STUDY TWO: GOD’S ETERNAL GRACE
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
INTRODUCTION: THE MEANING OF ‘GRACE’
Philip Hughes, in But for the Grace of God, wrote:
‘The doctrine of grace lies at the very heart not merely of all Christian theology but also of all Christian experience. If we have an incorrect or inadequate understanding of the biblical teaching on grace, our whole grasp of the meaning and purpose of Christianity will be deficient in consequence. …
‘Grace speaks of God’s initiative, of the priority of God’s action on behalf of us poor sinners. … Grace enriches, and the enrichment it brings is owed entirely to God’s prior action of mercy in Christ Jesus. Divine grace precedes all. That is the whole point of grace.
‘ … the apostles stressed the priority of God’s grace. The coming of Christ into the world is the evidence of God’s love and mercy in initiating our salvation; for apart from this divine initiative there would be no salvation for the sinner and no Good News for the preacher. Man is indebted for his salvation entirely to the prior goodness of God. God has acted freely and finally in Christ Jesus, and graciously offers sinful man redemption that is full and complete in Him. …’ [p9-10]
In the Old Testament the concept of grace is found in two words  hesed – which is translated ‘mercy’, ‘loving kindness’, ‘kindness’ or ‘goodness’, ‘unfailing love’, and  hen – which is translated ‘grace’ and ‘favour’.
The New Testament has the words charis – referring to a free gift, and eleos – meaning mercy. It is interesting that the word charis is derived from chairo – to be joyful, for the total impact of God’s grace is, or should be, great and inexpressible joy to those who receive it. Jesus is not recorded as using the word ‘grace’, but the concept of grace pulsates through his teaching and his purpose.
A. THE GRACE OF GOD IN CREATION AND PROVIDENCE
The question ‘Why did God create the world?’ or ‘Why did God create man?’ is sometimes answered with something like ‘He needed someone to love’ or some other need-based statement. But God has no ‘needs’. He is the all-powerful One, the all-knowing One. Within the unity of the Trinity all relational ‘needs’ we might theoretically impose upon God are satisfied. God is complete in himself. The only answer that can be sustained in the light of the Biblical revelation of God is that creation is an act of God’s grace – a free gift, uncaused by any anticipated merit or projected function of man.
John Calvin: ‘… if the cause is sought by which he was led once to create all these things, and is now moved to preserve them, we shall find that it is his goodness alone. But this being the sole cause, it ought still to be more than sufficient to draw us to his love, inasmuch as there is no creature, as the prophet declares, upon whom God’s mercy has not been poured out [Psalm 145:9]’ [Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.V.6]
The self-sufficiency of God and the omniscience of God render his action in creating the world and us, an action of incredible and amazing grace. The most puzzling thing is not the fact or the belief that God is there, but the fact that we are here. Why, apart from grace, would God create us, knowing that we would reject him, knowing that to redeem and restore us he would send his Son to die?
Everything we have – the world, our life, our breath – even these physical things – is a gift from his bountiful hand. Those things which we think we have gained by our own efforts, those things which we might ascribe to some other beneficent ‘god’ – everything is a gift of his grace. Even though we deny and reject him, he sends his rain and his sunshine on both the ‘just’ and the ‘unjust’.
Task #1: Discuss the concept of grace in creation and providence. Compare this with the common attitude that ‘God owes us something’.
B. THE GRACE OF GOD TO SINNERS
B.1 God’s grace in Genesis 3
God’s grace is evident at the very beginning of sin. In strict justice God could have terminated human life in Genesis 3. Instead we see the first evidence of his grace to sinners:
- Although man is impacted by his sin and its condemnation, that impact is not total: God permitted him to survive and live physically.
- God promised that a Saviour – a child of the woman – would come and be victorious over Satan [Genesis 3:15].
- God provided a covering to hide their nakedness. In providing a covering of skin an animal had to die – anticipating the ultimate covering for our sin – the blood of Jesus Christ, the final sacrifice for sin, and the final and ultimate demonstration of God’s grace.
B.2 God’s grace in Genesis 6-9
Again in Genesis 6 – 9 we see God’s grace in the midst of sin and judgment. We read in Genesis 6:5:
‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’
This is saturation point sinfulness – every inclination … only evil ... all the time.
