What is Grace?
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
The concept of grace was not only foreign in the ancient world, even in today's world nearly all religions are focused on human effort to gain God's favor. When Jesus came into the world, and loved the world, and died for the whole world, mankind not only did not fully understand what really took place, but in fact had no idea the extent of God's love toward sinners. Only in the writings of the New Testament can we possibly understand the true meaning of salvation... Jesus Christ, Almighty God clothed in human flesh came to the world to pay the ultimate price for man's redemption. Yet it was in the writings of Paul the apostle that the concept of "saved by grace" was taught and strategically chosen as the summary of his whole message about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word grace was a very common word in the Greek language, it was the word "charis", and in the Greek world it conveyed something beautiful or charming that was used to win someone's favor. Other times it was used to show kindness and give favor to someone who was inferior or less fortunate and unable to repay. It is also interesting that the person who was receiving this act of kindness would respond by using the same word "charis" as an expression of thanksgiving for the favor given. The New Testament uses this word and especially the apostle Paul to convey the idea of God's love toward sinners, and that his salvation is an act of kindness, that could never be repaid. A free gift that could never be earned, and could only be received by truly believing with your whole heart and life, this was the central and core message of Christianity.
"For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." Romans 5:15
If we were to summarize the thoughts and teachings of Paul the apostle, who was God's chosen instrument to bring the gospel of grace to the whole world, the summary might be as follows. Salvation is entirely God's work, and Grace is God's act of kindness, his loving act of kindness to bring that salvation freely to anyone who does not deserve it. God chose to save mankind through the incarnate Jesus Christ, "the image of the invisible God" Colossians 1:15, and it was through Jesus Christ that God did everything that was needed all by himself to restore every problem that existed between God and man, and to create that new life that all mankind so yearns for, a relationship with the living God.
"By grace you have been saved" Ephesians 2:5
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" Titus 2:11
Salvation is entirely the work of God, no man is strong enough to save himself, and the word grace excludes any possibility whatsoever for man to boast, or to glory in himself, or to glory in his works, for the only proper glory or boasting are in the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that God wrought himself for all mankind.
"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" Galatians 6:14
Paul's message is that God's great gift which is called "salvation" is by grace alone, unmerited favor. Every man and every woman is invited to receive this gift, and there are many promises of rewards that God is offering: a new life, spiritual rebirth, forgiveness, acceptance, cleansing of every sin past present and future, sanctification, adoption, a future glorified body, heaven and eternal life, fellowship and marriage with the life giver. It is all a gift offered as a promise from God, all by grace.
"That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus." Ephesians 2:7
Read carefully Paul the Apostle's prayer:
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" Ephesians 1:18-20
Grace is by definition the favor of God which we cannot earn. It is a gift.
Everyone reading this is benefiting from God's grace. Your heart is beating. Your lungs are breathing. You are thinking and reasoning. You have a will and can choose. You were given a body and if it is in reasonably good health you can simply will to move it where you want and accomplish what you want. If you look at your hands and see them open and close, grasp, create, this is awesome! My dogs see me get their food from the fridge and watch in amazement! "If only we could just open cabinets like that!" I imagine them thinking. I look at them and think, "What even are you!? You were a fluffy thought in the mind of God and now you're roaming around here cheering us all up!" King David exclaimed, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." (Psalm 139:14) We did not create ourselves and we did not give ourselves life. No one owed us this life. Yet we live. We seem to take this all for granted but existence itself is phenomenal! We are all a miraculous grace gift from God living in His universe! We are surrounded and bathing in the grace of God.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Psalm 19:1-4
This is not the whole story obviously. There is much mystery and pain in our existence as well. We did not choose the circumstances in which we were born. Few of us have had a perfect upbringing. Many of us in this world have experienced trauma and tragedy in our lifetimes. And we will all one day die. Yet even in trouble, God's grace shines all the more. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:45) A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; (Psalm 68:5,6).
Of course, evil is present in this world of wonder. If God, why evil? We will save that for another article, but suffice to say here that if evil actually exists, it proves the existence of a transcendent moral law that is being violated, or how do we call something evil? Moral law points to a moral law giver. Moral evil is doing something wrong, when you know better and doing it anyway because you have your reasons. This law is above us, impinging on us, present in our consciences, pointing out that certain acts are not just wrong because it violates someone's opinion but it is wrong because it is wrong and we all know it. We all know it's wrong to murder your spouse, that is, if you're human. We don't accuse the female black widow spider of violating any law.
We all in fact violate standards of behavior that we expect others to keep daily. And this is where God's grace shines the brightest. He forgives us. He forgives us for ignoring Him though we are surrounded by His provision. He forgives us for how we treat each other. But for a holy and just God, sin has a price. He can't just ignore our evil. The sins in God's universe are real and had to be punished. God's plan of redeeming us involves first our realizing that we need forgiveness which is why He gave us the Law. Then once realizing our sin, we long for forgiveness and a change of nature which is why He gave us His Son. Jesus paid a very real legal price for this mercy in His blood on the cross almost 2000 years ago. Three days later He rose from the dead, fulfilling the scriptures, and sending His disciples to preach this amazing grace, then He ascended to heaven.
This is the good news. We don't have to pay for our own sins. We are forgiven! God's Son paid it on our behalf. Enjoy the life God gave you, enjoy your beating heart and breathing lungs, enjoy your parents and children...your work... your friends... your cute animals. You are forgiven and you don't have to live with guilt. Enjoy your God and Savior and feel freedom to pursue Him. He loves you with an everlasting love.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16,17)
"For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God" (Paul's letter to the Ephesian Church, 2:8 Amplified Bible)
"...we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor 1:23,24)
Dear Father, I know too well that I have sinned against you and many others on this earth. But I also understand that your grace is bigger than any sin I have committed or will ever commit. I accept your provision for my forgiveness, the death of your Son Jesus on the cross. Please forgive me and fill me with your Holy Spirit. Thank you for this unspeakable gift! Amen.
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- What is the biblical perspective on the nature of God’s love and mercy?
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- What is Grace?
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