God's Grace and Forgiveness
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Since God forgives our sins at baptism, we need to appreciate how great forgiveness is. At the same time, however, we need to understand that forgiveness carries with it obligations. We also need to understand that some religious teachers, claiming to represent Christ, often misconstrue and misuse God's mercy and forgiveness.
In the Scriptures God's forgiveness is often directly associated with the word grace, which refers to undeserved favor that we receive from God. Grace is also closely related to the word gift. It usually refers to an unearned gift or favor, such as God's gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. It is essential that we understand the real meaning and purpose of God's grace and forgiveness. The concepts are closely linked together in the Scriptures. Both are crucial to our salvation.
God's grace, however, is often falsely represented by many religious teachers.
How is God's grace misunderstood and misused?
"For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality ..." (Jude 1:4, NIV).
Even in the days of Christ's apostles, clever "false apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:13) began misinterpreting the Scriptures and Jesus' teachings. They misrepresented God's grace—especially in Paul's writings (2 Peter 3:15-16)—as license to ignore God's laws. This particular twisting of the Scriptures, which continues in many religious circles, amounts to permission to sin.
What do such teachers offer in place of God's law?
"For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him" (2 Peter 2:18-19, NIV).
A false liberty—freedom from God's laws and authority—has always been the real goal of false teachers. Peter describes teachers advancing twisted concepts of "freedom" as "those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority" (2 Peter 2:10, NIV).
In effect, they have misrepresented God's grace as independence from His law—the very law that defines sin. They have advocated a type of freedom—a release from any obligation to obey the commandments of God—that is nowhere taught in the Bible. They are ruled by their human nature, the fleshly mind that Paul describes as "not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
Nevertheless, they have succeeded in convincing a significant part of professing Christianity that God's grace supports their false concept. We must be careful never to allow ourselves to be taken in by any teaching that turns grace into a license to sin.
How does Peter describe those embracing this deceptive freedom?
"For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior 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. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit,' and, 'a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire'" (2 Peter 2:20-22).
What kind of freedom does the Bible really teach?
"But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).
"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12).
"But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25).
Today the teaching that faith is all we need for forgiveness and salvation is popular. But, according to the Scriptures, we are "set free from sin" that we may become the "slaves of God." We must be "a doer of the work." So let's examine what the Scriptures really teach about the relationship between faith, works and obedience to God.
Do the Scriptures reveal that faith must be accompanied by works?
"Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17).
James goes on to explain why faith without deeds (actions that prove we genuinely believe God) is "dead"—utterly useless. "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only ... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:20-26).
James's point is that our actions demonstrate whether our faith is genuine. Abraham proved his faith was authentic by what he did. James explains that we need to follow Abraham's example.
Paul concluded a discussion on the importance of faith by emphasizing: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Romans 3:31). Both faith and the law of God are essential components of repentance—and the conversion process.