We are tempted to think that Noah merited salvation. In our performance-based mindset we understand ‘Noah found favour’ [6:8] to mean that his lifestyle earned his deliverance. Some translations even assume that meaning. Such however is far from the case. The KJV has ‘Noah found grace’. The Hebrew word khane [hen] is a reference to grace. Whatever Noah found in God’s eyes, it was something undeserved. This is confirmed in Hebrews 11:7 where we learn that all that Noah did was ‘by faith’ and ‘by faith’ he became an ‘heir of righteousness’. Here, even before Abraham ‘believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness’ [Genesis 15:6], we find Noah finding ‘grace’ in the eyes of the Lord and, according to Hebrews 11, receiving the gift of imputed righteousness from God. That the Scripture then goes on to say that Noah ‘was a righteous man’ and that ‘he walked with God’ [Genesis 6:9] does not mean that he was sinless, as is clearly evident in his conduct after the flood [Genesis 9:21].
God in his grace, gives to this one man the gift of righteousness, and preserves him in the midst of judgment. By this gracious act of God the human race survives his judgment. Also by this gracious act of God the ultimate salvation in Christ is both anticipated in prophetic history of Noah and the Ark as they survive the catastrophic judgment, and made possible by the preservation of the seed of the woman on the earth.
C. THE GRACE OF GOD TO ABRAHAM AND HIS DESCENDANTS [ISRAEL]
C.1 God’s unmerited choice of Abraham and his descendents
Totally ‘out of the blue’ God chose and called Abraham [Genesis 12:1-3] to be the forefather of the race of people out of whom the Saviour of the world would be born. If we ask ‘Why was it Abraham?’ the answer can only be ‘because God chose him.’ Later, God himself explains to Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites:
‘’For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you …’ [Deuteronomy 7:6-8]
To point out the worthlessness of the Israelites even when God chose them in the beginning, Ezekiel, instructed by God, uses extremely graphic images to describe the origin of the nation:
‘Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood. I said to you, “Live!” ’ [Ezekiel 16:3-6]
C.2 God initiated the covenants
The grace of God is also evident in the Old Testament covenants. These covenants are not agreements mutually decided upon by two equal parties. They are initiated by God and their terms and conditions are decided by God and laid upon Abraham and his descendents. The Sinai covenant presupposes the Abrahamic covenant, and is made with the already existing covenant people, on the basis of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. The Davidic covenant is made with one line of the descendants of Abraham. Each one of them is a covenant of grace – even the Covenant of Law.
All covenants look forward to the new covenant in Christ, who is the seed of Abraham promised in the Abrahamic covenant, the One who fully met both the righteous standards and the just penalty of the Sinai covenant, and the One who is the Lion of Judah, the Root of Jesse, the Son of David, and the Messianic King – anticipated in the Davidic covenant.
Task #2: Research these covenants.
Write out the words/phrases that indicate that they were sovereignly initiated and imposed by God [and as such are expressions of his grace].
Abrahamic covenant –
Sinai (Mosaic]) covenant –
Davidic covenant –
2 Samuel 7:12-17
Psalm 89:3,4, 26-37
C.3 The promise of grace in the midst of sin and judgment
Task #3: Read Hosea 11:1-11.
This is an example of God’s promise of grace in the midst of sin and judgment. Compare what is said here with the reality in which every human being lives – bound in sin and judgment – and the reality of God’s compassionate grace – e.g. in John 3:16.
Identify your own response to God’s expression of his grace in the midst of your personal sin and judgment.
C.4 The grace of God in ritual and ceremony
The concept of grace and mercy is embedded in the ritual and ceremony of Israel, indeed without the concept of grace and mercy the ritual and ceremony would not exist for they are expressions of God’s grace and mercy in the midst of his judgment. The book of Exodus, which above all books is the book associated with God’s law, contains, except for the Psalms, more references to grace and mercy than any other Old Testament book. What later generations did with the ritual and ceremony in turning them into meritorious human actions is far removed from their original intention of being the vehicles of God’s grace and symbolic anticipations of the ultimate expression of his grace – Jesus Christ.
Task #4: Finding grace in Old Testament rituals
Read the instructions/descriptions of the rituals below. In what ways do they express the grace of God?
