What Is Grace?
What is grace? This precious word is the cry of a growing movement within the church that objects to any strong emphasis upon obedience to God as an oppressive, unfriendly, Spirit-quenching legalism. In some quarters, grace is joined to a sonship of such absolute spiritual freedom that libertinism raises its ugly head. Is this grace? Is it grace to reject or ignore: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12)? Was Jesus Christ our Lord not really a son because he “learned obedience” (Heb. 5:8)?
God’s grace is too precious to trifle with. We must have a Scriptural definition for it, or we are simply making up a view of grace that pleases us and makes us feel better. Since our Lord died on the cross to pay the penalty for our lawlessness, we had better treat grace as carefully as we would handle his very body and blood. The moment we stray one inch from God’s word for whatever reason, we abuse the grace for which Jesus shed his precious blood. Any view of grace that takes a lax view of sin, encourages carelessness when it comes to obedience, or that speaks evil of God’s holy law takes back up the knife that slew the Son of God. Whatever men may say grace is, God has spoken.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:11-15).
The first thing we learn about God’s grace is that it “brings salvation” (v. 11) Grace is not a feeling or a tone one picks up from a sermon; it is God’s power to save sinners. Salvation is a very significant word, and its basic meaning is “deliverance from evil.” Salvation is the restoration of sin-diseased men and women to health and righteousness and confidence before God. The mention of salvation teaches us that wherever God’s grace savingly appears, it always deals with man’s root problem: sin and its resulting alienation from God. That it has appeared to all men is another way of saying that in Jesus Christ, a new age of grace has dawned. Man cannot deal with his sin; it has wholly enslaved him. God in his mercy has bared his right arm and brought salvation. If we continue to languish in sin and misery, it is our own fault, for Christ Jesus has died, risen, and reigns.
Then, God’s grace “teaches.” God shows us his grace, his unmerited kindness, so that we may be subdued to a teachable frame of mind and heart. We do not know what is best for us. When we live as we please, we have left God’s school and enrolled in man’s. Then as now, there are those who “turn God’s grace into lasciviousness” (Jude 4): to live and speak as they please under the cloak of being free and forgiven. When God’s grace savingly invades our life, we are made meek. Thus, it is a dangerous boldness that encourages or ignores sin under the guise of grace. This is grace’s first step and the infallible sign of its presence in preachers and congregations – “God, you teach us; we are incapable of teaching ourselves.” And since God only teaches us by his Word and Spirit, grace always creates the appetite for solid instruction in apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42).
God’s grace teaches us a way of life that begins with the disciple’s self-denial: “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” (v. 12). Ungodliness is a lack of reverence for God: giddiness, carelessness, and a general lack of deep reverence for his holiness and goodness to us. An ungodly man does not fear the Lord. His first concern is not what God thinks about a certain course of action but what he wants to do or thinks would be best in a given situation. Worldly lusts are all those attitudes and priorities that have more in common with the children of disobedience than the children of light: the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We are wholly enslaved to these lusts and can do nothing to escape from their tyranny until God’s grace comes and frees us from them. His grace in Jesus gives a definitive freedom so that “sin shall not have dominion over you;” his continuing grace in Jesus provides a progressive enjoyment of freedom in righteousness as we abide in fellowship with our Savior and seek all our cleansing in his blood (Rom. 6:18).
Grace teaches us three positive aspects of the Christian way of life (v. 13). “Soberly” means temperately or discreetly. The grace-taught believer is not an unstable soul, frolicking from one spiritual high to the next. His eyes have been opened to the holiness of God and to the love of God, to righteousness and peace meeting and kissing at the cross. His mind is made sound because his eyes are open to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Humbled by God’s love and renewed by God’s Spirit, he lives “righteously.” Grace planted in the heart by the Holy Spirit empowers obedience to God’s word (Luke 6:46; John 14:15; 15:14). Thus, obedience is not a wet-blanket that quenches grace; obedience is grace’s steady footstep in the life of the redeemed. Since God has kindly delivered us from the penalty and power of sin, we would not run back to the very cesspool of corruption from which we have been washed by our Savior’s precious blood. “Godly” means “pious.” It encompasses every aspect of the believer’s life: words, relations, feelings, decisions, and appetites. Grace recovers us to a God-directed and God-conscious life. Fundamentally, grace entails holiness, because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15). Thus, wherever God’s grace has brought salvation, God renews the heart and life toward sober-mindedness, joyful obedience, and veneration for his majesty.
When God begins his wondrous work of grace in us, he will “keep on performing it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). The delivering power of God’s grace is felt progressively. It awaits the day of Jesus Christ for its perfect realization. Thus, God’s grace teaches us to look forward to the “glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ (v. 13).” Grace plants a seed of blessed hope, of confident expectation that “God will be all in all.” It longs for the full revelation of God’s glory in his Son. Thus, grace makes us patient in adversity and cheerful in suffering. We wait for the “full manifestation of the sons of God.” Far from being indifferent to the sin in our lives or the condition of God’s kingdom in the world, the child of God ardently desires for God’s glory to fill the entire world. He hates the sin in his life and ever lives by clinging to the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Grace keeps us humbled before the cross of our Savior even as it keeps us hoping for the righteousness yet to be revealed at the appearing of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
And so that we do not despair of grace’s completed work, we are brought back to the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us: “to redeem us from all iniquity” (v. 14). God’s grace that brings salvation is always unto redemption: deliverance by the payment of the price of Christ’s blood. He did not die such a death so that we can live as we please but to free us from the power of sin and the tyranny of fallen self. This is said here to encourage us in our battle against sin, a battle that grace initiates, empowers us to fight, and brings to completion by God’s power. Along the way, we have the strongest consolation that “there is no longer any condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Definitively justified, we are progressively purified. This is what grace does. It continues to root out all the sin that offends God, puts us on the sideline of his great kingdom work throughout history, and brings us such misery. Since the Son of God did not die in vain, those who have tasted of the Lord’s grace will be zealous for good works.
O, what joy we have in grace! Delivered from the curse and power and misery of sin, our Savior has freed us to the joy and health of obedience to God, even to be his faithful, adoring sons and daughters. Why would Paul tell Titus to “rebuke” in terms of these things (v. 15)? Then as now, men want grace on their terms; freedom to live as they please without concern for the details of God’s word. They want grace as giddiness, a spiritual picnic, nothing to prick the conscience. This is not grace but immaturity. True grace restores to obedience because grace cleanses and restores us to God’s fellowship. Sadly, some will despise this view of grace (v. 15). It entails detailed study of God’s word to know what pleases him, to let him tell us what a good work is. It is opposed to “life by feeling,” intuition, what is popular with the masses. It is the life of our Savior: yielded to God, joyful in his mercy, and dedicated to pleasing him in all things. It longs for the appearing of our Savior, so that we may be perfected in holiness, fulfilled in fellowship with God, satisfied with his likeness fully formed in us. This is grace. Accept no counterfeit.