Author: Ron Graham
In this lesson about the grace of God, you will discover three kinds of grace, and the relationship between grace and virtue. I must warn you: what you discover will not support the “grace only” doctrine that is commonly preached.
Grace is a kindness that favours a person with a benefit not earned. For example a birthday gift is an act of grace.
Nobody says, “Happy birthday! Here's a gift for you. It cost me a hundred dollars —please pay me back within seven days”. No, rather it is a gift free to the receiver. It's a gift motivated by love and the wish to make someone happy.
It may surprise you to learn that not all grace is good grace. Not all grace has good motives and good outcomes. Sometimes grace can degenerate. It can become indulgent.
For example a rich man may lavish extravagant gifts upon his mistress, and she in turn may indulge him with favours of another sort. Such indulgent grace has little to do with virtue. It is a travesty of true grace, and its fruit is destruction.
The following Bible story illustrates how grace can become twisted and corrupted. On the surface there is kindness, but underneath there is wickedness. God’s grace is never like that (Mark 6:21-29).
¶“21...Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles, military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee. 22Herodias’s daughter came in and danced. She delighted Herod and his guests (Mark 6:21-22).
¶“The king said to the girl, ‘Ask me whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.’ 23And he vowed to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.’ 24And she went out and said to her mother, ‘For what should I ask?’ And she replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ (Mark 6:23-24).
¶“25And the girl immediately hurried back in to the king and said, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a plate.’ 26And the king was exceedingly sorry. However, because of his oaths and his guests, he did not want to break his word to her. (Mark 6:25-26).
¶“27And straight away the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went to the prison and beheaded him. 28The executioner carried John’s head on a plate and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” (Mark 6:27-29).
The girl in that story was a talented little dancer. The king in largesse offered her up to half his kingdom. He probably didn't mean that literally, but he certainly meant to give her far more than her dance deserved. That was grace on his part, but it was indulgent grace which proved toxic.
The child did not know what to ask for, so she sought her mother Herodias’s advice. We are told earlier, “Herodias had a grudge against John the Baptizer, and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, because Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. So he kept him safe.” (Mark 6:19-20).
Note:— Herodias’s grudge against John was about his objection to her marriage to Herod. She had divorced Herod’s brother and married Herod. She and Herod were breaking the law of Moses, which forbade a man to be married to his brother’s wife while the brother lived.(Mark 6:1-18).
So Herodias saw her chance and answered the girl accordingly. I doubt the girl was pleased, because it meant she got nothing. Nevertheless, in submission, she took the request to the king. To his sorrow, his indulgent grace had lent opportunity to hatred, and a good and holy man of God was killed. True grace would never bear such horrid fruit.
The grace of God is not indulgent grace. Yes, I grant you, his gift is unimaginably glorious: eternal life in his heavenly kingdom. However, his grace has the purest motives. His grace has only good outcomes. He doesn't indulge us on a whim. His grace has an eternal purpose and, unlike indulgence, is for our very best good.
Another bad kind of grace is the kind that has ulterior motives. It is meant to manipulate the recipient, who then is hard pressed to act on a free choice. The devil made a good example of this twisted form of grace when he was tempting Jesus (Luke 4:5-8).
¶“5The devil led Jesus up to a high place. He showed Jesus in a single moment all the kingdoms of the world. 6The devil said to Jesus, ‘I will give you all their authority and glory. It has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. 7If you worship me, it will all be yours.’ 8Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’.” (Luke 4:5-8).
We could ask a lot of questions about whether the devil was telling a lie, and whether Jesus knew it. However let's take the devil’s offer at its face value. Even if the devil was telling the truth, his offer still wasn't noble. He was trying to manipulate Jesus into doing wrong.
It is wrong to worship the devil, but right to worship God. The devil knew that. So his grand offer was grace with evil strings attached. He tried to make Jesus his puppet.
The grace of God is not manipulative grace. Yes, I grant you, his gift is unimaginably glorious. The offer of eternal life in heaven is very tempting! However, God’s grace has the purest motives. He doesn't manipulate us to do evil. His grace tempts us to virtue.
Grace that connects with virtue is grace of the third kind. God’s grace is this kind of grace. We might call it uplifting grace.
Unlike indulgent grace and manipulative grace, God’s grace lifts people up, purifies them, and makes them virtuous. The passages below describe the virtue and righteousness that go with grace.
¶“11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. 12Grace teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live a sensible, upright, and godly life in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).
¶“1So I appeal to you brethren, by the mercies of God —present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is your reasonable service. 2Don't be conformed to this world. Rather be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will prove what the will of God is —what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
¶“1 So what shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2No way! How can we who died to sin still live in sin? (Romans 6:1-2).
¶“12So don't let sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its lusts. 13Don't present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness. Rather, present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. Offer the members of your body to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:12-13).
¶“14If you do that, sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
God’s offer of grace is not only for the forgiveness of sins but also for putting away of sin. We are to do no longer whatever wrong things we used to do. That's true victory over sin. That's true grace.
When Paul says we are no longer under law but under grace, he does not mean that we have no law to follow. He does not mean that God’s grace cancels God’s commandments.
Paul is simply saying that we are not being judged and saved by our own merit. We are being judged and saved by Christ’s merit, under a system of grace provided we give our “reasonable service”.
Finally, Peter makes it clear that grace and virtue go together...
¶“2May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Those blessings+ were given through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2Peter 1:2-3).
¶“4Our Lord has granted us his precious and magnificent promises. Through them, you were able to become partakers of the divine nature as you escaped the corruption that's in the world through lust.” (2Peter 1:4).
¶“5For this very reason, make every effort to add virtue to your faith. To virtue, add knowledge. 6To knowledge, add self-control. To self-control, add steadfastness. To steadfastness, add godliness. 7To godliness, add brotherly kindness. To brotherly kindness, add love.” (2Peter 1:5-7).
¶“8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, you won't be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if you lack these qualities, you are so nearsighted as to be blind. You have forgotten that you were cleansed from your former sins.” (2Peter 1:8-9).
¶“10So rather brethren, be more diligent to ensure your calling and election. For if you practice these qualities, you will never fall. 11In this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Peter 1:10-11).