Does the Bible REALLY Say that Grace is Undeserved?
Does the Bible REALLY Say that Grace is Undeserved?
From Susan via email –
Hi Pastor David, what Scriptures support the idea that we don’t deserve God’s grace?
Here’s the quick answer: Yes, the Bible really says that we don’t deserve God’s grace.
A lot of this is contained in the definition of the New Testament word for grace, charis.
- Something that brings happiness and satisfaction.
- Something beautiful.
- Supernatural power and help.
- Undeserved kindness, approval, acceptance.
Charis could be applied to “that which awakens pleasure or secures joy.” In ancient times, if you went to a chariot race and the entertainment of the contest was pleasing to watch, you might say the chariot races had charis, because they caused you joy.
Charis also carried with it the thought of beauty, because beauty gives us pleasure, and awakens joy within us. Even today, we say that a dancer or athlete who moves beautifully is graceful – that is, they are “full of grace.”
Charis was also used in ancient times in association with supernatural power or aid. In the literature of ancient Greece, charis was sometimes seen as a mystical power that could supernaturally influence the personality of man with its goodness and beauty. It was common for the ancients to think of the gods (or God) bestowing this supernatural grace upon man.
Charis carried with it the idea of an unmerited, undeserved favor or attitude of kindness. It was regarded as the active expression of unselfish aid and help. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle defined the word in this way: Helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor that the helper may get anything, but for the sake of the person who is helped.
Charis could be used in reference to an unexpected blessing or a treat, such as an unforeseen gift or benefit. The reason for giving a charis gift was always found in the giver, not in the one receiving it.
The ancient Greeks knew of grace, and they valued grace, but they could only think of grace being exchanged between friends. The idea that one might show this great favor, beauty, supernatural help, and undeserved kindness to an enemy was completely foreign to them.
There may not be many verses that specifically speak of this, because it is inherent in the definition of the word charis. But here are a couple examples:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Taking all this into account, we can say what grace is not…
- Grace is not giving to someone because they are a good person
- Grace is not giving to someone because they are trying to be good
- Grace is not giving to someone to persuade them to be good
- Grace is not giving to someone to because they promise to be good
- Grace is not giving someone a lot when they deserve a little
Grace is only grace if the giving happens because the giver wants to give, and the reasons are in the giver, not in the receiver.
Grace doesn’t care if someone deserves or not, because the reasons are in the giver. Grace doesn’t tell you, “You don’t deserve this.” The law tells you that; grace doesn’t care.
Grace deals with us completely apart from the principle of deserving. By its very nature, grace doesn’t look for a reason in the one who receives.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
How do I explain to someone that it’s not necessary to be baptized in water in order to be saved?
How do I explain to someone that it’s not necessary to be baptized in water in order to be saved? My friend doesn’t understand Spirit baptism versus water baptism.
This is a delicate question. The last thing in the world we want to do is imply that being immersed in water for baptism is not important. For a follower of Jesus Christ, being baptized in water is not only important, but I will also say it is essential. It is not essential for salvation. But it is essential for obedience. It’s not good for people to be disobedient followers of Jesus.
Historically, this has been a matter of great controversy between different denominations and different theological perspectives. But I’ll just tell you what I believe. I believe that infant baptism is not a genuine baptism. I believe in credo baptism, which is the baptism of believers who can make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ. God alone knows a person’s heart, but there should be at least some credible reason to believe that a person has repented and believed. Those believers should be baptized. Sometimes fairly young children can genuinely repent and believe, but certainly not infants. Certainly not a two-month-old. I believe that the practice of infant baptism is unbiblical.
Therefore, I do not hesitate at all to say that if somebody was infant baptized in a church tradition, such as Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant church traditions that baptize babies, I would tell that person, I think you need to be baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ.
I would love to talk more about that because I’m a little bit passionate about this issue. I think there is an often-unacknowledged danger in infant baptism, also known as paedo baptism. Most notably, I would argue that there are thousands if not millions of souls in hell who thought they were saved, and who were told they were saved because they were baptized as babies.
Now, how do you tell this to someone? Show them the Scriptures that if they claim to be an obedient follower of Jesus Christ, they need to do what Jesus told them to do, and that is to be baptized. Jesus told them to do this. We can think of situations where people were not baptized and were saved. The most famous example is the thief on the cross. I don’t know if that’s such a great example. I think probably a greater example is the apostle Paul, who in 1 Corinthians 1:13-16 wrote to the church in Corinth that he was glad he did not baptize any of them. If baptism were essential for salvation, I don’t see how Paul could be glad that he didn’t baptize anybody.
So, yes, there is a distinction there. Baptism is an essential act for obedience, but I don’t think it’s absolutely essential for salvation. But you can start getting into the argument: how disobedient can you be as a follower of Jesus Christ and still be saved? Obviously, we’re not saved because of our obedience, but there should be a change of life and a change of heart.
