What is Grace? (Or Salvation, Grace, and Obedience)

Many years ago, someone gave me this illustration of God’s grace and I haven’t forgotten it since. Suppose you went down to the local car dealership and walked into the front door and someone walked up to you, but instead of saying, “Can I help you,” they said, “Today is your day! Today you are our 100,000th customer and we have a great surprise for you. Here is the key to a brand new car with all the bells and whistles. All you have to do is take these keys and drive the car off the lot and the car is yours. We’ll take care of the rest.” Now, as you stood there, you would probably be thinking, “Ok, what’s the catch,” right? But suppose there was no “catch.” Suppose that this new car was simply “yours for the taking.”

Could you say that in taking that car that you earned it? Or would you rather say that the car was a gift? Would you say that you deserve that car? Or would you rather say that the car was given by the favor of the owner? Can you say that through the actions of taking the key and driving off the lot that you merited the car? Or would you say that the car was unearned? The answers here should be obvious. No way could we say that we earned the car or that we merited the car or even that we deserved the car. The car was given by the favor of the owner; that favor was unmerited on our part; we did nothing to earn it; we really don’t deserve it, but because we met the conditions of the owner, we got it. Does taking the key and driving the car off the lot mean that we deserve, have merited, or have earned the car? No, obviously not. How do we know that? Because we recognize the inequity of the value of our actions in accepting the car in relationship to the car’s value. That is, our actions in taking the keys and driving the car off the lot (if such actions have any value at all), in no way begin to compare in value to the car itself. So it is with unmerited favor that the owner of the car dealership has given us the car.

You may not know it, but we’ve just illustrated God’s grace. God’s grace is unmerited favor. And receiving something by God’s grace is obtaining something by gift that we don’t deserve, haven’t merited, and didn’t earn. Now, the Bible says that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8), and that salvation is a gift from God (Romans 6:23). It also says that we don’t deserve salvation, can’t merit it and don’t earn it (Ephesians 2:9, 2 Timothy 1:9). So how can we say that human activity must be involved in order to receive God’s grace? Let’s continue thinking about our illustration and see if we can answer that question.

When we think about our illustration in relationship to God’s gift, of how much more value is the gift of God’s Son (the manifestation of God’s grace) than a new car? It is, of course, infinitely (incomparably) more valuable. And of how much less value are our actions in comparison to what God has done? The inequity is infinite and truly incomparable. How can we then say that any act of obedience that man does as part of the conditions that God has set forth for salvation, in any way merits God’s grace? We cannot. Just as taking the keys and driving off the lot cannot be considered to be meriting, earning, or deserving that new car, so also, when we hear the gospel, believe it with all our heart, repent of sins, confess Jesus as Christ and are baptized for the remission of our sins, neither can we say that we merited, earned, or deserved the salvation that has been purchased by the blood of Jesus and given to us through the grace of God. We receive it because God gave it and we met God’s conditions for receiving it; but not because we earned or merited it. In comparison to the infinite value of salvation, the value of our obedience is zero. But that doesn’t mean we have the luxury to be disobedient.

Take Naaman (2 Kings 5) for an example. Here was a man who had leprosy. There was nothing that he could do to earn, merit, or deserve freedom from that disease. Yet he was told that he could do something, namely, dip in the Jordan seven times. There was no value in dipping in the Jordan seven times to heal one from the disease of leprosy. Yet, that was the condition that God gave Naaman in order to be healed of that disease. Naaman’s actions of dipping himself seven times in the Jordan were obedient, but they were valueless in comparison to the gift that God gave him, namely, Naaman’s health. God gave Naaman health by His grace; but Naaman, through his obedience, in no way earned that health. We might say that the value of his obedience in relationship to God’s gift of health was zero. But that didn’t mean that Naaman had the luxury of being disobedient.

So wherein lies the misunderstanding? Many today have redefined God’s grace to mean unmerited and unconditional favor. But that’s not God’s grace. God’s grace is unmerited favor, but just because grace is unmerited doesn’t necessarily mean that it is unconditional. “Unmerited” means that something can’t be earned. “Unconditional” means that something can’t be refused. For example, life is an unconditional gift from our parents (and from God) to us; once conception has occurred, there’s nothing we can do to refuse it. Life is also unmerited because we can’t do anything to earn it. On the other hand, food, clothing, and shelter are unmerited gifts from parents to children, but the children must themselves eat, wear their clothes, and come in the house when it rains. So while these gifts are unmerited, they are conditional. There is a difference between a gift that is unconditional and one that is unmerited. A gift that is unconditional is unmerited, but one which is unmerited is not necessarily unconditional.

