Acceptance by Grace
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Introduction: In almost every aspect of life, others evaluate us by our performance. Are we successful in our careers, fit, and attractive? How much wealth do we possess? It's easy to believe God judges us in a similar way–based on our behavior. Although Christians recognize that salvation is by grace, many nonetheless strive for God's acceptance, never sure they have His love.
Personal assessment: For the next two questions, honestly describe your first reaction rather than what you know is the correct answer.
- Do you ever think God must be displeased, impatient, or disappointed with you? Explain.
- What would you have to do to be sure of His acceptance?
A. The Bible teaches that as believers in Jesus, we are completely accepted. If we belong to Christ, we share in His holiness. How can that be? Scripture teaches that through Adam's rebellion against God, all of humanity was corrupted, inheriting the disease of sin. But when the Savior died on the cross, He made a way for everyone who believes in Him to become holy:
"Adam's one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:18-19 NLT).
- As believers, how do we obtain righteousness (Rom. 3:21-24)?
- Dictionary.com defines justify as "to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit." On what basis do we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2)?
- You are innocent and guiltless in the Lord's sight. Describe how that makes you feel.
- Why is it possible to be confident that God's love isn't conditional upon our behavior (Rom. 5:4-8)?
B. God accepts us by grace, not based on performance.
In the first century, some Jewish Christians believed that good works were necessary to earn salvation and make us Christ-like. However, Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that salvation is by faith alone—good works cannot save us (Eph. 2:10; James 2:26) but rather, they should result from our trust in the Savior. We become godly over time by surrendering to the Holy Spirit—not because we follow the Law of Moses or any other set of rules.
Read Galatians 3:1-14.
- How did the Galatians first receive the Spirit (v. 1-4)?
- What was required for them to experience His power (v. 2-5)?
- How did Abraham obtain righteousness (v. 6)?
- The Jews are physical descendants (sons) of Abraham. Who are his spiritual descendants (v.7-9)?
- Why is trying to earn righteousness or justification by observing the law a futile endeavor (v. 10)?
- For what purpose did Christ free believers (Gal. 5:1-2)?
One practice under Jewish law was circumcision. This ordinance was an outward sign of inward devotion to God. For the first-century Jew, being uncircumcised was nearly synonymous with unrighteousness. As the mostly Jewish early church received more and more Gentile converts, some false apostles taught that newcomers must be physically circumcised to gain God's acceptance.
- What was the implication of requiring Gentile Christians to be circumcised (Gal. 5:3)?
- What really matters, according to Paul (Gal. 5: 5-6)?
We typically use the term "falling from grace" to mean losing favor with God because of sin.
- Read Galatians 5:4. In context, what do you think Paul meant by "falling from grace"?
In his Notes on the New Testament, Albert Barnes writes, "Christ will be ‘a whole Savior,' or none. This passage, therefore, cannot be [used] to prove that any true Christian has in fact fallen away from grace, unless it proves also that man may be justified by the deeds of the law, contrary to the repeated declarations of Paul himself."
C. Believers live in confidence and freedom because of grace.
The controversy over circumcision is no longer at the forefront of Christian debate. However, legalism—the idea that believers are justified by what they do––still cripples much of today's church. Some people fear losing their salvation over each sin they commit. More common is the idea that we must meet the Father's standards in order to receive His love and affection. Sometimes legalistic believers have the impression that God feels disgusted when they fall short.
- Do you strive to measure up to rigid standards or follow particular rules of Christian living? If so, how do you feel when you fail?
- Read Romans 8:1-2 and describe why you are free.
- How would your life change if you were to take this study's concepts to heart?
Closing: Since the time of Abraham, God has purposed that salvation be only by faith, not works. If you are in Christ, rest assured that He accepts you. When sin interrupts fellowship with the Father, He wants to restore His disobedient follower but never ceases to accept the believer as His beloved child.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for the gift of righteousness through Your Son. I'm grateful that I no longer have to perform to win Your acceptance. Help me use my freedom to serve You and others. In Jesus' name. Amen.