3. LOVE, GRACE, MERCY, AND BAPTISM
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8).
Without God’s love, grace, and mercy, we would all be doomed to eternal punishment. Nothing we do can merit our salvation or produce our forgiveness. Jesus’ death because of God’s nature and actions have provided our salvation.
A description of God is found in the expression “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). God’s love is what motivated Him to give Jesus to die for our sins. We are saved not because of who or what we are, or because of our good deeds, but because of who God is. While we were sinners, unworthy of forgiveness and deserving of punishment, God acted in our behalf:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16a).
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).
Although we do not deserve His love, we must respond to God in order to receive the benefit of His loving acts. Love motivated God to act in service to us. Our love for God should motivate us to act in submission to Him (John 14:15, 21, 23). He acts for the benefit of the righteous but does not listen to the wicked: “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). This is true because God does not appreciate evil. He said concerning His Son, “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness” (Hebrews 1:9a). He hates “all who do iniquity” (Psalm 5:5b).
The evildoer who will not trust in Jesus and respond to God’s love remains under His wrath. John 3:36 says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Paul warned in Romans 2:5, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” (see also Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Revelation 14:9, 10.)
God’s love and wrath are not contradictory, but His wrath is the result of His love. This can be illustrated by how we might respond to certain situations. A woman who deeply loves her husband will become very upset if he desires other women. If she has no love for her husband, she may feel no anger toward him–regardless of how many women he desires. God’s love may be the basis of His jealousy and wrath (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24).
Jesus has shown us and told us how to remain in God’s love. He said, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:9, 10).
God’s love is conditional. Faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are requirements set by God for non-Christians, which we must fulfill before He will save us. We must do these as a result of our love for Him in order to be saved. We fulfill the requirements in order to receive the benefit of His love, not in order to deserve His love. None of our acts can earn God’s love; however, because He has specified requirements which must be met before He will reward us, we must submit to those requirements. “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).
The Greek word charis (Hebrew hen), most often translated “grace,” appears 155 times in the New Testament. Its meaning is closely akin to “grace” which can include the meaning of beauty, charm, and favor. Our salvation is dependent on this quality of God. An article in The New International Dictionary of the Bible gives this definition of “grace”:
(1) Properly speaking, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, charm, sweetness, and loveliness;
(2) good will, loving-kindness, mercy, etc.; (30 the kindness of a master toward a slave. Thus by analogy, grace has come to signify the kindness of God to man (Luke 1:30). The [New Testament] writers, at the end of their various letters, frequently invoke God’s gracious favor on their leaders (Romans 16:20; Philippians 4:23; Colossians[1:2]; 1 Thessalonians 5:28). In addition, the word “grace” is often used to express the concept of kindness given to someone who doesn’t deserve it: hence, undeserved favor, especially that kind of degree of favor bestowed on sinners through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Grace, therefore, is that unmerited favor of God toward fallen man whereby, for the sake of Christ-the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)- he has provided for man’s redemption. 1
The importance of grace cannot be overstated. We are in debt because of sin and have nothing with which to pay for our sins. The size of the debt does not make a difference. If one man owes ten thousand dollars and another owes only one dollar, but neither has the means to pay what he owes, both remain in debt. Without the blood of Jesus all are sinners (Romans 3:9, 10, 23), worthy of death (Romans 6:23; James 1:15) and without anything of our own with which we can pay for our sins.
The person who is forgiven of a debt of one dollar and the person who is forgiven of a debt of ten thousand dollars are equally free from debt. Those who are forgiven of one sin or of many sins are equally forgiven and free from their sins. When a Pharisee criticized Jesus for associating with a sinful woman, He responded, “…I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). This is the beauty of God’s grace.
Jesus, being full of grace (John 1:14), has provided grace for us (John 1:16). All the works of man cannot remove one stain of sin (Ephesians 2:8). Neither can the law given through Moses (John 1:17) take away sin, because it did not provide grace (Galatians 5:4). Paul wrote, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21).
Our righteousness and salvation are provided “by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We read,
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6).
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
Salvation has been provided by the work of God and not by our works.
While God’s grace, His unmerited favor, is available for everyone (Titus 2:11), not all obtain His grace. Because grace has come through Jesus (John 1:17; Romans 5:15), those who do not receive Him (John 1:11; 12:48) reject the grace of God. Jesus is the One who, because of the grace of God, has paid for our salvation with His blood (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:14; 10:19, 20; 1 Peter 1:17-19). Therefore, He has the right to give salvation to whomever He chooses and on whatever conditions He chooses (Hebrews 5:9).
In Romans 6 Paul asked, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (vv. 1,2). These questions imply that when we enter into grace we should die to sin and stop habitually sinning. Paul identified the point of time that this should take place by asking another question: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (v.3). He then wrote, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (v.4).
From Paul’s words we can conclude that when we are baptized we enter into God’s grace. When we are baptized, we enter into Jesus (Romans 6:3) in whom is the grace of God, as seen in Ephesians 1:7 and 2 Timothy 2:1. These passages associate baptism with entering into His grace. Those who have not been baptized are outside Christ, are separated from Christ (Ephesians 2:12, 13), and are without the grace (Galatians 5:4) that is in Christ. The grace of God is not earned in baptism, but is entered into because of one’s faith when he is baptized. We are not to impose on His grace by continuing to lead sinful lives. Those who “go on sinning willfully” once they are “sanctified” insult the “Spirit of grace.” Hebrews 10:26-29 says,
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
“Mercy” (Gk.: verb–eleeo; noun–eleos) means “forbearance [refraining] from inflicting punishment on an adversary or a lawbreaker; the compassion that causes one to help the weak, the sick, or the poor.” 2
It also includes not seeking repayment of a debt (Matthew 18:33). Even though grace includes mercy, grace goes beyond mercy. Both grace and mercy refrain from punishing a wrong; however, grace goes farther, providing help for the one who did the wrong.
If a man who has no home intentionally damages a house, the owner of the house may justly punish the man and/or seek payment for the damage. If the owner refrains from seeking payment or punishment of the evildoer, he is showing mercy. If the owner forgives the man who did the damage and gives him a place to live, that is an act of grace.
For those who obey His will, God has mercifully arranged forgiveness and freedom from punishment. Because of His grace, He has arranged to provide eternal life in heaven. God’s mercy has provided forgiveness through Jesus which keeps Him from punishing the sinner, and His grace motivates Him to provide undeserved blessings.
“For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32; NIV). Mercy has to do with the forgiveness of obedient sinners who were formerly disobedient. Paul presented himself as the foremost of sinners who had received mercy (1 Timothy 1:15, 16). God’s forgiveness and mercy were shown to Paul in the city of Damascus. Ananias told Paul, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). When Paul was baptized, he did not earn the mercy of God; but he did enter into the forgiveness that has been provided through God’s grace and mercy.
Even though we are sinners, God’s love, grace, and mercy motivated Him to help us. We can do nothing to deserve such blessings; however, we must obey God in order to receive them. Faith, repentance, confession, and baptism are not meritorious acts that deserve God’s blessings; rather, they are requirements which must be met before God in His grace and mercy will give us His promised blessings.
1J.D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, eds., “grace,” in The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 401.
2 J.D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, eds., “mercy,” in The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 641.