The definition of grace—what is it?Understanding grace is essential to understanding the gospel message. We are recipients of grace as a gift and are able to understand it when we know God's character.
In fact, it is difficult to truly understand grace without knowing the character of God. Grace is often defined in the dictionary as "the free and unmerited favor of God." Grace is similar to other qualities of God that we can seek to understand and embody, such as love, forgiveness, benevolence, and mercy. We can understand grace better by seeking to understand how God is willing to bless and forgive us, although we do not deserve such generosity.
Similar to the other attributes of God, we can understand grace by comparing the states of our lives before we receive God's grace and after we experience God's grace. Without Christ, we lived in sin (Psalm 51:5), and we were unable to uphold God's holy laws (Romans 3:9–20; 1 John 1:8–10). We deserved death because of our sin (Romans 6:23a), and we were alienated from God in our minds and hearts (Romans 5:6, 10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21). Without grace we are unable to be righteous (Romans 3:10) and have no way to justify ourselves (Romans 3:20). Before knowing God's grace, our spirits were unclean, and we were destined to be alienated from God forever.
God, in His great mercy and love, showed us His grace so our spirits could be clean, alive, and forgiven. The gospel message is hinged on God's grace (Acts 20:24). Grace is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8) and gives us victory over sin (James 4:6). Second Thessalonians 2:16 tells us that "… God our Father, … loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace." This good hope comes from Jesus Christ, who is the embodiment of grace and truth (John 1:14). It is because of God's grace and the message of Christ that we can be Christ-followers. Paul often wrote of the calling of grace in his letters (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2, 7).
When we understand grace, we come to know it as a gift. Many places throughout the Bible refer to grace as a gift, which is the perfect analogy for our understanding of how we come by grace.
• Nothing is owed in return (Ephesians 4:7)
• A gift is free to the recipient (Romans 5:15)
• A gift is generous and voluntary (2 Corinthians 8:9)
• We become the owners of the gift (2 Corinthians 6:1)
• A gift has nothing to do with our merit or qualities (Ephesians 2:8–9)
We understand that a gift is much different from a loan, which we must pay back. The gift of grace that God freely gives us is done through His love, and He does not require payment in return. Grace, however, is not valueless, and God paid dearly to give it to us. Jesus paid for our ability to receive grace with His own life.
The nature of a gift is that once it is given, it belongs to the recipient. Those who have received salvation through Jesus are owners of that gift. We do not have to worry about God revoking this gift of grace after we receive it. The Bible emphasizes again and again that we do not have to count on our works to receive grace—either to earn salvation or to maintain it (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10).
Grace is not a one-time occurrence and does not stop once we are saved. Salvation and God's favor are only a part of what we gain when we receive God's grace. We receive justification before a holy God (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:7; Titus 3:7). Grace provides us access to God to communicate with Him and fellowship with Him (Ephesians 1:5–6; Hebrews 4:16). Grace opens the door in our hearts for new levels of intimacy with God (Exodus 33:17), and it also disciplines us to live in a way that honors God (Titus 2:11–14; 2 Corinthians 8:1–7). We receive enormous spiritual riches (Proverbs 10:22; Ephesians 2:7), such as comfort, encouragement, and strength (2 Corinthians 13:14; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17; 2 Timothy 2:1). Grace helps us in our every need because God is continuously close to us (Hebrews 4:16), and it is the reason behind our very deliverance (Psalm 44:3–8; Hebrews 4:16). We can interact with grace (much like love and forgiveness) because it is actively and continually working in the lives of God's people.
Grace, which is of more worth than we can imagine (2 Corinthians 9:15), is the reason for our salvation and new life in Christ. Without grace we can do nothing (John 15:5), and it is a continual reminder of God's love and work in our lives. Followers of Christ should be gracious with others because of their own inherited grace (1 Peter 4:10).
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