GRACE — What Is God’s Grace? How Do You Receive It? How Do You Grow In It?
You hear a lot about “grace” in Christian circles, but what exactly is it? In the Bible it’s translated from the Greek word charis (KAIR-iss), which means “graciousness, favor, kindness.” Consider a “teacher’s pet” in a positive way. Why is a certain student the “teacher’s pet”? Simply because that particular student has the teacher’s favor. Now let’s apply this to God’s favor or God’s grace. Just as the teacher’s pet has the teacher’s favor so you and I can have God’s favor.
But how do we obtain God’s grace/favor? It’s simple:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor (charis) to the humble.”
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor (charis) to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5
Both James and Peter are quoting Proverbs 3:34 (albeit in koine Greek). So this phrase is shared three times in God’s Word—once in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament. Do ya think the LORD’s trying to get something important across to us? Obviously so: Don’t be proud because God opposes—resists—the proud; rather cultivate humility because God gives his grace/favor (charis) to the humble. Simply put, humility attracts the LORD. Now humility is not self-loathing; it simply means you don’t think you’re all that and a bag of chips. It’s a healthy, beautiful quality and we’ll look at why humility attracts God and his favor shortly.
In this article we’re going to explore two forms of God’s grace:
- God’s grace (favor) of eternal salvation. This, of course, includes all the benefits that come with salvation, like the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5) and the apprehension of eternal life (John 3:36 & 1 John 5:11-12).
- God’s grace (favor) for you personally as you grow spiritually. If you find this incredulous, Jesus Christ—our example—grew in God’s grace (favor) when he was on Earth (Luke 2:52) and the epistles clearly exhort us to grow in God’s favor (2 Peter 3:18 & James 4:8).
We’re also going to look at humility—because, as noted above, this is the quality that attracts God’s favor. Along with humility, we’re going to examine two qualities that spring from humility—repentance and faith. We’re also going to consider two types of love in the Bible, which relate very differently to God’s grace.
The reason this teaching is important is because there’s a lot of error about God’s grace in the body of Christ today. This includes error concerning the linking topics above, especially repentance. A top example would be the erroneous idea that God’s grace is “unconditional.” Really? If this were so, then everyone would have it. True, God’s favor is unmerited in the sense that you cannot work for it or purchase it, but there are conditions to receiving it… and growing in it. If this weren’t so, then everyone would have it—or will have it—and that’s Universalism, a clearly unbiblical doctrine.
I should stress that this article is rooted in what God’s Word teaches about grace and not what this or that sect/camp/minister teaches. Thankfully, the Scriptures are simple and unmistakable on the topic.
Let’s start with:
1. God’s Grace (Favor) of Salvation
Notice how the awesome gift of eternal salvation is linked to God’s grace:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (charis),
and all are justified freely by his grace (charis) through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
For the grace (charis) of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
For it is by grace (charis) you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Eternal redemption and all of its benefits are available to all people by God’s grace. In other words, God is extending his hand of favor—and the eternal salvation that goes with it—to all people as a gift. A gift—as Ephesians 2:8-9 above shows—is not something that comes from ourselves through performing religious works; it’s a gift from a giver and you cannot work for it. In this sense God’s grace of salvation is unmerited and this explains the definition of grace you’ll often here from Christian ministers as “unmerited favor.” But, technically speaking, the word ‘grace’—charis—doesn’t mean “unmerited favor,” it simply means “graciousness, favor, kindness.”
While God’s grace of salvation is an unmerited gift, the individual has to receive this gift; he/she has to accept it. In other words, although the gift of eternal salvation is unmerited and therefore you can’t work to get it or purchase it, this doesn’t discount the fact that it needs to be received.
There are two things necessary in order for people to receive a gift:
- They have to know there’s a giver with a gift for them to receive.
- They have to be willing to receive the gift, which is where humility comes into play.
Let’s say a rich distant relative leaves you $1 million when he dies. It’s in the bank for you to receive. But you can’t receive it if 1. you don’t know about the giver and his generous gift and 2. you don’t go to the bank and get it.
Concerning the second one, I remember an occasion in the 90s when a family I knew was financially struggling. So I went to their apartment and handed the wife a $100 bill, but she waved it off. She refused it. Why? I don’t know. Pride maybe, like perhaps she was too proud to take “handouts.” I don’t know, but she declined the gift. I walked away a little sad that she wouldn’t receive my gift. This shows that, just because someone offers a generous gift, it doesn’t mean that everyone will receive it.
It’s the same with God’s gracious gift of salvation and all that goes with it, like the forgiveness of sins and eternal life: Some people will choose to reject it. Why? I don’t know. Usually I suppose because they don’t think it’s legitimate; in other words they don’t believe. Perhaps they stubbornly adhere to secular humanism or this or that religion/ideology, which they feel is good enough for them and more valid than John 3:16 & Romans 6:23. Another possible reason is pride. Maybe they think they don’t need it for one reason or another, like they deem themselves good enough as is to merit God’s favor and eternal life.
This brings us back to that attractive characteristic which is key to receiving God’s grace/favor…
Humility, the Key (or Key Ring) to Receiving God’s Grace
Let’s return to our fundamental verse—James 4:6—but this time include the verses before and after:
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he [God] jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace (charis). That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor (charis) to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Verse 6 stresses that God shows graciousness to the humble. As noted earlier, this is conveyed three times in the Bible. It reveals a vital truth about God’s favor and how to unlock it in your life. ‘Humility’ in the Greek is tapeinophrosune (tap-i-nof-ros-OO-nay), which means “inner lowliness” or “lowliness of mind.” It’s not self-loathing or self-belittlement, but rather a healthy sense of one’s littleness in the grand scheme of things regardless of position, possessions or talents. It’s a modest opinion of oneself and describes a person who depends on the LORD rather than self. You could describe humility as an inside-out virtue that is naturally produced when comparing oneself to the Almighty Creator rather than to other people, which of course helps keep one from being a self-exalting, self-inflated blowhard.
Have you ever met someone who regularly brags on himself or herself? It’s a huge turn-off, isn’t it? If it’s a turn-off to you, how do you think the LORD feels about it? This explains the words of wisdom: “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).
