Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here is this week’s question: “Dear Tom and Dave, What exactly is grace, and how exactly does it work?”
Tom: Now, Dave, there’s a short, brief question that we could probably spend the next ten weeks on, but this is important, and let me tell you why I appreciate it. As you know, and maybe many of our listeners who have been following the program, my background is Roman Catholic. I was a Catholic for 32 years, and the issue of “grace” was very important. As a matter of fact, we had lots of kinds of grace. We had sanctifying grace, actual grace, we had prevenient grace, efficacious grace, sufficient grace, sacramental grace, and so on and so forth, and all of those applied in a certain way. And for a Catholic, grace was merited—you needed grace to, first of all, begin your “life in Christ,” as they would say, through baptism. So you receive sanctifying grace, but there was grace needed even to get you to that point, even though you were a very young baby. So, there were lots of ideas, but on the other hand, the Bible has a very different teaching about grace. So, what exactly is grace, Dave?
Dave: Well, Tom, if you don’t mind, it reminds me of a little experience that I may have mentioned on the program, maybe two or three times—I hope not, but it’s been a long time. I walked into the doctor’s office, and just as I went through the door I sneezed, and the nurse standing there said, “God bless you!”
I said, “Wait a minute, how does a sneeze qualify me for a blessing? And how are you the one that dispenses this blessing?” I mean, what’s your authority, where do you get this from? We’re talking about grace. This is something that comes from God—it’s His mercy. Well, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense,” someone said. It’s unmerited—when you’re working for an employer, when he gives you your paycheck at the end of the two weeks or the end of the month, you don’t call that grace. You worked for it. In fact, most people complain: “Hey, I’m not getting what I’m worth!” Okay? Grace is something you didn’t earn, you don’t deserve, and it was given to you by someone just because they decided to give it to you.
Tom: If it was based on your worth, it wouldn’t be very good at all.
Dave: Well, it wouldn’t be grace.
Dave: So, grace—well, Paul begins many of his epistles “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”; “Grace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” It’s the blessing of God that you don’t get through sneezing, and there’s no way we could get it—we’ve been talking about it.
Tom: But Dave, is it enablement? “For we are saved by grace through faith.” Again, being a former Catholic, this is something that I wrestle with, because the scripture says, and Peter says it, James says it, “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Does God give us grace to enable us to do certain things? I worry about making it too conditional, because then, I could just be pulling the rug out from under grace.
Dave: Tom, whatever kind of grace, or whatever the purpose of the grace, first of all, we have to get straight—it comes from God, we don’t deserve it. Now, He gives us grace, first of all, in our salvation. Pardon. I throw myself on the mercy of the court. I don’t want what I deserve; I would like the judge to be merciful. So “grace, mercy, and peace,” Paul often says, “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So it begins with salvation. First of all, He graciously forgives me my sins, and He can’t do that, as we have been explaining, except that the penalty was paid, that Christ paid the penalty. He also can’t do that unless I believe—unless I receive Christ. He doesn’t just automatically do that. Then every person would automatically be saved. That’s not going to change anybody.
Now, when I receive the grace of God in Christ Jesus, there’s some gratitude in my heart, there’s a change of attitude. In fact, I am born again by the Spirit of God. Now I want to serve Him, I want to please Him, I love Him! I want to do something not to earn my salvation but because He gave it to me. Well, how am I going to live the Christian life, as has often been said, “The Christian life isn’t difficult; it’s impossible!”
Tom: It’s like walking on water.
Dave: That’s right. Nobody lived the Christian life but Jesus Christ himself. Now how am I going to live the Christian life? I’m going to try to pretend that I’m Christ? I’m going to try to live up to His standards? I’m going to try to imitate Him? Well, yes, He set as an example to follow in His steps, but He is going to have to give me the strength. Okay, and that’s where the grace that you were just talking about comes in. Grace to face the trials of life. Grace to live for Him. Grace to forgive my enemies. Grace to be the kind of person He wants me to be. And, with the grace comes the strength, but this is a gift from God. It’s something He’s going to have to do. So let’s go back to the question once again.
Tom: Well, again, what exactly is grace, and how exactly does it work?
Dave: Grace comes from God. It only comes because Christ paid the penalty. Otherwise, God would be an unjust judge, giving me grace when I deserve eternal punishment. So, grace comes from God. He’s the only one that can do this.
Tom: Dave, we’ve got about a minute left. I want to run something by you very quickly. I don’t want to make you upset. I’m going to quote—and you’re not a fan of the NIV, but in the NIV in, I think it’s Jonah:2:8, it says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Do you think that’s reasonable? Does that get into works or conditions? In other words, if I have a sincere idea, a way to go about something, and I say, “Oh…,” but it’s not really God’s. I’m sincere—I think it is—is He going to provide the grace? I mean, I’ve turned, really, away from Him to something I think is of Him, but will He provide grace? Or does grace mean He is not going to enable me to do it and, in fact, by His grace, He is going to bring conviction that it’s not of Him, and so on. Is that the way it works?
Dave: I don’t receive the grace of God except through Jesus Christ. So if I am looking at some idol or some false belief, some false religion, some do-it-yourself kit, I’m not going to get God’s grace. It’s that simple. Why should He give me his grace, His mercy, His peace, His forgiveness, when I am taking my own way and I’ve rejected Him.