Solved at last—
The GRACE vs WORKS Argument!
What is “GRACE?”
Why Does God Give it?
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, FOR YOU ARE NOT UNDER LAW BUT UNDER GRACE” Paul declares in Rom 6:14. In Eph 2 it is twice stated: “by grace are you saved” (vs 5,8).
We are saved by this grace “stuff”. But what is it?
What is “grace”?. Many people talk about “grace”; they sing songs about “amazing grace”; they know grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17), but few can explain what it is!
“Grace” is used in the King James translation, which is essentially 1600 AD English.
When the King James translation of the scriptures was written, the word “gay” had a totally different meaning than it does today. The words “gay clothing”, as Js 2:3 mentions, would have a totally different meaning in today’s world. Words sometimes change meaning in usage throughout the years.
The same thing has happened in part to the English word “grace”. When Paul wrote these words, he did not use the 1600 AD word “grace”, but the Greek word “Charis”. We are saved by this “Charis” from God.
The Truth is easy to understand
Since grace is of paramount importance to our salvation, we should clearly understand what it is.
What is grace? Is grace the “freedom” to do as we wish?
Grace vs works has been an ongoing war of words in Christendom! This word “grace” is an old English word- and getting a little tired in the confusion. It is not used much in modern secular English except for the extra time we have to pay a bill that is past due. In religion, it has been “spiritualized” away. We are saved by this “charis” of God which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:9). So, what is this “grace”? What is the correct meaning of “charis” so that we can better understand. Is it “unmerited pardon”? Is it “gift” as charis is sometimes translated in the scriptures? (2 cor 8:4)? Every Christian ought to know CLEARLY what grace is! How can we grow in grace as Jesus did, and as we are commanded (2 Pet 3: 18) unless we know clearly what it is.
This article assumes that the reader is schooled in the basic doctrines of the Church of God. Some subjects such as justification require a separate article. Justification is the process of our PAST sins being paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Passover (Rom 3:24,25, Tit 3:7). Justification is by “grace” (charis). Articles have been available in pre-1986 Worldwide Church of God literature, and in articles or magazines by CGI, PCG, GCG, UCG, CGG, and others.
The Church of God correctly teaches we are saved by grace, but rewarded according to works. The scriptures say Jesus grew in “charis” (Lu 2:52). The word charis here is translated “favor”. Many marginal notes show “grace” as the alternate translation. If charis is unmerited pardon as was taught for years in WWCG, how could Jesus, who never sinned, grow in unmerited pardon? And especially in unmerited pardon with, man! The translation here (Luk 2:52) of “favor” is obviously the correct one. It is easy to understand that Jesus grew in favor with God and man. In Luk 4:22 the people were amazed at the gracious (favorable to men) words that proceeded out of Jesus’ mouth. Here the Greek word for, gracious is “charis”. In Acts 2:46,47 we find the disciples “…having “charis” with all the people. In Acts 7:10 we find God gave Joseph “charis” in the sight of Pharoah. The KJV has translated “charis” as “favor” here. In other places we find “charis” translated favor: Acts 25:3, Lu 1:30, Acts 7:46. Favor is the obvious meaning.
Why not FAVOR?
It is not totally clear why some of the Church of God do not like the definition of favor for grace. However, it does have an implication that it does not matter what you DO, once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior. Many know that what Christians DO does matter! We must keep the commandments! We know that “[God gives his Spirit] to those who obey Him”. Acts 5:32.
In the spring of 1976, while a member of Worldwide Church of God in the Glendale, California area, I took the opportunity to ask one of the then leaders of the Theology Dept, Gunar Freibergs, what he understood as the definition of grace. I made a note of his reply in my study file on grace. I still have it: “we only know what grace isn’t; it isn’t, license,” Gunar said.
Grace is Favor
In Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1994, the third definition of grace is “favor”. Under the theological definition, “unmerited favor” is found. Unmerited favor implies that there also can be, favor, that is merited. It should be abundantly clear that GRACE (CHARIS in greek) IS FAVOR.
Why Do We Receive God’s Favor
The misunderstood part of the grace\works argument is that man receives God’s favor (grace) for two different reasons:
Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Most all of Christendom would agree that this is God’s “grace”.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life” is probably one of the most famous NT scriptures (Jn 3:16).
This is the first part of the salvation process; we are cleared of the death penalty over us.
A Christian is justified (past sins paid for) by Christ’s death as the Lamb of God. There is nothing we as Christians can do to pay for our sins except die or accept Christ’s death for us.
“Man” was FAVORED by God with this redemption! WHY?!
GOD FAVORED MANKIND WITH SALVATION. GOD FAVORED MANKIND OVER ANIMALS AND ANGELS!
Why was man favored (extended grace) with our past sins being paid? Most of Christendom knows we receive God’s favor (grace), but WHY?
Reason #1 Why FAVOR TO MAN?
God did not favor with salvation the angels who sinned! God did not offer angels sonship (Heb 1:5, 2:6-10).
God favored MAN because we are made in HIS IMAGE. Awesome is the favor we have received. The offspring of any being looks like the father in kind. “…we are the offspring of God” Acts 17:26,28-29. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God” I Jn 3:1.
GOD FAVORED (gave grace to) MAN BECAUSE WE ARE MADE IN HIS IMAGE!
Those who do not believe that man is made in God’s image cannot even understand why we receive charis (grace) to justification.
Reason #2 GROWING IN GRACE
Solution to Grace\Works
The SECOND REASON we receive God’s favor (grace) solves the Grace/Works argument.
A Christian is favored by God after justification for another, additional reason.
Once we have believed in Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for our sins (breaking the law of God), repented (started keeping the commandments), and are baptized, we receive God’s Holy Spirit. We are now the children of God (in a sort of begettal state) by the indwelling of the spirit. We have God’s seed in us. 1 John 3:1,2,9. Now we have grown in (grace) favor in God’s eyes!
So, the second reason we receive grace (favor) is that we have God’s Holy Spirit in us leading us to KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS in their spirit and intent (I Peter 1:22). As we learn to better keep the commands, we can receive more of God’s precious spirit (Eph 5:18). Notice Stephen was FULL of the Holy Spirit near the end of his life (Acts 7:55,60).
NOT UNDER THE LAW, BUT UNDER FAVOR!
Now Satan, the god of confusion, would certainly want to “muddy the waters” on this very important issue! (Job 1:6, I cor 14:33, I Thess 2:18). So he has caused the modern word “grace” to be so used in religious circles that is is ethereal. He would have us believe “it is too wonderful to be understood.” He would have us believe that being saved by grace alone means we don’t have to keep the commandments.
Christians are not perfect. They may make a mistake and sin! Under the law, a sin required an animal’s death in sacrifice (Num 15:27-28). Under favor (grace) repentance of the sin is required and looking to Christ (Heb 10:10-11,21; I John 2:1-4). (Note: true repentance means quitting the sin not just sorrow for it.)
True Christians are under great favor from God, called to be perfect. God watches over us as any good father watches over his children and favors them. (I Peter 3:12, 5:10-12, Mat 5:48, I Jn 3:10). Let us keep the commandments and stay in his favor.
God now looks down on us with favor (grace) for two reasons:
#1 We are made in his image in bodily form, and
#2 We are using his spirit in us to keep the commandments
(we have the mind of Christ, I cor 2:16)
Copyright 1994 Bill Hillebrenner
Permission is hereby granted to copy this article in its entirety including this line.