The true grace of God is God’s work in His Son Jesus Christ. We have an indication of this in John 1:17.
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that there was no grace under Moses, or that there was no truth under Moses. Nor does it mean that there is no law under Jesus Christ. We have already seen that grace is not license. Paul says that he was not without law to God, but under the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21).
Yet in some way, John is contrasting law — as characteristic of the Old system — to grace — as characteristic of Jesus Christ. What is God’s true grace? It came by Jesus Christ. In some sense, it is peculiar to Jesus Christ and his work. Grace will be found in relation to the Son of God himself –the Son who became flesh and dwelt among us. He was full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Peter says that it was prophesied in advance that Christ would bring this grace to mankind, and that this grace would be our salvation.
As to this SALVATION, the PROPHETS who prophesied of THE GRACE THAT WOULD COME TO YOU made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (1 Pet. 1:10-11).
God’s true grace would come by Jesus Christ. The prophets had an inkling of this, but they did not see it clearly. John says that grace did come by Jesus Christ, who was God in human flesh. Peter says that the Spirit of Christ testified to the prophets of someone, at some time, who would bring grace to God’s people — grace that would result in their salvation, or right standing with God. We know, looking back, that they spoke of Christ. They did not know the details but “made careful search and inquiry” as to who this Savior was and when he would come.
Jesus Became A Man
How did God’s grace involve Christ? What was involved in God’s grace? It visibly began when God became incarnate to become a man in Jesus Christ. Paul says:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9) .
Grace began when Jesus left heaven — with all its riches — to become a man. He became poor FOR OUR SAKE, that we might become RICH. Grace means, in the first place, that God became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. He became one of us. Jesus came for the purpose of keeping God’s will perfectly in a human body — that is why he was given a body in the first place.
Therefore, when he comes into the world, he says, “Sacrifice and offering thou hadst not desired, but a body thou hast prepared for me. In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said [putting these words in the mouth of Jesus], `Behold I have come’ (in the roll of the book it is written of me), `to DO THY WILL, O GOD'” (Heb. 10:5-7).
God had never wanted animal sacrifices or sin offerings above all else. He had simply wanted people to carry out his will! But even the most pious and faithful Jew had always failed to do God’s will (because that is what we have seen to be the universal state of fallen humans), and had to offer sacrifices for sin instead. Jesus did not come to offer more animal sacrifices. He came to do what God had always wanted but what no person had ever yet done: TO DO THE WILL OF GOD! As a MAN, He would do what NO OTHER had done. God gave Jesus a body for that purpose.He came to do the will of God. Not only that, He DID the will of God perfectly in his human body. Jesus then offered that body for OUR sins.
We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering he has perfected for all time [or completely] those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:10, 14).
The grace of God means — first — that Jesus became a man. He was one of us. As a man he kept God’s will perfectly. Then he offered his body to God — he presented to God what God had always wanted — a human life perfectly in accord with his will for man. Grace means, in the second place, that Jesus died for sins — though he himself had none.
Jesus Swapped Places With Us
In dying when he personally had never sinned, Jesus paid the price for OUR sins — and those of every person who will finally be saved throughout all the world! Remember our two eternal principles: God demands death for sin; fallen humans always sin. Here we see how the two truths are reconciled for our salvation. Jesus died for our sins! HE TOOK OUR PLACE. God does not overlook sin — a monumental price is paid for it — the perfect life of the Son of God! The only man who ever did what God wanted died for those who never had. Here is the grace of God! It is not a cheap grace — it cost the life of the Son of God. He died in our place.
Paul tells us this same thing in Second Corinthians, chapter five:
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed to us the word of reconciliation. . . . He made him who knew no sin [Jesus Christ] to BE SIN ON OUR BEHALF, that we might become THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD in him. And working together with him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 5:19-6:1).
This story becomes more wondrous all the time! Jesus not only took OUR place; He gives us HIS. He was made SIN for us, that we might be made THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD in him. The grace of God is that Jesus became a man — a representative man who took our place. In a human body, Jesus lived a perfect life which God counts for us, then died the death which, for our sins, we deserved to die.
Peter tells us this in other words:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by his wounds you were healed (1 Pet. 2:24).
Jesus did not stay in the grave. God raised him from the dead — and that, too, was for our sake!
Now not for [Abraham’s] sake only was it written, that “[his faith] was reckoned to him [for righteousness],” but for our sake also, to whom [faith] will be reckoned, as those who believe in him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, him who was delivered up because of OUR transgressions, and was raised because of OUR justification. Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into THIS GRACE IN WHICH WE STAND; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 4:23-5:2).
Jesus died for our sins. If God did not have to deal with our sins, Jesus would not have died. If we ever wonder whether we are sinners, we need look only at the cross of Jesus Christ and we see that we are. He was on that cross “because of our transgressions.”
But Jesus was raised again “because of our justification.” His resurrection demonstrated to the entire watching universe that God loves sinners and that, in Jesus, he has saved those who do not reject his grace, those of every nation and time and place in whom God sees the faith of Abraham. If we ever wonder whether we are forgiven, we need look only by faith at that empty tomb where Jesus was once buried. If we think of Jesus’ death as the payment for our sins, we may also think of Jesus’ resurrection as God’s guaranteed and irrevocable receipt.
