The Greatness of God’s Love and Grace

Prof. Johan Malan, Middelburg, South Africa (August 2007)

Scripture references are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise stated.

God is the source and personification of true love. All those who wish to belong to Him must receive His divine love in their hearts and live according to its noble principles. John described this new life as follows:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested towards us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:7-16).

A true believer is not someone who tries to please God by efforts to observe the law, but one who received the new life of Christ by faith and daily put it on. God’s agape love is poured out in the hearts of His children by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). It completely changes their character and enables them to live according to its divine principles. The love of God should be the salient characteristic of their personal life and relationship with others:

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

Consequences of God’s love

God’s love was revealed in a spiritually depraved world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). By yielding to Satan’s deception in the Garden of Eden, our first parents and all their descendants became sinners by nature (Rom. 5:12). In this fallen situation, God’s love is of great significance as it offers the only hope of salvation to the millions of sinners on earth. But His offer of salvation also demands judgement and punishment upon His adversaries who reject His love and grace. The various consequences of God’s love gave rise to the manifestation of more of His attributes, such as the following:

·       Truth. God is the measure for all truth. His Word is the truth, and His Spirit is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth (John 17:17; 16:13). The Lord Jesus revealed these great truths to us (John 14:6). The opposite concept of lies is associated with Satan who is the father of lies (John 8:44). We should be able to clearly distinguish between good and evil. To this end the Holy Spirits convicts us of our sin, the righteousness of God and the judgements that have been proclaimed upon Satan and his followers.

·       Wrath upon sinners. God hates sin as that is an expression of the rejection of His love, and therefore also of His kingdom of truth and righteousness (Ps. 45:7). His wrath and judgements will come upon the wicked people who despise Him by persistently living in sin (Rev. 14:10). They act under the instigation of Satan, who leads the kingdom of darkness.

·       Righteousness. God is righteous because He gave all people a free will to choose between good and evil. Those who reject Him will be the objects of His righteous judgements (1 Pet. 2:23; Rev. 16:5). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We should never ascribe a type of love to God which nullifies His judgements and wrath upon the wicked. There are those who wrongfully argue that God is so loving that He will never punish people by condemning them to hell.

·       Grace. The Lord has great mercy and forgiveness, and therefore offers remission of sin and spiritual restoration to all sinners. God hates sin but loves sinners. They were created in His image but have fallen into sin because of Satan’s deception. God’s righteous judgements compelled Him to pass an eternal death penalty upon all sinners. But how can His grace and mercy be shown to sinners if they have already been condemned? By having an innocent and righteous Person to take the death penalty of sinners upon Himself. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is a propitiation for our sins, on condition that we confess our sins and accept His sacrifice on our behalf in faith. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). God imposed His righteous judgement against sin on His Son, so that all who believe in Him can be forgiven and acquitted. That is grace! His grace to salvation is followed by the giving of grace for all other needs that we may have. We are called upon to trust the Lord for everything since His grace is sufficient for us.

Progressive revelation

During Old Testament times, God often intervened in a totally depraved and godless world to judge the wicked and save the righteous, e.g. in the times of Noah and Lot. But the subsequent generations proceeded with the iniquity of their fathers, and God called for Him a special people from among the heathens to live separated from the wicked. They were the people of Israel. He revealed His love to them by giving them His law. That was a basic set of rules prescribing the right conduct (righteousness and holiness) and prohibiting evil. He said, “I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).

However, the love and grace of God were not poured out in the hearts of people, so they did not really have a strong motivation to serve the Lord. There was only a short step between serving the Lord and bowing before idols, which they often did. Their fixed times for worshipping the Lord were easily neglected, thereby excluding Him from their lives. The conviction of sin was instilled in them by reading the law, while forgiveness was ensured by repetitive animal sacrifices. Priests were the mediators between the nation and God; consequently, ordinary people’s experience of God’s love, holiness, forgivingness and His guidance in their lives was very limited. They tried to observe the law and also put their trust in circumcision as a sign of their covenant with God. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was only imparted to specific leaders of Israel (kings, prophets and priests). Grace and the forgiving of sins were available to people, but only after the priests had offered prayers and sacrifices to the Lord on their behalf.

