Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), by Watchman Nee

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Now the second issue arises. Not everything that man does is sin. In God’s eyes, all of man’s acts are sins, but in man’s eyes, many things he does are achievements. Some consider that since they are such extreme sinners, they cannot receive grace. Others think that because they sin, they have to improve themselves before they can receive grace. Please notice that there is a difference here. The first group says that they have sinned and are therefore unqualified to receive grace. This group is absolutely in the negative realm. The second group is a little more positive. They say that they are sinners and will only receive grace if they act better. They think that they have to attain a certain standard of conduct and certain achievements before they can receive grace. In the mind of the first group, the problem is hindrance from grace. In the mind of the second group, the problem is how to obtain grace. Some think that wrongdoings will hinder us from receiving God’s grace. Others think that achievements will enable us to obtain God’s grace.

Friend, do you know what grace is? Grace is unconditional. It is free, and it is not given based on any reason. It is God’s work of love which He bestows on us, the sinners. If God’s grace were related to man’s achievements, the nature of grace would immediately be lost. As long as a trace of achievement is allowed to remain in us, God must reward us according to our achievement. God is righteous. And since He is righteous, He is just. He has to reward and recompense man according to his achievements. But if God’s giving is a recompense or reward, it is not grace. As soon as achievements come in, recompense must also come in and grace is out. If a man gives you a month’s labor and you give him a month’s wages, the payment cannot be considered a gift; it is a recompense. He has done something for you; it is his achievement. If it is an achievement, the payment is not grace, but recompense. Once recompense comes in, grace goes out.

Romans 4:4 makes the matter very clear: "Now to the one who works, his wages are not accounted according to grace, but according to what is due." Wrongdoings do not stop us from receiving grace; on the contrary, they afford us the opportunity to receive God’s grace. Achievements do not help us to receive God’s grace; on the contrary, they annul the nature of God’s grace. Unless it is free, it is not grace. Unless it is given without reason and cause and unless it is a gift, it is not grace. If there is some reason or some cause involved, if there is a price involved, or if there is some work involved, the matter of recompense immediately comes in because God is righteous. Once recompense comes in, the nature of grace is lost.

If you are standing on a position that is above God, or even one that is equal with God, you cannot receive grace. That is why Romans 4 says clearly that no one can come before God and say that he has done this or that and, therefore, unashamedly ask for grace. If a person says that he is not like others who have extorted money or who are so unrighteous, that he fasts at least twice a week, that even though he may not have tithed, he at least offered up one-twentieth of what he has, he cannot receive God’s grace. What is grace? Let me say this in an emphatic way—grace is receiving without having a reason to receive. Once there is a reason, it becomes recompense. If you have any achievements, the matter of recompense comes in and grace is out. We must pay much attention to this matter.

(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 3, by Watchman Nee)