Two good examples of humility in the Bible are Moses (Numbers 12:3) and David (1 Samuel 18:23). It goes without saying that God used these men greatly, which is why 3000-3500 years after their passing people all over the world still talk about them and their exploits, like us right now. They were mighty men—very talented individuals—but they were also genuinely humble, which is what attracted God’s favor and explains why the LORD was able to use them so mightily.
God’s favor/graciousness/kindness is wonderful and he offers his grace to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or location—which indicates that God has no favoritism—but the LORD does not give favor to the proud who are too proud or too stubborn (one way or another) to recognize it, let alone receive it.
Now someone might point out that Christ taught that God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35) and “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). This shows the LORD’s general grace (kindness) toward fallen creation, which is intended to attract people to the Creator and his grace of salvation. Unfortunately, many proud souls disregard God’s general grace and scoff at the Almighty, even denying his existence; some palpably hate the LORD or any notion of an Almighty Creator (Psalm 14:1 & 53:1).
God is greatly patient with such people (2 Peter 3:9) and we’re called to pray for them (Matthew 5:44), but if they stubbornly continue in their arrogance, hatred and unbelief—disregarding God’s general grace, not to mention any additional grace offered to them through the intercession of the saints—they’re not going to receive God’s grace of salvation. And, if they’re too stubborn to recognize and receive the LORD’s grace of salvation they’re certainly not going to grow in personal grace, like Jesus did (Luke 2:52) and Peter instructed us to do (2 Peter 3:18). Why not? Because—again—God opposes the proud, but gives his grace to the humble!
And this reveals…
The Two Keys to Receiving God’s Grace of Salvation
While God’s grace of salvation is unmerited—meaning you cannot work for it or buy it—it still has to be received in order to possess it. If this weren’t so then everyone would be saved, which is Universalism, a false doctrine easily disproven in the Scriptures (for details go here).
There are two keys to receiving God’s grace of salvation, both of which spring from genuine humility (as opposed to false humility). In light of this, you could say that humility is the key ring to God’s grace, which holds two keys, the first one of which is…
We observed earlier how faith is key to receiving God’s grace of salvation in this famous passage:
For it is by grace (charis) you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
God’s grace of salvation is received through faith. Why? Christ implied the answer in these two statements: “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14) and “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these [children]” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus wasn’t encouraging childish behavior, of course, but rather childlike trust—faith—and all that goes with it: humility, innocence, receptivity and lack of self-sufficiency in regard to the Creator and his kingdom. This is meekness or humility. It draws God’s grace, whereas arrogance repels him.
Faith is vital due to the fact that:
…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Without faith it’s impossible to please God. Reflect on that; it’s an axiom.
What exactly is faith? Faith is belief, but not in the sense of believing in fairy tales; nor is it casual mental assent. Faith is simply belief based on God’s revelation. Now, understand, God reveals truth—reality (including the Reality of Himself)—through various sources in addition to the written Word of God, although God’s Word is where we learn specific spiritual truths and develop genuine doctrine. For instance, the Creator reveals himself through everything that he has created (Romans 1:19-20). So faith is belief based on 1. what is intrinsically obvious, 2. accurate knowledge, whether scientific, spiritual or otherwise, 3. genuine revelation by the Holy Spirit, or 4. some combination of these three.
Let’s consider examples of the first three. Regarding #1, someone may say they believe in the concept of God as Creator because it’s obvious that the Earth, Universe and all living creatures were intelligently designed. Or someone may believe homosexuality is intrinsically wrong because the design and function of the sexual organs is obvious (tab ‘A’ fits into slot ‘B’). In both cases the person believes based on what is clearly palpable. Concerning #2, people may believe they have a brain even though they’ve never seen it because medical science has proven that it exists through dissecting human remains, not to mention brain surgery, etc. So the person believes based on sound data. Regarding #3, some may turn to God because the Holy Spirit revealed reality to them and they believed it. Their belief is based on revelation supplied by the Holy Spirit. Of course any revelation given by the Spirit of truth will correspond to the rightly divided written Word of truth, which explains Paul’s guideline in the churches: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6).
We observe further insights about faith in that the Scriptures describe it as the substance of things hoped for and being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). The Amplified Bible augments the original Greek text like so:
Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
Hebrews 11:1 (Amplified)
Faith is the “title deed” of the things we hope for; that is, the things we righteously desire. In short, faith is the substance that brings the world of hope or desire into reality! In the Gospels, for instance, people would come to Jesus hoping for healing and after receiving it the Lord would say something like “Your faith has healed you” (see, for example, Mark 5:25-34). Faith was the substance that brought them what they hoped for, healing. They were certain—convinced—that Jesus would heal them even though they couldn’t yet see it physically.
I trust you’re seeing why faith is necessary to receive God’s gracious gift of reconciliation and eternal life. After all, how can you receive a gift from someone you don’t even believe exists? For example, if you said you had a gift for me and I responded by saying I can’t receive it because I don’t believe you exist, would you still force the present on me? Of course not. More likely, you’d be irked at my stupidity and arrogance. The same principle applies to those who reject the gospel. When you come across people who do this, be sure to pray that the LORD open their eyes to the truth, i.e. reality.
Did you ever wonder why faith is so important to receiving salvation? Because faith is nothing more or less than believing God. That’s precisely what Adam & Eve failed to do when they were tested in the Garden of Eden and that’s why they fell (see Genesis 2:15-3:24). In other words, the fall of humanity came about due to unbelief and therefore humanity’s restoration is dependent upon belief.
The fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, by the way, is actually a showcase of God’s grace: The LORD could’ve justly wiped ’em off the face of the Earth for their sin (Romans 6:23), but instead he killed two animals as a substitutionary sacrifice, which provided the temporary covering of sin (Genesis 3:21). This, of course, prefigures the substitutionary death of Christ, which forever cleanses us of the guilt of sin (Hebrews 9:12-15 & 10:4).
I said that there are two keys to receiving God’s grace of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 (quoted above) only cites one—faith; the reason this is so is because the other key goes hand-in-hand with faith. In short, they’re two sides of the same coin. This other key is…
The word ‘repent’ simply means to change one’s mind for the positive, yet this does not refer to a hollow mental exercise, but a real change of mind with the corresponding actions, like the resolve to fulfill God’s will (Acts 26:20) and turn from that which is opposed to God’s will, i.e. sin (Acts 8:22, 2 Corinthians 12:21 & Revelation 2:21-22). Please look up those passages because they offer a balanced understanding of repentance.
