By Loyd Hohertz
Grace is one of the most fundamental words of Christianity. It is a word used on a regular basis by Christians, but do most Christians have a clear and complete understanding of what “grace” means? Any diligent student studying a subject in college would not remotely expect to thoroughly understand that subject without a proper understanding of the fundamental words of the subject. Are we to expect a Christian to be less diligent in understanding the fundamental words of Christianity?
The only definition of grace I had ever heard given by the Worldwide Church of God from my years at Ambassador College from 1958 to 1962 and until Herbert Armstrong’s death in 1986, was “unmerited pardon”. (Almost all of the present and former members of Worldwide Church of God I have discussed the meaning of grace with, still define grace as “unmerited pardon”.) I was never comfortable with this definition.
Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary, second edition, in defining “pardon” as a noun, lists the word “forgiveness” as the only synonym. “Unmerited” is listed without a definition, along with hundreds of other words with the prefix of un. The prefix un is defined as: not, lack of, the opposite of. However, the word “merited” is listed separately and is defined by the single word “deserved”. So, “unmerited” obviously would have to mean “undeserved”. Then “unmerited pardon” would obviously mean “undeserved forgiveness”. Is this a proper definition of grace?
During my college years, I noticed that the Apostle Paul ended all of his letters with the following or similar expression; “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (The word “grace” found in the New Testament is always translated from the Greek word karis designated by Strong’s Concordance, reference #5485.) Does it make sense for Paul to be continually saying to converted Christians, “May the ‘unmerited pardon’ of Christ be with you”? There are many benefits available to Christians from Christ! Why would Paul consistently express the same desire that Christians be blessed with only one of the many benefits available to them from Christ?
It was not until late 1993 that I made a major study of the meaning of all the major fundamental words in the Bible, including grace. This study revealed that grace has a far greater scope of meaning than just “unmerited pardon”.
Divine Grace in Scriptures
A good scripture that translates the Greek word karis as favor instead of grace is found in Luke 1:30. This scripture tells about Mary, the woman that was to become the mother of Christ; “Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’” Does the definition of grace as “unmerited pardon” explain the honor Mary received by being chosen of God to become the mother of Christ? Luke 2:40 tells of the young Jesus: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” 2 Corinthians tells us that Christ never sinned. Since Christ did not sin, why would God’s “unmerited pardon” be upon Him? And how would “unmerited pardon” cause Jesus to grow strong in spirit?
John 1:14 gives the following description of Christ; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. John 1:17 further states; “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Christ who was full of grace and truth, fully demonstrated this grace and truth in how He lived and in everything He taught and in everything He did. John 17:17 records Christ’s definition of truth as He is praying to God the Father; “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” Since truth is defined with such a wide scope of meaning as encompassing all of God’s word, should we not expect grace, which is mentioned first and directly associated with truth to have a far more powerful meaning than “unmerited pardon”? Let’s review some additional scriptures for a more complete definition of grace.
But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2Pet 3:18)
How does a person grow in “unmerited pardon”? And is “unmerited pardon” the only thing besides knowledge that Christ has to offer for Christians to grow in?
…of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power (Eph 3:7).
Would “unmerited pardon” alone demonstrate the effectual working of God’s power and make the Apostle Paul a powerful minister?
Romans 12:6 to 21 lists the gifts and attributes granted Christians by the grace of God given to them: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” The rest of this chapter lists over 20 gifts granted to Christians by God’s grace! Ephesians 4:7–16 also lists several of these gifts of grace. These gifts of grace include not only offices of authority, but all of the character traits of God. None of the gifts of grace listed in these two chapters have the exclusive meaning of “unmerited pardon”.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace (2Thes 2:16).
The hope of all Christians culminates in the main and final hope which in the resurrection and eternal life (Acts 2:25–27; 3:6; 24:15; 26:6; Rom 8:21–22; 1Thes 2:19; 5:8; Titus 1:2; 2:13; 3:7; Heb 3:6; 6:11; 1Pet 1:3–4; 1Jn 3:1–3). Clearly, providing everlasting consolation and good hope encompasses far more than “unmerited pardon”.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work (2Cor 9:8).
