EXACTLY WHAT IS “THE DISPENSATION OF GRACE” ANYWAY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
What do you mean by the expression “the Dispensation of Grace?” When did it begin? How long will it last? Let us see what God’s Word has to say about the matter.
The term “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” appears in Ephesians 3:2 in the King James Bible. Thus, we need to study Ephesians 3:1-11 to learn the basics about it (we will examine that passage shortly). Firstly, in the Bible, a dispensation is simply a set of instructions that God “dispenses” (or gives) to mankind, or to a section of mankind, for him to apply to life during a particular time period; God expects mankind to obey the particular dispensation He gives to him. In Scripture, there are various dispensations, diverse sets of instructions that God has dispensed throughout history (these other dispensations are beyond the scope of this discussion, so they do not concern us here). The “Dispensation of Grace” (or using its full name, “the Dispensation of the Grace of God”) is the set of divine instructions that pertains to us; it involves God’s current dealings with mankind.
Let us now look at Ephesians 3:1-11: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)  Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;  That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:  Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.  Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;  And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:  To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,  According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:”
According to Ephesians 3:1, the Apostle Paul is writing to us Gentiles; he was writing to communicate to us some doctrine that Jesus Christ wanted us to know. After all, the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write in Romans 11:13: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.” According to the Bible, Paul—not Peter, not James, not John—is our apostle. Paul is the man whom God Almighty sent to us Gentiles; Paul is Jesus Christ’s spokesman to us non-Jews. In Ephesians 3:2, we read that Jesus Christ gave “the Dispensation of the Grace of God” to the Apostle Paul, so that Paul could then relay that information to us. From heaven’s glory, the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ saved Saul of Tarsus in Acts chapter 9, ordained him as the Apostle Paul, directly revealed to him a set of information that He had previously kept secret in Himself (Galatians 1:11-12), a “mystery” (or secret) dispensation (Ephesians 3:3; cf. Romans 16:25-26; Colossians 1:25-27).
Under the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul claims that he alone received the revelations of doctrine that make up the Dispensation of Grace. The Holy Spirit led Paul to write that he alone was entrusted with “the Dispensation of the Grace of God.” Prior to Paul, no one knew of it but God: consequently, the Body of Christ is called the “Mystery Church.” Hence, the Bible calls the Body of Christ and the Dispensation of Grace a “mystery,” or “that which was kept secret since the world began.”
Read Romans 16:25-26: “ Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,  But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:”
Ephesians 3:9 says, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:”
Colossians 1:25-27 says: “ Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;  Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:  To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:”
From Genesis until the Apostle Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, we read about something called the prophetic program. The Apostle Peter said in Acts 3:21, “[Jesus Christ] Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” This should be contrasted with what Paul wrote in Romans 16:25-26: “…the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest….”
Now, Jesus Christ has revealed the mystery, a program He was keeping secret while He was revealing the prophetic program. Through the Apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit has written that information in Paul’s epistles of Romans through Philemon. By reading those books of the Bible, we too can learn that once-secret, now-revealed information (2 Timothy 2:7)—the doctrine that God wanted made known to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:3-4). Ephesians 3:5 further explains: “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;” The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Dispensation of Grace to the Apostle Paul, and through Paul’s inspired writings (Romans through Philemon), the Holy Spirit teaches us that information.
PAUL IS THE “WISE MASTERBUILDER”
Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, where Paul writes: “ According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon.  But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” It is by faith in the Gospel of Grace that one enters into the Body of Christ. Who laid the foundation of the Christian faith in this Dispensation of Grace? The Bible says that it was PAUL! Please understand that Jesus Christ is the Foundation, but the Holy Spirit claims that Paul is the “wise masterbuilder” (chief architect) who laid the Foundation—the Foundation is Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins, buried, and risen again for our justification.
Acts 9:15, Romans 11:13, Romans 15:16, and 2 Timothy 1:11 all make it abundantly clear that the risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus Christ sent Paul to the Gentiles to call out from them believers to create the Church the Body of Christ. Again, Paul is “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). Look at 2 Timothy 1:11: “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.” Paul (known then as Saul of Tarsus) was saved in Acts chapter 9, about a year after the events of Acts chapter 2. Consequently, the Body of Christ could not have begun in Acts chapter 2. The Body of Christ began with the salvation of the Apostle Paul in Acts 9. The Body of Christ began when the Dispensation of Grace began, and both began when Paul was saved on the road to Damascus (more on this later).
