Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Grace – All-Sufficient or Insufficient? (Ephesians 2:1-10)

By Gerald Cowan

    I am not among those who think we in the church of Christ have not understood correctly the great doctrines of the New Testament. Some are saying that we have only recently come to understand – or are just now coming to understand – the grace of God. The trouble may be that many of our preachers and teachers have been educated in denominational schools and have imbibed denominational errors. They are often not discerning enough to see the errors, and so they pass them along to others who are as dull of hearing as they themselves. Paul said that those who have learned the truth should teach it to others who shall then be able to teach others, and so to keep the flow of truth alive in education (2 Tim. 2:2). That principle is very effective. Unfortunately the principle works just as well in the flow of error. People are not always or often as bold and noble as the Bereans, searching the scripture itself to ascertain that their teachers are giving the truth of God (Acts 17:11) and not the dogmas, doctrines, and traditions of men (read Mark 7:7-9).
    One of the “trouble spots” in Christian doctrine is the matter of grace. I believe much of trouble in understanding grace properly is the current penchant for more freedom and less responsibility on the part of those who would be “Christian.” People want an easy path to heaven and a God who makes no demands – they want a SAVIOR but they do not want a LORD. They want God to do everything for them, with no commands or requirements to be met by them – human works having no bearing at all upon one’s relationship to God. Because it sounds plausible and because it is what so many want to hear, it is easy to persuade people that salvation is now100% by God’s grace and 0% by human works. It was not always so.
    It is sometimes said, by people who do not know and understand the scripture, that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, vengeance, and punishment – a bloody God, a God of JUSTICE. However, the God of the New Testament is not like that at all. The God of the New Testament, they like to say, is a kind and merciful and benevolent God who delights in human salvation – a God of GRACE. Neither part of that description is valid. It is a distortion of the truth of God.
    In any discussion of the character or nature of God there are several qualities that must be balanced, even though some of them may seem to be logical contradictions. There are of course several absolute attributes of God: eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable, uncreated, self-existent, and self-sustaining. It is not our purpose to discuss those matters in the present lesson.  There are also many things that could be called relative attributes of God. They pertain to His relationships with and attitudes toward His creation – with mankind in particular. The list of relative attributes can be reduced to about seven ma
jor headings: love, grace, holiness, righteousness, justice, benevolence, and revealed truth. All other qualities or characteristics of God will fit into one or more of these seven categories. The task set for us in the present lesson is to examine the grace of God, especially as it concerns the salvation of mankind. As already noted, this is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in modern Bible study. It is also one of the most controversial factors in current religious discussions.
    Let us dispense with the erroneous and invalid definition that makes the God of the Old Testament a God of JUSTICE and WRATH and the God of the New Testament a God of GRACE and BENEVOLENCE. Here are some representative passages indicating that people in OT times understood something of the love and loving-kindness of God. Deut. 7:7-8, 13, and 23:5; 1 Kings  10:9; 2 Chron. 2:11 and 9:8; Isaiah 63:7-9; Jer. 31:3 and 8; Psalm 36:7 and 119:59; (John 3:16 was spoken to people under the old covenant, not yet under the new). Here are a few representative passages showing the grace and graciousness of God (usually accompanied by mercy and kindness) in the Old Testament.  Gen. 6:8; Ex. 22:27 and 34:6; 2 Kings 13:23; Neh. 9:17 and 31; Joel 2:13; Psalm 84:11; Zech. 4:7  and 12:10.
Finally, here are a few of the many passages in the New Testament showing the justice, wrath, and severity of God under the new covenant of Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 10:27-31 and 12:29; James 2:13; John 3:36; Eph. 5:6; Rom. 2:6-11 and 11:22. You will notice from all of this that love, mercy, grace, kindness, judgment, wrath, and punishment, etc. are part and parcel of God’s relationship with man at all times and under all covenants in human history.

- Gerald Cowan, a longtime preacher and missionary, is retired from full-time pulpit preaching. Gerald publishes an e-mail newsletter entitled GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICAL WRITINGS. He is available for Gospel Meetings and he may be contacted at

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