This scripture clearly states that God’s grace is available to supply all our needs and to help us do every good work. Also, at the very least, this scripture also strongly implies that every good work is grace.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1Pet 1:13).
This scripture tells us that we are to look forward in hope to the gift of grace we shall receive at the return of Christ. What else is this but the resurrection of true Christians?!
Peter speaks of Christian husbands and their wives: “…being heirs together of the grace of life” (1Pet 3:7). The Bible tells us that what true Christian heirs should expect to inherit is eternal life! (Matt 19:29; 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18.) Does “unmerited pardon” of itself grant us eternal life?
But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you (1Pet 5:10).
…so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:21).
How can “unmerited pardon” by itself perfect a Christian’s character and personality and establish God’s eternal glory in him? Does grace as defined by the term “unmerited pardon” reign over all aspects of a Christian’s life unto eternal life?
Acts 15:11 states: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Also in Titus 2:11 we read: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” “Unmerited pardon” involves only one of many facets of the salvation-giving power of the life of Christ. “Unmerited pardon” of itself saves absolutely no one!
Some of the most powerful and definitive scriptures on grace are found in Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8–10).
These scriptures plainly state that we are not saved by our works but by God’s workmanship through Christ, which is Their works of grace. Are we to believe that God and Christ’s workmanship in regards to true Christians only involves “unmerited pardon”?
…receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you (1Pet 1:9–10)
Was “unmerited pardon” what the prophets were diligently searching and prophesying about? Is “unmerited pardon” the ultimate result that a Christian expects from his faith? These verses clearly and unmistakably state that the final product of God and Christ’s grace is the completed process of salvation, the resurrection to eternal life.
In Acts 20:24 the apostle Paul uses the term “the gospel of the grace of God”. In the next verse he connects this gospel with “preaching the kingdom of God”. Acts 20:24 has a companion scripture:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal 1:6–7).
Notice that the grace of Christ is directly equated to the gospel of Christ.
In over two dozen New Testament scriptures the word “gospel” is used without any other description. In other places it is described as the gospel of the kingdom and the gospel of God. There are several less common descriptions of the gospel, including “the everlasting gospel” as recorded in Revelation 14:6. Hebrews 4:2 states: “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them [Old Testament Israelites]…”. These scriptures declare that the gospel of the Old and New Testaments is the same and is an everlasting gospel. It has always existed and will be around as long as God exists. Ephesians 1:13 describes the gospel in yet another manner; “the word of truth, gospel of your salvation”. Regardless of how the “gospel” is described, it is timeless, it involves all of God’s perfect word of truth and all aspects of salvation which is fully implemented, nurtured, and brought to full fruition by God and Christ’s grace.
Now let us review one more set of scriptures concerning grace. There are several poignant scriptures concerning Christ that are intimately and powerfully connected to the function of grace. Here are two:
…who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5:7–9)
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:15–16).
Let us review the office Christ holds at the present time. 1 Peter 1:20 states that Christ was foreordained to be our Savior before the foundation of the world. Christ, as a spirit being, was trained in heaven directly and intimately by God the Father in all the requirements of living like God. Christ explains this training:
Then Jesus said to them, “…I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things…” (John 8:28).
…the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner (John 5:19).
I speak what I have seen with My Father… (John 8:38).
Christ, after His divine training, humbled Himself and as a human being went through an intensive and extensive training process, overcoming all manner of temptations, being perfected by His severe sufferings. He is now a perfect High Priest, a perfect Mediator and a perfect Author of our salvation and sits in intimate and constant contact at the right hand of God the Father at the throne of grace. This scripture expresses the power of the throne of grace:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father (John 14:12).
The scriptures we have reviewed so far on grace even when assessed on an individual basis, show that grace involves far more than “unmerited pardon”. These same scriptures collectively profoundly state that God’s grace is intimately and constantly and powerfully involved in all facets of salvation, including establishing His righteous character in those He has chosen.
Christians and Grace
Some people think of grace only as something that God and Christ give and Christians receive. Are Christians expected to be only on the receiving end of grace, or are they also expected or even required to show grace? Let us review what the scriptures say on this subject.