PAUL’S BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST
The Lord Jesus issued a stern warning to the nation Israel in Matthew 12:31-32: “ Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.  And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
Saul (Paul) encouraged the murder of Stephen (one of God’s prophets), and Saul was thereby guilty of blaspheming against the Holy Ghost. After all, Jewish Saul was leading the world’s rebellion against Jesus Christ (see Acts 7:57-60; Acts 8:1-4; Acts 9:1-5; Acts 22:3-7; Acts 26:9-11; et cetera). Paul wrote that, when he was lost and on his way to everlasting hellfire, he was a “blasphemer” (1 Timothy 1:13). Paul was saved, and yet he blasphemed against the Holy Spirit! How was Paul saved then? Paul could not be saved in Israel’s program, for it would contradict Jesus’ statements in Matthew 12:31-32. Nevertheless, God opened our Dispensation of Grace, a program separate from Israel’s program, in Acts chapter 9, and saved Saul/Paul. Saul/the Apostle Paul could only be saved if God interrupted Israel’s program with a new program. Paul was saved in our dispensation, not in Israel’s program. A new dispensation was in effect in Acts chapter 9, so a new gospel had to also be in effect in Acts 9 beginning with Saul. The first person to be saved by the Gospel of the Grace of God was the Apostle Paul.
PAUL’S SALVATION IS OUR “PATTERN”
We want to look now at 1 Timothy 1:15-16 where Paul writes to Timothy, a church leader and member of the Church the Body of Christ: “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.  Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
A pattern is the first of more to come. Paul is the “pattern” for us members of the Church the Body of Christ; the Apostle Paul being the “pattern” means he was the first member of the Church the Body of Christ. The Gospel of Grace by which we were and are saved, is the same Gospel message that saved the Apostle Paul. The word “chief” implies he is the first, the primary one, and the head of the line (“chief” in Acts 14:12, Luke 22:26, Acts 28:7 means “first, main, primary”). “Hereafter” means something began with Paul, and the only logical explanation is that the Body of Christ began with Paul. It is obvious from the Scriptures that the Church the Body of Christ and the Dispensation of Grace both began with Paul, when Jesus Christ appeared to him in a secret coming in Acts chapter 9 (cf. Acts 26:16-19; Galatians 1:11-12), a coming not prophesied in the Old Testament. The Church the Body of Christ and the Dispensation of Grace will end with another secret coming of Christ, the Rapture, a coming that is not found in the Old Testament either (the “mystery” [secret] of 1 Corinthians 15:51).
THE DOCTRINAL CONTENTS OF THE DISPENSATION OF GRACE
What God was doing with Israel in “time past” (Ephesians 2:11-12) is different from what He is doing with us Gentiles (non-Jews) in the “but now” (Ephesians 2:13). In Matthew through John, Jesus Christ was speaking to Israel under the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 5:17-19; Galatians 4:4). Jesus Christ was speaking in light of God’s earthly kingdom, over which He would be King. We cannot follow what Jesus said in the Four Gospels, because that was God’s message to the nation Israel (Matthew 10:5-7; Matthew 15:24; John 4:22; Romans 15:8). Jesus Christ said He was not sent to Gentiles during His earthly ministry.
The Apostle Paul says, “I am the apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13 KJV). Paul is our apostle; the Lord Jesus sent Paul to us, so if we are to accept the words of Jesus Christ to us, we are to accept the words of Jesus Christ through Paul. Just as Jesus spoke God’s message to Israel in the Four Gospels, God’s message to us Gentiles (non-Jews) is Paul’s 13 epistles, Romans through Philemon. The Holy Spirit led Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38: “ If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.  But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” There are many Christians who will (and do) willfully ignore Paul’s distinctive apostleship and message, but the Bible is very clear that if someone is “spiritual” (led by God’s Spirit) and a “prophet” (speaking on behalf of God), he or she will acknowledge that Paul’s writings are the words of Jesus Christ to us Gentiles apart from Israel’s program. Conversely, if someone rejects Paul’s special ministry, he or she is not being led by God’s Spirit, and he or she is not speaking on behalf of the God of Scripture.
From the Apostle Paul’s epistles alone, we learn the following doctrine (please remember that this is not an exhaustive list):
1. WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH IN THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD, AND NOT BY OUR WORKS.
Paul said in Acts 20:24, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” In 1 Timothy 1:11, the Apostle wrote the Gospel of Grace “was committed to his trust.” Paul called it “my gospel” (Romans 2:16; Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8), “that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2), and “the gospel of the uncircumcision” that was committed to him (Galatians 2:7). Even the Apostle Peter admitted some of the things Paul wrote and spoke were “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul’s Gospel is not to be confused with the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 9:35 et al.) or the Gospel of the Circumcision committed to Peter (Galatians 2:7), which are Gospel messages that involve Jesus Christ being Israel’s Messiah-King and God blessing the world through Israel in her kingdom, respectively.
Unlike believers in Israel’s program (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21), water baptism has nothing to do with our salvation (1 Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 4:5). No religious works play any role whatsoever in our salvation (Acts 16:31; Romans 4:1-8; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7). Our soul salvation is totally dependent upon Jesus Christ’s faithfulness at Calvary, His finished crosswork, as sufficient payment for our sins—His dying for our sins, His bloodshed, His burial, and His resurrection (Romans 3:19-28). To have those merits of Jesus Christ applied to us, the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote that we rely exclusively on Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, justification unto eternal life, a home in heaven, et cetera. We are not saved by “turning over a new leaf,” saying the “sinner’s prayer,” confessing our sins, getting water baptized, joining a church, giving money to the poor, and so on. “Therefore, [salvation] is of faith, that it might be by grace” (Romans 4:16a).
