As I’ve discussed with my parents various teachings I learned through the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and through the homeschooling curriculum published by the Advanced Training Institute of America (ATIA), I’ve frequently heard from them, “We never taught you that!” They are sometimes defensive and sometimes horrified at the concepts I absorbed as a child. In some cases, I believe my parents were not aware of ideas that students were being taught at training centers. In other cases, I think they didn’t realize the extent to which we would take our understanding of the concepts presented to us. But, sometimes, they really did teach me exactly what I remember.
I recently found a paper I wrote at age thirteen on the subject of grace. The paper was simply titled, “God’s Grace,” and it was based on a writing assignment from one of the Wisdom Booklets. For this paper to have reached my file of completed homework, it would have endured at least two thorough revisions after my mom edited it for accuracy of content, grammar, and punctuation. If, at the time I wrote this paper, she had found a problem with the doctrine (which was taken directly from our IBLP materials), I think she would have corrected it.
How did I, as a young teenager instructed from the ATIA curriculum, understand the concept of God’s grace? Here is the first part of the paper:
God gives two types of grace. The first type is saving grace. A common misconception in the world today is the belief that saving grace can be earned through good works. Frequently, however, the Bible states that grace is a gift of God. Saving grace can only be achieved through accepting Christ’s free gift of salvation. The second type of grace can be achieved through humility before God. To the humble, God gives more grace. The following facts refute the misconception of earning saving grace, while supporting the idea of achieving influential grace through good character.
If we cannot earn saving grace through good works, how then can we earn it? The simple answer is: we cannot. However, we can earn influential grace, which is mentioned in 1 Peter 5:5: “God resists the proud, but gives more grace to the humble.” Grace can also be defined as God’s influence in our lives, motivating us to do good. The Bible says this influential grace is a gift of God, which is given to the humble. By developing a Christ-like character, we will receive more grace, because Christ is humble. Through faith, reverence, and God’s mercy, we can receive influential grace. Although we cannot earn saving grace through good works, we can earn influential grace through faith, reverence, humility, and God’s mercy.
According to Romans 3:24, we are “justified freely by [God's] grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” This grace is brought through Jesus, accessible through faith. Grace can also be defined as God’s influence in our lives, motivating us to do good. The Bible says this influential grace is a gift of God, which is given to the humble. God says that His grace is sufficient for all our needs. Acceptance, consolation, and hope are also received through God’s gift. Through grace, we can serve God with fear and reverence. Sin can no longer have dominion over us, because although we were once under the law, now we are under grace (Romans 6:14). When we are humble, God’s gift of grace truly is sufficient for our needs. Saving grace brings salvation, while influential grace brings peace, acceptance, hope, and consolation.
Good works cannot earn saving grace. In Titus 3:5, we read that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to [God's] mercy He saved us.” Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” According to 2 Timothy 1:9, “[God] hath saved us…not according to our works, but according to…grace.” All of these scriptures clearly prove that saving grace is not earned through good works. Grace is a gift of God.
In order for my paper’s thesis to work, I had to make a distinction between “saving” and “influential” grace. This distinction certainly never appears in Scripture. It’s easy to show that we cannot earn salvation because we are saved only through grace. The Bible states this idea over and over, especially in Paul’s writings. In order to argue for earning any kind of grace, I had to create an artificial distinction. Once I did so, I based my entire argument for “influential grace” on the misinterpretation of a single verse. Quoting from Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5 emphasizes the fact that God resists or scorns those who are proud, so believers ought to clothe themselves with humility.
However, as I now understand, this humility is not to earn God’s grace by “developing a Christ-like character” (as I stated in my paper), but is, instead, to be ready to receive God’s grace as we recognize that we can’t live the Christian life on our own merit.
I concluded my paper as follows:
The misconception of earning saving grace through good works is refuted in the Bible, because not only are we told that we cannot earn salvation through good works, but we are also told that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. Although we can receive saving grace only through believing in Jesus, not through good works, influential grace can be achieved by humbling ourselves in the sight of God and through developing Christ-like character. Both God’s saving and influential grace are necessary in a Christian’s spiritual growth.
If I could go back and talk to my thirteen-year-old self, I would tell her to read Galatians and Romans to provide full context for grace and sanctification before attempting to write a paper on God’s grace. I would also introduce her to rules for correct interpretation of Scripture by allowing context to control meaning. Finally, I would strongly encourage her to ask questions and study the Bible for herself instead of simply accepting everything one teacher (in this case IBLP through the ATIA curriculum) had to say.