The gospel of the grace of God

Just hearing his name was enough to frighten Christians in the first century. He was known far and wide as a tireless persecutor of Christians. “He made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8:3).

In those days, who would have thought that Saul of Tarsus would ever become a Christian, let alone become God’s chosen vessel to proclaim the Christian message to the nations of his time and, through his writings, to the nations of all times. But, by the grace of God, he became the apostle Paul whose commission was “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

In his letter to the Romans Paul explains the gospel: why grace is necessary, how it is provided, what it accomplishes, and how it is obtained. Grace is necessary because everyone sins. Grace is provided by justification. The intended result of grace is sanctification. Grace is obtained by obedient faith.

[For the many references from Romans, only the chapter and verses will be given.]

What is grace?

Grace is benevolent, unmerited favor. “The LORD is merciful and gracious” (Psalm 103:8). God’s grace is shown by His bountiful blessings, especially salvation in Christ. God bestows grace according to His sovereign will: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (9:15, Exodus 33:19).

What is the gospel?

“Gospel” means “good news.” The gospel is the good news of salvation by grace through the substitutional sacrifice of Christ. The gospel “which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (1:2) is God’s power for salvation (1:16). The gospel was foretold in the Old Testament as a mystery and is “made known to all nations” in the New Testament (16:25, 26).

Grace is necessary because everyone sins.

Sin is the violation of God’s laws. The whole world is blameworthy before God (3:19). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

Grace does not excuse sin. After powerfully affirming His graciousness to Moses, God added, “by no means clearing the guilty” (Exodus 34:6, 7). “The righteous judgment of God” (2:5) requires that sin be punished by death (1:32). “The wages of sin is death” (6:23).

Through Adam “sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (5:12).

Because of our sins, we deserve the death sentence. To appreciate grace, we must understand how bad sin is. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). God’s wrath is mentioned twelve times in Romans (1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; 13:4, 5). God is not unjust when He inflicts wrath (3:5).

Although everyone sins, people have different patterns of behavior and different relationships with God, “who ’will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness - indignation and wrath” (2:6-8).

Since all are sinners, and death is the just penalty for sin, how can God extend grace to some sinners and wrath to others, and still be righteous?

Grace is provided by justification.

God can forgive the sins of believers without compromising His righteousness if the penalty for their sins is borne by someone else.

But who is qualified to serve as a sacrifice for sin?

Animal sacrifices are not sufficient: “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). No sinner is qualified because he must die for his own sins! Only a sinless man could volunteer to suffer the penalty for the sins of mankind.

Of the Messiah it was foretold: “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).

God sent His Son who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) and “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15) so He could die for man’s sin. John testified: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Because He was without sin, Jesus did not have to die, but He allowed Himself to be crucified for the sins of humanity (John 10:11, 17, 18). He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24).

God justifies believers through the atonement of Christ.

Justification is mentioned seventeen times in Romans (2:13; 3:4, 20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:2, 5, 25; 5:1, 9, 16, 18, 19; 8:30, 33). “To justify” means to declare free of condemnation. We are justified by the blood of Christ and His resurrection (5:9; 4:25). Someone whom God has justified may not be condemned (8:30-34)!

Justification is “by faith” not by meritorious “deeds of the law” (3:28, 30; 4:2, 5; 5:1). Justification is a “gift” (5:16).

Although we are “under grace” and “not under law” for justification (6:14, 15), grace does not exempt one from God’s laws. “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (3:31). Grace encourages and helps believers to abide by God’s laws!

Justification is for those who keep “the righteous requirements of the law” (2:26). “Doers of the law will be justified” (2:13). But because the law is “weak through the flesh” “the righteous requirement of the law” is fulfilled only by grace through Christ’s sacrifice for those “who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3, 4).

People can be righteous only by the grace of God!

“The righteousness of God” is bestowed on those who believe (3:22), who are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (3:24, 25). This was to demonstrate “His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:26).

In justification, faith is accounted as righteousness.

“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (4:3, Genesis 15:6). This means that God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness even though he was not completely righteous.

Abraham was faithful and obedient. “You found his heart faithful before You” (Nehemiah 9:8). “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5).

Although Abraham was obedient, he was not justified because of his obedience but because of his faith. Justification was necessary, not because of the good he did, but because of his sin! God credited his faith to him as righteousness.

When someone believes on Him who justifies the ungodly “his faith is accounted for righteousness” (4:5). “David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin’” (4:6-8, Psalm 32:1, 2).

Abraham’s example indicates that righteousness will also “be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (4:22-24).

The intended result of grace is sanctification.

Paul’s letter is addressed to those who are “called to be saints” (1:7). Throughout Romans he calls believers saints (8:27, 12:13; 15:25, 26, 31; 16:2, 15). A saint is someone who has been sanctified (made holy) and is dedicated to God. Paul’s purpose in writing was that his readers might be “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:15, 16). The branches on God’s tree are holy (11:16). The sanctified ones present their “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (12:1). They present their “members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (6:19, 22 ESV).

The intended result of grace is “sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NASB).

Sanctification involves obedience.

In the letter to the Romans disobedience is denounced seven times (1:30; 2:8; 5:19; 6:12; 10:21; 11:30, 32). This refutes those who would turn God’s grace into license (Jude 4) by claiming that grace makes obedience unnecessary.

The gospel must be obeyed (10:16)! The preaching of the gospel of grace is for “obedience to the faith among all nations” (1:5; 16:26). “The faith” that must be obeyed is the “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5) “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Paul defines the sanctified as those who have “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine” to which they were subjected (6:17). Believers must avoid teachers who depart from the original doctrine (16:17).

The sanctified must be slaves of “obedience leading to righteousness” (6:16). Christ worked through Paul “to make the Gentiles obedient” (15:18). Paul complimented the saints at Rome for their obedience (16:19).

Grace is obtained by obedient faith.

Justification is “by faith” (3:28, 30; 5:1, 2; 9:32; 11:20). In the gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ’The just shall live by faith’” (1:17, Habakkuk 2:4). This has a two-fold meaning. Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in two other passages. The life of the just is founded on his faith (he does not “draw back” but “believes to the saving of the soul” - Hebrews 10:38, 39) and God gives him eternal life because of his faith (not because of his imperfect “works of the law” - Galatians 3:10-12).

Thus, one must live by faith! Superficial, half-hearted faith is not enough. The faith required to receive God’s grace is a true, living, obedient faith that walks “in the steps of the faith” of Abraham (4:12) who trusted God and obeyed His voice (Genesis 26:5; Hebrews 11:8).

We are “justified by faith” (5:1) but “not by faith only” (James 2:24). As “obedience to the faith” (1:5; 16:26) additional prerequisites for salvation by grace are stated in Romans: “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17), “the goodness of God leads you to repentance” (2:4), “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (10:10), and one is “baptized into Christ Jesus” (6:3).

Since we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24) and since we are “baptized into Christ Jesus” (6:3) baptism is essential for salvation by grace.

After being “buried with Him through baptism” we “walk in newness of life” (6:4), continue “in doing good” (2:7), and present our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (12:1).

What have we learned about grace?

In Romans, Paul has testified to the gospel of the grace of God, explaining why grace is necessary, how it is provided, what it accomplishes, and how it is obtained. Grace is necessary because everyone sins. Grace is provided by justification. The intended result of grace is sanctification. Grace is obtained by obedient faith.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:1, 2). Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.

Published in The Old Paths Archive