We see a complete explanation of what it means to repent here:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
While this passage doesn’t use the word ‘repentance,’ that’s precisely what it’s talking about and we observe that repentance is a three-pronged practice. It’s not just putting off the flesh and the sin it produces, which is how repentance is often wrongly defined. I say “wrongly defined” because it’s an incomplete definition and therefore a shallow understanding of repentance.
To genuinely repent means to change one’s mind corresponding to revelation from God, as noted above. It could be revelation based on 1. obvious reality (truth), 2. some element of creation, 3. God’s written Word, 4. spiritual conscience or 5. the moving of the Holy Spirit (the last two being arguably synonymous). A good example is what God’s Word reveals concerning who you are in Christ, e.g. that you’re dead to sin (Romans 6:11,14,18), you’re a child of God (John 1:12-13) and born righteous in your spirit (2 Corinthians 5:21). Any such revelation inspires us to “put off” the flesh—the “old self”—and “put on the new self”—our new spiritual nature—which was “created to be like God in true righteousness” (Ephesians 4:22-24, quoted above). Thus you’ll “walk in the spirit” or “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4); put another way, you’ll be “clothed in Christ” (Romans 13:14).
I pointed out that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin, which we observe here:
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
For repentance to be effective it must be combined with faith—which comes through exposure to the LORD and His revelation; this includes God’s Word and genuine revelation of the Spirit. If repentance is not combined with faith—belief rooted in God’s revelation of reality—it’s just a dead exercise and will ultimately fail because true repentance is a genuine “change of mind” with the corresponding actions, as detailed above. This explains, by the way, why repentance and faith are the first two doctrines of the six basic doctrines of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1-2). It is of the utmost importance to your spiritual health to grasp how repentance and faith work together.
Speaking of the six basic doctrines, they’re referred to as “elementary” Christian teachings in Hebrews 6:1 and yet there are whole sects and ministries in Christendom that cut out one or more of these foundational doctrines or, at least, cut out parts of them. For instance, “radical grace” (or “pure grace”) preachers will cut out repentance almost entirely and, if they do teach repentance, they emphasize that it’s a change of mind while deemphasizing the corresponding actions, which includes “putting off the old self,” meaning turning from the “deceitful desires” of the sinful nature (again, see Ephesians 4:22-24, quoted above).
Repentance reflects humility because it takes humility to admit you’re wrong about something and change your mind. The same goes with feeling remorse and admitting a mistake or transgression. By contrast, an arrogant person is too lofty, selfish, hardhearted and stubborn to change his/her mind with the corresponding actions or feel genuine guilt or confess error. Indeed, pride by its very nature refuses to show proper respect toward others, including—perhaps especially—those in legitimate authority, particularly the Ultimate Authority (God). This again brings to mind this passage:
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5 (see also Proverbs 3:34)
Get a hold of this: God literally opposes the arrogant, that is, he resists them; Proverbs 16:5 even goes so far as to say “the LORD detests all the proud of heart” (emphasis added). Yet, thankfully, he gives his awesome grace to the humble, which means his favor. This explains why the LORD only offers the grace of his forgiveness to those who are humble enough to acknowledge and turn from their transgressions, as shown here:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
Modern-day “radical grace” teachers hate this passage because they stress that all our sins are already forgiven—including our future sins—and thus there’s no need to confess them when we miss it. Confessing sin, by the way, is a synonym for repentance because ’fessing up would be useless if not accompanied by a change of mind and the corresponding actions.
One “radical grace” teacher had the audacity to quote 1 John 1:7 to support the idea that all of our future sins are already forgiven. Incredibly, he wasn’t aware of the following two verses (verses 8-9, quoted above), which show that believers are obligated to confess their sins as they commit them in order to receive forgiveness. Remember the hermeneutical rules: Context is King and Scripture interprets Scripture.
Of course, Christ died for all our sins (Colossians 2:13-14). This includes our future sins, and therefore forgiveness is available for them, BUT forgiveness of these future sins cannot be personally appropriated until AFTER we commit them and humbly confess, as shown above. After all, how can you repent of something you haven’t even done (yet)? Moreover, how can God forgive something that hasn’t even been committed? This explains the need for 1 John 1:8-9. This dynamic is what John the Baptist was referring to as “keeping with repentance” (Matthew & Luke 3:8). It’s in line with what Peter taught concerning born-again believers:
But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
2 Peter 1:9
Believers have only been forgiven and cleansed of their “past sins” (other translations say “former sins” or “old sins”). Thus when a person turns to the Lord in repentance and faith all their past sins are immediately forgiven, Praise God!
But future sins are a different matter because, again, you can’t confess something you haven’t even committed. Like I said, forgiveness is readily available for any future sins you might commit since Christ bought and paid for all our sins through His substitutionary death, but you have to confess future sins after you commit them—repent, change your mind with the corresponding action—in order to be forgiven of them. If you don’t do this these sins won’t be forgiven—dismissed—and you’ll hence have to answer for them atthe Judgement Seat of Christ, which is the judgment believers must undergo wherein Paul said we’ll “receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11). The “bad” isn’t referring to confessed sins because all confessed sins are forgiven—dismissed—and you’re “purified of all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So the “bad” would include unconfessed sins, whether sins of commission or sins of omission.*
* A “sin of commission” is something you do, like steal, gossip/slander or commit adultery whereas a “sin of omission” is something you don’t do that you should’ve done.
Let me share an example of the repentance/forgiveness dynamic from everyday life that we can all relate to: Several years ago I was pulled over on a bypass for changing lanes without using my turn signal. I had just finished a sermon outline for the following Sunday morning and was going to a job; I had a million things going through my mind and didn’t have the time or desire to chat with a patrol officer. When he came to my window he noticed an attitude in my words & demeanor and responded, “Now, sir, did I approach you in a disrespectful manner? Why are you giving me an attitude?” In the flash of a second or two I searched my heart and received correction; I made a 180˚ attitude adjustment and replied, “I’m really sorry, sir; I’m on my way to work and have a lot of things on my mind.” I then explained that, even though I didn’t use my turn signal, I did look into the lane before changing and also pointed out that we were the only two vehicles on the highway at the time. Throughout the rest of our conversation I addressed him as “sir” and treated him with sincere respect. This changed the entire course of the incident. Instead of strife and a ticket, our conversation was pleasant and he ended up just giving me a verbal warning.