Besides grace and favor, the Greek word karis is also sometimes translated as thank, thanks, or thankworthy, as well as liberality, gift, benefit, pleasure, joy, and acceptable. None of these English words translated from the Greek word karis remotely have the exclusive meaning of “unmerited pardon”.
Let us now review the word “thank” and its derivatives translated from the Greek word karis. In 1 Timothy 1:12 the Apostle Paul says: “and I thank Christ Jesus, the Lord…” In 2 Timothy 1:3 the Apostle Paul also states: “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers…” The Scriptures also speak of giving thanks to God or Christ (Rom 6:17; 1Cor 15:57; 2Cor 2:14; 2Cor 8:16; 9:15; 1Tim 1:12; 2Tim 1:3). Other scriptures speak of giving thanks to or receiving thanks from our fellow mankind (Luke 6:32, 33, 34; 17:9; 1Pet 2:19).
In parts of this country, even today, the expression “say grace” is still used for saying a prayer or giving thanks before a meal. Hebrews 13:15 gives the explanation of how proper prayer to God constitutes “saying grace”: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Proper prayer of thanksgiving and/or praise is one aspect of grace and is a freewill offering to God and/or Christ. It is interesting to note that even today the Spanish word gracias, meaning grace, is the common word used to express thanks in Spanish.
Let us read several scriptures showing that Christians are responsible for grace:
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Col 4:6).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col 3:16).
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers (Eph 4:29).
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb 12:28).
But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also (2Cor 8:7).
A close scrutiny of the last scripture and its surrounding verses will show that proper demonstration of faith, utterance, knowledge, diligence, and love are expressions of grace.
Another different concept of grace is found here:
And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem (1Cor 16:3, KJV).
The word “liberality” is translated from the Greek word karis, and is translated as “gift” in other Bible versions. The apostle Paul was instructing the Christians in Corinth to set aside physical goods that were to be taken to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. This free will offering of physical goods is called karis in Greek and is an example of grace.
So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part (2Cor 8:6).
This scripture is saying that the teaching, preaching, and ministering of Titus were a form of grace.
God’s and Christ’s grace demonstrates their righteous character while directing and empowering true Christians to grow in that same righteous character. Gods and Christ’s grace is empowered by their spirit and is the guiding force in implementing God’s truth and character, as well as all of the functions which bring about complete salvation.
In regards to man giving grace, grace is a free will gift given for an unselfish, righteous purpose; whether to God or fellow mankind. Grace can be given in the form of physical goods, physical service, verbal expressions of kindness, spiritual service (healing, casting out demons, inspired preaching and teaching) or any demonstration or expression of Godly character.
Old Testament Grace
Some people think grace is only a New Testament phenomenon. Is there any proof that grace was involved in the Old Testament?
The Greek word karis (Strong’s #5485) which is most often translated “grace”, is also translated “favor” in the following scriptures: Luke 1:30, 2:52, Acts 2:47, 7:10, and 7:46. Acts 7:9–10 gives a good example of grace in the Old Testament; “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor [karis #5485] and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.” The original story is found in Genesis 41:40–44.
Acts 7:45–46 relates another powerful Old Testament example of grace:
Which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, who found favor [karis #5485] before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob (Acts 7:45–46)
The original story is found in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. In these verses God tells David that He took him from herding sheep and made him king of Israel. In verse 16 God tells David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” Here we have two major examples of grace from the Old Testament which are confirmed in the New Testament.
There are many other examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament. The first use of the word “grace” in the Old Testament is found in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace [ghehn, #2580] in the eyes of the Lord.” Because of this grace, Noah and his family were not destroyed in the flood.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews has a long list of faithful people from the Old Testament.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us (Heb 11:39–40).
Since these people are dead and have not yet received the promise, it is obvious that they will not receive the promise until after they are resurrected. Titus 1:2 declares what this promise is: “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” Earlier in this article we reviewed several scriptures that clearly state that the resurrection is the end product of salvation and that it only can be obtained with God’s grace. Thus all the people listed in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews had and will have the benefit of God’s grace.
