Before we notice what the Bible says about God’s grace, we ought to know two fundamental and eternal principles which run throughout the Scriptures. One has to do with God’s nature — the other has to do with ours.
God Must Punish Sin
The first is found in Romans 6:23, and is simply this: “The wages of sin is death.” In other words, it is an eternal principle which cannot be revoked that God must punish sin. Any doctrine, any definition, any concept which does not take this into account is wrong from the beginning. According to God’s own revelation of himself in Scripture and in Jesus Christ, God inherently hates sin and must punish it. As we study the grace of God, then, we must begin with this clear understanding. The wages of sin is death. It is a part of God’s own divine nature that this be the case. God cannot overlook sin forever, or winked at it indefinitely, or simply sweep it under the rug. Because God is God, sin must be punished.
We all are Sinners
There is a second eternal truth, just as true and just as eternal as the first. This eternal principle has to do with our fallen nature, and it is stated in Romans 3:23. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Human beings since Adam, because we are a fallen race, always sin. Every responsible man and woman (except Christ) has sinned. The human race fell into sin through the disobedience of Adam, our first representative (Rom. 5:18). By our own disobedience we have proved ourselves Adam’s true descendants. In two ways, therefore, we all sinned — representatively, in our first forefather, and individually, by our own wrong choices.
There can be no doubt that we all are sinners. This is an eternal principle of God’s word, basic to us for the simple reason that we are part of fallen humanity. All have sinned (in the past) and all continue to come short of God’s glory. Any doctrine or definition or discussion of grace which overlooks this basic concept is also wrong from the very start. This is a very simple, but absolutely necessary, point from which we must start.
As we begin to consider God’s grace, then, we see two fundamental principles. Neither can be ignored in our study. On the one hand, because God is God, sin must be punished. On the other hand, because we humans are fallen, we have always sinned. How can we reconcile these two truths? If all of us have sinned, and if sin demands death, how can anyone be saved? If God, in his very nature, hates and punishes sin, how can he ever bless, or smile with favor, or “save” ANY HUMAN BEING when ALL have sinned? The doctrine of God’s grace must answer this question. But it must take into account both the fundamental truths which we have noticed as it does.