“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” Eph­esians 2:8

Misrepresentations regarding the doctrine of grace were being promoted even as the ink of the New Testament was drying. Paul protested with a “God forbid!” in Romans 6 to a gross misuse of grace—“Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Jude also records a similar deviation by men who were “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”. We should not be surprised that this wonderful subject is still being misrepresented today.

There is no doubt that grace is ‘the flavour of the month’ (yea, decade) in evangelical Christian circles. If you were to browse the shelves of most Christian bookshops you would find scores of new books dealing with grace. One such book What’s So Amazing About Grace? has sold literally millions of copies and is still in the top ten best selling Christian book list and has been there for some time. Last year Koorong bookshop, Australia’s largest Christian bookshop chain, was giving the book away for free to anyone who requested it.

Grace is represented as a refreshing change in direction amongst Christians from the austere, autocratic, judgmental ‘Church’ approach of the 1950s. Grace as a concept encapsulates a new, open, non-judgmental, tolerant approach which has swept through Christian thinking over the last few decades. We refer particularly to the evangelical movement, which is no doubt leading Christian thought and literature.

Like any trend or paradigm shift which has af­fected the Christian world, the brotherhood is not immune. Spirit gifts, women teaching, ecumeni­calism and other issues have affected some parts of our community from time to time. The ‘grace’ phenomenon is such a shift.

This article is not a definitive study of grace but rather a summary warning against the simplistic definitions of grace which are in current vogue. These ‘grace-concepts’ are very attractive in a su­perficial way and have found popularity amongst some brethren and in particular young people.

Grace, it is said, frees us from a life of fear, gives us assurance that we are saved and is in fact an over-arching principle which overrides what one may believe or how one may live.

The catch cry is “grace is unconditional” and although this is rarely defined, gives the impression that God will accept us ‘as we are’, regardless of what Church we belong to or what we have done or, in fact, are doing in our life. Obedience and works are often painted as irrelevant to salvation and, it is said, to insist on such things is to go against grace. “Grace only” is the cliché often espoused.

We quote from correspondence with a Chris­tadelphian attracted to these evangelical ideas: I also believe I am saved by grace only, not by any works that I do. But many Christadelphians, while giving lip service to salvation by grace, actually teach that there are several works which are es­sential for salvation. These include baptism and ‘purity of doctrine’… but might also include such things as head coverings”.

Christadelphians are criticised by those who hold these notions of grace as too concerned with doctrine, standards, separation from the world etc and having not simply accepted grace in our lives.

I’m sure you can see how attractive these ideas are, particularly to young people. One promoter of this idea said, “It is like having the pressure taken off”, referring to his ‘enlightenment’ regarding grace. Ideas like struggling to “overcome the world”, “Godly sorrow”, “self examination” and “striving for holiness”, which are in fact Biblical and are regarded by Christadelphians as a sign of spiritual sensitivity and Godliness, are being virtually derided, now that “the pressure has been taken off”.

Christadelphians promoting this ‘new-grace’ are reminded that these are not original ideas nor have they discovered some ‘new-truth’. They have sim­ply adopted the current trend in Christian thinking, and this view does not conform to the definitions and examples of grace found in Scripture.

Unconditional Grace

The unconditional grace concept is a subtle com­bination of both truth and error, hence its power to deceive. It is true that God’s grace is unlimited, undeserved and unmerited divine favour. It is true that we are saved by grace and not by any works that we do. It is true we should talk more about grace and that grace should be a motivating factor in our lives.

But the definition of unconditional grace and the practical implications drawn from this Evangelical concept are wrong, do not give glory to God, nor explain the method of salvation.

The whole Evangelical approach to grace is based upon the doctrine of “substitution”. It is in effect the doctrine of substitution taken to its logi­cal conclusion. If it is true that Christ died ‘instead of us’, if someone has stepped onto the execution scaffold instead of us, then it would be true that ‘the pressure would be off’. Nothing we could do or not do would have any relevance to our salva­tion. Obedience and good works would be optional extras, something nice to respond to God with, but not really essential to salvation.

It is the realisation of the role of substitution the­ology in this ‘new-grace’ that should sound an alarm and dissuade any of us from dabbling in the idea.

Our Lord is our representative, our captain, the author of our salvation. He showed us in his life, death and resurrection that God’s Word is supreme, that God’s will should be done in every decision and aspect of our lives, that we crucify the affections and lusts of our flesh and bring every thought into captivity to him. Not our will but God’s be done. Far from ‘taking the pressure off’ he told us to “take up our cross” and follow him.

