Jesus did not teach salvation by grace

Series: Foundations of Grace

If you count up the number of time Jesus used the word “grace” compared to the amount of times grace is used in the rest of the New Testament, can you guess what the ratio is?

The ratio is actually 0 because not once in any of the four gospels does the Bible record Jesus using the word “grace” in his earthly ministry. Not. One. Time.

How can that be? Jesus IS the grace of God. It was His death for our sins that made grace available to every man.

When I was a young believer about 18 years old, I had a renewed passion for the Bible and started listening to any Bible teaching I could get my hands on. One teaching made a tremendous impression on me. Although I can’t remember what the overall topic was, I remember the teacher making this emphatic statement: “If you want to know how to get saved you have to look in the epistles of Paul because you won’t find the plan of salvation anywhere in the gospels.”

What!?! That just could not be. How could anyone make such an absurd claim?

So I spent the next week searching through all the gospels to prove this raving lunatic wrong.

Yet I came up empty handed. Not once did Jesus tell anyone to trust in His atoning blood. Not once did He mention redemption made available through His death.

What came as even more of a shock was when I read the account of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who asked Jesus the most important question anyone could ask: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus responded unambiguously: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

What did He say!?! Keep the commandments? Surely He must be talking about the commandments to trust in Christ alone? He follows up with:

“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In other words, to inherit eternal life you must keep the Law of Moses.

Jesus taught under the Old Covenant Law of Moses

What I did not understand then was that Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was under the covenant of Law that continued to be the only covenant offered to God’s people at that time. Eternal life through Christ’s blood was not available yet, so the only answer Jesus could give to that young rich man was what the Law of Moses declared in Leviticus 18:5:

You shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them. Leviticus 18:5

Under the Law, life was found in keeping the commandments.

Of course that all changed when the gospel of the grace of God was offered. Paul specifically quotes Leviticus 18 in Galatians 3:12 and Romans 10:5 to tell us that this eternal life by keeping the law has been done away with. Under grace, the just shall live by faith.

But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “THE MAN WHO DOES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Galatians 3:11–12

Reading the gospels with fresh eyes

When I came to realize everything Jesus said and taught in His earthly ministry was under the covenant of law established by Moses, everything changed for me. The amazing salvation and Christian life by grace through faith alone that I read about in Paul’s letters no longer had to be balanced or mixed with the things that Jesus said that so many times seemed contradictory.

Of course, everything that Paul teaches about grace are only things revealed to him by Jesus Christ through the many visions he received.

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11–12

It’s Jesus Himself who is the author and teacher of grace. Let’s just be careful to remember the grace He delivered was only after His earthly ministry recorded in the Gospels. The letters in red found in the gospels are according to the covenant of law and not the gospel of grace.

This post is part of a series entitled Foundations of Grace and is best read from beginning to end.
Nathan Rambeck is a full-time husband, father and software engineer; and a part-time Bible teacher, abolitionist and evangelist. He lives in the Dayton, Ohio area with his wife Jamie and 6 children. (Facebook)