Sacrifices under the law were only shadows that pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of the Messiah for the sins of the whole world, when He died on the cross as the Lamb of God (John 1:29). The law was unable so save people as no one could fully observe the law. The law condemned the world before God: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

With the coming of Christ, the dispensation of the law was ended and replaced by the dispensation of grace. Paul said, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:14-15). Sin is contrary to the new life which we receive from above since God’s agape love instils a divine life in us which reflects His holiness (1 Pet. 1:15-16). The Holy Spirit was poured out upon all people, convicting them of sin – that includes all thoughts and deeds which are in conflict with the holy nature of God.

In the dispensation of grace God reveals His love to a spiritually depraved world by His Son’s atoning death on the cross by which He saves repentant sinners. Grace is God’s gift of forgiveness to lost sinners who are alienated from their Creator and His divine nature. His Holy Spirit convicts all people of their sin and of the righteousness of Christ (John 16:8). The conviction of sin is no longer effected by the reading of the law. Furthermore, the forgiving of sins is no longer obtained through the sacrifices brought by priests – all sinners can now approach the throne of grace where they can confess their sins and be granted forgiveness (Heb. 4:16). The forgiveness which they freely receive form the Lord as a gift of grace commits them to also forgive their own trespassers (Matt. 6:15).

The fact that we are not under the law implies that we are on a higher spiritual level than the people of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16) and also convicts us of the sins which separate us from God. Even the smallest sin can impede our relationship with the Lord and grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), and should therefore immediately be confessed and forsaken. The Lord’s work of grace in our lives includes cleansing by the blood of the Lamb and the indwelling the Holy Spirit, through which the righteousness and holy nature of Christ are imputed to us.

The love of God which was poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), constrains us to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and not to allow any other love to take precedence over the love of God in our lives (Matt. 10:37, 1 John 2:15-16). By virtue of Christ’s death on the cross we can also die to sin and become alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11). We don’t need to live under the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:12-14). God’s grace is freely given to us.

In this higher life of dedication to the Lord we should never exalt the law to the guiding principle of our lives, as we would then “turn again to the weak and beggarly elements” of the law (Gal. 4:9). A New Testament believer would deny the sufficiency of Christ’s grace if he tries to supplement his relationship with the Lord Jesus by an Old Testament covenant sign such as circumcision, or by the legalistic observance of the Sabbath (Gal. 5:2-4). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The Living Bible paraphrases this scripture as follows: “So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don’t get all tied up again in the slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies.” We should not become servants of sin or of the Mosaic law.

In the light of these facts it is of the utmost importance that we should know the basic principles of the dispensation of grace, how they function in our lives and what the Lords expects of us. Let us avoid the serious error of the Galatians, who underestimated the grace of Christ and tried to add to it by observing certain laws. In the new dispensation, covenant signs such as circumcision do not determine the relationship that a person has with God, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Covenant signs (baptism or circumcision) do not render us new creatures – only the rebirth by God’s Spirit because of His mercy can save us. We should walk according to the rules of the new man (Gal. 6:16) and be guided by the Holy Spirit into the full truth of this life.

The love of God has its own dynamics and principles to keep us moving in the right direction (1 Cor. 13:4-8). It strengthens and uplifts the inner man if you observe its principles: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-25). As Christians we still have a free will and have to take decisions with regard to our spiritual life. We must continuously surrender ourselves to the will of God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are deeply dependent upon the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit so we can be spiritually strengthened in the inner man, to give us knowledge, wisdom and discernment, to guide us through life, to teach us as His disciples, to use us in His service, to carry us through difficulties and to deliver us from evil. He promises us His continued presence in our lives (Heb. 13:5).

In the dispensation after the coming of Christ, God’s saving grace is proclaimed to all nations, and that gave rise to the New Testament church of Christ. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us to preach the gospel message (Acts 1:8). He also regenerates the hearts of people to make them Christians (1 Cor. 12:13). Because of this, the present dispensation is not only known as the dispensation of grace but also as the church dispensation and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible teach us on the grace of God?

