What is Christian Conversion?

Lesson 8, Part 5


God's Grace and Forgiveness

It is essential that we understand the real meaning and purpose of God's grace and forgiveness.

Since God forgives our sins at baptism, we need to appreciate how great forgiveness is. At the same time, however, we need to understand that forgiveness carries with it obligations. We also need to understand that some religious teachers, claiming to represent Christ, often misconstrue and misuse God’s mercy and forgiveness.

In the Scriptures God’s forgiveness is often directly associated with the wordgrace , which refers to undeserved favor that we receive from God. Grace is also closely related to the word gift . It usually refers to an unearned gift or favor, such as God’s gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. It is essential that we understand the real meaning and purpose of God’s grace and forgiveness. The concepts are closely linked together in the Scriptures. Both are crucial to our salvation.

God’s grace, however, is often falsely represented by many religious teachers.

How is God’s grace misunderstood and misused?

“ For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality …” (Jude 1:4, NIV).

Even in the days of Christ’s apostles, clever “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13) began misinterpreting the Scriptures and Jesus’ teachings. They misrepresented God’s grace—especially in Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:15-16)—as license to ignore God’s laws. This particular twisting of the Scriptures, which continues in many religious circles, amounts to permission to sin.

What do such teachers offer in place of God’s law?

“For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:18-19, NIV).

A false liberty—freedom from God’s laws and authority—has always been the real goal of false teachers. Peter describes teachers advancing twisted concepts of “freedom” as “those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10, NIV).

In effect, they have misrepresented God’s grace as independence from His law—the very law that defines sin. They have advocated a type of freedom—a release from any obligation to obey the commandments of God—that is nowhere taught in the Bible. They are ruled by their human nature, the fleshly mind that Paul describes as “not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

Nevertheless, they have succeeded in convincing a significant part of professing Christianity that God’s grace supports their false concept. We must be careful never to allow ourselves to be taken in by any teaching that turns grace into a license to sin.

How does Peter describe those embracing this deceptive freedom?

“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’ ” (2 Peter 2:20-22).

What kind of freedom does the Bible really teach?

“But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22).

“So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12).

“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).

Today the teaching that faith is all we need for forgiveness and salvation is popular. But, according to the Scriptures, we are “set free from sin” that we may become the “slaves of God.” We must be “a doer of the work.” So let’s examine what the Scriptures really teach about the relationship between faith, works and obedience to God.

Do the Scriptures reveal that faith must be accompanied by works?

“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

James goes on to explain why faith without deeds (actions that prove we genuinely believe God) is “ dead “—utterly useless. “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20-26).

James’s point is that our actions demonstrate whether our faith is genuine. Abraham proved his faith was authentic by what he did. James explains that we need to follow Abraham’s example.

Paul concluded a discussion on the importance of faith by emphasizing: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law ” (Romans 3:31). Both faith and the law of God are essential components of repentance—and the conversion process.

Why Must We Be Reconciled to God?

Those reconciled to God through faith in Christ's sacrifice must continue living in the faith—that is, in harmony with the fundamental beliefs taught from all of God's Word.

How has sin affected our relationship with God?

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).

What is the solution to our alienation from God?

“Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

How can we be reconciled to God?

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11; compare 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Does God expect us to strive to be blameless after our reconciliation to Him?

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight; if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard …” (Colossians 1:21-23).

Those reconciled to God through faith in Christ’s sacrifice must continue living “in the faith “—that is, in harmony with the fundamental beliefs taught from all of God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).

What sins are covered by Christ’s blood?

“They [believers] are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:24-25, NRSV).

At our baptism God forgives our past sins—”sins previously committed”—that we have repented of and stopped practicing. But His grace and mercy never give us permission to continue sinning. Notice how Paul began his explanation of baptism: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Christ died to pay for our sins and lead us to repentance. He never intended that we misconstrue grace and forgiveness as permission to ignore the core teachings that God revealed through the Scriptures before He was even born. Instead He taught, as we have already read, that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).

Why do we need God’s grace?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Nothing we do can earn us forgiveness and salvation. Both are gifts from God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved . He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

Is faith in God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice necessary for forgiveness?

“… You were … buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God , who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:11-13).

“Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).

Should our faith in God’s forgiveness affect our conscience?

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Once our “old man” is buried through baptism, God wants us to put behind us all feelings of guilt over past sins. He wants us to approach our future with confidence that our sins have been forgiven by Him. We are to begin a new life without fretting over the past.

Paul describes the attitude of a clear conscience God wants for us. “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind …” (Philippians 3:13-15).

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