Perhaps the most beautiful description of grace in the entire Bible is found in the Old Testament:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace [Strong’s #2580] and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11)
Old Testament Grace Versus New Testament Grace
There is a major difference between the application of God’s grace in the Old Testament and its application in the present age. The establishment of the New Covenant after the resurrection and shortly after Christ’s ascension into heaven required a special application of God’s grace. Jeremiah 31:31–40 and Hebrews 8:8–12 describe this New Covenant: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
The foundation of the Old Testament covenant was established when God gave His laws to the Israelites on Mount Sinai and established Israel as a special nation to God (also called the congregation). This major event was a very special expression of God’s grace towards Israel (Ex 20:1–17).
The New Testament covenant was ushered in with God giving His Spirit to approximately 3,000 people at the same time on Pentecost which established the New Testament Church (Acts 2:1–4). Ever since this event, God’s spirit of grace has been available to true Christians in a more powerful, sophisticated, perfect and personal manner. True Christians, under the New Covenant, have available to them, not only all of the attributes of God the Father, but everything Christ learned from His perfected human experiences.
Other Aspects of Grace
Many, if not most, Christians think of grace as being “unmerited” and exclusively dealing with the negative nature of man such as forgiving sins. This is the concept that “unmerited pardon” strongly, if not exclusively, conveys. Is this concept a provable fact, or just a conclusion that people have reached without any serious investigation?
John 1:14 tells us that Christ, while on this earth in human form, had God’s grace in full measure. The Bible tells us that the human Christ carried out His responsibilities with perfection and without sinning. Was the grace that God granted Christ unmerited?
Earlier in this article it was shown that the Greek word karis, which most often is translated grace, is also translated thanks or one of its derivatives. There are scriptures that tell of giving thanks to mankind as well as to God. Would thanks given to God ever be unmerited? Would thanks even expressed to a fellow human normally be unmerited? What if God gives a person a special task, such as delivering a specific prophecy? If that person carries out this task to the best of his ability, is any help from God to carry out this task unmerited? Were all of the gifts of grace granted to Moses to carry out his duties unmerited? Were all of the gifts of grace granted to the 12 apostles to carry out God’s service unmerited? The eleventh chapter of Hebrews tells of many of God’s faithful that are waiting for the resurrection. Even though the resurrection to eternal life is a gift from God, God requires strict standards to be met to qualify for the resurrection. So, strictly speaking, is the resurrection of the faithful “unmerited”? If so, then what do we call the situation where people will not be in the resurrection to eternal life because they have committed the unpardonable sin?
Earlier in this article we reviewed scriptures that show that expressing or demonstrating godly character is grace. This would include keeping the Ten Commandments. Is honoring God “unmerited” grace? Is honoring your father and mother “unmerited” grace?
Sometimes God’s grace is obvious. Other times God’s grace is very hard to recognize or very difficult to understand. Sometimes what appears to be grace can be deceptive and actually be a curse. Christians must remember that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light and many of Satan’s ministers present themselves as servants of light and present a false gospel of grace (Acts 20:24, 2Cor 11:14–15).
Sometimes the blessings of grace are observed immediately as demonstrated by the scriptures telling of Christ healing people, casting out demons or even raising up the dead in the case of Lazarus (John 11:43–44). Other times the blessings of grace are not realized until many years in the future.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews lists most of the characters of faith in the Bible. Verse 8 speaks of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being heirs of the promise. Verse 39 speaks of all the people of faith listed in the chapter: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.” The main product of God’s grace is salvation which culminates in the resurrection and a glorious spiritual body. All of those chosen by God, including those who are dead, are still waiting for this future gift of grace.
The Special Blessings of Gracious Curses!
Paradoxically, what may appear to be a curse from a human point of view may be God’s grace at work. A good explanation of this concept is found in 1 Peter 4:12–13: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
The word “try” has a far broader meaning than some people realize. The word “try”, as used in many Biblical examples, comes from a metallurgical term. It means to place the raw ore in a hot furnace and melt it down so the precious metals can be removed. That is what God and Christ are doing with true Christians. True Christians are figuratively “tried” in a fiery furnace so their evil and worthless nature will be removed so that only precious good character remains to be further developed. A good description of this concept is found in Zechariah 13:9.