What saved me from a needless citation? The humility to receive correction, sincerely apologize and show respect. This works in every relationship, including your relationship with the Almighty. Humble repentance is the key that unlocks mercy and forgiveness in all relationships. This simple, powerful principle will bless your socks off if you wisely apply it when appropriate.
Humility—and the Corresponding Repentance & Faith—is What Makes People “Worthy of the Kingdom of God”
At the risk of sending “radical grace” preachers into cardiac arrest, the New Testament blatantly speaks of those “worthy” of the gift of eternal life. Notice for yourself from the very words of the Mighty Christ and apostle Paul:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5
As you can see, Christ spoke of those considered “worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection of the dead” while Paul spoke of those “worthy of the kingdom of God.” In both cases they were talking about genuine believers worthy of the kingdom of God and the resurrection unto eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). The Greek word for ‘worth’ in each passage is kataxioó (kat-ax-ee-OH-o), which simply means to “deem worthy.” The Scriptural data above shows that this does not refer to being deemed worthy of eternal salvation due to religious works or rituals, but rather being “deemed worthy” due to genuine humility characterized in repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
In conclusion, anyone who wants God’s grace of salvation, it’s free and you don’t have to work for it or purchase it, but it can only be received through humility; and humility is reflected in the willingness to repent and believe in response to God’s revelation, in this case the message of Christ. This is how you “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8) as opposed to disobeying the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17). These are two other verses that send “radical grace” preachers into coronary because they hate the word ‘obey’ in conjunction with God’s grace of salvation. But obeying the message of Christ does not mean working for salvation or trying to buy it; however, it does mean responding with humility to God’s gracious offer of salvation—which is manifested in repentance and faith. Why? Because it’s humility that attracts God’s grace as opposed to pride which naturally repels His favor (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5 & Proverbs 3:34). Amen.
The New Testament Started with John the Baptist and his “Baptism of Repentance”
The New Testament started with John the Baptist, as plainly stated by Christ:
“The Law and the Prophets [i.e. the Old Covenant] were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached”
The Old Testament ended with John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah via a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:2-4). With the ministries of John and Jesus the kingdom of God was preached, not the Law and the Prophets. From John forward “the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached.” The “Good News,” of course, refers to the awesome message of Christ—the gospel.
So the four Gospels are not Old Testament, but rather the “prologue” to the New Testament and therefore PART OF the New Testament, even though the Church didn’t technically start until the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-13 & 11:15-16). This explains why Christ spoke AS IF the Church was already in function in this passage where he addressed dealing with offending believers:
“If they [the offending believers] still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
As you can see, Jesus spoke as if the Church was already in existence even though he had yet to die for our sins and be raised to life for our justification. You could say that the Church was already alive but not birthed yet, like a baby in a mother’s womb.
With the understanding that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ preached “the good news of the kingdom of God,” notice what the first word of each of their first sermons was:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Why did they preach repentance? Because the kingdom of Heaven was near. Similarly, the disciples proclaimed that “the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 10:8-9). Other translations say “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The words “near” and “at hand” are translated from the Greek eggizó (eng-ID-zoh), which means “extreme closeness, immediate imminence—even a presence.” Whether extremely close or even present to a degree, they preached the kingdom of God and not the Law and the Prophets, which agrees with Jesus’ plain declaration in Luke 16:16 above.
Keeping with the full definition of repentance, as detailed above, by saying “repent for the kingdom of God is near” John and Christ were essentially saying “change your minds, turn from sin and turn to the LORD for the kingdom of God is immediately imminent!” John’s “baptism of repentance” was given to “prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:3-4). In other words, John wasn’t encouraging people to change their minds & turn from sin and that’s it; he was preparing them for the soon-to-come ministry of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who had “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Notice that Jesus didn’t have the words of the Law, but the words of eternal life. When Christ did teach on the Law, he focused on the moral Law* and the fact that believers achieve the moral Law simply by fulfilling the first and second greatest commands by the Spirit (Matthew 22:36-40). All this shows that repentance & faith go hand-and-hand. They’re two sides of the same coin. Genuine repentance—changing one’s mind and the corresponding action—is based on faith in God’s revelation, whatever that revelation might be.
* Whilst Christ fulfilled the ceremonial and dietary laws, he didn’t teach that believers were obligated to obey them because these laws are done away with in the New Covenant (Colossians 2:16-17, Mark 7:19, etc.). For details see this article.
Why do I point out such obvious things? Because there are “radical grace” preachers who claim that John the Baptist was decidedly Old Testament and therefore he preached the Law in the manner of Old Testament prophets; many “radical grace” teachers say the same about Christ, but the above proves otherwise.
For details on the Church and when it began (etc.) go here.
2. God’s Grace (Favor) for You Personally as You Grow Spiritually
Once obtaining eternal salvation by God’s grace (favor), every believer can grow in the LORD’s favor on a personal level. We see this in the example of Jesus Christ:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor (charis) with God and man.
God’s grace—His favor—was on Jesus (Luke 2:40) and he grew in it. He also grew in favor with people because the fruits of the spirit are attractive and work as people magnets (Galatians 5:22-23). This is stressed in the book of wisdom:
3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
Both love and faithfulness are fruits of the spirit, which attract the favor—kindness, graciousness—of God and—generally speaking—people too. I say “generally speaking” because the fruits of the spirit can also attract enemies due to their envy, jealousy and rivalry, which incite them against the fruit-bearer. A good example of this is Jesus, who walked in the spirit and thus won the hearts of the common Israelites, but he also incurred the ire of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law.
The prophet Samuel is another good example of growing in favor with God and people (1 Samuel 2:26).
Concerning growing in God’s favor, observe how plainly Peter urged this:
But grow in the grace (charis) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
2 Peter 3:18
Just as important as it is to grow in the knowledge of the Lord—which is typically stressed in Christendom—it’s also vital to grow in his grace; that is, grow in his graciousness, his favor. How do you do this? We saw the answer earlier in this verse:
Come near to God and he will come near to you.
This is a universal law—an axiom: If you come near to the LORD he will come near to you. And when God comes near to you, you naturally have greater favor than if he was distant from you. It’s a simple principle verified in the Old Testament (Zechariah 1:3 & Malachi 3:7). It can even be observed in the priestly blessing of the Old Covenant:
“the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you”
Someone might protest: “This is favoritism!!” No, favoritism would be denying certain people from growing in God’s grace, but that’s not the case. Anyone—from any race, any ethnicity, any socio-economic class and any location—has the opportunity to grow in God’s favor. All they have to do is put into practice these simple principles and they’ll grow in God’s graciousness. Again: Come near to God and he’ll come near to you.
