THE GRACE OF GOD: DOES IT HAVE LIMITS?
Can the believer go beyond the limits of God's Grace? Does once saved mean always saved? Is salvation by Grace alone through faith alone, or is it by grace through faith plus commitment? How much sin would it take to be lost? If a believer became an unbeliever would he forfeit his position in Christ? Is there a sin so great that it can undo all that the Son of God did for the sinner on Calvary's cross? Is the doctrine of Eternal Security an inducement to sin? Or, does God do more for the believer now that he is a believer than He did for the believer when he was a sinner lost in sin? These are the questions that saints and sinners are asking and, thank God, they were all answered clearly by God Himself 2,000 years ago.
Our first consideration, if we would dispel the confusion that characterizes man's thinking today, is to define Grace. In the Greco-Roman world of Christ and Paul, grace meant a gift given without any expectation of return. The Greek gave this gift to a friend or loved one. God gives it to His enemies, something the world cannot, and unfortunately, the church too often will not understand. Using the language of accommodation, we might say that God searched the universe to find a way to save totally lost men and women. Since sinful man can have NO MERIT before an infinitely holy Being, He had to save us by Grace...unmerited favor...undeserved kindness. The only way to offer this absolutely free, Grace salvation to us was through faith (Romans 4:16), because believing is the only thing we can "do" without "doing" anything. FAITH IS A NON-MERITORIOUS ACTIVITY! (Romans 4:4-5) This is why Ephesians 2:8 says, "By Grace you have been saved through faith..." GRACE is God doing ALL of the work...FAITH is our doing NONE of the work. When we believe (faith) in what God has done (Grace), we are truly doing the only thing one can do without doing anything...we are ceasing to "do", and trusting in what Another has done.
God is Savior, not Maxwell Street merchant. He is not offering men a bargain, He is offering men a gift. The objection is raised, "But this is cheap grace!" Grace can never be cheap. Nothing could be "cheap" that cost God the life of His Son! Grace is the most expensive commodity in all of the universe. Nothing in eternity will ever approach, in its expense, the price of your salvation. But, just as Grace can never be "cheap," it can never be less than FREE! It is the nature of Grace to be infinitely expensive. It is also the nature of Grace to be totally free.
NOTHING LESS than the death of Christ could buy our salvation, but, thank God, NOTHING MORE than that is needed!
In man's thinking, sin always exceeds Grace, but in Scripture it is just the other way around. (Romans 5:20) Man chooses to believe either that a certain amount or a certain degree of sinning can cost him his salvation, or that he can stop believing and negate all thirty-six things that God is said to have done for him at Calvary and applied to him at the instant of salvation. Not one of the blessings that accrue to the believer because of the death of God's Son on the cross became ours through merit. They are each works of God, wrought in Grace, for all eternity (Ephesians 2:8-10), and therefore cannot be made to cease to exist because of our demerit.
Far from being an incitement to sin, the pure Grace of God is the greatest impetus to holiness. Simply stated, he loves much to whom much has been forgiven. Paul is the great example of the proper response of the believer to God's infinite generosity...His Grace. Paul voluntarily submitted to a lifetime of danger, deprivation, and pain--not to be saved, or even to stay saved, but because he knew that he HAD BEEN saved freely...instantly, completely, eternally (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
The real issue in the matter of eternal security is, what did Christ's death accomplish for the believer? Did that death merely "throw the door of Heaven open" so that we now have a chance to "merit" entering through it? Or was that death not only on my behalf but also in my stead? Was it substitutionary and vicarious? Was it MY death that He died and in FULL PAYMENT of the wages of sin? Did it give me a new and eternal relationship with God that nothing in time or eternity can alter?
In answering the question, "Can a saved person ever be lost?" one must first ascertain what the Scripture means by "saved." Salvation, according to God and Paul, is far more than the forgiveness of past sins. It includes many things, such as the new birth. Could one become "un-born again" (spiritually) any more readily than he could become "un-born" physically? Could one who has received eternal life as a present possession (John 5:24) find that life to be only temporal without God becoming a liar? Or, how about the matter of the believer's standing before God? Romans 8:33 points out the impossibility of an accusation being successfully brought against one of God's elect since it is God Himself who has done the justifying (declaring righteous). The next verse shows the impossibility of any of God's elect ever being condemned since it is no less an one than Christ Himself who died for that (sinning) believer and, for that matter, even rose again.
The great objection to pure Grace (could Grace be other than pure?) is, of course, that if God makes the believer perfectly safe in the present time he will abuse his security by living selfishly and not living for Christ. WOULD YOU DO THIS? Is the motive for the Christian life saving one's skin? If my chief aim in life is saving my own skin, am I serving God or self? If the death of the God-man on the cross of Calvary for me is not sufficient motive for life and service, will a less noble, even an ignoble motivation prove sufficient? God and Paul teach otherwise! In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 we see that the love from Christ displayed at the cross is the one supremely powerful source of motivation for our living unto Him rather than unto ourselves. "For the love from (lit.) Christ constrains us; because we thus judge (conclude), that if one died for all, then all died (lit.): and that He died for all, that they which live should no longer live to themselves, but to Him who died for them, and rose again."
That it is possible to abuse Grace is evident from many passages which exhort the believer not to abuse Grace or to stop the practice of abusing Grace in which the believer is already engaged. In Galatians 5:13 believers are told to STOP [Greek present imperative with a prohibition, forbidding the continuance of an action] exploiting their total freedom from Law with its penalty, by using freedom as an occasion for the flesh. God and Paul offer as an alternative serving (lit. becoming enslaved to ) other believers. Would an all-wise God, who knows the future in advance, go to the trouble of saving someone on Monday whom He knew would only be lost again three years from Thursday? No! "...whom He justifies (declares righteous) THESE HE ALSO GLORIFIES." (Romans 8:30) If you got on at Justification, you will get off at Glorification; the train doesn't make any stops between!
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