What is Grace?

Sometime ago there was a popular bumper sticker which read: "Grace is not a blue-eyed blond." With a touch of humor this quip caught the eye and then left it to the reader to identify grace. Grace, of course, has a variety of meanings. The bumper sticker, however, in its roundabout way was referring to the grace of God. And that is our focus here.

Just what is the grace of God? Basically we may describe it as God's disposition of kindness expressed in acts of favor or benevolence. Thus, for example, Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians that God purposes to "show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 2:7).

The Unmerited Grace of God

Luke informs us that Jesus grew "strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40). Scripture in no way suggests that Jesus did not merit this grace. To the contrary, He did indeed merit such favor because He "did no sin" (I Peter 2:22); because He perfectly fulfilled the will of God.

However, no other man has ever thus merited God's grace, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin merits God's wrath. Yet "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). The withholding of punishment is itself therefore an expression of unmerited favor, as are all of the countless other benefits God bestows upon a sinful race.

Not only is the sinner (every man) undeserving of God's grace, there is no way he can make himself deserving. He cannot earn God's blessings. And if he could, they would then be his due, not a matter of unmerited favor. Hence Paul says: "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Romans 4:4). To what man is God indebted? "Or who hath first given to him, and it shal be recompensed unto him again? (Romans 11:35). The implied answer is that God owes no man anything. All of His benevolence is therefore surely a bestowal of grace.

God's Grace to All Men

In the manifold grace of God, there are certain blessings which in general are bestowed upon all mankind. Among the most basic are these:

  1. The gift of life: Paul states that God "giveth to all life, and breath..." (Acts 17:25). David, too, gratefully acknowledges: "in thy favor is life" (Psalm 30:5).
  2. The necessities of life: Jesus tells us that God "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). It is God, the Psalmist says, "who giveth food to all flesh" (Psalm 136:25). Indeed He "daily loadeth us with benefits..." (Psalm 68:19). Truly, "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Psalm 145:9).
  3. The gift of a Savior: John declares: "And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (I John 4:14).
  4. The gospel of Christ: This is God's gracious message of salvation. It is therefore called "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), and "the word of his grace" (Acts 14:3). It is, Paul says, "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). The worldwide scope and power of the gospel is further emphasized in Jesus' words to His apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).

God's Grace to Believers

There are many gifts of grace that are reserved to believers, i.e., blessings which are conditioned upon "the obedience of faith" (Romans 16:26), and which are bestowed "in Christ." Space limitations permit us to mention only a few of the most notable of these unmerited favors.

  1. Forgiveness of sins: It is Christ, Paul reminds the Ephesians, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7).
  2. Justification: When the believer is forgiven of his sins he is granted right-standing with God, "Being justified freely by his grace trhough the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).
  3. Peace with God: Although sin causes alienation from God, the enmity ceases when the believer is justified. Hence, regarding this gracious state, Paul says: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
  4. Salvation: Nowhere is the kindness of God more wondrously at work than in the deliverance of helpless sinners from the consequences of their sins. But is is a blessing reserved for those sinners who believe. "For by grace are ye save through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gif of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
  5. Sufficiency: Regarding the supply of all things necessary for Christian service, Paul states: "And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work" (II Corinthians 9:8).
  6. Free access to Divine help: God welcomes the petitions of His servants. "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
  7. Consolation and hope: To the Thessalonians Paul writes: "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfor your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (II Thessalonians 2:16-17).
  8. Eternal Life: Of this ultimate expression of grace the Apostle says: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:22-23).

Stewards of Grace

Peter admonishes the recipients of God's grace to conduct themselves "as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (I Peter 4:10). In the same vein Paul writes: "Moreover it is required of stewards, that a man be found faithful" (I Corinthians 4:2). It is thus clear that with gifts of grace there also comes responsibility. The steward shall be held accountable for his use of the gifts entrusted to him. In order to be found faithful, then, the steward must "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18).

Falling From Grace

Is falling from grace a real possibility? Indeed the Scriptures plainly point out a number of things which can cause one to fall.

  1. Pride: "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Corinthians 10:12).
  2. Turning from Christ to the Law for justification: "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).
  3. An evil heart: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12).
  4. Lack of diligence: It is essential that the Christian be dedicated to holy living, "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15).

Summary Truths

God is countless ways is kind to all men, even to "the unthankful and to the evil" (Luke 6:35). In bestowing these kindnesses, however, God is not sanctioning or ignoring men's sins. On the contrary, in these very gifts He is giving them time and incentive to turn from their sins that they may receive immeasurably greater grace through Christ, "That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7).