The Passover - Exodus 12:1-13:
Redemption of the firstborn sons - Exodus 13:14-16:
The sacrifices - E.g. Leviticus 5:17-6:7:
The Day of Atonement - Leviticus 16:15-22:
The Priesthood - Hebrews 5:1:
C.5 Grace in the worship of Israel
The ritual and ceremony of Israel constituted a part of their historic worship. When we come to the Book of Psalms we come to the personal heart of Israel’s worship as expressed in these hymns and songs of praise, worship, petition and so on, and here in this heart of worship we find a preponderance of grace and mercy. Far from approaching God on the basis of their merit these Psalmists approach God with an awareness that their only right of access is his grace, his unmerited mercy. These two words occur 101 times, quite apart from other expressions of grace and mercy that do not use these exact words. [Note that in modern translations ‘mercy’ is often translated ‘love’ or ‘unfailing love’, and ‘grace is often translated ‘favour’.]
Task #5: Discuss the concept of grace/mercy expressed in the Psalms listed below.
D. GOD’S ETERNAL PLAN – HIS GRACE IN CHRIST
All that we have looked at under C above, indeed all expressions of grace in the Old Testament, are anticipations of the final and ultimate expression of God’s grace in Christ. They are ‘shadows’, prophetic images of the eternal grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ. All the ‘grace’ that is in these prophetic symbols takes its reality and power from Jesus Christ. They are but pointers to the eternal plan of God to bring salvation in and through Jesus Christ, and to establish one people for himself from all the nations of the earth.
Task #6: The eternal grace of God
What do these passages teach us about God’s eternal plan to save us through Christ – even before we had sinned, even before he had created the world? Comment on the grace nature of this plan.
E. GOD’S GRACE – THE FOUNDATION OF ALL SALVATION
So intimately and inseparably is salvation associated with grace that the New Testament sometimes uses the word ‘grace’ to define the content of the Gospel, and also as a synonym for ‘gospel’.
Task #7: Think about the significance and power of grace
Discuss the use of the word ‘grace’ in the verses listed under the headings below.
What do these verses teach about the significance and the power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ?
1. God’s grace – the content of the gospel
Acts 14:3 – the Lord confirmed the message of his grace
Acts 20:24 – the Lord has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace
Acts 20:32 – I commit you to … the word of his grace
Ephesians 3:2 – the administration of the grace of God which was given to me for you
1Peter 1:10 – the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you
2. ‘Grace’ as a synonym for ‘gospel’ or for ‘salvation’
Grace is also seen as the way salvation is obtained. It stands in contrast to the idea that we can be saved by our own efforts, by our own merit or deserving. We are not saved by works, or by the law, or by performing rituals, or by anything at all that we might do or that is done to us. We are saved by grace.
3. ‘Grace’ as the way salvation is obtained. [Discuss how this saving grace is described, and its effect.]
Acts 15:11 – We believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved …
Acts 18:27 – those who by grace had believed.
Romans 3:24 - … are justified freely by this grace
Romans 4:16 … the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed …
Romans 5:15 – how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ overflow to the many
Romans 11:6 – if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace
Ephesians 2:5, 8 – by grace you have been saved
2Thessalonians 2:16 … by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope
2Timothy 1:9 … God … saved us and called us to a holy life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace
Titus 2:11 – the grace of God that brings salvation
Titus 3:7 – being justified by his grace …
So important is grace that almost every New Testament letter, including Revelation, begins and ends with the writer greeting his readers with the prayer/blessing for ‘grace’ to be with his readers. In this way the writers remind us that our salvation is by grace alone, and encourage us and pray for us to stand fast in the blessing of that grace. These New Testament writers knew very well that one of the hardest things for the human being to do is to do just that; we have an automatic inclination to discard grace and to put our own merit in its place, and thereby to undercut our understanding and enjoyment of salvation and all its benefits.
