For by grace [charis] 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. (Eph. 2:8-9)
Charis is the Greek word that is commonly translated grace and it means undeserved favor or unmerited kindness. It is a generous, loving, charitable act that one person does toward another who would otherwise deserve the opposite. It is love shown to one’s enemies. Grace has its greatest manifestation in the Cross of Christ where Jesus, as a substitute, bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to the human race (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). Christ died in place of the sinner. That’s grace. None of us deserved what Christ did when He went to the cross nearly two thousand years ago, when He hung between heaven and earth and bore the sin of all mankind and was judged in our place, bearing the wrath of God that rightfully belongs to us. How dark the sky must have been that day when, for three hours, Christ bore our sin and propitiated the Father. God’s righteousness and love intersect at the cross at the same time. Righteousness in judging our sin in His Son, and love toward the sinner He desires to save. Grace is manifested every time God offers the free gift of eternal life to sinners. Salvation is received when sinners believe in Christ as their Savior.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)
All four Gospels record the prisoner exchange between a notorious criminal named Barabbas and the Lord Jesus (Matt. 27:16-26; Mark. 15:7-15; Luke 23:18; John 18:40). Barabbas was in jail for insurrection, murder, and robbery, and was surely going to face death for his crimes (Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40). Jesus, on the other hand, was innocent of all the charges brought against Him. Pilate, the Roman Governor who presided as judge over the two men, knew it was “because of envy” that Jesus had been handed over to him to be scourged and crucified (Matt. 27:18; cf. Mark 15:10). Pilate knew Jesus was not guilty of the charges leveled against Him and sought to have Him released (Luke 23:20), but he proved himself a weak leader by surrendering to the insane demands of a mob who kept shouting “crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). All of this occurred according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).
Barabbas was in his jail cell when a Roman guard came, unlocked his door and informed him he was free to leave. I suppose Barabbas was puzzled because freedom was not what he expected. Barabbas was in a dark place with no ability to save himself. Outside the prison walls, Jesus was being led away to die in his place, the innocent for the guilty, the just for the unjust. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. Spiritually, we are all in a dark place without hope, facing eternal death, and with no ability to save ourselves. But there’s good news! Outside our prison is a free and innocent Man who has died in our place, who bore the punishment that rightfully belongs to us. Today, our prison cell is open, and we are free to leave because another man bore our penalty for us.
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 own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:6-8)
How wonderful it is to read and learn of God’s grace in the Bible. But we must see ourselves as prisoners of sin, enslaved and unable to liberate ourselves from the chains of sin that weigh heavy upon us. If we could save ourselves by works, then Christ died needlessly. If works save us, then grace is no longer grace. It is the humble soul who knows he cannot repay God for His wonderful gift of salvation. It would be an insult of the highest magnitude to offer feeble works of self-righteousness to God in place of the work of Christ. Don’t ever tarnish the glory of the cross by trying to add your dirty human works to it (Isa. 64:6). Don’t ever try to rob God of His wonderful grace by offering cheap works as a means of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). Salvation is what God does for us through the death of His Son. Salvation is never what we do for God, or even what we do for ourselves. Christ died for us, to save us, and that was an act of God’s grace. It is the empty hands of faith that welcome God’s free gift of salvation. Trust in Christ alone and let your faith rest completely in Him and His work on the cross (John 3:16).
Steven R. Cook, M.Div.