An example of a fiery trial that was also an act of grace on God’s part is the terrible experiences Job went through. The first chapter of Job tells us that he had seven sons and three daughters. Job 1:3 also states that he also had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred she asses, and a very great household. The rest of chapter 1 tells how in a short period of a single day Job was informed that all his children had been killed and all his vast herds of different animals were either stolen or destroyed. It also appears that all his servants were killed except the ones left who individually brought news of each of the catastrophes. Later Job was stricken with boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. Job 2:8–9 depicts Job sitting in ashes, apparently naked, while scraping his boils with a potsherd. His wife, instead of encouraging him, tells him to curse God and die. Job looked so terrible that when his three friends came to see him they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights without speaking.
Then Job finally breaks the silence and begins to speak. Chapters 3 through 37 tells of Job defending himself while his “friends” accuse him of being a supreme hypocrite. It was their view that Job must be a superb hypocrite and not nearly as righteous as he appeared to be. Otherwise, why would God be allowing Job to be cursed in such a drastic manner?
After all of these terrible experiences were over with; we read in chapters 38, 39, 40 and 41 about Job receiving corrections from God, who speaks out of a whirlwind and challenges Job to compare himself to God. Then, Job states in Job 42:5–6; “”I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job was a righteous man. God attests to this in Job 1:8; 2:3 Also in Job 42:7–8, God tells Job’s three friends that “…you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” The problem was that, in spite of Job being righteous, he had an imperfect concept of God which was hindering his spiritual growth. Job 42:10 states: “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends…”. The rest of the book of Job tells how God then blessed Job with seven sons and three daughters and twice the wealth in herds of animals that he had before. Job then lived another 140 years and saw his descendants to the fourth generation. God allowed Satan to severely curse Job and yet God used this experience to provide a gracious blessing. It is interesting to note that Satan tempts people to bring out the worst in their human nature. God tries people in order to bring out the best in their character.
Another example of a curse being an act of grace on God’s part is the experience Joseph went through. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused of rape by the wife of Potiphar, and kept in slavery for 13 years during the prime of his life. And yet this was an act of grace on God’s part and prepared Joseph to be second in charge under Pharaoh over all of Egypt. In this position of authority God used Joseph to prepare for the seven years of famine that were to come, and provide for all of Egypt and the people in the surrounding countries. Joseph was also able to provide for his whole family during the famine and provide a place for them to live until their Exodus out of Egypt.
A great portion of the Bible is about the trials and triumphs of God’s servants. The faith chapter of Hebrews 11 tells of many of the fiery trials that God’s faithful servants went through. God’s grace is not only demonstrated by obvious blessings, but also by trials which perform a necessary and vital function in salvation.
There are many scriptures that tell of Christ’s fiery trials as a human on earth:
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).
Though He [Christ] was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered (Heb 5:8).
And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44).
Hebrews 2:9 gives an excellent explanation of Christ’s final trial as a human on the earth:
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
Galatians 3:13 also describes Christ’s death: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” The extreme sufferings or curses Christ experienced are supreme examples of God and Christ’s grace. Not only did these trials and curses bring about forgiveness for mankind, it also was part of the perfecting of Christ’s character so He could provide complete salvation as the perfect savior and mediator of the New Covenant between God and man (Heb 8:6).
For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives (Heb 12:6).
God’s elect are chosen to be trained for leadership in His kingdom. God does not call His elect to invite them to a picnic! God calls His elect for an intensive and extensive “boot camp training” because God is training them for leadership in His kingdom. Those being trained for the highest positions also go through the most intensive training and gracious curses in order to qualify for those positions. A true Christian’s life is a bittersweet life. A Christian has many obvious blessings but there are also many severe trials. Even Christ, in spite of His perfect training directly under God in heaven and having a full measure of God’s spirit while being a human being on earth, is described as; “A man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) The Apostle Paul, who wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else and was a powerful servant of God, states in 1 Corinthians 15:19; “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”
From these clear and easy to understand scriptures, it can be confidently said that if your life has been one long picnic, you are either a good example of a Laodicean who’s trials still lie ahead or you have never been called and chosen as one of the elect.
Fruits of a Graceless Society
A society void of grace can be best described as the “living dead”. This type of society is physically alive but spiritually dead. The book of Jude tells us about this type of society. We read in Jude 4: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that people that pervert God’s grace are called ungodly men. So, everything that is ungodly is the opposite of God’s grace.