Two Types of Love and How They Relate to God’s Grace
The concept of having God’s grace and growing in it can be observed in the Greek terms translated as “love” in the New Testament, phileo love and agape love:
- Phileo love refers to friendship love or brotherly love, like the platonic affection of David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:25-26). Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” was named after this type of love. There’s an element of tender affection to phileo love; it means there’s a bond with the corresponding respect and affection. The word phileo (fil-LAY-oh), a verb, can be found some 25 times in the original text of the New Testament whereas the noun form, philia (fil-EE-ah), appears only once. Jesus’ phileo love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus is a good example (John 11:5,35-36).
- Agape love refers to practical love or love-in-action and is therefore not dependent on affection, respect or closeness. This can be observed in the Scriptural definition of agape love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which says that agape (uh-GAHP-ay) love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude or selfish or easily angered, etc. The word ‘love’ for God’s love for the world in the most popular passage of the Bible is agape: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The Creator was walking in love toward all humanity when the Father allowed the Son to die in our place as our substitutionary death; and the Son was willing to die. This was agape love, practical love, and not phileo love.
The Bible says that the Father phileo loved Jesus when Christ was on Earth (John 5:19-20). Why? Because Jesus imitated the Father, that is, he was godly—like God. As such, Jesus grew in God’s favor (Luke 2:52). We too can grow in God’s favor by coming near to Him (James 4:8, 2 Peter 3:18 & Ephesians 5:1).
God loves every person on Earth in a practical sense (John 3:16)—in other words he agape loves them—but he does not have phileo love for everyone on Earth, that is, affection and respect—a close bond. For instance, God had great phileo love for the apostles Paul, Peter and John, but not for arrogant, hateful people like Hitler. Sure, God agape loved Hitler—just like God has agape loved people all over the earth throughout history—but he didn’t have any affection or respect for Hitler; He wasn’t close to Hitler, but he agape loved him. Are you following?
Just the same, God is agape loving heinous criminals and sick deviants all over the world today—he’s walking in agape love toward them—but the LORD doesn’t have phileo love for cruel murderers, self-centered rapists and perverse pedophiles. The wonderful news for these types of people—and all sinners everywhere—is that when unbelievers respond positively to God’s agape love—humbly receiving his grace of salvation through repentance & faith—they automatically attract God’s phileo love; and this love can grow as their relationship develops.
Think about it in terms of a “teacher’s pet,” as noted earlier. I mean “teacher’s pet” in a positive way, not negative. The pupil is the teacher’s pet because she’s humble; she honors the teacher and is compliant. She does her homework and strives to do well on tests. If she offends the teacher she readily apologizes. The teacher will naturally have phileo love for such a student—affection and respect—but he won’t have affection and respect for a student who’s aloof and shows contempt. Of course the teacher will care about the latter student because he’s a noble instructor who unbiasedly cares about all his students. He wants each one to learn, mature and be successful in life. But when a student is foolish and disrespectful there’s only so much the teacher can do. The teacher will walk in agape love toward such students—practical love—but he will not have phileo love for them. Why? Because they’re arrogant fools who regard the teacher with contempt. All the instructor can do is continue walking in agape love toward them—including praying for them and walking in tough love when appropriate—in the hope that they’ll positively respond at some point and turn from their folly.
Now let’s relate this to you and God: YOU can grow in God’s phileo love just like the teacher’s pet! “Come near to God and he will draw near to YOU” (James 4:8). It’s an axiom—a universal law. Strive for a closer relationship with your Creator. Cultivate a more intimate prayer life, which is simply talking with the LORD. Paul instructed us to “pray without ceasing,” which indicates a 24/7 bond of communion (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Love God by obeying His instructions, both the general instructions from the written Word and the specific instructions of the living Word, the Spirit of Christ (1 John 5:3). As you do this, you’ll grow in God’s favor just as surely as Jesus Christ did when he was on Earth (Luke 2:52) and others as well, like Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26).
This is why Peter exhorted believers—you & me—to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” DO IT. This is adding godliness to your faith, as Peter instructed (2 Peter 1:5-9), which you can read about in detail here.
Just as God offers grace to his human enemies by walking in practical (agape) love toward them, which has the potential to morph into phileo love if they respond positively to his grace, so believers are instructed to agape love their enemies. This means to walk in practical love toward them (Luke 6:35 & Matthew 5:44). However, we are never commanded to phileo love our enemies. Why? Simply because you’re not going to have affection & respect for people who hate you without cause and therefore disrespect & abuse you. You’re not going to have a bond of friendship with them. You’re not going to be close to them. But this doesn’t prevent you from walking in practical (agape) love for them—praying for them to come to their senses and receive Christ, returning blessing for cursing, doing good to them even though they don’t deserve it. God is only asking us—co-heirs in Christ—to do what he does for his human enemies. Are you following?
For details on the four types of love go here.
God’s Grace is the Foundation for Living a Godly (“Like-God”) Life
Here’s another wonderful thing about God’s grace:
For the grace (charis) of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
It’s God’s favor that enables believers to say “No” to worldliness and the deceitful desires of the flesh, the sinful nature. It empowers us to live self-controlled, godly (“like-God”) lives in this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). How so exactly? It’s through God’s grace of salvation that we obtain spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5) and are thus born righteous through the seed of Christ (Galatians 2:21) and, furthermore, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our Helper (1 Corinthians 6:19 & John 16:7,13). All this equips us to practice repentance in the genuine three-pronged sense, as covered above (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Speaking of repentance, it is God’s grace—His kindness—that leads us to repentance:
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
It’s God’s grace that enables us to be born righteous, spiritually speaking, through the seed of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 1:17, 1 John 3:9 & 1 Peter 1:23):
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Needless to say, authentic repentance—that is, 1. changing one’s mind based on faith in God’s revelation with the corresponding 2. turning from sin and 3. living out of your new nature—does not come about through preaching the Law or simply urging people to “Turn from sin!” but rather through declaring God’s grace and the truths thereof, as detailed in this article.
