What is a Grace Believer?
After I got saved, thirty two years ago, I became a part of what is known as the Christian Evangelical community. There is a buzz word that is used among Evangelicals to identify each other: “believer.” I often heard, and used, the statement, “he’s (or she’s) a (or not a) believer.” An Evangelical would understand this to mean that the person being discussed had accepted (or not accepted) Christ as their Savior.
After ten years in the Evangelical community I was introduced to a different method of Bible study, employed by a group of folks who referred to themselves as “grace” believers. What is the difference, I wondered, between a mere “believer,” and a “grace” believer? Why the necessity to add the word grace? Wasn’t it a fact that a believer was automatically under grace, a forgone conclusion that goes without saying? Apparently it wasn’t.
As I continued to study with these grace believers1 it soon became evident why the special designation: it was meant to separate them out from being merely Evangelicals (they were definitely evangelical2); not through some supernatural power or “second work of grace,”3 but, rather, by embracing something they called “the mystery.”4 This was about a certain knowledge they possessed, and operated in, which went beyond what I had learned in my ten years in the Evangelical community. This greater “knowledge of the truth”5 could only be accessed by adhering to a method of study called “rightly dividing.” This phrase is drawn from the apostle Paul’s second letter to his understudy, Timothy:
“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
The very first verse of scripture that I learned as an Evangelical was 2 Timothy 3:16,17:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”6
During that ten year period, I heard this passage repeated and used numerous times as the major theme in sermons, but for the life of me, I cannot remember ever hearing 2 Timothy 2:15 quoted—not once.7
|1.||They also referred to themselves as “Bereans,” a designation drawn from Acts 17:10, 11.|
|2.||The Bible word, “evangelist”, simply means “a preacher of the gospel.”|
|3.||This is a phrase coined in the mid 19th century by Evangelical preacher, Charles Finney.|
|5.||1 Timothy 2:4|
|6.||This is quoted from the King James. Originally, I learned this verse from the NIV|
|7.||It’s possible that I heard 2:15 quoted out of a modern version of the Bible, which would explain why I never heard the phrase, “rightly dividing,” because modern versions like the NIV change this to “correctly handling,” which of course changes the meaning altogether.|
After studying with grace believers for about six months, it became obvious to me that these two passages of scripture were inseparable companions; that it would be wrong to quote the latter without quoting the former in conjunction with it. The essence of the idea that Scripture must be divided is this: while it says that “All scripture is by inspiration of God, and is profitable…”, this—as rightly dividing methodologists would be quick to explain—does not mean that it is all written to us. While the passage definitely contends that it is all the truth, much of it is truth that is written to someone else.
The question that should now be burning in your mind is: if this is true, how do I go about finding out which part is my truth? Where do I fit into God’s grand scheme?
At this juncture Biblical literalists and fundamentalists will be screaming that what we are doing here is attempting to appeal to human reason, and that this violates the principle of 1 Corinthians 2:13,14,8 which says the natural man cannot receive spiritual things.
Okay. This is what it says, and I believe it. But this isn’t written for the natural man; this is written for those who are spiritual. This is written for people like myself prior to being exposed to the truth of right division. This is written for “believers,” i.e., those who have trusted Christ as their Savior, thereby making them “of the Spirit of God.”9 While one who is saved is of the Spirit of God, there is nothing in scripture that indicates an eradication of his ability to reason after he gets saved. Isaiah appeals to the reasoning ability of God’s chosen people, Israel, when he says: “come now, let us reason together.”10 Salvation adds the spiritual component to the reasoning component, thereby allowing us to freely receive what God says, if we will.
God is not the author of confusion11
What Evangelicalism (and most of the other “isms” of Christianity) does, by co-mingling instruction for the obedience of faith (doctrine) from different dispensations,12 is create confusion in the minds of its adherents. The purpose of this article is to clear up the confusion, so let’s proceed now in the quest to clear it up by rightly dividing, and find out who we are, what God has promised us, and where our marching orders are in scripture.
|8.||“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.|
|9.||1 Cor 6:19 “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? Rom 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”|
|11.||1 Cor. 14:33|
|12.||We should not characterize the two designations, ‘grace believer’ and ‘dispensationalist’ as always being the same thing. A grace believer is always a dispensationalist, but a dispensationalist is not always a grace believer.|
“The Mystery…not made known unto the sons of men…but now is made manifest” 13
A grace believer, by following Paul’s admonition to rightly divide the word of truth, separates the scriptures into two major divisions: prophecy and mystery. Prophecy concerns Israel and her Gentile allies; the mystery is something that stands wholly apart from Israel, and Israel’s covenants. The grace believer understands that there is now no “Israel of God”14 present in the world, and therefore there can be no Gentile alliance with them. The GB also understands from this that no one can receive a present or future blessing by ‘blessing’15 a Jew or a nation that calls itself Israel. Moreover, he understands that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all…”16, meaning that all must come through Christ to access God, according to Paul’s gospel,17 whatever their physical/ethnic origin.18 Finally, the GB understands that, because God has put Israel out of the picture presently,19 there is no longer any call or need to continue the practice of her ordinances.20
Evangelicals will, I’m sure, respond to this by saying something like, “of course we believe Christ is the only mediator between God and men, certainly we believe in God’s unmerited favor (grace) towards us, and of course we believe in “faith alone,” to justify us, etc.” But Evangelical preaching and teaching gives the lie to this statement.
