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Home Protestant's Corner What is Grace?

What is Grace?

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Because each of the books in the New Testament are not connected with one another, it is easy for several doctrines, such as grace, to become confusing instead of becoming more clear. Most Christians tend to think of the epistles as being one long discourse on salvation and therefore are connected to each other like chapters in a novel. In reality, each was written for a specific reason, at different times, and from different places. In fact, the order in which we find them in our Bible is not the order in which they were written. Therefore even if the subject matter is the same in one epistle as in another, the problems discussed with these doctrines are often from a different viewpoint because of different problems being addressed, or different backgrounds, mentality and cultures of the people being written to.

This is especially true of the Romans. In the beginning the Christians living at Rome were primarily Gentiles who had no idea or understanding about the law of Moses. And it is because of this that Paul's words are often misunderstood. Even today when we write a letter to someone, it's easy for our message to be misunderstood. For that matter, look at the laws of the land and how many interpretations there are. If they were clearly understood, there would be no need for lawyers.

When Paul wrote his letters, his intent was to clarify some point of misunderstanding that the people he was writing to were having. The problem we have today is that we only have Paul's writings. What we are missing is the letters, messages or events to which Paul is responding. So we only see half of the picture. Therefore, from just this one half we search for clues to complete the other half. Although we can learn some things this way, we can never fully know what Paul was really trying to convey to his readers.

Even in his day, we find in the scriptures that the very people Paul wrote to still misunderstood his words. If that is true, then how much more are we inclined to misunderstand what Paul wrote? Because of differences in culture, language, background, and translations, it becomes much harder for us to accurately understand what Paul really meant by what he wrote than it was for the people in his day. Today there are hundreds of Christians scholars who spend all their time studying and analyzing the Bible and still, among these astute and learned men, there is a great difference of viewpoints.

Much has been made about what Paul said the Romans about grace. Before we can appreciate what he was trying to teach, we first need to have some background understanding about who the Romans were and what Paul's relationship was to them.

Paul was converted to the church about 36 A.D., approximately three years after Christ had been crucified. He arrived in Rome in the year 61 A.D and he died there in 68 A.D. However, the letter to the Romans was written several years before he arrived, somewhere between 55 and 57 A.D.. It was written from Corinth (see Acts 20:3) and was meant to take the place of him actually visiting them. His intention was to travel through Rome on his way to Spain, which is where he had hopes of preaching the gospel.

In my opinion, I'm certain that this letter was originally written in Latin, the native tongue of the Romans rather than in Greek. My reason for feeling this way is that it would have been strange for someone to write in Greek to people who spoke and wrote Latin. Furthermore, at that time, this was the world's language, especially for conducting business transactions. Therefore is makes much more sense to me that he would have written his letter to them in Latin. Consider that Tertius wrote the letter for him and this name is clearly a Roman name.

We don't know how many Christians were in Rome at this time. In fact, we don't even know when the church was first established there. But considering that the gospel had been preached for more than 22 years since the death of Christ, there must have been a sizable number of Christians living in Rome by this time.

With this background of understanding, let's see what Paul taught the Romans.

The first chapter is a greeting to the Roman's saints, so we know that he was addressing those who had already accepted Christ. However, as I earlier explained, Paul was teaching something new to these people. His words in Romans 1:11-13,15 show that they needed further instruction. Because of this, it is interesting to note that before he could begin talking about grace, he first had to make several points of clarification to prepare them for his remarks on this doctrine.

In Romans 2:1-19 the law of which Paul is speaking it is not the Law of Moses, but the Gospel. It must be remembered that the Romans never practiced the law of Moses because they were HEATHENS. The Gentiles had never obeyed the law of Moses. Therefore, in verse 13 when Paul speaks about the law, he does so in the present tense. He said, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." Since they not only never practiced the law of Moses, but yet Paul spoke to them about keeping the law, he must have been referring to the law of the gospel. In fact, in verse 16 he states, "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of the men by Jesus Christ ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL." I believe that Paul used the word law because it was easy for the listener to understand, but in this verse he wrote "ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL," thereby showing that the gospel and the law he was talking about are one in the same.

In Chapter 3 Paul speaks about justification by faith and its relationship to grace. That is his introduction into the topic of grace. Paul was trying not to be misunderstood. Even though we are saved by grace, in verse 31 he declares that by faith we actually establish the law

Chapter 5 begins with a very important comparison. In Romans 5:12-21 he shows how that because of one man (Adam) sin and death came upon all men, so also through one man (Jesus) the gift of righteousness has come upon all men (vs 18). He goes on to say that through one man's disobedience all became sinners, so likewise because of the obedience of one man many can be made righteous. In the last verse (21) he declared "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign THROUGH RIGHTEOUSNESS unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Grace and righteousness go together.

In chapter 6 he starts with saying, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." Then he continues his comparison between Adam and Jesus, but begins to speak in terms of death and the resurrection and eternal life.

It should be noted that Paul taught that everyone will stand before God and be judged by the deeds which they have personally done. If that is so, then what is grace for the believers all about? I could understand this if only the believers could participate in the resurrection, but the resurrection is a free gift for everybody. Let's see what the scriptures say.

In Revelation 1:7 we read, "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, AND THEY ALSO WHICH PIECED HIM, AND ALL KINDREDS OF THE EARTH SHALL WAIL BECAUSE OF HIM. EVEN SO, AMEN." (see also Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 13:6) It is easy to understand that at his second coming everybody will have a full knowledge of Him. At that time will come the prophecy found in Revelation 5:13 which says, "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honour, and glory and Power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."

This make the verses in Philippians 2:10-11 more clear when we read, "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under earth; and that every tongue SHOULD CONFESS THAT JESUS IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father."

 

The resurrection will be universal because every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ and every knee will bow. And because of this, everyone will be resurrected, the sinner along with the saint. This is what the grace of God is all about. This is the free gift which God will give to everybody. I firmly believe that this was the principle Paul was trying to teach the Romans.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 13:40  

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