Responding to a “Radical Grace” Preacher
Consider this unbalanced parable on repentance offered by a “radical grace” preacher:
Let me give you a picture to illustrate true repentance. Suppose a man calls a woman up and gives an invitation to come to his house. She’s never been there before so need directions. There are two ways the man could direct her: He could give her his address and provide an accurate picture of where he lives. Or he could say, “flee from your house—just drive from your house as fast as possible and don’t look back.” Do you see the difference? In both cases the woman’s going to leave her house. That’s guaranteed.
But only by trusting his directions will she arrive at his house. Repentance is just like that. It’s not fleeing from sin like a Pharisee. It’s turning to God in faith. In both cases you will leave your sin. But only by trusting God will you actually arrive someplace better than where you started.
On the surface this illustration sounds accurate and there are certainly truths contained therein, but the man’s perspective of biblical repentance is unbalanced, as verified by a few statements. Let’s consider them:
Repentance is just like that. It’s not fleeing from sin like a Pharisee. It’s turning to God in faith.
Actually Pharisees didn’t flee from sin, generally speaking, although they of course gave the outward appearance of doing so, which is a form of legalism. Why else do you think Christ blatantly called them “hypocrites” (literally meaning “actors,” that is, fakes), as well as “sons of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” “whitewashed tombs,” “full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” “snakes” and “brood of vipers”? See Matthew 23:13-33.
More importantly, repentance is neither one nor the other; it’s both. The erroneous idea that it’s only turning to God in faith can be observed in another statement the preacher made:
Which of the following is the best definition of repentance: 1. Repentance means to turn from sin or 2. Repentance means to change your mind.
By slyly using the “which is the best definition” tactic, this minister was trying to get the reader to choose one or the other definition which, by default, rejects the other. I understand where he’s coming from because there are shallow ministers who preach repentance as “You must turn from your sin!” and pretty much leave it at that. These types fail to give people New Testament revelation, which would inspire faith and enable them to change their mind with the corresponding putting off of the flesh and living out of their new nature with the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s true repentance, not merely turning from sin.
The problem with emphasizing repentance as changing one’s mind and disregarding putting off the old self—the proverbial “turn from sin”—opens the door to the mentality that believers can walk in faith, but they don’t necessarily have to put off the old self, that is, turn from sin. This unbalanced mentality explains how the Corinthian church had a man in their midst who was living in fornication with his father’s wife and was unwilling to repent; i.e. change his mind and put off the old self. The “old self” in this case was sexual immorality. Thus Paul instructed the assembly to expel the man from the assembly (1 Corinthians 5:1-5,12-13). Thankfully, the guy later repented and so Paul encouraged the Corinthians to forgive him and warmly welcome him back into their fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:6-11). I should point out that Paul was following the instructions that Christ Himself gave on handling an unrepentant believer (Matthew 18:15-17).
This “radical grace” preacher happened to bring up this particular occasion at the Corinthian church and wondered why Paul didn’t expel numerous others from the fellowship since they were guilty of sins like jealousy, strife and divisive sectarianism (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). Here’s why: Paul’s very letter—the epistle of 1 Corinthians—was his initial confrontation concerning these types of offenses in the Corinth assembly and it remained to be seen if those guilty would repent, i.e. change their minds with the corresponding actions. The fornicator, by contrast, was obviously already confronted a few times (probably half-heartedly, knowing the Corinthians) and—since he stubbornly refused to change—Paul adamantly instructed the Corinthian elders to expel him, at least until he (hopefully) repented, which the man later did and was therefore welcomed back.
My point is that it was this unbalanced mentality that repentance is merely “changing one’s mind” without the corresponding turning from the flesh that enabled this man to continue practicing fornication with no qualms in the fellowship at Corinth.
It was this same unbalanced mentality that enabled a woman in the church of Thyatira in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to mislead believers into sexual immorality, which compelled the Lord Christ to rebuke the believers as follows:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
“Jezebel” is likely a symbolic name for this false prophetess who was misleading believers at the Thyatiran fellowship into sexual immorality and other sins. The Mighty Christ points out that he had graciously “given her time to repent of her immorality” but she was unwilling to do so. This offers a fuller understanding of repentance as Jesus gave her time to repent—that is, change her mind—but notice it wasn’t a pointless changing of the mind as she was to “repent of her immorality,” i.e. change her mind about her immoral ways, which meant to put off the immorality. In other words, turn from it—stop it.
The same can be observed in Christ’s statements about those who committed adultery with this libertine “prophetess” and followed her immoral example: He said he would make them “suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways” (verse 22). You see? Repentance isn’t some hollow changing of one’s mind; it includes putting off the flesh and putting on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24).
The Lord goes on to say that he would “strike her children dead,” obviously referring to Jezebel’s spiritual children who followed her example and stubbornly refused to repent. This is the divine judgment of premature death. Many modern Westernized believers find such a thought incredulous due to the unbalanced diet their pastors feed them, but in the Scriptures we observe the same thing happened in the Corinth church where unrepentant believers brought judgment upon themselves and thus some of them were wiped off the face of the Earth (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). This doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation, but they did incur the judgment of premature death, as did Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). The positive side to accounts like this is that they inspires the fear of the Lord (see verse 11), which promotes holiness—changing one’s mind in light of the revelation of God which motivates putting off the flesh and putting on “the new self, which is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (again Ephesians 4:22-24).
Plain passages like these make “radical grace” preachers hyperventilate. They thus totally ignore them and hope that no one brings them up. But we have to be balanced with God’s word. When we draw conclusions on a topic, like grace, we cannot discard relevant “pieces of the puzzle”; rather, we must make sure that all the Scriptural “pieces” fit together. Our conclusions should be as “watertight” as possible. That’s what this teaching on grace is all about—putting all the pieces of the scriptural puzzle on grace together without unsoundly discarding relevant passages. If you’re not familiar with proper hermeneutics go here.
Now let’s get back to the man’s parable:
Suppose a man calls a woman up and gives an invitation to come to his house. She’s never been there before so need directions. There are two ways the man could direct her: He could give her his address and provide an accurate picture of where he lives. Or he could say, “flee from your house—just drive from your house as fast as possible and don’t look back.” Do you see the difference? In both cases the woman’s going to leave her house. That’s guaranteed.
