I was awake a lot last night. My beautiful little daughter, Marilee Grace (who turns one month old tomorrow!) seems to have been born with a nocturnal outlook on life. Pacing back and forth in the night, I marveled at the little treasure I held in my arms. There is so much that I want to tell her about the incredible love of Jesus. And there is something special that I’m looking forward to sharing with her one day about the significance of her middle name.
A Thought-provoking Discussion
I was recently reading some comments publicly posted online about Ephesians 2:8-9, which explains one of the most beautiful truths in Scripture: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.”
One person made this statement: “Works is nowhere in that scripture passage about grace, except to be excluded. Leave any other action out of grace.” From one perspective, this statement is certainly true … if, as the author probably intended, it is referring to the works of man.
But does grace involve a work of God?
The Greek word for saved in this passage is sozo: “to save, to deliver.” This is an action word! God did not stand on the shore and watch me drown in my sins–He reached down through Christ’s payment on the cross and pulled me out. By His grace He saved me.
Just an Attitude?
A definition of grace that seems to have gained quite a bit of popularity as my generation was growing up is “unmerited favor.” God’s grace certainly is unmerited! There is nothing sinful man can ever do to deserve it. But is favor a good word to use in defining it?
When I talk with people and use favor in this way, they all seem to agree with the common dictionary definition: “an attitude of approval or liking.”
This perspective was reflected in another lady’s comment posted online in the same thread: “God’s grace to all mankind is like his love…equal to all. Murderers, rapists, churchgoers, atheists all are precious and equal in his eyes. God is our Father and he never plays favorites.”
The love and mercy of God is indeed beyond comprehension, as He provided a way for man’s sin to be forgiven through the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. But is God’s grace simply this attitude of favor that He has towards sinful man? Or does it go much further than that?
… or the Power of God?
The Greek word that is translated grace is charis. Strong’s Concordance uses this statement to explain it: “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life”. God’s grace itself is what influences our hearts towards Him and the result of that work will be visible in our lives.
Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Corinthians 15:10). God’s grace was hard at work laboring in Paul and transforming him into the likeness of Christ.
In Ephesians 3:7 we read that Paul “was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.”
Let’s go back to Ephesians 2:8-9. What was my role in this divine rescue? As it states, I simply responded “through faith”. I cannot take any credit for this because the power of God’s grace enabled me to do so, graciously giving me not only the desire to respond, but even the very ability to do so. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
I am convinced that a Biblical view of charis is not simply God’s kind attitude toward men, but also God’s enabling power at work in men’s hearts.
In the Mouth of Two or Three Witnesses…
We should never blindly accept what any fallible human being proposes without first searching the Scriptures to know it is true. (See Acts 17:11.) However, it is significant to note that many well-respected Bible scholars from many different backgrounds have agreed that grace is the enabling power of God. Here are a few memorable quotes:
- John MacArthur: "Grace is the power of God to fulfill our New Covenant duties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:19), however inconsistently we obey at times. Clearly, grace does not grant permission to live in the flesh; it supplies power to live in the Spirit” (The Gospel According to Jesus).
- John Piper: “Grace is the enabling gift of God to overcome sin. Grace is power, not just pardon” (Pleasures of God).
- Dr. Spiros Zodhiates: “Grace is like God’s power generator, and we are like the conduits which carry His power to its intended purposes by the Holy Spirit.”
- Westminister Confession of Faith: “When God converts a sinner and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good."(Chapter IX)
Power for What?
Immediately following Ephesians 2:8-9, we have verse 10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith …. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Obviously, God’s grace doesn’t empower us to do what displeases God (sin). Grace enables the believer to do what pleases Him. These “good works” don’t bring salvation, salvation brings Christ into our lives to do these good works in and through us.
The result of God’s grace in the life of a believer is again mentioned in 2 Corinthians 9:8: “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.”
God is glorified through these “good works” (see Matthew 5:16) because we cannot take any credit for them. It is Christ in us doing the work. Paul desired that God would “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever” (Hebrews 13:21).
My prayer tonight for Marilee Grace is that, as she grows older, she would allow God to do many wonderful things through her life for His glory by the power of His grace. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).