Scriptures that address the possibility of someone being saved and not being baptized would be Paul in 1 Corinthians 1, the example of the thief on the cross, and other examples of baptism being a work of righteousness.
Titus 3:5 – not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
These and other passages present this as a biblical concept.
But we have to walk this line. It’s very easy to act as though baptism is purely optional, not very important, or something that doesn’t really matter. Then there’s another extreme that says, “Not only do you have to be baptized, but you have to be baptized according to a certain formula among a certain group, or you’re not saved.” Biblically speaking, I think there is a middle way through those two extremes.
Can David share some ways God has moved in his life in the miraculous and or prophetic and how those things have affected your faith?
I was wondering if you could share some ways that God has moved in your life in the miraculous or prophetic, and how those things have affected your faith?
I will give one example. When my wife and I were praying about whether we should leave our ministry in Southern California and move to Germany to be part of starting a new international Bible college there, we were seeking the Lord. And God gave a very dramatic and direct word of prophecy through a friend of ours, with whom we had not had contact for a considerable time. Out of the blue, she contacted us, and I returned her call. She said, “David, I think God has given me a Scripture to give to you. Would you like to hear it?” She was very appropriate about it, and it wasn’t weird at all. She was very just normal about it. And I said, “Well, sure. Please tell it to me.” So she read this verse to me:
Deuteronomy 2:3 (NIV) – “‘You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north.”
Well, this was a day that my wife and I were specifically fasting for guidance as to whether or not we should move our whole family to Germany to help start this Bible College. And so obviously, I said, “Wow, that’s kind of relevant.” And I want to make it clear that this woman had absolutely no knowledge that we were considering this move. Nobody knew.
So I asked her, “Do you have a sense that God is speaking anything to us through it?” She replied, “Well, do you really want to know?” I said, “Yes, I want to know.” And she said, “I think that God is giving you this verse, because He wants you to move to Europe, that He’s really going to bless you as you go. He’s got ministry for you there and He wants you to do it soon.” And I said, “Thank you,” and I received that, as it was a very dramatic prophetic word delivered through a passage of Scripture applied to our life.
That was not by any means the source of our calling to Germany. No, not at all. I don’t know if I would trust such a thing as a source of our calling. But it was a confirmation of the calling and the timing that we should go. And we did go, and I think God blessed it in many, many ways. We had an amazing seven years of wonderful ministry in Germany. We developed many friends and relationships there which we value to this present day. They are wonderful relationships for us to have.
So, that’s one example I could give. I don’t think those things are commonplace in my life, not by any means. That was unusual. But I’ll be very straightforward with you that I find great strength, great inspiration, and great illumination through the Bible. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t hear it if God were to speak to me in another way; obviously I did in the case I mentioned. And I would in the future. But I don’t run around looking for such words. And if I could say, that very dramatic word came not when I was seeking any specific supernatural word. I was seeking God’s will, no doubt about it. But I wasn’t seeking any supernatural word and God brought it. It makes me very nervous to see people who run to from one supposed prophet to another supposed prophet, looking for a word from God. I do believe that God speaks in such ways, but we shouldn’t run after such things. God knows where we are. He can bring them to us when He has such a thing. And that’s exactly what He did in my circumstance.
Why does God test our faith? Is there a pass or fail of this testing? What happens if we fail?
First of all, God doesn’t need to know our spiritual condition. He knows it. He knows exactly where we’re at in every way. But God often tests us or allows a test to come into our life, so that we will know our spiritual state. Because it’s very common for us to be kind of blind to it. So that’s one purpose.
Another reason why God may allow us to be tested is simply to increase our faith and our reliance upon Him. It’s really important for us to trust God every day, and to trust Him more and more. And sometimes God will allow hardship or pressing or trial or stress to cause us to rely upon Him more and more.
Another reason why God may allow a testing of our faith is so that we can do what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 1, that we may comfort others with the comfort that we have received from God.
It’s really involved with our spiritual growth, with our growth in grace, with our discipleship, and with our sanctification. God has work to do in us while we walk this earth. He has challenges for us to face which we won’t face in heaven. Do you realize that now is the only time that you will be able to stand strong for Jesus Christ in the midst of adversity and testing? You’re not going to have those same adversities and testings in heaven; you only have them now.
So really, it’s for our spiritual growth. And what happens if we fail a test? Well, look, God’s dealing with every one of His children is very personal, and very individualized. But oftentimes, if we fail a test, we may have to take that test again. God will allow us to work through the same or similar circumstances where we have to trust Him all over again. I’ve experienced that in my own life. And I’ve seen God work in a similar way in the lives of many other people in that way.