Actually, it’s not guaranteed that the woman’s going to leave her house. What if she simply refuses the invitation? What if she’s not very smart and—even though the man provided directions to his house—she stubbornly refuses to leave her abode? Or what if she’s a homebody who prefers to stay home and “visit” the man’s house via Skype, phone or email? In such cases, it would be necessary for the man to not only provide his address, but also encourage the woman to leave her house.
But only by trusting the man’s directions will the invited woman arrive at his house.
No, only by 1. trusting the man’s directions and 2. willingly leaving her house will she arrive.
only by trusting God will you actually arrive someplace better than where you started.
Only by trusting God enough to obey his instructions, which include leaving where you are. Otherwise one’s trust—faith—is hollow.
Okay, that’s enough of this faulty parable. Let’s consider some of this man’s other “radical grace” statements:
If grace is the only thing that teaches us to say no to ungodliness, guess what you should preach. Grace!
True—as shown in Titus 2:11-12 (quoted earlier)—but what is it that unlocks God’s grace in a person’s life? Humility (James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5). After all, God opposes the proud. Furthermore, humility is the root of both repentance and faith, as explained earlier, which open the door to eternal salvation (Acts 20:21).
Responding to the message of Christ with genuine humility and the corresponding repentance & faith is what it means to “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). It’s those who are arrogant who “do not obey the gospel of God” and therefore refuse to humbly repent and believe (1 Peter 4:17).
Of course, “radical grace” preachers loathe these verses because they hate the word “obey” in connection with salvation; and they hate the idea that people have a responsibility to humbly receive the message of Christ. The gift of salvation is not forced upon anyone.
The one message I hope people take away loud and clear from all this, is that it’s all about Jesus and what He has done. It’s not about me and what I do. See Him, know Him, fix your eyes on Him, marvel at Him and repentance will follow as naturally as breathing.
While I understand where this man is coming from and there’s certainly some good truth in this statement, God’s grace of salvation is dependent upon what the person does or doesn’t do, as plainly denoted above. The person is responsible for “obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” This doesn’t mean the gift of salvation is worked for or purchased, but it has to be received by those “worthy” candidates (Luke 20:34-36 & 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5) who respond to God’s grace with humility characterized in the willingness to repent and walk in faith.
Repentance literally means “change your mind” – nothing more, nothing less.
Wrong, it means changing one’s mind with the corresponding action, like the revolve to fulfill God’s will (Acts 26:20) and turn from that which is opposed to God’s will, i.e. sin (Acts 8:22, 2 Corinthians 12:21 & Revelation 2:20-23). Why do you think Christ urged the transgressing Thyatirans to “repent of [their] immorality”? (See Revelation 2:21-22).
Paul said we must rightly divide the word (i.e. emphasize certain scriptures over others). It follows that it must be possible to wrongly divide the word (emphasize the wrong scriptures over others).
But “rightly dividing the Word” (or “properly handling” it, as the NIV puts it) does not mean to discard relevant passages. As noted earlier, all the applicable pieces of the Scriptural puzzle must fit and one’s conclusions must be watertight or, at least, as watertight as possible. This is what this article does with the topic of grace whereas “radical grace” preachers regularly cut out pertinent passages to support their unbalanced take on the subject. For instance, you’ll rarely, if ever, hear them mention 2 Peter 3:18, Luke 20:34-36 & 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 or Acts 8:22, 2 Corinthians 12:21 & Revelation 2:21-22. Passages like these send them into uncontrollable spasms of spiritual arrest.
How do you account for Luke 24:47 where Jesus says the forgiveness or remission of sins will be proclaimed in His name to all nations?
Let’s read the passage to see what Christ specifically said:
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
While Jesus died for everyone’s sins throughout history and therefore bought forgiveness for us (Colossians 2:13 & 1 Peter 3:18) notice that repentance is a condition for people to personally appropriate that forgiveness. This explains why the apostles preached repentance & faith (Acts 20:21) and why repentance & faith are the first two doctrines of the six basic doctrines of Christianity, which are “elementary” teachings, meaning they’re fundamental to Christianity and therefore those ministers who fail to teach them are askew and out-of-balance.
Have our sins been forgiven or haven’t they? Paul thought so (Colossians 2:13). Peter thought so (2 Peter 1:9). John thought so (1 John 1:7 & 2:12). I think so.
When a person humbly turns to the Lord in repentance & faith in response to the gospel all their past sins are forgiven, which explains Peter emphasizing “past sins” in 2 Peter 1:9, a verse this minister cites. Future sins, however, are a different story because—although Christ paid the penalty for them—a person cannot receive forgiveness for them until 1. they commit the sin and 2. confess to the LORD. After all, how can a person confess and receive forgiveness for something they haven’t even done yet? This is why 1 John 1:9 is sandwiched between the verses this man cites above. Speaking of which, why did he omit such a relevant passage on the topic contained in the very context of the verses he cites as proof texts? I’ll tell you why: It contradicts his unbalanced position that all future sins are already forgiven and so there’s no need to confess them and receive forgiveness.
The point is not that the tax-collector “beat his breast” but that he asked. This is the sole condition for receiving grace and mercy – you have to ask for it. You can ask with weeping, like this man, or boldly, like the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) – as long as you admit your need for grace you’ll get it.
Exactly: humility opens the door to God’s grace, as I’ve been stressing throughout this article. Let’s read the passage about the tax-collector who “beat his breast”:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The reviled tax collector “went home justified before God” because he humbled himself before the Almighty and asked for mercy. He was obviously willing to repent—change his mind with the corresponding action. The Pharisee, on the other hand, did not go home justified before God. Why? Because he was arrogant and absurdly boasted of all his “great” religious works when he stood before the LORD at the Temple. This parable effectively illustrates the fundamental truth that I’ve been emphasizing throughout this article: “God opposes the proud but gives his grace to the humble.”
People need to hear how much God loves them.
Absolutely. They need to hear how far God has bent over backwards, so to speak, to reconcile lost, sinful humanity. This is the extremist example of loving one’s enemies — suffering horribly and dying for them; in this case in the hope of reconciling with them and providing eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). And, yes, apart from redemption lost humanity are enemies of God (Romans 5:10), which isn’t to say that every unsaved soul is frothing at the mouth with malevolent evil.
