A multifaceted grace

I think it’s safe to say we’re all far more victims of “doctrinal programming” than we may realize.

That is to say, we’re often told a certain thing about the Bible that we without much further consideration internalize–sometimes even to the point of appointing ourselves evangelists of the teaching. I’ve done this before, and have found that usually the way this careless repeating of things heard from others ends is through a challenge by the one to whom you’re speaking. Something such as, “Where do you get that?” or, “Is that really what Scripture teaches?”

The Bereans in their great nobility (Acts 17:10-12) didn’t take the words of Paul and Silas as truth; instead they searched the Scriptures every day until they ultimately confirmed the truth spoken by them, and rested their faith in it.

When we hear the word “grace”, a pack full of imagery and words and associations comes to mind. Most of us will instantly think of the very common definition: “unmerited favor”, or perhaps simply, “the gift of God”. This is because we’ve come to see “grace” as a word only (or at least primarily) associated with the salvation of God in Christ through his death, burial and resurrection, or as having to do with God saving without works.

And when the word is used in the context of the saving work God did through Christ, the above is certainly true.

But like many words in the Bible, there are wide applications of a word. Creating a mold for a particular word and forcing it into every place the word is found is a huge mistake. This is often done with the word “saved”, which I will show briefly has tremendously diverse usage, making it unwise to define it as anything more than simply “to deliver, protect, preserve”, with the context fully responsible for determining what kind of deliverance is being discussed.

Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.

Acts 27:31

Here the condition the Lord made for all the lives on the ship to be preserved was that no one steal away in a lifeboat. This usage obviously has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel (or “good news”) of salvation.

Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

1 Timothy 2:15

There is no salvation from hell or punishment to be found in a woman giving birth to children–even if those children continue in faith, love and holiness with sobriety. The righteousness of God is upon those who believe in Jesus (Romans 3:22, 26). So here we have another aspect of the word “saved”. Here the woman, Eve, had a sort of deliverance through the children she gave birth to (especially Seth, see Genesis 4:25, 26). That is, though Satan had his victory through deceiving her, he would be defeated–not simply by the birth of the children, but by the godliness of her children (cf. James 4:7). By extension, there is great healing for any mother if her child believes, loves, lives holy and is sober-minded.

We have also the woman with the “issue of blood” who sought healing from Jesus. She reached out and touched his garment,

For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.

Mark 5:28

That word “whole” is the same Greek word (“sozo”) most often translated “saved” in the King James Bible. So it could just as well read, “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be saved.” Of course it would be silly to infer that she sought from Jesus a salvation from hell, or even from sin. She simply had a physical affliction that she’d spent all her money trying to get rid of to no avail, and, in faith toward God’s anointed, knew she could find healing from that affliction through him.

8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked:

9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,

10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked.

Acts 14:8-10

Again we have the “saved” word that could make the above rendered as, “Perceiving that he had faith to be saved.” This man’s faith was directed toward God for salvation from being crippled.

To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:5

I touched on this verse in another post, but will briefly discuss it here. This believer in grave error was to be “delivered to Satan”, who, as he was with Job, is the tormentor of human flesh. But this was not the end for him; also as with Job, there was a positive outcome anticipated: that the “spirit may be saved” in some sense particularly “in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Some would erroneously interpret this to be “a lost man ‘getting saved'” as if “saved by the skin of his teeth just before entering into eternal torment.” But seen in light of his second letter to them, we see Paul being very clear with his use of the word “salvation”, and it does not at all apply to this man being a “false believer” in need of becoming a “true believer”. This salvation was a repentance, a change of mind, from thinking the evil fornication going on among them was okay, and to a zeal for righteousness. They’d cleared themselves in the matter, closed the book on it, and that was the type of salvation they’d experienced in that context.

This was all said to show an example of how a singular notion about a word (i.e. “in every case, this word means…”) falls flat in the face of the context. Context is responsible for defining a word and providing crystal clarity overall more than any other factor. “What does this word refer to in this case?” should be our question.

So we come again to “grace.” We would do well to expand our understanding of God’s grace and see that it is hardly¬† limited to one rigid definition. It is a very colorful thing, with many facets, and the more we know of it, the more we can appreciate it.

With that, I will say that grace is both about lavishing over-and-above deliverance upon a person (see Ephesians 2:4-9), as well as actively functioning this whole life through (see Ephesians 2:10). Right on the heals of the great declaration of salvation by grace through faith, Paul concludes:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

He advises in the same spirit to Titus:

11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Titus 2:11-15

Paul understood something keen, something very acute, about grace that I’m not sure many seem to get, and that is: it is not something to be taught only; it is something to be lived. It is not something to have fellowship in in word only; it is to be the active, living preoccupation of all saints. Anything short of that passionate living out of the grace of God was grounds for rebuke with the authority of God, as Paul affirms to Titus. For it is unbecoming to say the least that a people redeemed from all iniquity, purified and set apart, would neglect the zealous doing of good works.

This is what Paul had in his heart when he rehearsed to King Agrippa what he spoke among all people, saying, “that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:20)

After stating his unworthiness to be an apostle because of his past as a persecutor of the church, Paul made this statement:

But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:10

We could learn more about the complete picture of grace from this one verse than perhaps any other.

By the grace of God Paul had become something different than what he had been. But with this, he declares that the grace of God would have very well been bestowed upon him “in vain” if he had not used it. What does this mean? That God would “un-transform” him if he didn’t work? Not at all. But certainly it means that if he had not labored, he should be ashamed by receiving the grace of God to no good use, in a fruitless manner. For as we have seen, grace not put to use is robbed its due.

