Grace - What and Why? (Article 20-8)
The Apostle Paul’s writings, known as the Pauline Epistles or Epistle of Paul, account for nearly half of the Books in the New Testament. Of all the topics and inspirations he wrote to, God’s “grace” obviously had deep meaning to Paul. In fact, the subject of grace shows up multiple times in every one of his epistles (letters).
What Does Grace Mean? But what is Grace? What does it mean? Why is it deemed important to understand and embrace? The answer is quite simple. God’s grace is His demonstrated love and mercy which He freely gives us. Although not deserved or earned, He gives us His gift of grace so we may once again be one with Him for eternity. Another way to look at it is karma is the opposite of grace. Where karma is about getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve. In addition to Paul’s writings on Grace, Christ foreshadowed the coming of God’s Grace in His parable known as the “Old and New Wineskin” (Matthew 9:17). In this verse Jesus answers his disciples’ question to why under "the law" the Pharisees often fast, and, they (also being Jews) do not have to do the same. In response Jesus answered:
“Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined.” But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Meaning of the Symbolism of the Wineskins. At first glance, it may be difficult to understand how Christ’s discussion on wineskins is relevant to the disciple’s question regarding fasting. But, before I point out the relevance of Christ’s response, let’s take a minute to understand the physics of the wineskins.
In Old Testament times, and even in some cultures today, it was customary to put wine in bladders made of animal skins, such as from goat skins. They would put new wine only in new wineskin bladders because as the new wine fermented, the gases being formed by the fermentation of the new wine would cause the new skin to expand. They could not do the same with old wineskins because the old animal skin becomes brittle and cannot handle the pressure of the fermenting gases building up within it, possibly causing the old wineskin to rupture. Therefore, old wineskins were entirely unsuitable for new wine. Old wineskins were only good, to hold old wine. As it relates to Christ’s response to the disciple’s question, Christ was pointing out the coming of a New Covenant (new wineskins), which was to supersede strict obeyance of the Old Covenant Laws (old wineskins).
Understanding the Differences Between the Old and New Covenants. What are the differences between these two covenants? Relative to the Old Covenant, we learn in Exodus Chapter 6:7 that, God promised the people of Israel they would be His chosen people, and He would be their God. As part of this covenant, God issued the Ten Commandments and the laws in Leviticus which were to be obeyed. If the Israelites complied with these laws, he pledged prosperity and protection in the Promised Land. In addition to the Ten Commandments, there were over 600 laws, covering every aspect of human behavior. For example, males had to be circumcised, sabbaths had to be observed, and people had to obey hundreds of dietary, social, and hygiene rules. All these regulations were intended to protect the Israelites from their neighbors' pagan influences, but no one could keep so many laws, or even God’s Ten Commandments.
Atoning for Man's Sins Under the Old Covenant. To address the people's sins (disobedience to God), God set up a system of animal sacrifices in which the animals’ blood had to be spilled in order to have Israelites' sins forgiven. Under the Old Covenant, those sacrifices were carried out at the desert tabernacle. God installed Moses' brother Aaron and Aaron's sons as priests, who slaughtered the animals. Only Aaron, the high priest, could enter the "Holy of Holies" once a year on the Day of Atonement, to intercede for the people directly with God. That system of animal sacrifice lasted hundreds of years, but even so, it was only temporary.
Atoning for Man's Sins Under the New Covenant. Out of love for us (Jews and Gentiles alike), God the Father, sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to be sacrificed as a final sin atonement. By sacrificing His Son (and with it, the spilling of Jesus's blood), the ultimate and final atonement was achieved. By His death and resurrection, Christ fulfilled all the law’s requirements, there by paving the way for God’s forgiveness of man’s sins, for those who accept Him as their Lord and Savior. His unmerited or undeserved love and mercy (Grace) for us, is the foundation of the New Covenant or new promise.
Power of Grace. Let me make one last point before we return to Jesus’ parable of the new and old wineskin. In Romans 5:20, Paul states, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” An entire Bible lesson can be done on the richness of the meaning of this verse. But, an important point to takeaway from this verse, is that not only is God’s grace superior to the law, it super abounds in the presence of sin. In other words, regardless of where we live and what we are facing — regardless of how bad the situation around us looks to our natural eyes — the grace of God is flowing downstream.
The Pouring Out of God's Grace On Us. God is lavishly pouring out his favor for us forth in abundant measure! In fact, it is impossible for us to imagine, or measure the amount of divine grace God is sending in our direction. No banks can hold the flood of grace He is sending our way! It isn’t just “a lot” of grace; it is much more grace! The flood of grace will always far surpass the flood of sin and darkness! Satan will try to stop you from doing the will of God. However, You will find that God is supplying more than enough grace to match whatever the enemy is trying to do.
Pulling It All Together. With our understanding of the differences between the Old and New Covenants, that being the differences between "Law" and "Grace", we are able to understand and, appreciate the significance of Jesus’ parable of the old and new wineskins. The old wineskin represents the Old Covenant or the Law. The new wineskin, represents the New Covenant of Grace. The wine in the old wineskin represents the spilling of animal blood for the atonement of skins, which has to be repeated over and over. The new wine represents God’s holy and pure blood, which was shed by Christ. The spilling of Christ’s blood served as the final atonement for all sins, for Christ’s pure and holy blood continually washes over us and by so doing, cleanses us. This is why, moments before his death on the Cross, Christ said in John 19:30, “It is finished!” In saying these words, Christ tells us that His finished works on the Cross takes away man’s sin, and removes our sins out of sight, as far as the east is to the west.
The second point Jesus tells us in this parable is that the Old and New Covenants cannot be mixed. Mixing the two is like trying to blend oil and water. No matter how hard and long you try to mix the water and oil solution, the water separates out from the oil, and basically all you have is a useless and contaminated solution. Why is this so? First know that under the Old Covenant, it was animal blood spilled to atone for man's sins. Under the New Covenant, it was God's own pure and holy blood that was spilled to atone for our sins. They can never and should never be mixed. Second, although the Law is and will always be holy, for it is God's word, it greatly inferior to God's Grace - that being His love and mercy.
Summary. In our quest for righteousness (to be in right standing with God), we must decide to either follow the law, meaning we commit to fulfill the law’s requirements by our own ability, known as "self-righteousness." Or, we choose by way of saving faith - to abide in Christ, knowing that it is only by way of His righteousness we are saved from the death penalty and as a result, are given eternal life. If you choose the "self-righteous" route, know that no man has ever fulfilled the requirements of the Law, and its punishment for not doing so is eternal death.
Conclusion. In closing, we learn that God’s New Covenant of Grace is a gift of love. It is a gift we don’t deserve to receive; however, He gives it freely to us, so we may once again be one with Him. Grace, by way of Jesus’ death and resurrection, paves the way for us to achieve peace, rest, and eternal life. We need only to accept the gift and believe in its contents. God’s gift of grace has been delivered outside of every door. It cannot be returned to the sender. Our only recourse is either to open the door and bring it in the house or leave it on the doorstep.
For those reading this article who have not accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, know that He is at your door right now knocking to come in, and will remain there until your last breath.