Grace is a big subject in the Bible. A quick search shows that grace is mentioned 146 times. Yet I wonder, do we really understand grace? I think of the grace of God like I think of the love of God. It seems unsearchable, unending, and incomprehensible. We speak a lot about it, but are we sure we understand it as God would have us understand it?
When we look at the stories of the apostles, it doesn’t appear that they fully understood grace. As I study the life of Paul, I have wondered why the Jerusalem church didn’t extend the grace of God to Paul through their prayers and supplications. Maybe it was because grace was still a partially unknown quality in their lives. I also found that the apostles developed a better understanding of grace in their later years.
That is not a denunciation of the apostles, it just seems to be a quantifiable factor even in most Christians today. Why do we lack an understanding of grace, perhaps even lacking grace itself? Ellen White tells us that grace is imparted to those who call upon the Lord. So, could it be that we have become so self-sufficient that we do not call on the Lord to impart His grace to us? She also tells us that those who impart or extend grace to others will receive grace. “For every grace imparted, God would have given grace.” Testimonies, Vol. 8, 151. Had Paul been accepted by the church, do you think he would have been saved from some of the hardships he endured at the end of his life as a prisoner?
“But beneath this apparent harmony, prejudice and dissatisfaction were still smoldering. Some in the church were still striving to mold Christianity after the old customs and ceremonies that were to pass away at the death of Christ. They felt that the work of preaching the gospel must be conducted according to their opinions. If Paul would labor in accordance with these ideas, they would acknowledge and sustain his work; otherwise they would discard it.
“The elders of the church had been at fault in allowing themselves to be influenced by the enemies of the apostle. But when they heard from his own lips an account of the work he had been doing, it assumed a different aspect. They could not condemn his manner of labor; they were convinced that it bore the signet of Heaven. The liberal contributions from the new churches he had raised up, testified to the power of the truth. They saw that they had been held in bondage by the Jewish customs and traditions, and that the work of the gospel had been greatly hindered by their efforts to maintain the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile.
“Now was the golden opportunity for these leading men to frankly confess that God had wrought through Paul, and that they were wrong in permitting the reports of his enemies to create jealousy and prejudice against him. But instead of doing justice to the one whom they had injured, they still appeared to hold him responsible for the existing prejudice, as though he had given them cause for such feelings. They did not nobly stand in his defense, and endeavor to show the disaffected party their error; but they threw the burden wholly upon Paul, counseling him to pursue a course for the removal of all misapprehension.” Sketches from the Life of Paul, 211, 212
The elders of the Jerusalem church missed a great opportunity to put to rest questions regarding circumcision and the ceremonial laws. They could have supported Paul and delivered grace to him and the church. Instead, the church caused greater harm to their faithful brother by asking him to partake of the ceremonies in an effort to appease those in the church who were working from a wrong premise. They were not requesting and partaking in the grace of Christ, but relying on the outward forms of religion that had been fulfilled and done away with by the death and resurrection of Jesus their Saviour. This action caused Paul great harm.
Paul, the emissary of grace to the Gentiles and now to the brethren in Jerusalem, complied with their request out of the sense of need to be accepted and to join with the mother church. In any other setting, he would have rejected such a request. Paul preached that the Grace of God, Jesus Christ, was all we needed for salvation, and through that association with Him, grace would change our lives. How many times did he tell Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ? Here are just a few. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” … “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” 2 Timothy 2:1 and 2 Timothy 1:8, 9
So, what is grace? Grace is defined as the unmerited favor of God. There is nothing worthy in us, no act or word spoken, that will make us righteous, so we need the grace of God. We can do nothing to deserve it, so He gives it to all who will come to Him. We find grace in God even before we are obedient, yet that grace abounds as we become more obedient. We are counseled to come as we are and receive grace. Satan wants to keep us from obtaining that which is freely given by God, but God knows us as we are and still calls us not to listen to the usurper, but humbly take the grace that God is offering.