Grace for salvation

All sinners are alienated from God and cannot see or hear Him, so they need to hear the message of His love and grace from one of His children who has already been saved by grace. The Holy Spirit enables sinners to respond in faith to God’s calling by accepting His Son as their Saviour. When they do that, they become believers who are associated with God because they have received His grace in their lives by faith. They have a hopeful future in the Lord because they know that they are destined for His eternal glory. Before salvation they were without hope and without God in the world.

Faith, hope and love are the spiritual characteristics of a person who has been recreated by the grace of God. His faith represents a relationship with the living God. That gives him a fixed hope on the Lord for daily sustenance and protection, but particularly also on eternal life in heaven. The love of God determines the nature of our relationship with Him and also with other people. A Christian must be grounded and rooted in this love so it can become the foundation of his life (Eph. 3:17-19). Love and grace should abound in our lives to strengthen our faith.

No person can be saved without the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is the basis of God’s saving grace, and can only be accepted by faith as a gift from Him. We cannot even in the smallest way deserve our salvation: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

In this context, works refer to people’s own efforts of law observance and good living in order to ensure their salvation. If it was possible for anyone to earn acceptance by God he would boast in his own works for salvation. There is no exception to the rule that we can only become children of God by grace because of the atoning death of Christ. But does this mean that works have no place in a believer’s life? Certainly not! We must be cautious not to wrongly assess the role of works in a Christian’s life as that would rob us of many blessings and also of the fruit of the Spirit. Although human works and a good life do not in the least form part of the basis for our salvation, works nevertheless play a big role in our lives during and after salvation.

The saving grace of Christ cannot even be imputed to us if we do not react to His offer of salvation by the works of repentance and the confession of our sins (1 John 1:9). That is faith in action. Repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all people (Luke 24:47). Forgiveness of sins by grace must be preceded by repentance. After salvation we must do works that befit repentance (Acts 26:20). We must build upon the foundation, Jesus Christ, by doing works with eternal value (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Some Christians neglect this duty and will consequently appear before Christ empty-handed. Faith and works go hand in hand; that is why faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:14,17).

Immediately after Paul has denounced the role of works as a basis for salvation, he explained the important role of works in the life of a Christian: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). After I have been saved by grace through faith, the Lord will use me daily to work for Him. He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

The riches of God’s grace

The information in this section has been derived from the article Grace covers it all by Anton Bosch (Aug. 2007):

Many people struggle to accept that God’s grace is sufficient to deal with, and to forgive their sin. They live in constant guilt, not believing nor accepting that grace is more and bigger than their sin. Irrespective of how we feel or what we think, God’s Word is clear: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us” (Eph. 1:7-8). Notice it is according to the riches of His grace.

But then there are just as many people who abuse the grace of God and think that His abundant grace is an excuse to sin and to continue in sin. This is a line of thinking that has become increasingly popular over the past 30 years. Many preachers have distorted the message of grace because they are more interested in increasing the size of their congregations than in rightly dividing the Word of truth. People in these churches feel that it does not matter how they live since the Lord will always forgive. This has given rise to a generation of “christians” who deny every principle in the Bible except that of grace.

This is not a new problem. Paul had obviously come across the same thinking and he responded: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). He then presents a brief, but complex argument in the following 12 verses. The conclusion of this argument boils down to one simple fact. If we have truly been born again (died and risen with Him) then we should be dead to sin and alive to God. Thus those who continue in sin, that grace may abound, are clearly declaring that they are not new creatures, but have simply grabbed hold of God’s grace to escape His judgment. They have no desire to be united with Him, to live in, and for Him, or to submit to Him. All they want is a “pass jail” ticket and a license to continue in their sinful ways without feeling guilty.

In Romans 6:15, Paul says something similar: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Once again, he explains his statement with an 8-verse argument. In this case he says that those who continue to sin because of grace need to check who their master is. If they are addicted to sin, then sin is their master. If they are enslaved to righteousness, then God is their Lord and Master. He is really saying the same thing as before. Those who continue to sin and abuse the grace of God may not be saved! If we are truly saved, we will be addicted to doing right things and not sin… If we have understood the message of the Gospel and the price Jesus paid for us and the greatness of God’s grace, we will not want to sin, but will want to please Him and serve Him. You cannot have visited the foot of the cross and treat sin lightly. Once you have (even partially) understood what sin did to Jesus, you will flee from it.