Here is the grace of God! It is a great swap-out! It comes through Jesus Christ. In Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the universe became man — made in the likeness of man — came to be like sinful flesh. He was actually and really one of us, though he was still deity. But, unlike us, Jesus did not sin. Instead he did the will of God perfectly in his human body. Then the only sinless man who ever lived died a cruel death for sinners like you and me who will never deserve anything else than death.
Here is the grace of God. And here is why JESUS CHRIST is the very heart and soul, the center and circumference, of the New Testament. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the beginning and the end. He is the first and the last. He is our peace, our justification, our holiness. We owe everything to Him.
Grace Is Received By True Faith
Paul says in Romans, chapter five, that we are justified by faith (v. 1). Faith means trusting God to love us, because of what he did in Jesus Christ, and entrusting ourselves wholeheartedly to that divine love. Salvation is by grace — we do not deserve God’s favor toward us and we can never earn it. We access this grace by faith, which means that we must always look outside ourselves for our salvation (2 Tim. 1:12).
We cannot perform the work which results in our salvation, for Jesus has already done that, once for all time. We cannot add to that finished work, or improve on it. We can only trust God to be gracious to us as he promises in Christ. If we picture grace as the room of God’s favor, we may think of faith as the door into that room (Rom. 5:1-2).
God accepts us because of Christ’s work on our behalf. We enjoy that grace by accepting it as fact, trusting it as sufficient, and throwing ourselves on it in total and eternal abandon, to become servants of righteousness and true holiness in Christ. We do not earn God’s favor. We can not ever please Him enough to be given His blessings. We certainly could never pay for our own sins and be saved. But in Christ God has brought together the justice that is his nature and the weakness that is ours: Christ became a man and took our place.
God’s grace deals with the weakness of our flesh because salvation does not depend on our weak flesh — Jesus has earned it for us already! It also takes into account God’s holiness, because sin is punished — by the death of God’s sinless Son! And so Paul can say to the Ephesian Christians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
License perverts grace, and does not satisfy God’s requirement of perfect obedience to his will. Legalism thwarts and frustrates God’s grace, and does not provide for the weakness of fallen humankind. Salvation by grace — true grace in Jesus Christ — reckons with God’s holiness and with our sinfulness and weakness. The perfect, finished work of Jesus Christ satisfies God’s holiness and provides for our sinfulness. In Jesus Christ, the holy God accepts and forgives his sinful human creatures (Eph. 1:7).
One With Christ
We are saved because we are one with Christ — and he has both offered a perfect life and died for our sins. We are one with Christ on the basis of faith, in the beginning and throughout life. True faith will seek to please him. Yet it is not legalism. There is a vast difference between law-keeping and law-depending. We will want to do God’s will, yet we never will trust in our own performance for our salvation. We glory only in the cross of Christ.
Any system, any concept of Christianity, any “ism,” any movement, which makes salvation dependent on our own ability to please God destroys and invalidates the work of Christ. If we could have been saved because of our own performance then Christ died in vain. If people could be saved by keeping the rules, Christ could have stayed in heaven — God’s people had possessed perfect rules for centuries. The weakness of the Old Testament was the weakness of man. That is the same weakness of any system which depends on us.
It is one thing to seek God’s will in a matter because we love him and want to please him. It is another thing altogether to approach that same matter with the idea that our salvation depends on our own good performance or merit. This attitude is legalism, and it will always lead to pride (insofar as we are successful) or to despair and hopelessness (insofar as we fail).
It is right and proper to seek to please God as thoroughly and exactly and precisely as possible. Any true believer will want to do that, and anyone who does not want to do that is not a true believer. But it is a far different matter to create a system, to formulate a creed, or to devise an elaborate set of rules, and then DEPEND ON OUR OWN KEEPING OF THOSE THINGS FOR OUR SALVATION.
Let us seek to please God. That is what true faith will always do. Let us ask God for forgiveness when we fall. That is what true faith will always do. Let us rejoice in the work of Christ on our behalf. Let us glory in the cross of Christ. Let us say — first, last, and always — “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” And — in Christ — we know that he always will!
I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that THIS IS THE TRUE GRACE OF GOD. Stand firm in it! . . . Peace be to you all who are in Christ (1 Pet. 5:12, 14).
A Personal Question
Are YOU standing in God’s true grace? Are you enjoying peace with God by trusting in his saving kindness shown in Jesus Christ? If you do believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son; if you do trust His perfect life and atoning death for your salvation; if you do rely on Him and intend to please Him as long as you live and as best you are able in all things — then do not delay acting on that faith!
Express with your mouth and your action the faith that is in your heart.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9)
Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on [Jesus’] name (Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:26-27).
Of [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that through his name every one who believes in him has received forgiveness of sins. . . . And [Peter] ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:43, 47).
And then, as long as you live, continue to walk by the same faith –trusting, relying and obeying — living in the TRUE GRACE OF GOD!