Now, just because God’s grace is unmerited does not mean it is unconditional. Some get these two concepts confused and want to say that if God’s grace is unmerited, then that means that it is unconditional. What makes something unconditional is the inability to refuse it. What makes something unmerited is the inability to earn it. Once we understand that salvation can be refused (by disbelief; Mark 16:16) then it is clear that salvation is NOT unconditional. However, the fact that we can refuse salvation doesn’t mean that when we meet the conditions God has set for salvation that we necessarily earn it and that is true because our obedience in relationship to God’s gift of salvation has no purchasing value. It simply doesn’t follow that because salvation is conditional that it must be merited. No, not at all. Salvation can be both conditional and unmerited.

God’s gift of salvation is by His grace. That means it is unmerited. It is unmerited because none of the actions that we can do can ever prove to be of value in relationship to God’s cost for providing salvation. However, that doesn’t mean that salvation is unconditional. Just because our obedience doesn’t merit salvation doesn’t imply that God has no conditions for salvation. It simply means that when we meet God’s conditions through obedience, that God favors us with salvation, without our having deserved it.

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What Version of the Bible Should I Use?

As a Christian, what Bible version should I be using? If a version is doctrinally unsound should we refrain from using this in a public way? Is there anything wrong with the NIV?

In Deuteronomy 4:2 we read, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” In Proverbs 30:5, 6 we read, “Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” In Matthew 15:7, 8 we read, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” In Galatians 1:8, 9 we read, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Finally, in Revelation 22:18, 19 we read, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

Now if you haven’t yet got the idea that God is serious about keeping his message pure, then go back and read these verses again. It would at least be inconsistent for us to preach that we ought not to add to nor take away from the word of God, and then choose a Bible translation that does just that. The deciding factor in choosing a Bible translation should not be whether it is easy to read. A translation should be understandable. A translation should be legible. However the final deciding factor in choosing a specific Bible translation should be whether or not the translators have accurately reflected the word of God in their translation.

There are many translations available to choose from today in the English language. You can view fifteen different translations of the Bible on the American Bible Society’s web page. Some of those translations are: Contemporary English Version, New International Version, New American Standard, Amplified Bible, New Living Translation, King James Version, English Standard Version, New King James Version, 21st Century King James Version, American Standard Version, Worldwide English, Young’s Literal Translation, Darby Translation, and the Wycliff New Testament. In addition to these there is the Revised Standard Version, the Easy to Read Version, the New English Bible, and Today’s New International Version. No doubt there are many more that I am not listing here.

Now, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with reading different versions of the Bible. There is nothing wrong with owning any particular version of the Bible. It is not a sin to compare different versions of the Bible in your own personal Bible study. In fact, I do this quite frequently and if it were a sin, then I expect that I would be guilty of some whoppers. It is, however, sinful for a translator to place a translation before you which does not accurately reflect the word of God, or which contains deliberate efforts to insert human doctrine. It is also sinful for a person to purposefully acknowledge a translation as an accurate representation of God’s word when it is not, whether that person is a preacher, teacher, scripture reader, or personal evangelist. Let me make this point clear. If one represents a translation of God’s word as the word of God when it does not accurately reflect God’s word, then that person is (depending on what the translation does) endorsing an effort to add to or take away from the word of God and that is sinful. The Bible clearly states this to be sinful.

So what are some ways that I can tell whether a translation is representative of the word of God or not? First of all, read the translators preface that you will find in the front of each translation. If they display within the preface an acknowledgment that the Bible is the infallible and inspired word of God that is a good start. Be aware, however, that just because they say this in the preface doesn’t necessarily mean that they have respected this in their practice.

Second, learn what philosophy of translation the translators have used. There are two basic translation philosophies in circulation today. There is the philosophy that a translation should be as literal as possible except where the original languages are clearly idiomatic. This is known as the Modified Literal Translation Philosophy (some also call it the Essentially Literal Method). On the other hand you have the philosophy that seeks to translate not the words, but the thought of the text. In other words the translators take an extra step in translation. They translate literally, figure out what they think it means, then put what they think it means into the text. This is called the Dynamic Equivalent Translation Philosophy (it can also be known as the Functional Equivalence Method). You really want to find a translation that is based upon the modified literal method. There is nothing wrong with consulting a dynamic equivalent translation, but just be aware that these translations contain human opinions about what the original text means.