Grace for sanctification

The grace of God is not only related to salvation but also to sanctification and separation from the world: “For the grace of God that brings salvation… teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). After salvation, the Holy Spirit pours out the grace of the Lord into our hearts more abundantly to motivate us towards a new life of holiness and service to the Lord. We should follow His guidance wholeheartedly.

Paul urged the Corinthians not to remain “babes in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1) but to grow up spiritually in the grace of the Lord: “In this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit” (2 Cor. 1:15). The Amplified Bible explains “a second benefit” as “a double favour and token of grace.” When the Holy Spirit regenerates us He ministers the first work of grace to us, which is salvation. When He fills us with Himself and equips us for service He ministers the second work of grace, which is sanctification. Both these works are done by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross – that is why we all receive from His fullness one grace after another (John 1:16). The Lord Jesus paid the ransom for our justification and sanctification, but the Holy Spirit does these works of grace in the hearts of those who trust the Lord.

The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts, endues us with the nature of Christ and enables us to live accordingly. In this way He teaches us to live pure and holy lives. Although God sanctifies us by virtue of Christ’s work of atonement (1 Thess. 5:23), He expects from us works of dedication (2 Tim. 2:19,21; 2 Cor. 7:1). We should live soberly and rest our hope fully on God’s grace for holiness. He can give us a pure heart.

Many Christians do not actively pursue holiness as they should, and consequently grieve the Holy Spirit. They disregard the command to deny themselves and surrender their old nature (the flesh) to be crucified. Because of their neglect, they do not walk in the Spirit but actually oppose Him through their uncrucified flesh (Gal. 5:16-17). The Holy Spirit wishes to lead us out of a worldly and self-centred orientation by promoting divine characteristics and attitudes in us. If we strive after these things we will receive more grace to enable us to devote ourselves to this wonderful, new life. The Lord will then be with us and bless us. Paul gives the following advice:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – think about such things” (Phil. 4:4-9).

The newness of life is part of the grace that we receive from the Lord, but we must also increase our knowledge of it from the Word of God. We should be greatly motivated when we behold and consider the lives of Spirit-filled children of the Lord. We should encourage one another to this end by praising the Lord and quoting truths from Scripture: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16).

Grace for works

We should, as Christians, continuously draw on the grace of the Lord if we wish to please Him and be of service to Him. He did not only save us by grace to go to heaven one day but also to be His witnesses in an evil world. If you do not fulfil this calling then you were called in vain to be a disciple of Christ. Have you offered yourself to work for Christ as one of His disciples? Paul said: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards 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 Cor. 15:10). Paul was not only saved by grace but the Lord’s grace for works was also given to him according to all his needs. He did not boast in himself for what he has achieved.

The Lord expects every child of Him to grow in His grace so all of us can contribute towards proclaiming the gospel to the unsaved world. We are blamed if we do not grow up spiritually to the level where we can be used of the Lord: “For though by this time you aught to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection” (Heb. 5:12–6:1).

One of the most common reasons for the lack of spiritual growth and discipleship is sin and worldliness. There shouldn’t be things in our lives that mar our testimony as that would disqualify us to work for the Lord: “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity… If anyone cleanses himself from these, he will be a vessel of honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:19,21).

The Holy Spirit endues us with different gifts of grace to be able to work for the Lord (1 Cor. 12:4; Rom. 12:6). When we offer ourselves to work in the Lord’s vineyard, we need the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) as well as self-discipline. Paul says: “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). The Living Bible says: “Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.” A living faith will lead to works. Are there any works that emerge from your faith? If not, you may have a dead faith. Do you use your talents in the service of the Lord, or are they dormant? Lazy servants will in vain offer excuses for their failure in serving the Lord (Matt. 25:24-28; Luke 19:20-24).

The Lord Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Do you also do that? The night of God’s judgement will soon enfold this wicked world. Then, the dispensation of grace will have expired and be followed by the time of God’s reckoning: “Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your Name, small and great, and You should destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). The Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work” (Rev. 22:12).

