“Grace” may be the most distorted word found in scripture. Perversion of the way the word is used applies to every church I’ve attended across religious persuasions ranging from Catholic to Evangelical to Pentecostal. This is hardly a surprise since grace applies not only to the means by which one is saved from God’s wrath, but the means by which sanctification takes place. Multitudes are being indoctrinated with a ‘grace mistake’ called eternal security that says full sanctification of man’s spirit occurs at the time of salvation and guarantees eternal security. It is but a doctrine of false security. For after coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, we must cleanse ourselves of all which fails to represent the ways of God in both spirit and flesh. Jesus is coming for a church which is holy and blameless, not a bride which has failed to prepare herself for the Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:27).
“Having therefore these promises….let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1
Conflict over the meaning of grace emerged very early in the NT church as noted by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus and brother of James to whom he refers as a leader in the church. Jude says the following as it relates to the subject of grace, explaining there are those who have entered the church and are distorting the meaning of grace by making it a covering or excuse for sin.
“It was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness…” Jude 3,4
Jude urges us to contend earnestly for the faith because some false teachers who had been warned about by Jesus Himself had entered the church to present grace as a license for ungodly behavior, i.e., as a license to do what is contrary to the will of God without any concern over the consequences. There is no mistaking what is being said by Jude. Error as to the nature of grace was then and is now a serious threat to the integrity of the gospel. And Paul also is concerned about the same error when he writes the following as inspired by the Holy Spirit:,
“Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Romans 6:1,2
“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Galations 5:24
To understand how Satan will distort truth is well illuatrated by a review of God’s relationship with the Hebrews as a chosen people. The descendants of Abraham increased from a small family into a nation exceeding two million during 430 years in Egypt. In the interim, they were anything but a model of devotion to the God of their forefathers. This is reflected in leaving Egypt with idols of precious metals in their belongings along with their eagerness for Aaron to cast a golden calf for them to worship during Moses’ absence. And their redemption had been ordained by God to foretell redeeming people from all nations as a bride for His Son Jesus.
Release from bondage under Pharaoh was secured by God sending a series of plagues, the last killing the firstborn in each household. However the Hebrews were spared by the blood of the Passover lamb, foreshadowing the sacrificial death of Jesus: “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:17). Blood of a lamb on the door lintels caused the angel of death to ‘pass over’ every Hebrew home, symbolic of their sins being forgiven. And eating the lamb’s meat brought healing such that not one person leaving Egypt was feeble (Psalm 105:37). In like manner, all “in Christ” are spared God’s wrath over sin through the shed blood of Jesus. And the broken bread given the disciples at the Last Supper represented Jesus’ body and healing by His stripes as was prophesied centuries earlier in Isaiah 53:5:
“Who His own self bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins should live to righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed. ” 1 Peter 2:24
After passing through the Red Sea and seeing Egyptians soldiers dead on the sea shore, Moses and the others sang the following song to praise the LORD as His being their strength and song, and the One who had become their salvation.
“I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and its rider has He thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song; and He is become my salvation.” Exodus 15:1,2
The Hebrew word translated as “salvation” is yeshuwah (Strong’s #3444), the word used throughout the OT for salvation and used today in Messianic synagogues for Jesus. So the Hebrews left Egypt as a saved people, fully redeemed by the LORD. However, it is not uniformly if even generally recognized by most Christians that these were a people already under grace before the Law and commandments were given them through Moses at Mount Sinai.
“You in Your mercy led forth people which you have redeemed.” Exodus 25:13
The Hebrew translated as “mercy” is checed (Strong’s Concordance #2617) meaning favor or kindness. In spite of straying from God during their lives in Egypt, God had mercifully redeemed a people He had chosen by undeserved mercy and grace. The Hebrew which is translasted “grace” is chen (derived from chanan which means kindness shown to an inferior) implying undeserved or unmerited favor. That certainly applied to the Hebrews prior to Passover and their deliverance from Egypt as there was little about their lives to warrant God’s favor other than compassion for their suffering and the promises of the Abrahamic covenant.
Deliverance from Egypt was entirely dependent upon God’s mercy and grace, their salvation being in no wise deserved. It is also notable that only Joshua and Caleb entered the promised land out of a multitude leaving Egypt. Apart from Moses who died on Mt Nebo overlooking Canaan across the Jordan, the bones of the rest were left scattered over the desert floor because of unbelief and disobedience. Despite having been shown mercy and grace, these others were disobedient, complaining, and repeatedly failing to trust God who had delivered them. As a consequence, they lost their inheritance in the promised land, symbolic of a victorious and overcoming life “in Christ” under the New Covenant.