I feel called to evangelize, but if no one wants to join me, is it OK to evangelize alone? Jesus sent the disciples out two by two.
Evangelizing has always been something I believe I’ve been called to. But what if there’s not many who really want to join? I see examples of the disciples going out two by two.
I think you’re dealing with the difference between the ideal and the real. Ideally, when we go out to evangelize, it’s great to do it in teams. Going two by two or with a small group of people is a wonderful way to do it. Praise the Lord when we can. But it’s probably better to do evangelism alone than to do no evangelism. You can decide, “Well, ideally, if there was anybody else with me, I’d do it. But I’m not going to let the fact that there is nobody with me to stop me from going out to evangelize.”
As a general principle, I suppose there could be some circumstances where it would be unwise for an individual to go out and evangelize alone, for concerns of safety or compromise or some other reason. What I’ve given you as a general answer may be tailored to a specific situation.
But in general, we have an ideal of doing something with another person two by two. But if we can’t do the ideal, then we do what we can do. There are a lot of things like that in the Christian life. We see the ideal, and maybe the ideal is immediately unreachable, but we do the best we can, always aiming towards that ideal.
I would just encourage you to take care that you don’t allow yourself to become overly frustrated or angry with your less evangelistically minded friends. I know that this is a danger. This is something that happens from time to time. Sometimes people get very frustrated. They wonder why other people don’t have the same passion for evangelism. And that’s something of a trap. Don’t let the devil rip you off by making you feel angry, frustrated, or bitter with other people. You might be thinking, “They just don’t care about evangelism. I wish everybody cared about evangelism the way I do.” It’s a very common thing for us to think that everybody should be gifted with whatever we are gifted with in God’s family. So that’s something to think about. And then do exactly what you said: pray that the Lord would send workers for the harvest.
Did Paul interact with Stoics?
There is a Western author gaining interest that claims he is a Stoic. Did Paul interact with the Stoics? The claim is that the “I Am” concept was based on Roman stoicism known to Paul. Any input?
I’m going to give you ill-informed input. Just recently, I was going through my commentary on the book of Acts, where Paul is in Athens. In Acts 17:18, Paul has an interaction with the Stoics. I deal a little bit with some of the ideas of Stoicism in my commentary.
I can tell you with great confidence that Paul did not draw the idea of the “I Am” from Stoicism or from Greek thought at all. The idea of the “I Am” is something very much drawn from Jewish thought. God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as the “I Am.”
Why do we say that Jesus died and suffered for our sins when other people died and suffered in the same manner of being hung and nailed to a cross?
That is such a good question. The physical death of Jesus does not set Him apart from humanity. Many people have died horrible, terrible, tortured deaths. I would even go so far to say that, physically speaking, crucifixion is not the worst way to die. There are worse, more torturous ways to die. I won’t get into describing such tortures, but I have read about them across different cultures. Truly, crucifixion is a terrible way to die. But in the depravity of humanity, we’ve been able to think of even worse ways to die than crucifixion.
We should never forget that on the day Jesus was crucified, there were two other men being crucified beside Him – one on His right and one on His left. So yes, crucifixion was a terrible way to die. But it wasn’t a particularly unique way to die, and we can think of worse ways to die.
Two things set the death of Jesus apart from the death that any other person ever died. First, He was the sinless, spotless Son of God, who bore the sins of the world in His own body, as it says in 1 Peter 2:24 – He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. There was a spiritual dynamic in the transaction that Jesus made upon the cross. He received our sin, and He bestowed upon us His righteousness. That gave His death a spiritual dimension of agony and weight which made it unlike any other death that has been died on this earth.
Here’s the other aspect. Jesus, dying as the spotless Son of God, had never in any way known any kind of separation between Himself and His Father. We tread on holy ground here. We dare not exaggerate a separation between the Father and the Son on the cross, because the Bible tells us that even in dying on the cross, the Father was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.
Yet when Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me,” He was quoting Psalm 22. But He wasn’t only quoting Psalm 22, as some detached academic. No, He was living it. And there’s a strange paradox there. But all this was all the more impactful upon Jesus because He had never known sin. On the cross, He did not become a sinner. But to use Paul’s language, He became sin. And that sin was judged in His Person. The difference is the whole dynamic of the spiritual weight that Jesus wore on the cross, more than the physical suffering.
Why is Abraham considered the father of faith, and not Noah?
If Noah built the ark by faith and lived before Abraham, why isn’t he considered the father of faith, instead of Abraham? Is his faith lesser than Abraham or some other reason?
That’s a good question. When Abraham is called the father of faith, it is in no way trying to say that Abraham was the first person to have faith. Nor is it saying that nobody else had faith in a specific measure.