And with that, he also includes one of his famous caveats: interrupting himself in the course of validating his work that was more abundant than the other apostles, he is very careful to say, “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

There is no righteous labor done by a saint that can be justly credited to that saint. It is the operation of God entirely, just as the fruits of the Spirit are indeed OF the Spirit.

If a man is “filled with the fruits of righteousness”, it is “by Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11).

If a man desires to do anything good, it is God working in him “to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

If a man “can do all things”, it is “through Christ which strengtheneth” him (Philippians 4:13).

We are simply participants in the work of God, and I cannot think of a better life’s purpose. In fact, I find in the will of God, as taught in the scriptures of God, my sole reason for living.

Now if “grace” had a scarlet thread woven through it, that thread would be the act of giving. For at heart, grace gives. And this is what we would expect to be the result of a favorable disposition. In 1 Corinthians 15, grace gave a message: Paul’s labors as the messenger of God were in preaching the truth of Christ.

And among the Corinthians we also see grace operating different ways–especially in the action of giving.

Paul wrote,

Therefore, as ye abound in every thing, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also.

2 Corinthians 8:7

In that he says they should abound in a particular grace “also” (i.e. in addition to the other “graces”), we know that each of the things in the list are of grace. God’s favor, his gift-giving kindness, is meant to operate so that goodness abounds. We see evil abounding in this world; yet how much overflowing goodness do we see? It should be (and is) happening among the people of God across the full expanse of the earth.

Farther along in 2 Corinthians 8, Paul reveals another thing about grace, saying,

I speak not by commandment, but by  occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

2 Corinthians 8:8

He wasn’t commanding them to give financial support. Grace isn’t commanded. It’s given and received. And it is also, as Paul says, a proof of just how sincere (literally “legitimate” in the Greek) a person’s love is. And that genuine love was most demonstrated in Christ, as he says,

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

Never forget, this oft-quoted verse is in the context of giving of what we possess to help those who are impoverished. This is why he approaches the gospel in terms of “rich” and “poor”. It’s a perfect application using the perfect terms. And it’s an example of how one can “fulfill the law of Christ” by bearing others’ burdens (Galatians 6:2). Though Paul did not wish the Corinthians poor and the recipients of their gift rich (he wished for equality, 2 Corinthians 8:13, 14), he encouraged bountiful giving (2 Corinthians 9:6).

And his very introduction to this subject of giving began with the Macedonians, and how they–despite deep poverty–went over and above what Paul and his fellow-laborers had expected, willing to give beyond what they were able, and ultimately giving themselves both over to the Lord and to his messengers by the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:1-6).

It is important to notice this attitude of giving came entirely from what Paul calls, “the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia”. Since it was God’s grace that moved them to give so generously, it follows that what they did, they did “by the will of God”, just as he says. They had poverty, but they also had joy and a great willingness to help those in need.

This should show us that the idea of giving “when I have enough to give” is not necessarily of God. It seems that commonly people put off the notion of giving anything to anyone until such a point at which they’ve become “established” financially and “can afford” to give to others. I think this is very often an excuse. And it is not something done in faith toward God, but in the confidence afforded by making money. There is no room for supernatural support from God in such an ideology. Yet Paul says the Macedonians essentially threw caution to the wind, committed themselves to God, and gave an abundance–not to an organization, nor to a corrupt system, but to directly satisfy the needs of others. They no doubt believed God would supply all their need according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) and in that confidence, committed to the work. And it apparently did not concern them that, if they emptied themselves of their funds, they would not be able to fill their closets with Prada.

Now this kind of giving, giving like the Macedonians, is not commanded. In fact, no giving is. For he says,

Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

The choice was theirs. It was not to be an obligation, or coerced, but cheerful, willing. And yet, there is the reminder that sparingly reaps sparingly, and bountifully reaps bountifully. And the Macedonians’ example was profoundly Christ-like, for they were willing to make themselves poor that others might become rich; thus it was wished for Titus to “finish…the same grace also” in the Corinthians.

And lest a person become weary in well-doing, Paul wrote this,

8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

9 (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever.

10 Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;)

11 Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9:8-11

Now we learn that this grace of God also supplies the saints with the sufficiency to abound in every good work!

He references a Psalm to show that God disperses abroad and gives to the poor. And through Paul’s instruction, we learn that God gives to the poor specifically through supplying people with “all sufficiency” (full ability) to abound to every good work. And he elaborates further, crediting God as the one who ministers the seed to the sower, and bread–the yield of that seed–for food; ultimately wishing for that same God to multiply their “seed sown” (the giving of relief to the poor saints), which yields an increase of righteous fruit, as they are enriched in everything for the purpose of being bountiful.

And he goes on to say,

12 For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God;

13 Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men;

14 And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.

15 Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

2 Corinthians 9:12-15

Paul is so pleased here with this grace, that he concludes with great thanks to God for the unspeakable gift of this particular ministry.

Take note that this ministry of giving is an open profession of subjection to the gospel of Christ, just as he mentioned above when he declared that Christ abandoned his own riches and became poor, so that through his poverty, the saints would become rich. We openly show our agreement with the truth of the gospel by living it out. It is both subjection to the gospel and the liberal distribution that causes great joy in the hearts of the saints receiving the aid, so that they long for their helpers: and all this because of the–take note of this adjective–exceeding grace of God that is said to be upon the givers.

So we see through this that God’s grace is multifaceted–not to be boxed in, but broad, far-reaching. The grace of God is favor that is both received from God and in turn expressed in various ways toward others. And to not take that grace and run with it is to receive it in vain.

But don’t take my word for it. Search these things out.

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