What is grace?
When I was first saved and began attending church, one of the words I noticed being used rather liberally was the word grace. What is grace?, I wondered. Oddly, it was often a word used in its own definition to define it.
Ya know…grace. It’s like “God’s grace.” Or my personal favorite, “that’s why they call it grace.”
I hoped it might be helpful to spend some time on the topic of grace. Without an understanding of that, you cannot have a true understanding of the Bible. Grace is at the center of all that the Bible has to tell us.
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So what is grace?
Like so many other terms in the Bible; salvation, sanctification, hope, etc., pastors would drive right over the word and not stop to see if it’s okay.
I may be as guilty of this as anyone. I wrote about salvation in the past and quoted:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)
But I wanted to spend a little more time on the topic this week in the hope that I didn’t gloss over the topic.
Many pastors tend to teach from this place of either assuming everyone knows what they’re talking about, or they don’t want to have to define every word they use every time they use it. And they can’t… I get that.
When I was first saved, I began attending church right away. I scoured the church’s website for “beginner’s” classes or “Christianity 101” classes. Unfortunately, all they offered were basically for first-through-fourth graders.
For adults, they had service times posted on the home page. They had methods to give online, or volunteer to be an usher. They had men’s groups and women’s groups. I couldn’t find a “start here” class though.
What were all the other adults in line at that alter call doing to get started?, I wondered.
Anyway, when I heard, “that’s why they call it grace” for the first time, I knew I was in trouble.
There is a bit of a what-grace-is aspect, as well as a what-grace-does aspect that I think were both necessary for my understanding of it.
What grace is.
Grace is unmerited favor. That is, favor – in God’s case, blessing – that is not deserved. In the case of God’s grace, why is it not deserved? It’s because we cannot earn it. No action we take can ever garner God’s favor.
We can only deserve something as a result of our action or our inaction. Since our actions have no effect on God’s grace, we can never deserve it. That could be among the most amazing things about God’s amazing grace.
I used to confuse the word grace with the word mercy. They seemed like pretty much the same thing.
One day, I heard Pastor Chuck Swindoll explain the difference in a sermon that he gave. That was probably the start of my having a true understanding of what grace is. He said:
Mercy is not giving somebody something that they do deserve.
Grace is giving somebody something that they do not deserve.
The difference is slight but crucial.
When I think of mercy, I think of areas such as jail time, monetary fines, or some sort of disciplinary action that are not imposed on a person even though they deserve it.
Grace might be giving somebody something they don’t deserve like forgiveness, kindness, love, or a ‘C’ on a paper that deserves an ‘F’ so that you can graduate high school… but I digress.
The more I went to church, the more the word seemed to be getting used as a bit of a summary word in many services; God’s grace. The Grace of God. Saving grace. Cheap grace.
Interestingly, it also seemed to be getting used interchangeably with the word Gospel. I was convinced it was the same thing until I heard the term the grace of the Gospel once in a sermon. Then I was toast.
It can all seem a bit circular, but the differences in each element build on one another to give us grace, which culminates in our salvation. All of that, incidentally, is the Gospel.
First, consider that mercy is, in fact, contained within grace. In giving somebody something that they do not deserve, you have to first not give them what they do deserve.
God shows us mercy, by not condemning us, or not letting us die in our sin, even though it is in mankind’s nature to sin. Death is what we all deserve (Romans 6:23).
God showed mercy to Adam and Eve by not striking them down immediately when they sinned, but instead, He provided a path for the salvation of mankind through their seed (Genesis 3:15).
The Gospel or the "good news" is the message that Jesus – the Messiah – died in our place, for our sins, to forgive our sins, so that we can be reconciled to God and have eternal life in the presence of God, so long as we have faith in these things.
God’s grace is the combination of the mercy of God’s not condemning mankind (though it is deserved), and sending us His Son Jesus instead to die in our place (the Gospel).
God gave us grace by giving us His Son (which we do not deserve) rather than death (which we do deserve).
As Ephesians 2:8 says above, it is God’s grace that saves us. It also says that it saves us if we have faith in His grace.
Lastly, consider that while our actions do not merit God’s favor, God’s actions – and inactions – merit our devotion, praise, worship, and obedience. That is what God deserves. That is what God has earned.
Embracing that is where our Christian walks must all begin.
What grace does.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. (Titus 2:11-12)
So knowing all that is one thing. That’s head knowledge. Satan and his demons had that, but it didn’t save them (James 2:19).
Ephesians 2:8 also tells us that believing it, having faith in it – heart knowledge – is a true gift of God. And that gift is also God’s grace.
That is why you and I are fellowshipping here today. There is just no end to the grace of God and all that is contained therein.
The fact that we are here each day is God’s grace. The fact that we are here at all is God's grace. The fact that we are snatched from our dark dead lives and carried through the process of sanctification – becoming more like Jesus – is God’s grace.
The fact that we go from here to eternity is God’s grace. And there is nothing you and I could ever do to earn it. God’s gift is as free as it is undeserved…
That is why they call it grace.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.