Grace during temptations and spiritual warfare

The Lord Jesus is able to aid those who are tempted as He Himself has suffered, being tempted (Heb. 2:18). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathise with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Because we are weak the Lord gives us grace to overcome temptations. He will not allow that we are tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape that we may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). But temptations are necessary as the testing of our faith makes it strong (Jas. 1:2-15). We must resist and conquer it. The Lord also promises us strength and grace to prevail in the fierce battle against the devil (Eph. 6:10-11). In this dispensation we are not kings who are ruling with Christ in His kingdom, but soldiers for the cross in a world that lies in the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19). Under circumstances like these we are greatly dependent upon the grace of the Lord to remain standing in “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).

Grace for other needs

The Lord cares for us in all respects and says that He shall supply all our need according to the riches of His grace (Phil. 4:19; Eph. 2:7). For how many of your needs have you trusted the Lord? We should ask grace for every difficult task that faces us, also when we have to resist temptations and sin, or when we have to handle crises or solve problems. There is no situation for which the grace of God is not sufficient.

When you are sick or weak, the grace of the Lord is sufficient to either heal you or to give you strength to bear your cross and remain standing during trials and afflictions. His grace even helps you to triumph in the most difficult situations: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Rom. 5:20). The love of carnal Christians will grow cold (Matt 24:12).

It is important that we believe and accept the all-sufficiency of Christ’s grace. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven by His grace, and no demonic bondage that cannot be broken. The Lord Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); therefore His grace is enough to deliver us from Satan. The grace of Christ is sufficient for forgiveness and saving from sin, the remission of all transgressions, and for all spiritual problems: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). It is not necessary to resort to special deliverance ministries, inner healing, psychological counselling, hypnosis, or the breaking of alleged generation curses in an effort to supplement the grace of the Lord, as that would deny the all-sufficiency of Christ to do a complete work in our lives. He has come that we may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

Manifold grace

The Lord graciously endows us for special ministries in His service: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10). Every preacher, evangelist and witness for Christ should proclaim the manifold grace of the Lord – for salvation, sanctification, service to the Lord, strength to face the storms of life, victory over all the temptations and attacks of Satan, as well as supplying in all the needs of the saints.

We should also identify all the stumbling-blocks that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of the Lord’s grace in our lives. When these hindrances have been removed, we can again “put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We will then know and experience that Christ fulfils our every need. “Hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

The question is: “how much of the grace of the Lord do you experience in your life? We obtain it by faith in prayer. If we neglect to pray for God’s grace and to accept the promises in His Word by faith, we will remain spiritually poor and weak. James says, “You do not have because you do not ask” (Jas. 4:2).

Grace and law

A life under the law is quite different from a life led by the grace of Christ according to the principles of His love. We should clearly realise that we are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). The fact that we are not under law does not mean that we lead a lawless and unrestrained life, but that the grace of Christ induces us to live on a higher spiritual level of dedication to God. His grace teaches us to renounce carnal passions and desires, and to conform to His holiness – also in our secret thoughts.

Paul says, “…the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1 Tim. 1:9). The law is not intended for those who have already confessed their sins and came to Christ for forgiveness. The law is a tutor for sinners to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). Neither are we under the law after our salvation since we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26). The Holy Spirit grounds and roots us in the love of Christ. He leads and empowers us to live in accordance with divine love. He continuously convicts us of sins so that we should confess and forsake them.

We must have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and follow in His footsteps (1John 2:6). He has completely fulfilled the law, so we don’t need to revert to overt observances of the law to determine our behaviour accordingly. When the love of Christ has been poured out into our hearts, and we apply it to our lives, then we have fulfilled the law (Gal. 5:14). If I love God with all my heart I do not need a law to tell me that I should have no other gods before Him. If I love my neighbour as myself I am also not in need of laws that determine the nature of my relationship with other people (Rom. 13:8-10). The love of Christ (not the law) lays the necessity upon me to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16; 2 Cor. 5:14).

We are only subject to the law of Christ, which is the law of love (John 13:34; 15:12). Even the command about the Sabbath has been fulfilled in Christ as we have entered the rest of the Lord in Him. We are free to make any day of the week a special day of dedication to the Lord, or even all seven days of the week (Rom. 14:5). We daily live in His grace and do not need to observe shadowy festivals that have already been fulfilled in Christ (Col. 2:16-17).

