Many of us read how God dealt with His people in the Old Testament, and see a God who wiped entire nations off the face of the earth including the women and children. We read of people being stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath and rebellious children being executed for disobedience. As we read these stories, if some of us can even stomach opening those parts of the Bible, we may want to breathe a sigh of relief and say, “thank God we’re under grace now.”
Or, are we?
Forgiveness from sin is not just forgiveness from sin—it includes being set free from the power of sin. Many believers don’t have a very clear concept of “grace” or else they’d live differently and in obedience instead of disobedience, saying “oh well, it’s God’s grace that I’m saved so it doesn’t matter if I sin.” They take one small part of the picture (“grace means unmerited favor”) and miss the rest. Grace is more than unmerited favor (although unmerited favor is nothing to be ungrateful for). It is more than God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense, although that acronym sums up everything we will ever have or experience in God. God’s grace is more than a noun or a concept, more than the manner in which God deals with us (as in “I’m saved by grace and everything I do is by grace”).
IF We Sin, Not When We Sin
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1, ESV)
The word when assumes that something is going to happen; however, if suggests there is a good possibility that nothing will happen. John writes in his epistle several times statements like “no one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or known Him” (1 John 3:6). When we abide [in Christ] we will not sin. This passage also states believers are now in the category of ‘if’ we sin, not “when” we sin. I like how David Ravenhill says it best in his book, Surviving The Anointing:
You have an eraser on the end of a pencil in case you make a mistake, that is, if you make a mistake. You don’t purposely misspell words in order to use the eraser. Neither is that what the blood of Jesus is all about. We don’t continue on in sin and say “Well, God is the divine eraser, and it doesn’t matter what I do; I can go out and enjoy myself sexually or any other way and at the end of the day I can just turn the pencil over, so to speak, and Jesus will forgive me.” No! It’s if we sin.1
Grace = Power
The original Greek word “charis” (rhymes with paris) does mean unmerited favor, and instances of it being used in this sense include Acts 15:11, Gal 2:21, Rom 4:16, John 1:17, Acts 14:3, Acts 20:24. see also v. 32. However, the New Testament word “grace” does not fundamentally mean “unmerited favor.” Its basic meaning does include favor (of any kind) along with kindness, but it also includes enablement and gifting, important concepts many seem to miss when discussing holiness and the power to overcome sin. You see, God’s grace not only did something amazing for us—forgiving us all our sins. His grace continues to do something amazing for us: empowering us to live for Him, free from sin.
It’s one thing to say “I come to God through His grace” meaning I have access to God through the blood of His Son. It’s another thing to say “I serve God daily through His grace” meaning I am enabled to do His will because He Himself is at work in me. There is a clear distinction.
One believer says “I’m not under the law, I’m under grace” (see Rom 6:14) taking it wrongly to mean “God understands my sins and doesn’t condemn me for them. He receives me just the same regardless of how I live”. Another believer says “I’m not under the law, I’m under grace,” taking it correctly to mean “Through grace, I’m not only forgiven for my sins but I can now live above sin. Whereas the law could only point out my shortcomings, God’s grace can transform my nature.” That is the power of grace!
Of the 155 times that the word “charis” occurs in the New Testament, less than half of them refer to unmerited favor. Instances that demonstrate this usage of the word include:
Luke 2:40: And the child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor (charis) of God was upon him.
Acts 6:8: And Stephen, full of grace (charis) and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.
These two passages make it obvious that charis does not mean unmerited favor here. For other examples of it being used in this manner, please check out: Romans 1:5, 12:3, Acts 4:33, Col 4:6, 2 Cor 8:1-4, 6, 7, 9, 14, 2 Cor 12:9.
Do you see the difference? With regard to salvation it means that God is helping the helpless. With regard to your walk with Him, it refers to His helping the helped (favor and empowerment). Look at 2 Tim 2:1, James 4:5-6, 1 Peter 4:10, Acts 11:23, Titus 2:11-14. When you look at these passages, you’ll notice that “charis” not only brings us salvation—it enables us to say NO to temptation, Heb 4:16, Eph 2:6-7, 1 Pet 1:13.2
Grace that doesn’t make us holy is not worthy of the name
The Apostle Paul was very clear when he wrote throughout chapters 6 through 8 about living holy and free from sin. I think the first two verses of Romans 6 state it best:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
And also, notice the admonition we are given in this passage:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace (charis) of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:14-17)
Grace is not only a gift, it is a grave responsibility. A man cannot go on living the life he lived before he met Jesus Christ. He must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness and a new goodness. The door is open, but the door is not open to the sinner to come in and remain a sinner, but for the sinner to come and become a saint. God’s grace must be joined with human response.True faith is active not passive. The way we are able to repent is God’s charis grace, or enabling empowerment.
- Surviving The Anointing; Learning to Effectively Experience and Walk in God’s Power, David Ravenhill, p. 55 [↩]
- The Word study on the word charis comes from Dr Michael L. Brown’s book “Go And Sin No More“, which is an invaluable resource on this subject matter. [↩]