Grace is one of those “fuzzy” Bible words Christians use but rarely explain. Yet one can find the word “grace” in almost every sector of life. Finance has its “grace period.” The fine arts dances refer to one’s being “graceful.” One of the world’s most recognizable tunes is “Amazing Grace.” Some families might say “grace” at the dinner table. A person might be known as “gracious.” Royalty is said to “grace” people by the crown’s presence. And, most everyone knows what it means to be “in [someone’s] good graces” …or not.
These usages have something but not everything to do with the way the Bible uses “grace.” So, that is a good reason to clarify it. What’s more, it seems every denomination and sect have their own connotations of “grace,” you know, their theological bent. Some see it as a mystic power dispensed upon the one performing a set of sacramental works. Others may view grace as some spiritual charm that makes it possible for a person to live “holier” than they would normally. So, they trust in grace to “help them.” To them, it is the means by which they can finally “live a life pleasing to God.” These misconceptions are even better motivations for seeing how the Bible uses the term in its contexts.
First, almost every epistle (letter) in the New Testament either begins or ends with the words, “Grace and peace…” The Apostles and other 1st Century Christians recognized this as typical cordiality for their day but with a special spiritual significance. The salutation would have reminded the reader of the concept of redemption, which other biblical passages clearly explain; and it would have communicated the Apostles’ prayerful wish to see God’s redemptive work have its full influence in the believers’ lives.
Now, what is this redemptive concept? We get a foundational picture when reading the biblical book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8 & 9.
“by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)
The surrounding context of Ephesians 2 indicates God’s reaching out to mankind, despite our being spiritually dead and relationally offensive to God, not to mention morally lost. In that state, there is literally nothing one can do to impress God enough to earn one’s own reconciliation to God. So, it stands to reason that if reconciliation and reunion with God will happen, then it will be God’s doing, as a result of his provision.
Do you see the picture? Grace is both God’s ATTITUDE toward us, demonstrated by his providing redemption (at the cost of Jesus’ cross) to the very ones who offend him; and grace is his ABILITY to enact that redemption in the ones who trust him for it. It is a pure and unmerited gift, which means redemption can’t possibly be earned by good works (Romans 3:11 through 4:8; 5:2, 15-21); and God wants it that way, so that we proud humans won’t have a chance to boast about how we earned God’s favor and forgiveness. Grace can only be received by the humble.
God’s grace to you is the result of his being abundantly merciful to you; and he is abundantly merciful to you, because he has great love for you–even though you (like all people in their natural state) are spiritually dead and naturally rebellious toward Him (Eph. 2:4&5). God’s showing grace means he treats someone with undeserved mercy and favor, because Christ’s sacrifice has made it possible. If someone has “found grace/favor in God’s sight,” it means he is being good to that person, despite what they may or may not deserve, because that is Who God is–Good, Loving, Plenteous in Mercy. [see Gen. 6:8; 18:3; Exodus 33:12-13; Judges 6:17; Ps. 86:6; Is. 55:7; Jer. 31:2; Luke 1:30; John 1:14-17; Acts 7:46]
That’s God’s graciousness, his generosity, his Grace! And that is the Grace by which God saves everyone who wants it. In fact, the provision of God’s grace is available even to those who do not want it. That is why God can treat everyone the same in this life… why believers suffer as well as non-believers, and why everyone experiences at least some measure of good in life, even though they may seek to do evil more than others. But, who wouldn’t want to be loved unconditionally? Who wouldn’t want to be treated with limitless mercy? Who wouldn’t reject a life of constantly having to measure up, only to always fall short? Whose heart would not be melted by receiving gifts from a constant Benefactor, in whose kind face you’ve repeatedly spat, whose benevolent hand you’ve violently bitten? God is never vindictive; he never punishes in order to get back or get even. He never sends hardship our way just because he wants to “make us pay.” Yes, bad things may happen as a result of living in a fallen world. But, Jesus Christ paid the price to redeem everyone by grace. Therefore, everyone has a provision of grace waiting for them. God is, therefore, graciously giving everyone time to change their mind about needing his grace; and, in each of our lifetimes, God is pulling for you to receive his grace and is offering many second chances to do so.
When one trusts in God’s grace, change occurs. It changes you in 2 ways. First, God’s grace (ABILITY) changes your identity, spiritual make-up and life’s purpose from one flawed, estranged (or alienated) from God to one reborn, adopted, and commissioned by God. This reconciliation and spiritual regeneration (or, the Spirit of Christ in you) allows God to justly declare those who trust in his grace “righteous” and “holy.” He then asks them to live out their new make-up and identity. This is far different than performing a set of outward rituals to somehow eternally appease God and outweigh one’s bad deeds and desires.
Secondly, the ATTITUDE of God’s graciousness infects the heart, so that one can love and be merciful as God shows love and mercy. How? Through our God-given union with Jesus, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1 ff) and so, true peace and pure love from God and for others flows into the life. When one continues to exercise this relational knowledge of Jesus, he/she becomes accustomed to letting this “grace-flow” have its way. In turn, he or she grows in grace (2 Pet. 1:2; 3:18), and can become known as “full of grace” (Acts 4:33; 6:8, etc.) This is far different than using grace as a spiritual charm to live “holier” or having a set of standards to prove one is “right with God.” To be sure, grace does coax (teach) us toward living differently (like Jesus) in an evil-soaked world. One begins to desire what God likes and begins to naturally reject what God disapproves (Rom. 6:14). But again, this is done by a relationship with Jesus that rejoices in God’s attitude and humbly, continually, patiently and expectantly depends on God’s ABILITY to illuminate and change one’s self; it is not by mystical power resulting from our good works or by grace being our “good luck charm” for becoming a better person.
When God says he “gives more grace” (James 4:6), it means he turns his favor toward us Big Time, so that both his ABILITY to make a difference in us and his ATTITUDE toward us will be easier to recognize/experience in everyday life… resulting in His gracious ATTITUDE of mercy and love attracting us to him and drawing us to leave the sinful and harmful in order to dwell in unity with One who loves so well (Ps. 69:16). Then, his ATTITUDE becomes the more influential in our feelings and reasoning, our actions and reactions. Because the Spirit of Christ is in us, God is jealous that the Spirit of Christ would be winning in our lives, above all the other influences of the fallen world and our own sin bent. Furthermore, in our time of deepest weakness and need either for mercy or his ABILITY, God invites us to come unashamedly to his Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16). He loves to meet our need by his ABILITY. After all, His strength is made perfect in our eyes by knowing our weakness.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”