Falling from grace

The Lord wants us to love Him freely and therefore does not compel anybody to accept and follow Him. We retain our free will after salvation and thus have the choice and ability to sin, take wrong decisions and thereby to grieve the Holy Spirit. Because of this, there is always a possibility to decline in the grace of God instead of growing in grace: “Look diligently lest anyone should fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up should cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15).

There is a definite possibility of declining in grace as well as falling from grace if we do not abide in Christ. That happens when people accept wrong doctrines or fall back into sin despite the pleading and conviction of the Holy Spirit. Since Old Testament times believers were warned against apostatising: “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Ezek. 18:24).

Faith is our communication with God. When our faith weakens or ceases to exist, we backslide. Grace will then decline or even vanish from our lives. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). There are various warnings against backsliding and apostatising in the New Testament. The following are the most important ones:

Falling away from the love of Christ. There are individuals and even entire congregations who are falling away from the love of Christ. The place of divine love is then taken up by love for their church, love for their pastor and other foreign loves – also love for the world (1 John 2:15). The Lord Jesus warns such people that unless they return to their first love He will remove their lampstand (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) from them: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). The light of the gospel can, therefore, be removed from a person or congregation in cases of persistent deviation from the truth. The Bible says, “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14). Through his disobedience he was responsible for the serious apostatising in his life. He was never restored to faith. There are many such people who started in the light of God’s kingdom but ended in spiritual darkness.

Falling from Christ Himself. We have a clear command to abide in Christ, but not all people heed this command: “Abide in Me, and I in you… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4,6). But what then of the following guarantee: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28)? There are definite conditions attached to the promise of eternal security: the sheep of Christ must continue to hear His voice and to follow Him. Only then do they abide in Him and have the assurance that no other power will snatch them from His hand; therefore the command: “Abide in Me!” Eternal life is only in Jesus Christ. If, by wilful sinning or deviating on the way of deceptive doctrines, we do not abide in Christ, we are indeed at risk of forfeiting eternal salvation.

Falling from grace. When believers no longer regard the grace of Christ as sufficient for salvation and sanctification, and supplement it by observing certain laws, they inevitably fall from grace. Paul said to saved Galatians who reverted to the law: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Believers can be severed from Christ because of their own actions. The following promise is conditional: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). The condition for eternal security (that we should not grieve the Spirit) is mentioned with the promise. Some believers do not allow the Holy Spirit to fill and guide them into the whole truth. In this way they grieve and resist Him. How can He keep on sealing our salvation if we don’t walk in Him and recognise His control over our lives? Because of our free will we can do wrong things, start believing wrong teachings and even fall from grace. Paul says to the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). That means that we should not extinguish Him like a light that is switched off. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is very sensitive and dependant upon our full obedience. Like a curtain that can be closed to bar the sunlight from a room, we can also reject the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit through wilful sinning. In such situations we forfeit the guarantees that we had as believers.

Departing from the faith. People who don’t abide in the doctrine of Christ by turning to false doctrines, backslide and even stand to lose their faith: “The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). John says, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John v.9). Profs. John Walvoord & Roy Zuck (The Bible Knowledge Commentary) say the following on this Scripture: “These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it. The word ‘continue’ (Greek meno) has been used 23 times in 1 John in reference to the ‘abiding’ life. A person who does not continue in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned about it, particularly in the book Hebrews. John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward (v.8). They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were, and to abide (continue) in the teaching about Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God.”

Paul says to Timothy that he must have “faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). Those who have abandoned their faith and defected from the truth proclaim their heresies to others and “overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). Various fundamental truths are attacked and denied by the heretics, e.g. the deity of Jesus and the spiritual significance of His atoning death. Peter warns against false teachers “who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). They proclaim fables (or lies) instead of biblical truths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Former Christians who become entangled in lies are causing their own destruction by departing from the faith.

