The Forgiveness of Sins According To the Riches of His Grace
By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.
The good news of forgiveness in Christ is the heart and center of the gospel. It is through Christ and Christ alone that we have access (through faith) to God’s grace (Romans 5:1-2). Moreover, since grace is central to the salvation message, Satan has been attacking it, and subverting it from the very start. And, one of the ways he has been attacking it is by redefining both grace and faith in a way that makes them include works.
In order to counter such heresy, the Apostle Paul specifically said, if salvation “is by grace, then it is no longer of works” (Romans 11:6). And, in his letter to the Galatians, he made it clear that the curse of God rests on all who pervert the gospel by making our standing with God depend on works (Galatians 1:8-9). Willful sin may bring God’s condemnation down on our heads, but the Bible makes it clear that our own righteousness will never bring us God’s favor (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-20, Galatians 3:21).
Nevertheless, because false prophets and antichrists have robbed people of peace with God in the past, and continue to use false and unbiblical definitions of “grace” to rob them of peace with God, let me point you to some passages in Scripture which explain what “grace” is.
By Grace Alone
Many Bible believing Christians have memorized the words of Ephesians 2:8, “By Grace are you saved through faith”. However, very few realize that verses four and five define grace as mercy, love, and being made alive in Christ. “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He has loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together in Christ (you are saved by grace).” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
In the first chapter of Ephesians, the Bible defines grace as “redemption” and “forgiveness” when it says, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace”. (Verse 7.)
By comparing the words “the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace,” with the words “the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God,” we find “grace” defined as “tender mercy.” If we examine the original Greek, we find it further defined as “bowels of compassion”. (Compare Ephesians 1:7 with Luke 1:77-78.)
We find “grace” again defined as “mercy” when we compare Ephesians 2:8 “By Grace are ye saved”, with Titus 3:5 “According to His mercy He saved us”. The fact that one passage says we are saved by “grace”, and the other says that we are saved by “mercy”, tells us that “mercy” and “grace” are synonyms.
When we compare the words of Psalm 13:5 “I have trusted in your mercy; my heart will rejoice in your salvation,” with the words, “By Grace are you saved through faith,” we find grace again defined as mercy, and the word “faith” defined as “trust”. (Ephesians 2:8)
Furthermore, Paul specifically defines “grace” as something that excludes “works” when he says, “And if by grace, then is it no longer by works: if it were grace would no longer be grace. For if it is by works, then it is no longer by grace,” (Romans 11:6).
The Bible not only tells us that we are saved by grace, and justified by grace, it also tells us that God has “chosen us [i.e. elected us] by His grace. (Compare Romans 8:28-30 and 11:5-6, Ephesians 1:4.) This fact should be a great comfort to us. However, some people get it all mixed up in their minds, and begin to worry that they might not be one of God’s chosen, or that God might not want to save them. Therefore, in order to keep things in perspective, it is important to realize that God has made three key provisions for our salvation. 1- Although He did not want man to sin, because He knew that man would sin, the decision was made (solely by His grace) before the foundation of the world, that Christ would come into the world to die for the sins of all mankind (Revelation 13:8, 1John 2:2). If humanity was not blinded by the deceitfulness of man’s sinful heart, that would be enough to save all men because all men would admit their sin and seek God’s mercy. 2- However, knowing that men would be blinded by sin, God also resolved (solely by His grace) to go one step further, by causing the Bible to be written, and the gospel to be preached. Here again, if were not for the blindness of our sinful heart, everyone who hears God’s law would feel ashamed and dirty and would seek God’s mercy, and everyone who hears the gospel would embrace it joyfully. 3- Nevertheless, because God knew that without His help no man could or would believe, He also resolved (solely by His grace) to go one step further, choosing to bring millions to faith through His Word, in spite of their resistance (John 6:44,65, 1Corinthians 12:3, Romans 10:17). Those whom God has chosen to bring to faith are His “elect” (Isaiah 45:4, Matthew 24:31, Titus 1:1).
It is only when divine election is seen in this way, that we can understand How God can want all men to be saved when He has not chosen all men (1Timothy 2:4), how Christ could die for all men when all are not saved (1John 2:2), and how men can be lost by their own fault when salvation is by grace alone (Matthew 23:37).
Just as false prophets and antichrists use an unbiblical understanding of grace to rob people of peace with God, they also use an unbiblical understanding of faith to the same end. Therefore, let me point you to some passages in Scripture that explain what “faith” is.
First of all, the words, “whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” tell us that faith is believing in Jesus (John ).
Furthermore, the fact that the Bible defines the gospel as the good news that, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures,” tells us that faith is believing that “Christ died for our sins” and “rose again the third day” (1Corinthians 15:3-4).
In addition, the words, “I have trusted in your mercy; my heart will rejoice in your salvation,” define “faith” as “trust” (Psalm 13:5). And, the words, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great recompense of reward,” define “faith” as “confidence” (Hebrews ).
However, in my opinion, the most powerful definition of faith is found in the words, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,” (Galatians 3:6).
In the third chapter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul explains those words by telling us that the promise that Abraham believed was the gospel, the good news of forgiveness in Christ (Galatians 3:8). And, since I just pointed out that the Bible defines the gospel as the good news that, “Christ died for our sins… and rose again the third day,” we know that Abraham believed that his “seed” was going to die for the sins of the world, and rise again the third day, (1Corinthians 15:3-4). In fact, in the book of Hebrews we are told that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, because he believed that his son was the promised “seed” and that God was going to raise him from the dead (Genesis 22:5, Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, by asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, God made it clear to him that Isaac was not the “seed who would die for his sins and rise again, while also giving us a beautiful testimony of faith.
The Means of Grace
In the third chapter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul goes on to explain that the promise Abraham believed, the promise of forgiveness in Christ, is the only means of grace. It is the means by which God justifies us, and the means by which God saves us! The law cannot make us righteous [i.e. justify us, (verse 11)], but Christ is the promised “seed” who was to die for the sins of the world and rise again (verse 16), and we are justified through faith in Him. Just as Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ was imputed to him as righteousness, our faith in that same promise is imputed to us as righteousness (verse 22, Romans 3:28).
Now, God has many ways of giving us His promise of forgiveness in Christ. He gives it to us in His Word, through Christ centered sermons, through having the gospel explained to us, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. However, the grace that is promised comes to us only through personal faith in Christ, and God’s promise of forgiveness in Him (verse 22, Romans 5:1-2). The words, “all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen,” also tell us that all of God’s promises relate to faith in Christ (2Corinthians ). There are not many different unrelated promises, but all of God’s promises are interrelated. They all relate to faith in Christ, and need to be understood in that light (Galatians ).
Having a biblical understanding of grace and faith is essential if we are to have the full assurance of salvation in Christ. That assurance is not only basic to our own peace with God, it is also of key importance in communicating the gospel to others. And, that includes passing it on to the next generation. Whenever, young people come of age without understanding the gospel or having the assurance of salvation in Christ: whenever they come of age thinking that their standing with God depends on their ability to keep a list of dos or don’ts, they are likely to fall away from the faith. If we want young people who will rise to be the Christian leaders of tomorrow, they need to be rooted and grounded in the faith, and above all, they need to understand the way of salvation and have the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.