2. WE ARE UNDER GRACE, NOT LAW.
We are not under Israel’s legalistic water baptism ordinance (1 Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 4:5), we are not under Israel’s legalistic tithing system (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and we are not under Israel’s legalistic system of feast days, holy days, and Sabbath days (Colossians 2:16). Our Christian lives operate on the basis of how we were saved unto eternal life (Colossians 2:6-7)—by faith in Jesus Christ’s faithfulness at Calvary, not our faithfulness, and His work, not our work. Grace gives us liberty to serve God and others out of love (Galatians 5:13), not out of the motivation of fear and Law-keeping (Romans 8:14-17). Romans chapters 7 and 8 testify that our Christian lives operate on the basis of grace, not works-religion (rites, rules, regulations, ordinances, et cetera).
Romans 6:14-15 could not be any clearer: “ For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” God’s grace teaches us how to live; Paul’s epistles indicate that we Christians are “righteous” and we do not need the Law (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Galatians 5:18 reminds us: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” God’s Holy Spirit will never lead a believer to place himself or herself under Israel’s legalistic system; the Bible says that any preacher who commands you to follow Israel’s laws is not being led by God’s Spirit!
3. WE ARE NOT “SPIRITUAL ISRAEL,” WE HAVE NOT REPLACED ISRAEL, AND WE HAVE NO RELATION TO ISRAEL’S PROGRAM WHATSOEVER.
The Dispensation of Grace involves the doctrine that God uses to take believing Jews and believing Gentiles and form one unit of believers, the Church the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians chapter 12; Ephesians 2:11-23). The Church the Body of Christ is not to be confused with the nation Israel, which is composed entirely of Jews. Prior to Jesus Christ revealing to Paul the Dispensation of Grace, He was forming the nation Israel so that the nation Israel could then evangelize the Gentiles (see Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 60:1-3; Zechariah 8:20-23; et al.). When Israel rejected her Messiah Jesus, and refused to repent and trust Him in early Acts, Israel fell before God (Romans 11:11-13). In order for God to save us Gentiles apart from Israel and her prophetic program, He began a new program, a mystery program, a secret program (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:25-27), a program that He kept hidden from Satan in order to defeat Satan (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). When no else wants to trust Jesus Christ as his or her personal Saviour, then this Dispensation of Grace will end with the Rapture (when the Church the Body of Christ is caught up to meet the Lord in the air; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). God will then continue His program with Israel (Romans 11:25-29). The events that will occur after our Dispensation of Grace include the rise of the Antichrist, the seven-year Tribulation, Jesus Christ’s Second Coming (for Israel), God’s 1,000-year earthly kingdom, and New Heaven New Earth.
Romans 11:11-12,25: “ I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” Ephesians 2:14-16: “ For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  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;  And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:” Ephesians 3:6 says: that the Dispensation of Grace involves saved Jews and saved Gentiles being placed into one Body, the Body of Christ: “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:”
4. WE WILL BE GOD’S VESSEL TO BE USED IN THE HEAVENS FOR JESUS CHRIST’S GLORY.
Prior to this the Dispensation of Grace, God’s Word focused on His purpose and plan for the earth. When we come to Paul’s ministry, we learn how God the Father will restore heaven unto Himself using the Church the Body of Christ (just as the rest of the Holy Bible discusses how He will restore the earth unto Himself using redeemed Israel). See Ephesians 1:9-10 and Colossians 1:16-20.
Notice Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” And Ephesians 2:6-7: “ And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:  That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” And 2 Timothy 4:18: “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Our ultimate prospect is to replace Satan and his fallen angels in the heavenly places (see Revelation 12:7-10).
Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, are exclusively “the Dispensation of the Grace of God.” We study all of the Bible, but not all of the Bible is to us or about us. In order to learn what God has to say to us today, we must go to the Apostle Paul’s writings, Romans through Philemon. It is only in Paul’s epistles that we learn about our doctrine, duty, walk, and destiny as Christians today. We do not reach into Israel’s Scriptures and try to apply them to us because they are a different time period, a different program, and a different dispensation. To ignore and/or confuse these dispensational boundaries in Scripture is to introduce unanswerable confusion in the lives of Christians—now you know why there is so much debate in Christendom!
Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, are our primary source for spiritual advice. It is only in these 13 books that we learn how to be saved today unto justification and eternal life. It is only in these 13 books that we learn how God has designed the Christian life to operate. It is only in these 13 books that we learn about God’s grace to us apart from Israel’s program. It is only in these 13 books that we learn how God will restore the heavens unto Himself one day. The main reason why Christendom is so spiritually weak and confused is that they have largely ignored the special information—the Dispensation of the Grace of God—that the ascended Lord Jesus Christ delivered us through Paul’s epistles. May we never forget that!
» Do we “make too much of Paul?”
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» Did Peter and Paul preach the same Gospel?