John Piper, commenting on Ephesians 2:4, says:
‘Paul recognizes here a perfect opportunity to emphasize the freeness of grace. As he describes our dead condition before conversion, he realizes that dead people can’t meet conditions. If they are to live, there must be a totally unconditional and utterly free act of God to save them. This freedom is the very heart of grace. Paul wants to emphasize this and so he breaks into the sentence and virtually shouts, “You see, it was all grace! All grace! You were dead. You could do nothing. Mercy it was, indeed, because your plight was pitiable. But the freeness of it is the heart of what I mean by grace. What act could be more one-sidedly free and non-negotiated than one person raising another from the dead!” This is the meaning of grace.’ [p81, Future Grace]
F. THE LIMITLESSNESS OF GRACE
Among the New Testament writers Paul is particularly excited and impacted by the concept of grace. He uses the word over 100 times, compared with 56 uses in all other writers put together. At times Paul seems unable to find enough superlative words to express the power and the extent of God’s grace to us in Christ.
Leon Morris comments:
‘The idea in grace is closely connected with that of joy. Basically grace means ‘that which causes joy’, and for the Christian there is no joy like the joy the gospel brings. And what God has done for man He has done freely. Grace always implies a freeness in giving. … Paul brings out God’s defeat of sin by speaking of grace as abounding far more than sin abounded, and of grace as ‘reigning’ … The apostle uses some very expressive verbs to refer to the abundance of God’s grace … Karl Barth draws attention to these and comments, “We find a kind of boundless astonishment on the part of the apostle at the divine intervention acknowledged in the concept of grace …” ‘ [p233,234, The Cross in the New Testament].
Task #8: How does Paul describe grace in these verses?
List the words he uses. If grace is like this, what does this mean for our certainty of salvation and our joy in our salvation?
As mentioned above, the noun ‘grace’ – charis – is related to the verb - chairo – I rejoice.
The fact that grace is ‘God’s abundant provision’, that it ‘increased all the more’ as sin increased, that it is ‘glorious grace’ and ‘freely given’ independent of anything we do, that it has been ‘lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding’ and that there are ‘incomparable riches’ of grace – all of this should, in line with the meaning of ‘grace’ as ‘that which causes joy’, give to the believer abounding and undiluted joy. This indeed is what the angels said at the birth of Christ: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ [Luke 2:10]. As long as we think our relationship with God is dependent on our good works or our keeping of the law, or our performance of ritual, there will be no joy, no peace. But when we cast aside our pride and understand that all that we have in salvation is by God’s sovereign grace there is joy abounding and deep peace.
G. THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF GRACE
The grace by which we are saved is always God’s grace. As we have already seen salvation by grace has been embedded in his eternal purpose and his plan of salvation since before the world was created. In addition, this grace by which we are saved is also dependent on and mediated to us by Jesus Christ. Because of this it is also powerful and authoritative. It cannot be pulled down. It cannot become powerless. It cannot be over-ruled by something greater, for it is in God’s hands. For this reason the Bible teaches us that grace reigns – that those who have received God’s gift of salvation have been rescued from the tyrannical reign and authority and power of sin and death and are now for ever under the reign and authority of grace. The law of sin and death, which issues in condemnation can never again touch us. We are under grace, no longer under the damning power of the law, of sin, or of death.
Task #9: Discuss the power and authority of grace described in these verses.
How do they impact your understanding of the security of your salvation and the powerlessness of sin and guilt to ever again interfere between you and God?
H. COMMENT ON ‘GRACE’ AND ‘MERCY’
John Piper makes these interesting comments on the relation between ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’:
‘Common definitions of God’s grace and mercy go like this: grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it; mercy is the goodness of God shown to people who are in a miserable plight. … Since sin always brings misery, and misery is always experienced by sinners, therefore all of God’s acts of grace are also acts of mercy, and all his acts of mercy are also acts of grace. Every act of grace shown to a person because he is a sinner is also an act of mercy because his sin brings misery. And every act of mercy shown to a person because of his miserable plight is also an act of grace because he doesn’t deserve it. It never makes sense to say that sometimes God shows us mercy and sometimes he shows us grace. Whenever he shows one he is showing the other. The difference is whether the act of goodness is viewed in relation to our sin or in relation to our misery. … The fact that all God’s acts of mercy are also acts of grace probably has resulted in a partial merging of their meanings in the Bible.’ [ibid, p75,77]
Task #10: List the facts about grace that have impacted you most. Describe that impact.