First of all, Evangelicals, without exception, adhere to the position that the four “gospels,” Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are the primary books of the Bible, concerning faith and practice, for the Christian church. Paul’s epistles are relegated to a secondary, supportive status.
This is an interesting, if not curious, position in that the word “grace” is referred to only five times in the four gospels, and in every instance is speaking of it as being an attribute
of the Lord Jesus Christ, not as something in the possession of those to whom he is preaching in these books. On the other hand, the word appears ninety-two times in Paul’s epistles, where almost all of the applications are as a present possession of the recipients of his letters. Moreover, never is “the body of Christ…which is the church,”21 mentioned in the gospels. There is a very good reason for this: this body, spoken of exclusively by Paul, is not a part of prophecy, and the gospels are definitely a part of prophecy, meaning they are written to Israel, under the law, not the Christian church, under grace.
|13.||Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3; Col. 1:26
14. Galatians 6:16
|15.||i.e., by paying some sort of obeisance to them, or assigning to them a special position with God, whether this be in the form of a verbal or material gesture. (ref. Gen. 12:1-4)|
|16.||1 Tim. 2:5,6|
|17.||2 Tim. 2:7,8|
|18.||Col 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.|
|20.||Eph 2:15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;(KJV)|
|21.||1 Cor. 12:27; Col. 1:24|
No More Ordinances
The fact that Evangelicals hold the gospels as their foundational, doctrinal scriptures, explains why they consider the practice of ordinances integral to the Christian life: because the four gospels tell their recipients to practice them. They all—without exception—require repentance for the remission of sins, and water baptism as a right of passage into their various systems; they all command their adherents to celebrate the Passover feast (the Lord’s supper), to recite the prayer in Matthew 6 (the “Lord’s prayer”), and to keep certain days and times holy (the weekly Sabbath, Christmas and Easter.22). All of these ordinal practices are commanded in the gospels. On the other hand, they are all eventually done away with in Paul’s epistles. In his last two letters to the church, concerning doctrine and practice, Paul writes:
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; Col 2:14
Within the context, an ordinance (Gr. “dogma”) would be a ceremonial or religious practice, right of passage, a decree23 which demands an adherent to be in compliance with if he is to remain in right standing before God. The first instance of the word in scripture is found in Exodus chapter 12:
And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever. Exod 12:14
The ordinance here is of course referring to “the LORD’S Passover” in verse 11. This is the first ceremonial decree, under the Mosaic law, that Israel was commanded to keep. There were specific reasons for keeping this ordinance, but they are beside the point in this discussion, which is this: ordinances were clearly decreed by Moses for God’s chosen nation, Israel, and just as clearly not decreed by the apostle Paul for the Christian Church.
A grace believer is a believer in Christ who has come unto “the knowledge of the truth, “ that his doctrine, concerning faith and practice, is not found in the gospels, but rather in Paul’s epistles, where—as we have seen in the above passages—ordinances have been done away with. He understands that the world now exists in what Paul calls “the dispensation of the grace of God,”24 not the New Testament. He also understands that to continue the practice of the ordinances that are associated with Israel in the NT, is to adulterate the pure, unfettered message of grace, and would be tantamount to walking in disobedience to God, which will surely result in eternal loss.25
Questions and Comments may be addressed to the Mike Schroeder, Pastor of the Amazing Grace Bible Study Fellowship, All Scripture references are taken from the King James Bible. Please feel free to distribute this essay as you see fit. All Rights Reserved by the Author.
None of us knows when this world we presently exist in will come to its end. Neither do we know when the Lord will return to take his true church out of it. What we do know is that our individual lives will someday come to an end, and that we, individually, aren’t guaranteed another heartbeat, much less another day here. What we can know is, if the end of this life comes for us today, is that we will be present with our Lord in heaven. In this respect may I ask you: are you assured of this, personally? Have you ever trusted Christ and what he did for you at Calvary to secure your salvation?26 Do you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you are saved, sealed and bound for heaven? If you aren’t sure, make this the day of your salvation by admitting to your sinful condition,27and then simply asking the Lord to save you. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”28
|22.||Ref. 1 Cor. 11:2|
|23.||e.g., Circumcision, water baptism, the Passover Feast|
|25.||1 Cor. 3:10-15; Col. 3:23,24|
|26.||How that Christ died for our sins…and rose again the third day…for our justification 1 Cor. 15:3,4; 4:25|
|27.||Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: Rom. 5:12|
|28.||Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:13|