In verse 5 we are told how God destroyed the Israelites coming out of Egypt who believed not. This scripture shows that a person cannot properly utilize God’s grace without faith. In verse 6 we are told that the angels who kept not their first estate, God has reserved in everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day. In verse 7 we are told about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their lack of grace. In verse 11 we are told about Cain, Balaam, and Korah as examples of ungodly (ungracious) men.
Titus 2:11–12 tells about God’s grace and ungodliness: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
God’s grace is an expression of his character. God’s grace empowers Christians to develop God’s character and provides for their complete salvation. Grace is so important that God expects unconverted people to express grace. When a society gets to the stage where it is utterly void of grace, God is strongly inclined to destroy that society like He did at the time of the Noachian flood and at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It is interesting to note that Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary, second edition, has the old, and now considered obsolete, definition of ungracious: wicked, odious, and hateful.
I believe that even the destruction of the world in the Noachian flood and the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of God’s grace. In both cases the society had become so depraved that they had no redeeming value and they were rapidly racing down the path of miserable self-destruction. These people will all be resurrected in the future and will have a much better chance of developing good sound character. So God will turn a major curse into a blessing in the end.
I fully believe that everything God does demonstrates His truth and is grace. If this concept is correct, truth and grace represent everything God and Christ are!
Misuse of Grace
According to the Bible, the worst type of character a person can have is self-righteousness. Christ berated the religious leaders of His time more than anyone else because of their self-righteousness. Read the whole chapter of Matthew 23 for an example of this. In Matthew 21:31 Christ is speaking to the religious leaders and saying; “…Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” Also in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” There are many other scriptures that show that Christ had his worst problems with people who considered themselves very righteous.
Self-righteous people tend to be quick at seeing other people’s faults, even small ones, while overlooking their own faults, even large ones. Christ’s description of this problem is recorded in Matthew 7:3: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” Self-righteous people also tend to make a big issue over small points of righteousness while overlooking large issues of righteousness. Matthew 23:24 records Christ describing this character trait of the scribes and Pharisees: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
God hates self-righteousness because it is not only idolatry, but the worst form of idolatry. Self-righteousness is the worship of self! Because it involves the self, those involved with self-righteousness have a hard time fully comprehending their problem so they can start eliminating this negative character trait.
Satan is the supreme example of self-righteousness. It was also self-righteousness that Satan tempted Eve with at the tree of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:5 we find Satan telling Eve; “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Some examples of a self-righteous person are someone who denies the need for God’s grace, misuses God’s grace by exalting the self, or considers himself so righteous that God is obligated to grant him His grace. Self-righteous people also establish their own standard of righteousness instead of strictly relying and properly dividing God’s word and utilizing His grace in directing and developing true righteousness. This is a terrible insult to God and Christ! Does anyone expect God and Christ to give their gift of grace so someone can make and idol of himself?
The next major example of the misuse of God’s grace is the lukewarm Christian. A person can thoroughly review the Bible from cover to cover and he will not find even one lukewarm hero. In Revelation 3:15–16 we find Christ statement about the Laodicean Church; “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” The Greek word emco (Strong’s #1698, translated as “spue” in the King James Version) is translated correctly as “vomit”. Christ is saying He cannot stomach a lukewarm Christian. Basically, Christ is stating that He would rather deal with a zealous enemy, like the Apostle Paul was before his conversion, than a lukewarm Christian.
I have been told many times by people that it was “interesting” to thoroughly understand the fundamental terms used in the Bible, but not important. I have also had people tell me they only concern themselves with the “basics” of the Bible and that they don’t worry about the rest. I have had other people tell me that they learned a long time ago not to worry about things too much because they have faith that God and Christ know what they are doing and that they are fully competent to make sure that everything turns out all right. Would a person be this casual about a profession he was studying and hoping to excel in? Would it be logical for a person to expect to excel in a profession and not even understand the meaning of the fundamental words of that profession? Was it not important for Christ to thoroughly understand what He was suffering and dying for? Was it important for the apostles to know what they were communicating when they wrote the New Testament? Is it possible that it might be important that Christians have a thorough comprehension of what they read in the Bible?
