Understanding God’s grace!
by Christoph Köhler, Director of the Focus M Mission School at the Bad Gandersheim Faith Center.
Grace is one of the most precious gifts God has given us as humans. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary for us Christians to gain a clear understanding of what this grace is and is not in the biblical sense. We experience today that the concept of grace is used in its effectiveness in a partly inflationary way. This not only dishonors God and His Word, but also damages the Christian witness before men.
The word meaning of grace (gr. charis) is granted kindness, benefit, gratitude, acceptance, favor, without expectation of retribution, which has its only motive in the goodness and frankness of the giver. Charis is often directly opposed to works (gr. erga) in the NT. These are both mutually exclusive in the case of works done to become righteous before God. The grace of God forgives the sinner who repents, brings him joy and gratitude, and changes him!1
In this, God’s grace always leads us human beings to enablement. Where grace is used only as a consolation or justification for failure, freely along the lines of “I can’t do it anyway, … but God is gracious …”, its power is misinterpreted.
The great misunderstanding
A characteristic of our postmodern age is the desire for easy and quick solutions that do not cost much, even in following Jesus. In this context, the teaching of the hyper grace or “modern grace movement” has given many Christians the impression that there is no longer any need for “works” in the life of a Christian (because of grace). Everything that looks like “spiritual work” or that a Christian has to follow things is here put into the drawer of performance, legalism or Old Testament thinking. To this end, it is taught that Jesus has already forgiven all sins – past, present, and future, therefore He no longer has a problem with our sins. What is not said, however, is that the forgiveness of one’s sins is only experienced by those who consciously claim Jesus’ redemptive work for themselves personally in faith. We are experiencing a great deal of mixing of truth and half-truth, as well as shortcuts and the mixing of biblical statements, with regard to the teaching on grace. The fatal thing is that any exaggerated presentation of God’s grace sounds good but basically undermines any sanctification process in the life of a Christian. God gave us His grace not as a justification for powerless and conformist Christianity, but as a strengthening dimension for genuine discipleship.
More than overcomers
Paul says in Romans 8:37, “But in all this we are more than overcomers through him who loved us.” What would be the point of God making us more than overcomers if there were nothing left for us to overcome? Even children of God must overcome adverse circumstances, challenging life situations, or simply the weakness of their own human nature. This is what they have been pardoned to do! Because Christ Himself overcame these things in His own earthly life as a human being and gave us as a “check” of His final victory on the cross the right to claim all that He fought for there, we became “more” than overcomers. It was Jesus Himself who fought the battle against the power of sin and death for us. It cost Him everything. He resisted, He endured, He bled, and He overcame on the cross: He was the overcomer. But all who believe in him receive his victory prize, the “overcomer’s check,” and by grace become partakers of the divine nature, receiving a share in his precious promises (2 Peter 1:4).
Heirs in Christ
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ, …” (Ephesians 1:3)
It is worth asking what inheritance is promised to us Christians in the Word of God. If we do not know what is ours, we will not be able to claim it. Redemption, forgiveness, righteousness, freedom, healing, protection, provision, destiny, guidance, power, joy, and peace are just some of these heavenly riches given to us “in Christ.” In the first three chapters of Ephesians, there are more than twenty statements that speak of this inheritance. But how do these blessings of heaven become effective in our lives? – Grace becomes effective through faith. God’s promises must be believed and grasped, otherwise they remain ineffective! Although Israel as a people had God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, they had to take it bit by bit with His help. The kingdom of God here on earth is not a land of milk and honey where we sit and wait for God to let his blessings fly into our “open mouths”. God cooperates with mature Christians whom He empowers! We don’t need to do anything more for our salvation from God! But certainly there is still much to be done for our growth in Christ and His fullness in our lives!
Identity change required
In my own life, I was privileged to experience what it means to receive a new identity. Almost overnight it happened when I went from being a citizen of the GDR with a blue identity card and very limited freedom to a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany with a passport and almost unlimited freedom. My challenge from then on was to find out what new rights and duties I now possessed and also to live within them. Today, I am allowed to travel to countries that were closed to me for many years. However, the decision to do so is mine alone. Here lies the problem of many Christians. On the day of their conversion, by God’s grace, they have received a new “passport” with new rights through which they can taste and experience the riches and beauties of the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, many remain in their small, old familiar world with its narrow limits, without finding the life they are actually looking for. God wants it differently! His grace is for those who want to overcome their own limitations!
“…that ye, concerning the former manner of life, have put off the old man, which is ruined by deceitful lusts; but be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” (Ephesians 4:22-23)
The renewal of our lives begins with a renewed mind. True identity is found in God alone, no longer believing our feelings, but His statements about us as His children. This honors Him and changes us at the same time. His grace enables us to look away from ourselves to live for His purposes. We have been blessed to be a blessing wherever the opportunity presents itself. By grace, we are connected to God’s abundance at all times. This is an abundant life. Let us reach out to live it for His glory!
(1 Elberfelder Studienbibel mit Sprachschlüssel und Handkonkordanz, 6th ed., Witten: SCM R. Brockhaus, p. 2090 (no. 5297).)
Since 2009, Christoph Köhler has been leading the Focus M. mission school in the Bad Gandersheim Faith Center together with his wife Kirsten. In addition, Christoph is part of the teaching staff of the Bible School and has been part of the leadership team since December 2017. Christoph and Kirsten have three adult, married daughters as well as nine grandchildren.