Here is what is different. Abraham is called the father of faith, because to him was given that great promise that, “He believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Well, that’s pretty big deal, don’t you think? Attention is drawn to it in the New Testament fulfillment of it, quoted by the apostle Paul, that that makes Abraham the father of the faithful. He was the first of whom it was specifically said that he was justified by faith.
Now you could argue, for example, that Enoch lived before the time of Abraham, and before the time of Noah. Enoch was obviously a man of faith and obviously declared righteous by faith. But the Bible doesn’t use the specific phrasing about Enoch that it uses about Abraham, that “He believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” So that’s really the reason. It’s the righteousness imputed to Abraham by faith.
In the Book of Esther, what happened to Queen Vashti after she was dethroned?
In the Book of Esther, what happened to Vashti after she was dethroned? Did he divorce her? Or did she just stay in the harem?
From my extensive study of this, I can tell you that we have absolutely no idea. None. The text doesn’t tell us. In the words of the Puritan commentator John Trapp, “Where the text has no tongue, we should have no ears.” Where the text doesn’t speak, we shouldn’t pretend like we’re hearing something.
The Scriptures don’t say anything except maybe that he put her away. That could mean either that he divorced her in some sense, or it could mean that she was just excluded off into the harem. Many of the wives in a king’s harem would not be wives that he would interact with in any way. They were just there for prestige. In a large harem, there would probably be a smaller number of wives that he actually had any kind of interaction with. That would mean there was always some group of wives in a harem that were excluded, and perhaps she was among them. But the bottom line is that the Scriptures don’t tell us, so we just can’t say.
I’m confused by the apparent contradiction between 1 John 1:8-10 and 1 John 3:6-9. It seems to say that Christians can sin, then it seems to say that Christians can’t sin.
1 John 1:8-10 – If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.
1 John 3:6-9 – Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
For a deeper dive on this topic, I recommend that you check out my Bible commentary on 1 John and my audio resources on 1 John at our website, enduringword.com.
When John writes about the inability of a Christian to sin in 1 John, it’s vital to consider the verb tenses that he uses when he says that a Christian can’t sin. The verb tense indicates that what he says is that a Christian can’t habitually sin. The verb tense implies an ongoing continual action. A Christian can’t remain in habitual sin. The way I usually phrase it is, a Christian can’t remain in habitual sin and be comfortable. Now, maybe a Christian is in habitual sin for a season, but they’re going to be tormented in their conscience. But because we have new life in Jesus Christ, that principle of new life, argues against anyone being comfortable in habitual sin. Sin doesn’t abide in them the same way that it did before.
Really what we’re talking about here is the difference between habitual sin and occasional sin. Every Christian occasionally sins. And when I say occasionally, I don’t mean once every five years. I mean, if you define sin in its broadest way, “falling short of the glory of God,” well then, we probably sin every minute of the day in some way. But every believer is aware that there’s a difference between that and a conscious area of life that is not yielded to Jesus Christ and His Lordship.
Now, if you are a believer, and yet you are mired in habitual sin, and it’s just no problem for you at all, that should worry you. I mean this genuinely. You need to examine yourself to see if you’re genuinely born again. Now, I’m cautious when I say that, because we don’t want to introduce unnecessary doubt into somebody’s life about their being a believer. However, by the same token, what a terrible thing it would be for somebody to just assume they were a born-again believer, and for it not to be true, and they only find that out when it’s too late.
Is it okay to divide and read the Bible dispensationally?
Thank you for your question. I’m going to be very straightforward. I don’t know exactly what you mean by that. But I do think that it’s fair and proper to read the Bible with a distinction between Israel and the Church. I think that when you come right down to it, that is the difference between dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. There are a few critical points where those differences center.
First, is there a distinction between the Church and Israel? If one believes there is a distinction between the Church and Israel, then I believe that in some form, you’re a dispensationalist. It’s not that there are different ways of salvation. No, we’re not talking about that. It’s simply that God deals with the Church differently than He did with Israel. The Church is something new and something different than Israel in the Old Testament. I think that fundamentally makes somebody a dispensationalist. And I think that is the proper way to read the Bible.
What is the believer’s assurance of eternal life?
What a great question. And I could just give you this the assurance of the believer’s eternal life is found in God. It is found in the faithfulness of God’s promise, that it is impossible for God to lie. So, when He says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” and “That whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” these are God’s wonderful, beautiful promises in which we can find great assurance. That is the believer’s assurance.
The believer’s assurance of salvation is not, “Oh, I’m such a great Christian. I can endure to the end.” No, no, take heed. You’re going to fall if you’re thinking that way. The assurance of the believer salvation is not, “I’m so smart. I’m so holy. I’m so this. I’m so that.” No, no, it is confidence in God and in His wonderful, amazing promise.