Dave Miller wrote recently about the dangers of “hyper-grace.” I know I have seen it even in churches I’ve pastored—that when one seeks to confront another concerning sin, even in a loving way, they are met with the cry of “Grace! Grace!” It is the very thing Paul warned about in Romans 6 and elsewhere—grace, thankfully beyond words, covers our sin, both our nature and every act past, present, and future; but grace is not an excuse to dabble and dawdle in sin.
Grace is the awesome favor of God bestowed upon undeserving creatures who have willfully turned against him to make themselves his enemies. Grace stands as the great core of love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.
As all other words fail, grace, simply, is amazing.
The Bible offers several views of grace and its effect upon the recipient. In my opinion, Paul wrote the most beautiful of these in Titus 2:11-14. There we find that grace more than frees us, it transforms us.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Paul spent the first half of his letter to Titus leading up to this passage—he called on Titus to strengthen the fledgling churches in Crete by establishing the leadership of elders in each city. He told Titus that such elders must be men of strong character and faithful families, with an ability to teach well and rebuke those who contradict good doctrine. After contrasting them with the empty talkers and deceivers, Paul insisted that through teaching sound doctrine the older men in the churches would likewise grow in character and godliness along with the older women, and they would be able to lead the younger men and women to the same.
Such a life of soundness in faith, love of families, self-control, purity, integrity, and hard work come as the result of grace. For the grace of God has appeared.
Such grace brings salvation, an echo of words Paul wrote elsewhere to a church body (Ephesians 2:8-10). And this salvation is not limited to a single people group at a single time, but rather is for all people everywhere—a foretaste of John’s picture in Revelation 7 that eternity shall be populated with a gathering from every tribe, peoples, and languages.
In bringing salvation, grace brings transformation. The very reason the elders can be men as Paul described in 1:5-9, and the very reason the older men and women can possess the character described in 2:1-10 with the hope of passing it down to the younger Christians… the very reason is that grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and live upright in the present (and quite godless) age. A few sentences later, Paul described how we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” These ideas draw from Ezekiel 36, where God promised his people the removal of a dead and dry heart of stone, and its replacement with a heart of flesh that beats in love for its God. In such a move, God promised a cleansing wash and the indwelling of his Spirit which will “cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to obey my rules” (36:27).
Grace does not leave a person with a heart that loves sin, but rather births a new heart through the presence of the perfect Spirit which lead a person to love God more than sin.
In this present age, which itself stands corrupted by the fall, we live warring between the old nature and the new (Romans 7). Our new hearts desire godly lives, but the rotting corpse of the old self seeks to weigh us down. Thus, Jesus said we must deny and crucify ourselves daily (Luke 9:23), a feat ultimately empowered by the grace of a God who works within us so we can work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). Such self-denial and crucifixion leads to our confession and repentance of sin that looks to revel in grace as opposed to sin (1 John 1:9, 2 Corinthians 7:10).
Grace also sets our focus on the right Person. We wait for our blessed hope, our hope beyond hope that longs for the completion of salvation and the renewal of all things; our hope which eagerly and joyfully anticipates the day we will see our God face to face and dwell with him forever. Grace sets our hearts to long for the return of Christ and love his appearing. This enables us to walk daily in faithfulness that we might fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
With our focus turned to Jesus, longing for his return, grace reminds us of who we are and what we are to do. No longer are we sinners, but we are the redeemed and the purified—theological synonyms of a word Paul used at the opening of many of his letters: saints, the holy ones. We are holy in Christ and holy because of Christ, and thus able to live holy lives set apart for God and set apart from sin. Though each Christian is a saint, more properly we are the saints. We are a people for Jesus’ own possession. We belong to him, a holy nation called from darkness and into marvelous light that we might proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).
Our proclamations of him are without a doubt verbal. The Gospel is good news and news cannot be communicated without words. Yet we also proclaim through good works—works of love, works of service…works of grace. We do not do these works begrudgingly but passionately—zealous to serve for the glory of the God who has saved us.
This is grace.
A covering for sin yet more… true grace is liberation and transformation. True grace leads us away from sin and ever closer to the God of all