The problem Jude describes is that men were applying the Hebrew definition of grace under the Old Covenant to life under the New Covenant, a ‘grace mistake’ which is being taught in most churches of America today. The doctrine of Balaam known as eternal security teaches absence of consequences for sin (eternally if not in a temporal sense) once a person is saved. This distortion is in sharp contrast to the NT definition of “grace” translated from the Greek word charis used in the NT. Strong’s Concordance #5485 defines the primary meaning of charis as the divine influence of God on a heart that becomes reflected in life. Unmerited favor is not even mentioned. Grace under the New Covenant is God divinely influencing one’s heart so that change in thinking and behavior become reflected in one’s life. This definition of grace found in Strong’s Concordance is in harmony with Paul’s definition of grace as found in his letter to Titus:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world: Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” Titus 2:11-15
Paul is saying grace is not only responsible for salvation by work of the Holy Spirit in bringing godly sorrow leading to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). The same grace teaches men to put off the old self of “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” and to put on the “new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God exerts divine influence hearts to bring conviction of sin, to reveal the righteousness of Christ whereby forgiveness is possible , and finally that judgment is coming not only for Satan but for all who refuse to repent and turn to the lordship of His Son (John 16:8). It is with repentance that the gift of faith comes from God so a repentant sinner might believe in Jesus. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God“ (Ephesians 2:8).
Jesus never told disciples to preach about “grace” as do many in our churches today. What is preached is what a martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed as ‘cheap grace.’ It’s a very appropriate term because it offers a counterfeit grace lacking any value whatsoever. Cheap grace versus what Jesus taught goes along the following lines:
Cheap grace: Salvation cost nothing because Jesus did it all for us at Calvary! Jesus: “Whosoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:33
Cheap grace: Tell Jesus you’re sorry for sinning and ask Him to be your Savior. Jesus: “Except you repent (turn from sins), you shall all perish.” Luke 13:3,5
Cheap grace: If you aren’t sure about going to heaven, say this prayer with me. Jesus: “Not every one that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
Cheap grace: Life will go smoothly once you receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:2
Cheap grace: Make a decision for Christ so you can become a child of God. Jesus: Those who become sons of God are born “not of blood [by inheritance], nor of the will of the flesh [through works], nor of the will of man [making a decision for Christ], but born of God [by the Spirit].” John 1:13
Saying one is sorry for sin and asking to be forgiven is not the same as repentance. One can be sorry for sin, yet continue to sin habitually even though tears may be flowing. Repentance isn’t merely sorrow with tears. Repentance is sorrow that is confirmed by a change in one’s mind such that thinking, speech, and actions are changed to represent God’s ways. It is helpful to note how Peter exhorted people as to what leads to repentance and forgiveness, and thereby salvation.
“Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you.” Acts 3:19,20
Sins are blotted out and times of refreshing (joy of salvation) take place when there is true repentance and conversion (turning away from sins and turning to the ways of God). Then Holy Spirit gives times of refreshing with assurance of forgiveness. According to Jesus and Peter, repentance is required to receive forgiveness. If any teaching suggests one can gain eternal life short of true repentance, be assured that it is cheap grace. It is what happens in receiving a flu vaccine made of damaged virus. Such damaged virus is not able to grow and cause sickness, but will produce immunity and resistance to healthy virus. Cheap grace has the same effect. It will deceive a person to believe in being saved when there has been no conviction of sin, true repentance, or actual forgiveness of sins. I have seen many become resistant to truth after being led prematurely through a sinner’s prayer which presumably led to salvation but was never followed by any change in life.
Beware of “false prophets” is a warning of Jesus who tells us they come in “sheep’s clothing.” I interpret Jesus warning to mean that such persons can be graduates of a bible school or seminary and have all the credentials suggesting they are prepared for ministry. They can be difficult to detect at times as they mix a measure of truth with cheap grace and deceive those who are not Bereans and fail to faithfully study God’s Word for error. Unlike those who boldly preach the pure Word of God, the ministries of false prophets are not usually followed by “signs and wonders” such as genuine healing of medically incurable diseases or casting out of devils to set free those in bondage by demonic influence. In other words, the commission of Jesus in Mark’s gospel is not fulfilled in their ministries.
“Go you into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believes nost shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak in new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” Mark 16:15-18
Do not allow yourself to be deceived by cheap grace. Satan is a deceiver who comes as an “angel of light” and his helpers as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). We must thoroughly wash our minds with the water of God’s Word, or we may be influenced by falsehood and have no one to blame other than ourselves. You will seldom hear false prophets teach what Jesus makes so clear for all who would become disciples… and it is only possible by grace.
“He that takes not his cross, and follows after Me, is not worthy of Me. He that finds his life shall lose it; and he that loses his life for My sake shall find it.” Matthew 10:39
Remember! A person bearing a cross no longer controls his own destiny, but is steadily led by the Spirit of God toward the crucifixion of self and losing his life for the sake of Christ. Those parts of self which do not represent God are continually crucified as one goes from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Let us praise our Father in heaven for His grace and for His Son Jesus who make salvation possible for whosoever will repent and submit to His lordship. Amen