Substitution theology is unscriptural and illogi­cal (see The Blood of Christ, Robert Roberts) and therefore the grace concept which springs from it is also illogical. Even proponents of this concept, when pressed, will acknowledge that extreme and grotesque sin will alienate one from this ‘uncondi­tional grace’. Now they are, in effect, taking the role of arbitrator regarding the grace of God.

Another flaw in the concept is failing to dif­ferentiate between God’s willingness to forgive and forgiveness itself. God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ is unconditional in regards to who may accept; “whosoever” is the Biblical term which describes those invited by God. It does not matter if in your past life you were a fornicator, murderer or thief; “such were some of you”, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. However, Paul goes on to say that a man involved in such activity after baptism “shall not inherit the kingdom of God”.

  •  God is willing and prepared to forgive all, but this willingness must not be confused with the doctrine of grace which is available to those who have obeyed His call and are living a life in ac­cordance with His will (Rom 6)
  •  Grace is conditional upon repentance and bap­tism (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:37,38)
  •  Repentance is not just a one-off decision at conversion, but something we do throughout our lives. The ecclesia in Ephesus was told to repent (Rev 2:5). We are exhorted in many places to repent and realign our lives with the principles of God’s word
  •  Grace is conditional upon faith (Eph 2:8). Faith comes from hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17) and faith must be evidenced by our works or ac­tions (James 2:20)
  •  Acceptance by God is conditional upon obedi­ence to Him (1 John 5:2, John 15:14)
  •  Grace is conditional upon confession of our sins (1 John 1:8–10)
  •  Grace is conditional upon forgiving others (Matt 6:12).

A Case Study

A Biblical case study, which shows the balance between God’s willingness to forgive and our re­sponsibility to seek His forgiveness, is seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.

It is quite evident that the son, whilst away from the family home had “fallen from grace”. It was not until he decided to “go to my father and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” that he was on the path to restoration. Both the acknowledgment and the action were required.

Look at the father’s response: “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion”. This is the response of our Heavenly Father when we seek His forgiveness; this is un­merited divine favour in action.

God is willing and wanting to forgive us. It is our responsibility to seek His forgiveness and this involves repentance and Godly contrition.

Grace then is a two way thing. God offers it freely to “whosoever” will receive it. However, it is our responsibility to accept God, believe and be baptised and seek His righteousness throughout our lives.

As Brother John Carter said, “although grace em­braces all, all may not embrace it” (Romans page 63).

Our position of being within the confines of God’s grace “wherein we stand” (Rom 5:2) can be lost due to deviation in doctrine and behaviour from what God requires.

“Ye are fallen from grace”—through wrong doctrine (Gal 5:4); and “We… beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain”—through wrong conduct (2 Cor 6:1).

Grace is a powerful motivator in our life.

When we meditate upon grace and attempt to appreciate the grace of God, shown in the forgive­ness of sins through Jesus Christ, we are moved with gratitude, thankfulness and love.

God’s grace is not a passive subject which ‘takes the pressure off’, but a powerful, dynamic stimulus, which leads towards the development of God’s pur­pose—God manifestation in the life of a believer.

The most oft quoted text in regards to the subject of grace would have to be Ephesians 2. Here Paul makes it absolutely clear that we are not saved by works (and we definitely are not). Yet as we read on we see that works are fundamental and central to the salvation process. Far from being ir­relevant to grace, they are in fact the very purpose and reason behind God’s unmerited and unlimited divine favour towards us.

• Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace are ye saved through faith”

• Ephesians 2:9 “Not of works…”

• Ephesians 2:10 “We are his workmanship, cre­ated… unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”.

Good works or Godly actions in our lives cannot be divorced from salvation by grace. The ‘grace-alone’ cliché and what it represents does not take into account the “whole counsel of God” and does not give glory to God in its out-working.

Christadelphians have been accused of placing too much emphasis on separation from the world, abstaining from worldliness and focusing too much on sober living. We gladly accept that criticism and believe that this is precisely the concern of those who appreciate God’s grace and are striving to develop Godliness and Righteousness in their lives.

• Titus 2:11 “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men”

• Titus 2:12 “Teaching us that, denying ungodli­ness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world”

• Titus 2:14 “That he might redeem us … a pe­culiar people, zealous of good works”.

Time does not permit us to give a positive exposition on grace, nor to show how the current views are rooted in philosophies like Gnosticism, (body and spirit are two separate entities, do what you want), Humanism (you are the most important person, your opinion only matters), Calvinism (God’s grace is a force bringing you ‘kicking and screaming’ into the kingdom)—and we have only briefly touched on its relationship with the orthodox substitution theology. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

May we all meditate upon this wonderful doc­trine and may we strive, in appreciation of God’s grace, to “live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world”.