Third, does the translation use italicized words for the words that have been added to clarify the meaning of the text? You will notice in the KJV and ASV that italicized words appear every once in a while. These are words that the translators have added, but they have identified them for you so that you will understand that they are not part of the original Greek text. It is an effort on their part to be faithful to the original. Some versions do not italicize the words that they add to the text. This blurs the line as to what words are God�s words and what has been inserted by man.

Fourth, compare the translation with other translations. You will probably be surprised at how many mistakes you can find in the various translations by doing this. (No translation is perfect and there are going to be some problems with any of them.) You may also compare your translation to a literal translation of the Bible such as the American Standard Version of 1901 or Young’s Literal Translation. The ASV has been criticized by just about everyone because it is such a literal translation of the scripture. Personally, I find that reassuring. This means that I can take a modern translation, compare it to the ASV and find out what the differences are in the modern translation from an acknowledged accurate representation of the original.

Now, I am not going to tell you to use one version or another for your personal Bible study. I believe that each Christian has the personal responsibility to decide that individually. However, when it comes to public teaching, preaching, reading, or personal evangelism, we should use a translation that is going to accurately reflect God’s word. And now I am going to express my personal judgment in this matter. From my personal studies I believe that the King James Version, The American Standard Version, and the New King James Version are attempts on the part of the translators to accurately represent God’s word. From the selection of translations that we have, these would be the best translations to use in public settings. I want to make it clear that it is not my job to state what translations should be used in the worship assembly. I have a responsibility to accurately represent God’s word in my sermons and I try to do this by using one of these three translations. However, it is the responsibility of the eldership to determine which translations ought to be used in public assemblies. Selecting a translation is an optional matter and the eldership has final authority in these matters. Many elderships require members to read from one of a set of approved translations and I believe that this is a scriptural practice.

Now regarding translations that are doctrinally unsound, and there are several of these, they should not be used in a public way lest we misrepresent the word of God. I noticed that the questioner asked specifically about the New International Version. The NIV is not a good translation of the Bible. In the preface they specifically state that they are going beyond a literal word for word translation. Their translation philosophy is one of dynamic equivalence. They do not italicize words that have been added to the text for the sake of clarity thereby failing to acknowledge that their insertions are not the words of God. The translators have also attempted to put their own human doctrines into the text. Within the NIV New Testament alone the Greek word which is best translated “flesh” is translated some twenty-four (24) times by the phrase “sinful nature.” This is an obvious effort on the part of the translators to insert the unbiblical doctrine of original sin into the Bible. (This doctrine states that man inherited his sin from Adam and that he is born totally depraved and sinful. Hence, man’s nature is sinful and the word “flesh” should be translated “sinful nature,” at least according to these translators.) There are some places where the NIV does a good job at translating, no doubt. However, for one to say that the NIV is an accurate representation of God’s word is not true. We should avoid using the NIV publicly.

God’s warnings regarding respecting the purity of His word are serious and we should respect those warnings. If you need some assistance with selecting a translation, there are several books available which review all of the translations. The most thorough book that I have read in this regard is “Challenging Dangers of Modern Versions” written by Robert R. Taylor, Jr (Bellview Preacher Training School, Pensacola, 1985). This book is fairly detailed at looking at the different versions and the various issues that arise as a result of modern attempts to insert human doctrines into the translations. He also provides a critical review of many of the modern versions.

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Is John 5:24 Speaking of Final Judgment?

In John 5:24 when it says “does not come into judgment” is this speaking of the final judgment?

We read in John 5:24 in the KJV, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” The ASV has the word “judgment” instead of “condemnation” and I assume that this or another similar translation is the one from which the reader is posing this question.

This particular verse is not speaking of the final judgment. Verse 25 within the same context explains this for us. It says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Notice that Jesus says “the hour is coming and now is.” Jesus is speaking of those who accept Him and His message during this life. Those who accept His message have the promise of eternal life, not condemnation.

The Greek word translated “judgment” here is the word “KRISIS” (from which we get our English word “crisis”). It is sometimes used in the sense of condemnation such as in Matthew 23:33 where Jesus says, “Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment (damnation, KJV) of hell?” In our text in John 5:24, Jesus does not have in mind here the final judgment scene where both the sheep and the goats will stand before Him to be judged (Matthew 25), but rather the concept of being condemned by judicial sentence. Those who accept Him and His words will not have to worry about condemnation. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is not saying that some souls are going to bypass the Day of Judgment, but that those who believe Jesus’ words do not have to worry about the sentence of condemnation in that Day of Judgment.

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