“Do not listen to the enemy’s suggestion to stay away from Christ until you have made yourself better; until you are good enough to come to God. If you wait until then, you will never come. When Satan points to your filthy garments, repeat the promise of Jesus, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.’ John 6:37. Tell the enemy that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Make the prayer of David your own, ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ Psalm 51:7
“Arise and go to your Father. He will meet you a great way off. If you take even one step toward Him in repentance, He will hasten to enfold you in His arms of infinite love. His ear is open to the cry of the contrite soul. The very first reaching out of the heart after God is known to Him. Never a prayer is offered, however faltering, never a tear is shed, however secret, never a sincere desire after God is cherished, however feeble, but the Spirit of God goes forth to meet it. Even before the prayer is uttered or the yearning of the heart made known, grace from Christ goes forth to meet the grace that is working upon the human soul.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 205, 206
As we submit to God, His Spirit will lead us into the grace of Jesus. Paul spread the grace of Christ to all he encountered. Every letter he wrote began, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He saw the need for every believer to be endowed with the grace that flows from God. When he spoke, it was with grace to the hearer, impressing on his listeners that they should speak only grace and love. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29
Even though the elders of the Jerusalem church initially failed to understand that grace was the leading factor in the conversion of the church, later they did grasp this understanding. Yes, repentance was key to conversion, yet it was the grace of Jesus that drew them to repentance. Peter gave an accurate representation of grace and how it worked in a person’s conversion when he said, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19. Conversion comes from the drawing of the Lord through His amazing grace.
None of the men and women that the Lord drew to Himself were perfect people. All had faults. Some had led very sinful lives, but Jesus saw past the outward appearance to look at the heart that yearned for something better. All were converted through the grace of Jesus—Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and Paul—all sinners, all unworthy, all saved by grace because they believed in Jesus Christ.
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air [Satan], the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1–7
God’s grace is amazing to ponder. Through His kindness and love, He reaches down to lift us up from the depths of degradation. He finds us floundering in the clutches of Satan, but like a good shepherd, Jesus comes to find us, the one lost sheep. That is the grace of God toward mankind. What other kind of love would take fallen man and make him a partaker of the divine similitude? What other kind of love would take the time to mold us into the likeness of Christ, His Son? What kind of God would raise us up to sit together in heavenly places with Christ? Only a God of grace and love! There is no need to fear to come to God no matter where you are in life today. We need only remember that Jesus died for us, and His grace is sufficient in all cases.
Peter was a proud man who learned about the grace of Christ and was humbled. He said in 1 Peter 5:5, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ ”
Peter was not perfected immediately, just as we are not. He was carried off in hypocrisy toward the Gentile converts when the Jewish disciples came to visit. He separated himself from the Gentiles to win favor with the Jews, but Paul stood up and confronted him, teaching this man who had walked with Jesus a lesson in the grace of God.
I believe this story is recorded in the Bible for a couple of reasons. One was to show how Peter was not infallible and made mistakes. But it also is a warning to us lest we believe that we are without fault. We need to humble ourselves daily to receive that grace of Christ that flows so freely. When we become rooted in our own opinions, many times we find in soul searching that we are in need of more grace. We see that we are not as clean as we suppose, that as a stone to be set in the temple of God, we are not fitted properly. We need to be shaped and polished.
If we are not searching our souls, then we are in danger of becoming so fixed in our beliefs that we will miss the guidance of Christ as He directs our lives. If we are open and ready to follow, Jesus will lead His people every moment to His grace. His grace brings peace and love. There will be no envy or strife in our lives. But if we find that there is, then we must go back to Jesus and receive more of the grace and peace that passes all understanding. Jesus asked this question: “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8
“There is too little faith with Christians of today. They are willing to work for Christ and His cause only when they themselves can see a prospect of favorable results. Divine grace will aid the efforts of every true believer. That grace is sufficient for us under all circumstances. The Spirit of Christ will exert its renewing, perfecting power upon the character of all who will be obedient and faithful.” Sketches from the Life of Paul, 296
Will Jesus find faith on the earth when He comes? To partake of faith, we must first partake of grace. We are saved by grace, not of ourselves and if grace is our way to salvation, then grace is the most important component in our path to walk with Christ. As we absorb the grace of Jesus, He is then able to help us increase our faith in Him. Love and grace are the answer to faith and obedience. Without the former, the latter would not be possible. Are you partaking daily of the grace of Christ? Is He showering you with His saving power? If we rely on Him, His grace is sufficient for us, and we will find that it is totally amazing.
Michael C. Wells is the director of Anointing Oil Ministries.