Purchasing the Gift of Grace
Does Man’s Obedience bring about
the Glorious Gift of God’s Grace?
By Al Maxey
I recently heard a young man make the following declaration in an online Bible discussion group when asked by one of the participants to state his belief as to how one obtains divine grace: “What brings grace? Obedience brings grace, not the other way around.” Such a lack of understanding of God’s dealings with man is troubling, for one of the foundational truths of the Scriptures is that we are saved by the grace of God, by virtue of His infinite love and mercy, not because we in some way by our own effort merited or deserved such divine favor.
Paul writes that in Christ Jesus “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7-8), which was “according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (vs. 5-6). God’s grace is “freely bestowed” upon us; indeed, it is “lavished upon us.” It is a gift of divine love, not wages due unto those who were obedient under some system of law. To promote the latter as the motivation for the giving/receiving of God’s grace is to negate His loving gift of salvation, reducing it to that which He owes us by virtue of our own performance.
Paul informed the Roman brethren that our justification before Him was a “free gift” imparted through the atoning blood of His Son, and “if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Romans 5:15). It is somewhat interesting that in Romans 6:1 Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Paul’s answer is, “By no means!” (vs. 2). The same is true with the other side of the coin: “Shall we go on obeying so that grace may increase?” Of course not. God’s grace is not conditioned upon what a man does, it is based upon who God is! His grace flows from His nature, as does His love and mercy. Indeed, God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16), from which grace, mercy, compassion, acceptance flow naturally. Thus, “we love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love wasn’t poured out upon mankind because sinful man first loved Him; rather, it was the other way around. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This happened “while we were still helpless” (vs. 6).
Grace is poured out upon the helpless and the sinful; God doesn’t wait to demonstrate His love until man, by his obedience, deserves His mercy. He bestows it freely as a gift while we are utterly undeserving! Indeed, such is the common definition of the word “grace” — it is the undeserved, unmerited favor of our God. To teach that grace is given to those who are obedient completely neutralizes the significance of the term, and it shows a woeful ignorance of the very message of the Gospel. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Yes, Paul speaks of “wages” (that which we have earned), but what we merit by our own effort is death. What we receive in love by His grace is life! It is a gift. Yet, some seemingly don’t understand the concept of a “free gift,” and insist on “paying for” this gift of grace. Little do they know that the price of this free gift was “paid in full” by Jesus at the cross. To suggest that we must pay something in addition to what He has already paid is to imply that the price He paid in His precious blood was somehow insufficient, and the difference must be “made up” by us.
Some will immediately run to their favorite proof-text on this: Hebrews 5:9, which states Jesus “became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” There you have it, they say. We must obey in order to be saved, and, of course, the point in time at which we “obey the gospel” is the moment of our baptism in water. Then, and not a moment before, God pours out His grace upon us and saves us. Please stop for a moment and look at the many assumptions and additions being made here to what is actually stated in the text. We have assumed and inferred a whole theology ex nihilo. What IS stated in this passage is that Jesus Christ is the source of our salvation, which is taught throughout the Scriptures. He “became” (aorist tense) that source of our salvation at the cross. This was an act accomplished at a specific point along our space-time continuum (at a time God determined to be right), and it happened almost 2000 years ago outside the city of Jerusalem. That shedding of His blood, which He offered “once for all,” is the fountain in which we are all washed clean of our sins. This act was a gift of God’s grace; this act did not occur because mankind was deserving, it occurred because God is LOVE. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16).
This free gift is received by faith, not by anything we have done, or ever could do. Our response of faith, having now been saved by grace, is to show gratitude for this gift by seeking to reflect His nature more and more in our own actions and attitudes. In this way we live lives obedient to His will and calling. It is this that is in view in Hebrews 5:9. The word “obey” in this passage is a “present participle,” which actually means “to the ones who are continually obeying.” In other words, Jesus “became” (aorist tense = at the point of His sacrifice) that cleansing fount for all those in every place and every period of time who are continually living in relationship with Him. HE is our salvation, not anything WE may offer to God, although as saved ones we seek to live and walk daily in the light of His life, obedient to His will.
This passage does not teach us that obedience generates God’s gift of grace, it teaches that those of us who are in Him (who IS that gift of grace) continually show the reality of our acceptance by leading Spirit-filled, Spirit-transformed lives that are in obedience to His will. And what is that divine will to which we are obedient? We are to love, just as He loved — fully and self-sacrificially! Such love is the fulfillment of all law, for such love is the nature of God Himself. The word “obey” in this passage is a Greek word meaning “to hear under; to hear submissively” — we who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb live lives in submission to His will. And what is it that He commands (wills) of us? Love God and love one another!!
There is absolutely nothing in Hebrews 5:9 that even remotely suggests God’s grace is given only to those who are obedient to a system of law or to a list of rules and regulations. Indeed, how can one who is “helpless” do anything righteous so as to merit God’s grace? “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:4-8).
Those who add human obedience or human effort to this passage only succeed in tarnishing the glorious gospel of grace. God owes us nothing; He freely gave us everything! We show our thanks by surrendering to His indwelling Spirit and living daily as transformed men and women, reflecting His love and mercy and compassion to those around us. Those who walk in the light in this way demonstrate they are washed by the blood of the Lamb, their Savior. He is the source of their salvation, and the motivation for our life of submission to His will in our daily attitudes and actions. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable GIFT” (2 Corinthians 9:15).