God and Christ expect more from Christians than not being bad, and having a calm “faith” that God and Christ know what they are doing and will make sure everything turns out okay. There is an old saying that basically states: “All that is necessary for a minority of evil people to triumph is for a majority of ‘good’ people to sit idly by.” God and Christ expect Christians to make thorough use of the divine grace they receive to diligently study to understand God’s word and to abundantly produce righteous fruits. The amount of grace that a Christian will receive will directly be related to how well he uses the grace he has already received.
Deuteronomy gives this command to anyone who became king over Israel:
Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes (Deut 17:18–19)
Christians are called and chosen to be trained to be rulers including kings and priests in God’s kingdom. With this understanding, should Christians be less diligent about God’s word than the physical kings of ancient Israel and Judah? God, as part of the New Covenant, promises to put His laws into their minds and write them in their hearts. But, a Christian is still responsible to do his part, including how fast, how complete, and how resolutely those laws become an intricate part of him. How well a Christian receives God’s law along with his abilities will determine how he is rewarded in God’s kingdom. A person can totally reject God’s law, in which case he would be committing the unpardonable sin, and will not be in God’s kingdom.
Christ was thoroughly, directly, and personally trained by God the Father. While He was a human being on this earth He had a full measure of God’s grace upon Him. I think everyone would agree that Christ also had a thorough understanding of God’s laws. Yet Hebrews 5:7–9 describes how He struggled to overcome sin and how He learned from the things He suffered. If Christ struggled that hard to perfectly and indelibly write God’s law upon His heart and mind, should Christians expect less?
God’s plan is, has been, and will continue to be to develop spiritual sons out of those He has chosen. God is not interested in super sophisticated spiritual robots. If God were interested in creating robots, He could have created them a long time ago with considerable less trouble for Himself as well as for mankind.
Apparently people want the benefits and blessings of being a free moral agent, but want the ease and comfort of being programmed like a robot. This is totally contrary to the example of Christ. This attitude is also contrary to all of the examples of the faithful in the Bible. It is totally contrary to the most basic concepts of the teaching of the Bible. It is flagrantly ignoring dozens of simple scriptures that anyone can understand! These scriptures among other things tell Christians:
• Be diligent, God rewards those that diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6)
• Expect fiery trials (1Pet 4:12)
• Work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phlp 2:12)
• Be overcomers (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21)
• Be alert and watchful (1Thes 5:6)
• Study to show thyself approved (1Tim 2:15)
• Grow in grace and knowledge (2Pet 3:18)
• Be a workman who needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2Tim 2:14–16)
• “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:14)
• Labor to enter into the rest of God (Heb 4:11)
• Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2Tim 2:3)
• “If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable” (1Cor 15:19)
• “Not the hearers but the doers of the law are justified” (Rom 2:13)
• “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2Cor 13:5)
• Learn from the parable of the ten virgins, 5 of whom are not prepared for Christ’s second coming (Matt 25:1–10)
• The apostle Paul said that he kept constant guard over his life so that after he preached to others he would not find himself a castaway (1Cor 9:27)
• “…though He [Christ] was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb 5:8)
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach (Heb 13:12–13).
Are Christians asked to go outside the gate where Christ suffered just to observe Christ or to imitate Him?
Self-righteousness and being lukewarm are both gross insults to God and Christ and their gift of grace. The people involved with either of these attitudes are focused on themselves instead of God. Self-righteous people are concerned about self-aggrandizement, the exalting of themselves. The people with the lukewarm attitudes are also focused on themselves. They expect God and Christ to do all of the work while they reap the benefits of a life of ease and comfort.
Self-righteousness and being lukewarm are two of Satan’s greatest methods of deception. God and Christ cannot do any major work with people that remain in either of these attitudes. Anyone who promotes these attitudes either by example, direct teaching, or lack of warning against, is taking God’s name in vain in a major way. So let us strive to properly use God’s grace which He abundantly provides for our righteous development and salvation.
