The Work of Grace
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
The New Testament knows both a will of grace and a work of grace. The former is God’s eternal plan to save; the latter is God’s “good work in you.”(Philippians 1:6), whereby He calls men into living fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), raises them from death to life(Ephesians 1:13-14), seals them as His own by the gift of His Spirit( Ephesians 2:1-6), transforms them into Christ’s image(2 Corinthians 3:18), and will finally raise their bodies in glory(Romans 8:30, 1 Corinthians 15:47-54). It was fashionable among Protestant scholars some years ago to say that grace means God’s loving attitude as distinct from His loving work, but that is an unscriptural distinction. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:10- “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not me, but the grace of God that is with me”- the word grace clearly denotes God’s loving work in Paul, whereby He made him first a Christian and then a minister.
What is the purpose of grace? Primarily, to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship, and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope, and obedience with God- those acts which, from our side, made up the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at-an ever deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with Him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to Himself.
Salvation is an act began by God and completed by Him. Hebrews says it this way:
“[looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].”
Scripture clearly states here that it is Christ who is the Author of faith. Again the gospel of John brings this to light:
16 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes and has decided to trust in Him [as personal Savior and Lord] is not judged [for this one, there is no judgment, no rejection, no condemnation]; but the one who does not believe [and has decided to reject Him as personal Savior and Lord] is judged already [that one has been convicted and sentenced], because he has not believed and trusted in the name of the [One and] only begotten Son of God [the One who is truly unique, the only One of His kind, the One who alone can save him].
Furthermore when we travel back to the original sin, we find that it was the grace of God that met the sinners rather than the judgement of God. To be sure those sinners suffered consequences of their sin in the same manner as we often suffer the consequences of our sins. Let us be clear that consequences and the judgement of God is two different reactions to our sins. Only the sins that have not been repented of are subject to the judgement but all actions including sinful actions produce consequences that grace doesn’t always eradicate. This is the picture we see in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve sinned in disobedience.
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all the cattle, And more than any animal of the field; On your belly you shall go, And dust you shall eat All the days of your life. To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth; In pain you will give birth to children; Yet your desire and longing will be for your husband, And he will rule [with authority] over you and be responsible for you.” Then to Adam the Lord God said, “Because you have listened [attentively] to the voice of your wife, and have eaten [fruit] from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’; The ground is [now] under a curse because of you; In sorrow and toil you shall eat [the fruit] of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field. “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread Until you return to the ground, For from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” The Lord God made tunics of [animal] skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
Though the consequences of sin changed their lives, yet we find God clothing them with skins- innocent blood being shed to stand between them and judgement.
Further we also find that in the midst of their receiving the consequences God promised a redeemer who would deliver them from sin and it’s consequences in eternity.
“And I will put enmity (open hostility) Between you and the woman, And between your seed (offspring) and her Seed; He shall [fatally] bruise your head, And you shall [only] bruise His heel.”
The preceding verse prophesying the sending of Christ.
So the work of grace begins in us with the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sins, convincing us to turn to Christ, and then cleansing us of our sins by the blood of Jesus, washing us with the water of the Word. We should not perceive that the work of grace is complete the moment we accept Christ as our Savior nor at our baptism or joining the church. The work of grace will be completed only when we stand in the presence of Christ in eternity.
The second part of Hebrews 12 says that not only is Christ the Author but also the Perfecter or Finisher of our faith. Christ who began the work of salvation in us is also the One who will bring it fully to pass. Some would say that this is too easy or simple. They would say that we must work toward our salvation so that in some way we will have earned or deserved the right of it. The truth is that nothing we can do will earn or deserve such a gift. This great gift of salvation, both it’s beginning and completion comes through and by the grace of God and that grace alone. The travesty in a Christian life is when one begins to feel they have in some way attained to the favor of God through their own efforts or works. Nothing we can do, no matter how long or hard we work will ever qualify us for the gift of salvation.
Just as sin produces consequences so also does salvation. When we receive salvation through the grace of God, recognizing that it is given to the undeserving, our lives become one of gratitude to God. When we receive the revelation that it is grace and grace alone that brings us into the kingdom of God and that grace stems from the incredible love that God shows, then our obedience becomes a willing obedience, our service becomes enthusiastic service and our worship becomes passionate as we respond to grace given rather than grace earned.
If you’re struggling in your walk with God and feel like you’re losing the battle with some sin, turn toward grace and it’s Giver. Remember that Christ is the Author and the Perfecter of our faith and since it was He who called us from darkness into light it will be Him who brings us all the way home. Trust His love and grace to get you where He is calling you. Lean on His grace, respond to it with gratitude, serve Him with joy and gladness and walk as close to Him as possible. He will complete in you what He has begun.
Dr. John Thompson