As explained earlier, the LORD loves his human enemies in the sense of agape love, which is practical love; thus Christ died for us (John 3:16). The Almighty is hoping this gets their attention, that they “come to their senses” and transfer “from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18 ). But God doesn’t have phileo love—affection, respect, closeness—for arrogant fools who spurn the Creator and his graciousness. He doesn’t have “warm fuzzies” for those who stubbornly and selfishly continue on in their sin. He’s not up their affectionately reflecting on sick pedophiles: “Oh, I just luvvy wuvvy these vile abusers of children.” NO! He opposes them—resists them.
We see this in the case of Saul, who was radically persecuting the early Church: The Lord appeared to him and asked why he was persecuting Him (his body, the Church) and proceeded to strike Saul with blindness (Acts 9:1-19). This is an example of tough love, which you can read about here. Saul was a tough nut to crack, but he wisely responded to the Lord’s tough love tactics by humbling himself and praying, to which the Lord sent Ananias, who laid hands on Saul and he was healed. Thus Saul became the apostle Paul, God’s mightiest human agent in the New Testament era.
But it could have gone the other way: Saul could’ve arrogantly spurned the Lord and suffered the inevitable consequences. A good example of this is King Herod Agrippa I, who reigned over Judea from 41-44 AD. Like Saul, Herod began severely persecuting the Church, even putting James, the brother of John, to the sword and imprisoning Peter (Acts 12:1-5). The Lord mercifully gave Herod much time to repent, but he refused and pompously continued on in his sin and thus an angel of the Lord wiped him off the face of the Earth (Acts 12:19-23). Truly, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!
They need to hear about his unconditional favor and grace.
Actually the Greek word for ‘favor’ or ‘grace’—charis—simply means “graciousness, favor, kindness.” Contrary to what this man heard in seminary it doesn’t mean “unconditional favor.” If God’s grace of salvation was truly “unconditional,” as this man & others claim, then everyone will be saved, whether they humbly turn to God in repentance & faith or not, which is not what the Scriptures teach. That is Universalism, a false doctrine easily negated by numerous plain passages, as shown here.
It is true that God’s grace of salvation is unmerited in the sense that it cannot be bought and you can’t work for it. Yet this doesn’t mean there aren’t conditions to receiving it. Humility is that condition that unlocks God’s grace in a person’s life (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5 & Proverbs 3:34) and humility is the root of both repentance and faith, as explained earlier. In other words, the only ones who merit God’s grace are those humble souls who are willing to “obey the gospel” through repentance & faith. These are the ones who are “worthy of the kingdom of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-5).
When the Corinthian Christians fell into sin, Paul still didn’t preach “turn from sin.” Instead he reminded them of their identity in Christ. He understood that grace, not dead works, is the cure for sin.
Yes, some of the Corinthians fell into jealousy, strife and sectarianism, which is why Paul corrected them in his first letter (1 Corinthians 3:3). By “corrected them” he clearly encouraged them to put off such fleshly works. He even emphasized that they “flee from sexual immorality” “and stop sinning,” both of which certainly sound like “turn from sin” to me (1 Corinthians 6:18 & 15:34).
But, in keeping with the proper understanding of repentance, Paul didn’t just urge them to flee from sin, he also told them who they were in Christ to give them a revelation on which to base their faith. For instance, he stressed that they were a “temple” of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and conveyed several other such truths in his subsequent letter (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:17,21 & 8:9).
Regarding 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul is saying, I don’t regret what I did.
What did Paul do and why didn’t he regret what he did? Let’s read the passage:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Paul caused the Corinthian believers sorrow by his previous letter (i.e. 1 Corinthians). Why did his epistle cause them sorrow? Because it identified their sins and corrected them; he urged them to repent and even insisted they expel an unrepentant fornicator. All this is detailed above. Paul didn’t regret what he said because it made them sorrowful and this led to their repentance. This shows, by the way, that the Corinthians repented in response to Paul’s confrontation in his first letter; and this is why none of them were expelled. Thankfully, even the man who was expelled repented and thus Paul urged them to allow him back into their fold (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
You see, it was necessary for Paul to preach biblical repentance on this occasion and it bore good fruit at the Corinthian church. Sometimes it will be necessary for you or me to preach repentance as well—which includes urging people to put off the flesh—as led of the Spirit. “Radical grace” preachers who hate the idea of preaching repentance—at least in the sense of turning from sin—need to get a hold of this.
I change my way of thinking so that my life lines up with what is true. I repent every day and it’s wonderful.
That’s great, Praise God! I encourage this man—and other “radical grace” preachers—to preach biblical repentance to their congregants/readers/followers, but repentance in its complete sense, not just useless mental assent. (To be fair, this particular man was not advocating “useless mental assent,” but ‘radical grace’ teachers in general tend to downplay “putting off the flesh,” one way or another).
The key to life is not in turning from sin but trusting in Jesus.
I don’t understand why this man insists that it’s one or the other. It’s both. If “the wages of sin is death” then it naturally follows that turning away from sin must be turning away from death (Romans 6:23). It’s why Christ admonished: “unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3,5). In other words, repentance is a step in the right direction, toward life. This is why the book of wisdom says that “correction and instruction are the way to life” (Proverbs 6:23). When a person is in error and receives correction or instruction and turns from his/her error, it’s the way to life.
Of course “trusting in Jesus” is the key to life because Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and thus has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:63,68).
Yet having faith in Christ and stubbornly refusing to turn from the deceitful desires of the flesh is not life. It’s this kind of libertine folly that enabled the unrepentant fornicator at the Corinth church and eventually caused him to get expelled (1 Corinthians 5:13); it’s what brought about the premature deaths of others in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:29-32); it’s what caused Jezebel’s followers in Thyatira to suffer intensely, with the most stubbornly unrepentant ones prematurely dying (Revelation 2:20-23)!
So the key to life is 1. turning from sin and 2. turning toward the Mighty Christ in faith. That’s why Paul preached repentance and faith, not one or the other (Acts 20:21); it’s why repentance and faith are the first two of the six basic doctrines of Christianity (Hebrews 6:1-2). It’s why repentance & faith go hand-in-hand.
Needless to say, “radical grace” teachers, like this man, are really teaching unbalanced grace because they regularly discard relevant passages on the topic. And they’ll have to answer for it at the Judgment Seat of Christ (see James 3:1 & 2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
Let’s not be foolish like that; let’s be thorough in our studies — including on the topic of grace — and “watch our life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16 ). Some ministers are not watching their doctrine.
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