Departing from the faith because of sin. People do not only backslided because of wrong doctrines but also because of sin (immoral behaviour). Hebrew believers were warned as follows: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called Today, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). The same form of apostatising also occurred in the case of the prodigal son, but he restored his broken relationship with his father by returning to him and expressing sincere remorse for his sin (Luke 15:18-19). During the time of his backsliding he was lost and spiritually dead. Christians who backslided into a life sin can again repent and be spiritually revived. The prodigal son “was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15:32). King David realised the seriousness of his situation when he fell into sin, as well as the possibility that the Holy Spirit could depart from him. He prayed, “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:1-2, 9-11).

Departing from the faith due to changing God’s Word. The last few verses of the Bible contain a solemn warning: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the book of life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19). In view of this, it is entirely possible that someone’s name may have been written in the book of life, but later blotted out because of his presumptuous infringement of the Word of God. But if we are among the overcomers who do not accept wrong teachings or fall into sin, and who don’t deny the Lord or His Word, our names will always remain in the book of life. Christ said, “He who overcomes shall be clothed with white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the book of life” (Rev. 3:5). But it can nevertheless happen that certain names are removed because of their own doing. The Lord Jesus will say to the faithful ones, “You have kept My word and have not denied My name… Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Rev. 3:8,11). We must uphold sound doctrine and persevere on the right way.

Departing from the faith due to self-justification and materialism. The Lord Jesus said to a congregation of this nature, “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:16-17). Jesus Christ withdraws Himself from people who boast in their own achievements and declare themselves saved on these grounds. They do not even know that the Lord is no longer in their midst. Sardis is another congregation that suffered from the same problem of only having a form of godliness. Jesus said, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). The Amplified Bible says’ “I know your record and what you are doing; you are supposed to be alive, but in reality you are dead.” Their faith has withered away because of spiritual stagnation, as it bore no fruit. But they still regarded themselves as good Christians. They may have started good but they didn’t end well. Demas was also a person who started good, but materialism and love for the world led to his spiritual downfall. Paul says, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). We should clearly realise that love for God and love for the world cannot coexist in our lives (1 John 2:15).

Departing from the faith due to a lack of perseverance. Paul says to the Hebrews, “we [must] hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end… For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:6,14). The Colossians were also ensured of ultimate glory “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). Paul himself experienced severe attacks by Satan on his faith, and for that reason he often admonished other believers not to lose hope and withdraw from the spiritual race. He said, “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving [preserving] of the soul” (Heb. 10:37-39). There are different reasons why some depart from the way of truth. Paul persevered on the right way to the end, and shortly before his death wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Departing from the faith due to the wilful rejection of Christ, His atoning death and the Holy Spirit. Although most of the believers who apostatised and departed from God’s grace can be spiritually restored, there are also those who rejected Christ and insulted the Holy Spirit. They cannot be restored because they have despised and rejected the only One who can save their souls (Heb. 6:4-6). “How much worse punishment… will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29). Peter also warns against this foolish act: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20-21). This is a very serious matter.

Growing in grace

Instead of falling from grace we should grow in grace: “Since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away by the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:17-18).

Grace and knowledge should develop and increase simultaneously. Knowledge of the truth is necessary if we wish to grow spiritually and increase in grace. But we should not confine ourselves to knowledge alone. The promises in God’s Word must be accepted in faith if we wish to be spiritually strong en properly established in God’s grace. The Lord Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His words should dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16) so that grace can abound in our hearts.

We should endeavour to be perfect and complete in all the will of God (Col. 4:12). That means that the love of Christ must be perfected in our hearts (1 John 2:5) while we are built up on our most holy faith (Jude 1:20). Do not confine yourself to the first principles of Christ but go on to perfection (Heb. 6:1). Grow up to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13) and press towards the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14-15). His grace will enable you to make progress on the way to ultimate perfection.

Amazing grace, that brings a sinner up out of a horrible pit and gives him new life; that pours divine love into his heart and gives him strength to be like Christ; that empowers him for the spiritual battle and equips him to work abundantly for the Lord; that conforms him to the image of Christ and gives him, through the righteous acts of the saints, a wedding garment for the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-8). Walk in the fullness of God’s grace whereto all of us have been called.

When we have received the riches of God’s grace through Christ’s work of atonement and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we achieve the purpose for which the Triune God has created us. He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The final purpose of God’s grace to us is that we are conformed to the image of His Son. “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it… that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). This high purpose for our existence can become a glorious reality through the love of the God of all grace.