Christendom is divided into many different camps. We generally identify these camps by their relationship to historic orthodoxy (Modernist/Liberal, Fundamental/Evangelical, Neo-Evangelicalism/Neo-Orthodoxy) or by denominational affiliation (Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, etc. I believe, we are Scripturally bound to acknowledge a kinship with all who profess salvation, by grace through faith alone, in the finished work of Christ upon Calvary’s Cross, wherever they may be found. However, we are naturally reluctant to be identified with those who hold different and sometimes dangerous doctrinal aberrations. As the Prophet Amos asks, “Can we walk together, except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)? It is not difficult to understand someone’s interest in asking for a person’s religious or ministry frame of reference before becoming too deeply involved in a relationship. Such a disclosure will tell a great deal about a person: what he stands for and what he stands against.
I have answered these inquiries many times and in a variety of different ways. I sometimes simply say, “I am a Bible-believing Christian,” or I may say, “I am a member of an independent, fundamental, dispensational church/ministry.” My favorite way of answering is to say, “I believe in and teach the Grace Message.” This often elicits further queries like, “What do you mean by the Grace Message?” Such was the case when a young preacher told me, “If you’ll tell me what the Grace Message is, I’ll tell you if I believe it or not.” He desired more details and information, which I was happy to give.
The Grace Message is many things: It is a community—it gives identity, fellowship, and orientation to the plan of God; It is knowledge of our lovely, resurrected, glorified Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; It is the privilege of spiritual worship and service; It is suffering at the hand of those who reject the truth; It is hope: confident assurance of future good. However, no description of the Grace Message is adequate without getting to its heart.
THE GRACE MESSAGE IS … A DOCTRINE AND A DISPENSATON
Understanding God’s grace is of basic importance to both doctrinal and dispensational truth. The word “grace” is truly a beautiful, sweet-sounding word to the ear of sinners! A man cannot be saved apart from this grace (Eph. 3:8). Neither can a believer feed his own soul, apprehend the benefits of other doctrines, or properly execute the Christian way of life unless he is progressively growing “in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
As a doctrine, grace represents, in total, the boundless goodness and kindness of God toward man. Grace is God’s unlimited love being expressed in measureless, spontaneous generosity: expecting nothing in return (“the riches of His grace” – Eph. 1:7; 2:7). God is the “God of all grace” (1 Pet. 5:10). And, it is inconceivable to think that He would ever think or act in any way contrary to His nature.
Dr. L.S. Chafer, I believe, has correctly described the doctrine of grace as:
“The uncompromised, unrestricted, unrecompensed, loving favor of God toward sinners. It is an unearned blessing. It is a gratuity. God is absolutely untrammeled and unshackled in expressing His infinite love by His infinite grace” (Grace, pg. 22).
As a dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace is to be distinguished from all former dispensations in the plan of God. It is “grace” that sets the present dispensation apart from all previous dispensations. “The Mystery” and “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” are synonymous terms and call attention to the fact that, with the conversion and calling of the Apostle Paul, God was dispensing His marvelous grace in a way the world had never seen before (Titus 2:11). Of a truth, God has always dealt with man out of the resources of His grace. But when you see the numerous examples and the magnitude of God’s grace now repeatedly preached and emphasized by the “chief of sinners,” who was singled out to be a “minister, according to the gift of the grace of God,” what else could you call this present dispensation but a Dispensation of the Grace of God?” The Apostle Paul in the context of the “Mystery” almost always uses the word “grace” (Eph. 3:1-9).
THE GRACE MESSAGE IS … PAUL AND PAULINE THEOLOGY
The Apostle Paul is, without a doubt, the most often-mentioned personality in the New Testament (with the exception of our Lord Jesus Christ). You cannot escape being attracted to this magnificent Apostle. He possessed qualities rarely equaled in a man. You instinctively ask, “Who is this fascinating man, Paul?”
As for Paul, he is first introduced to the world as “Saul,” the religious, vociferous persecutor of the first-century believers (Acts 9:15; 13:2)-century believers (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3; Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:4-5). After his conversion to Christ (Acts 9:6), and his commissioning (Acts 9:15; 13:2), Saul’s name was changed to Paul.
There are probably several reasons for this name change:
- It was a sign of a dispensational change! It was not a coincidence that Paul’s name is changed right at the time when the Jewish false prophet, Bar-Jesus, is attempting to turn the Gentile, Sergius Paulus, from the truth and is blinded for a season (Acts 13:11). This is a picture of the nation of Israel now having rejected Christ, being smitten with blindness for a season (Rom. 11:25), and now God turns to the Gentiles through the ministry given to Paul (Gal. 2:7).
- It may have been a memorial to the conversion of Paul’s first Gentile convert (Acts 13:7).
- Most certainly, it was to serve as a reminder of Paul’s special apostleship to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13).
Paul introduces himself to the Romans as a bond-slave (doulos/Gk.) who belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1). This implies at least four things:
- He is not his own. He had no claim on his own life. He belonged to Jesus Christ “lock, stock, and barrel” (1 Cor. 6:19).
- He had been purchased by the paying of a price (Rom. 3:24-25); 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:22-23): that price being the “blood of Christ.” Christ had made the supreme sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:14, 26).
- He owns nothing. He has nothing; therefore, he is completely dependent on his Master for his entire existence (2 Cor. 9:8; Phil. 4:19).
- He is obligated to serve Christ (Rom. 6:16-22), and does as the Apostle to the Gentiles!
Paul also declared himself to be one of the “called” (Rom. 1:1). The call here was not simply an indiscriminate call but, rather, a calling (katos/Gk.) to a privilege and a function. The privilege to which Paul was called was the wonderful privilege of salvation. The function to which Paul was called was that of apostleship. In Romans 1:5 he spoke of himself as having “received the undeserved gift of apostleship, to promote among the Gentiles a yielding in faith to His Name” (Berkeley).
Paul had received grace to save him and grace to serve (Rom. 1:5). This is the proper sequence of Christian living … First, grace to save and then grace to serve. This is God’s way of supplying all that Paul will have in need of in the execution of his office as an Apostle.
Paul was an Apostle (Rom. 1:1, 5; cf., 1 Cor. 1:1; 5:9). Like other spiritual gifts, this gift was sovereignly bestowed upon Paul by God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). Paul, no doubt, had other spiritual gifts, but the one he most defended and magnified was his gift of apostleship (Rom. 11:13).
Paul’s calling to the office of apostleship was “not of men, neither by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11). Paul was specifically called to function as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13). As such, Paul is employed as God’s “wise masterbuilder” (architekton/gk. 1 Cor. 3:10). Paul was a stranger, sent by God, to knock at the doors of the theological world.
As for Pauline Theology, this is the fruit of Paul’s apostleship and the Mystery. This NEW apostleship of Paul is inseparably linked together with God’s NEW revelation: “The Mystery” (Rom. 16:25-26; Gal. 1:1, 11-12; Eph. 3:1-9). So complete and unique is this union that Paul calls the result “my gospel” (Rom. 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim. 2:8), and “our gospel” (2 Cor. 4:3; 1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14).
Because of this uniqueness, those who embrace Pauline Theology, while acknowledging the inspiration and profitability of all the Scriptures for instruction, doctrine, correction, and reproof (2 Tim. 3:16), are careful to view everything through the distinctiveness of Paul’s apostleship and revelation of the Mystery. It is in this sense that we follow Paul even as he followed the message and instructions of grace given to him by the resurrected, exalted, and glorified Head of the Body: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Evangelist, Bible Teacher, Author