A Review of “Unmerited Pardon”
It was not until I had written most of this article that I realized the term “unmerited pardon” has far greater problems besides failing to properly express the full meaning of grace. A close scrutiny of the term “unmerited pardon” reveals it to be not only inadequate, but redundant, contradictory, and confusing. As explained in the beginning of this article, “unmerited pardon” can be defined by the easy to understand term “undeserved forgiveness”. The word “pardon” (forgiveness) always expresses an action that is unmerited or undeserved. A person who merits something does not need a pardon, but deserves recognition, honor, or reward. We as sinners do not deserve God’s forgiveness; we deserve death.
God’s forgiveness is always unmerited because it is never something He owes us. But, God requires certain conditions to be met before He offers forgiveness. Before God forgives a person, that person is required to repent (Acts 5:31) and to forgive his fellow man (Matthew 6:14). An action on God’s part that would meet the definition of “unmerited pardon” would be for God to forgive a person who refused to repent and forgive his fellow man. This will never happen because God does not break His own laws (Heb 10:26).
Another example that meets the definition of “unmerited pardon” would be for the president of a country or a governor of a state to pardon a murderer who never expressed regret for his crime and repeatedly expressed that he would murder again as soon as possible after he was released. In both of the examples given above, the pardons would be contrary to law and thus be not only illegal but also totally unreasonable and thus be an “unmerited pardon”.
A thorough research of the scriptures will also show that grace sometimes has absolutely no connection to either “pardon” or “unmerited”. I believe everyone at this point would agree that the term “unmerited pardon”, as a definition of grace, leaves much to be desired.
A proper understanding of grace clearly establishes that it has a profoundly broader meaning than “unmerited pardon”. “Unmerited pardon” confuses and almost totally destroys the meaning of one of the most foundational and powerful words of the Bible!
A person should be able to find a reasonably good definition of grace in any unabridged dictionary. Any good Bible lexicon like Thayer’s or Gesenius, which were reviewed earlier in this article, should also have some good definitions of grace with examples of scriptures to substantiate these definitions. Many of the scriptures on grace, even on an individual basis, plainly state that God’s grace involves much more than “unmerited pardon”. These same scriptures, on a collective basis, profoundly state that God and Christ’s grace is intimately and constantly involved in establishing Their righteous character in Christians and in providing for all facets of their salvation. This divine grace is abundantly and readily available to be provided to true Christians by God the Father with His supreme power and perfect, loving character, and by Christ, the divinely trained heir with all of His perfected human experiences and with the backing of all the angelic host of heaven.
Grace is not just a product of the New Testament era; it is thoroughly demonstrated in the Old Testament also. God is, always has been, and always will be a God of grace. Grace is the expression of God and Christ’s personality and character and is demonstrated in how they think, how they live, and everything they do! God and Christ’s grace is also demonstrated by the many and widely varied activities they do on behalf of Christians to develop them into true sons of God.
Sometimes the fruits of grace are received immediately. At other times, like in the case of the resurrection, it is a long time in coming. At other times, grace is very difficult to understand and may include fiery trials to help develop a person so he is prepared to receive God’s blessings properly.
A person needs to receive and utilize the grace of God and Jesus Christ in order to become and remain a true Christian. One of the main requirements of every Christian is to demonstrate grace in how they live. People demonstrate grace when they reflect God’s character and do unselfish, godly works of righteousness. God even expects unconverted people to show grace. If a society is utterly void of grace, God is strongly motivated to destroy that society. A good example of this is the destruction Sodom and Gomorrah and the world at the time of the Noachian flood.
True grace is an expression of godliness. The antithesis or complete opposite of grace is ungodliness. Grace and truth define who God and Christ are! God’s word, which is truth, is a description of everything God believes. Everything God and Christ do demonstrates how to apply that truth and is grace. Christians are told to grow in grace and in knowledge (knowledge of God’s word which equals truth). So Christians are to grow in everything God believes and everything God does.
Grace and truth are the two foundational pillars of God and Christ. Grace and truth are the two foundational pillars of the Bible. Grace and truth should be the two foundational pillars that all true Christians are developing in their lives!
Loyd W. Hohertz
1479 Valencia Ave.
Pasadena, California 91104
About the author: Lloyd started attending the WCG in 1953. He graduated from Ambassador College in 1962, but derived most of his Bible knowledge from independent study. He has done extensive research on other subjects and plans to write about them as time permits.