,6). The special character of grace can be felt all the more clearly where it illuminates the darkness. And so we speak of grace mostly in the context of sinfulness.

God is merciful, regardless of our sinfulness. He proves to be faithful to his creation and holds fast to his promising destiny. We can fully recognize this in Jesus who, in the completion of his atonement, does not allow himself to be dissuaded from the power of the wicked evil. The forces of evil can not stop him from giving his life for us to live on. Neither pain nor suffering nor the heaviest humiliation could prevent him from following his holy, love-born destiny and reconciling man with God. God's goodness does not demand that evil turn to good. But when it comes to evil, goodness knows exactly what to do: it's about overcoming it, defeating it and conquering it. So there is not too much grace.

Grace: law and obedience?

How do we view the Old Testament law and Christian obedience in the New Covenant regarding grace? If we keep in mind that God's covenant is a one-sided promise, the answer is almost self-evident. A promise evokes a reaction on the part of the person against whom it was made. However, keeping the promise is not dependent on this response. There are only two options in this connection: to believe in the promise full of trust in God or not. The law of Moses (the Torah) made clear to Israel what it meant to be on God's covenant in this before the ultimate fulfillment of the promise he made (that is, before the appearance of Jesus Christ). In his grace, the Almighty Israel revealed the way of life within its covenant (the old covenant) should lead.

The Torah had been brought to Israel by God as a permissive gift. You should help them. Paul calls her an "educator" (Galatians 3,24: 25; crowd Bible). So it should be seen as a benevolent gift of grace from Almighty Israel. The law was passed as part of the Old Covenant, which is in its promise phase (awaiting fulfillment in the form of Christ in the New Covenant) was a pact of grace. It should serve the covenant of God's will to bless Israel and make it a pioneer of grace for all peoples.

The God who remains true to himself wants to have the same non-contractual relationship with the people in the New Covenant who was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He gives us all the blessings of his atonement and reconciliation life, death, resurrection and ascension. We are offered all the benefits of his future empire. We are also fortunate to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. But the offer of these gifts of grace in the New Covenant asks for a reaction - the very reaction that Israel should have shown: faith (Trust). But within the framework of the New Covenant, we trust its fulfillment rather than its promise.

Our reaction to God's goodness?

What should our reaction to the grace shown to us be? The answer is: "A life with confidence in the promise". That is what is meant by a “life in faith”. We find examples of such a lifestyle in the “Saints” of the Old Testament (Heb. 11). There are consequences if one does not live in trust in the promised or realized covenant. A lack of trust in the Confederation and its author curtailed its usefulness. Israel's lack of trust deprived it of its source of life - its food, wellbeing and fertility. Mistrust stood in the way of his relationship with God so much that he was denied participation in pretty much all the gifts of the Almighty.

God's covenant, as Paul explains to us, is irrevocable. Why? Because the Almighty faithfully holds on to him and maintains him, even if it comes at a cost. God will never move away from His Word; he cannot be forced to behave inappropriately towards his creation or his people. Even with our lack of trust in the promise, we cannot make him become unfaithful to himself. This is what is meant when it is said that God acts "for his name's sake".

In faith in God, all the instructions and commandments that are connected with him must be of obedience to us of the kindness and grace freely granted. That grace was fulfilled in the devotion and revelation of God himself in Jesus. To find pleasure in them, one has to accept the gifts of the Almighty and neither reject them nor ignore them. The instructions (Commandments) that we find in the New Testament state what it means for God's people after the New Covenant Foundation to receive and trust God's grace.

What are the roots of obedience?

So where do we find the source of obedience? It arises from the trust in God's faithfulness to the goals of his covenant, as they were realized in Jesus Christ. The only form of obedience to which God is committed is obedience, which manifests itself in the belief in the Almighty permanence, faithfulness to word, and faithfulness to oneself (Romans 1,5; 16,26). Obedience is our answer to His grace. Paul leaves no doubt about this - this is particularly clear from his statement that the Israelites failed not to comply with certain legal requirements of the Torah, but because they “rejected the path of faith and believed that their obedience had to be achieved bring » (Romans 9,32; Good News Bible). The apostle Paul, a law-abiding Pharisee, recognized the striking truth that God never wanted him to be righteous by keeping the law. Compared to the righteousness that God was willing to grant him by grace, compared to his participation in God's own righteousness given to him by Christ, it would be (to say the least!) as worthless dirt (Philippians 3,8-9).

It has always been God's will to share his righteousness with his people as a gift. Why? Because he's gracious (Philippians 3,8-9). So how do we get this gift that we freely choose? By trusting God in this regard and believing in his promise to be given to us. The obedience that God wants us to see is fed by faith, hope and love for him. The calls to practice obedience that we encounter in all of Scripture, as well as the commandments that we find within the Old and New Covenants, come from grace. If we believe the promises of God and trust that they will be realized in Christ and then in us, we will want to live them according to them as actually true and truthful. A life in disobedience is not based on trust or may be blocked against (still) accepting what is promised to him. Only an obedience arising from faith, hope and love glorifies God; because only this form of obedience bears witness to who God really is, as he was revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

The Almighty will continue to be gracious to us whether we accept His grace or refuse to be. His goodness is partially reflected in the fact that he does not respond to our resistance to his grace. This is how God's anger is shown by opposing our "no" to him in order to affirm his "yes" granted to us in the form of Christ (2 Corinthians 1,19). And the Almighty "No" is as powerful as his "Yes" because it is an expression of his "Jas".

No exceptions from grace!

It is important to recognize that God makes no exceptions to His higher goals and sacred ordinances for His people. Because of his loyalty, he won't give up on us. Rather, he loves us in perfection - in the perfection of his son. God wants to glorify us so that we trust him with every fiber of our ego and love him and that this also radiates to perfection in our way of life carried by his grace. With this our incredulous heart takes a back seat and our life reflects our trust in God, freely granted goodness in the purest form. His perfect love, in turn, will give us love to perfection by giving us absolute justification and ultimately glorification. "He who has started the good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1,6).

Would God have mercy on us, and then leave us imperfect in the end? How about if there were only exceptions to the rule in Heaven - when a lack of faith here, a lovelessness there, a little irreconcilability here and a little bitterness and resentment there, a little resentment here and a little self-indulgence there didn't matter? What condition would we have then? Well, one who resembled that in the here and now, but would last forever! Would God really be merciful and kind if he left us in such a «state of emergency» forever? No! Ultimately, God's grace does not allow for exceptions - neither with regard to his dominant grace itself, nor with regard to the rule of his divine love and his benevolent will; otherwise he would not be gracious.

What can we counter those who abuse God's grace?

By teaching people to follow Jesus, we should teach them to understand and receive God's grace rather than mistaking and proudly opposing it. We should help them live in the grace that God brings to them in the here and now. We should make them realize that regardless of what they do, the Almighty will be true to themselves and their purpose. We should strengthen them in the knowledge that God, mindful of his love for them, his compassion, his nature, and his self-determined purpose, will be indomitable against any resistance to his grace. As a result, one day we will all share in fullness of grace and live a life of mercy. In this way, we will joyfully take on the “obligations” associated with this - fully aware of the privilege of being a child of God in Jesus Christ, our older brother.

from dr. Gary Deddo

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