What Exactly Is Grace?
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect."
1 Corinthians 15:9
The concept of grace is integral to understanding the Christian experience and profoundly shapes our personal relationship with God. At first, grace can be a difficult idea to fully understand, but it’s well worth the effort to do so. It is through Grace we are given a path to Salvation, and the more you come to know His grace, the closer you are to God. To help you on this journey, let’s take a closer look at the meaning of grace, and how we can better incorporate these meanings into our lives.
In the simplest sense, grace can be thought of as God’s unconditional love. Grace is never earned, nor is it ever withheld. As bible scholar Louis Berkhof explains, with grace “[t]he fundamental idea is, that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit.” In other words, you cannot earn grace, and grace is not a reward for your merits. You can be the most righteous person to walk the earth, or wracked with sin and contempt for God’s creations, yet grace is given freely and equally to both regardless of the quality of their merits.
Grace in the Old Testament
"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."
Understandably, this can be a confusing idea at first. After all, the Bible teaches us to be loving, charitable, forgiving, compassionate – to be good, in part at least to be worthy of salvation and to honor the sacrifice of Christ. Yet if everyone receives God’s grace, even if they are terrible, why should we be good? To unpack this, let’s take a quick dip into the Old Testament and revisit the life of King David.
Many of the heroes of the Old Testament are well understood to have been sinners. King David, for example, is among the greatest champions of God in the Bible. In the Books of Samuel, however, we learn that he far from perfect – he was a fornicator, and his sinful actions resulted in the deaths of many, including his own son. Yet despite his failings, he was nevertheless found worthy of God’s grace and was in fact quite blessed throughout his life.
Such is the nature of grace. It is neither earned nor merited, and even the unworthy are so blessed. Let's consider one more example – the Israelites, who were saved and delivered from persecution in Egypt by God. Exodus was their saving grace, but it happened before Moses received the Commandments. So unconditional is God’s grace that the Israelites were saved before they had even received some of the most fundamental directions from the Lord on how to live a good and Godly life.
New Understandings of the New Testament
"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home."
Much of our contemporary understanding of grace comes from the New Testament. Few of Jesus’ Apostles or biblical contributors had as much to say about grace as Paul, whose personal narrative is a powerful example of grace in action. Before becoming an apostle, Paul was among those who participated in the persecution of early Christians. Consider how Paul (1 Corinthians 15:9-10) reflects on his past to illustrate God’s grace:
“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect."
Here we see illustrated not only the unconditionality of God’s grace but also how grace is also the foundation of God’s design and path for each of us. Grace is so intrinsic to our relationship with God that it is embedded even in the life and death of Christ. It was through Christ we were given a living example of how to fully embody God’s grace and goodness. In his death, grace becomes the foundation for our salvation, as Paul explains in Romans 3:24:
“all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Christ gave his life that we could be saved from sin, “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Through Christ grace becomes not just a great gift from God, but the greatest, for it is the very basis for salvation through the Lord.
“Resting on God’s grace does not relieve us of our holy obligations; rather it should enable us to fulfill them.”
It is important to remember that while we may not have to earn God’s grace, that doesn’t mean we are absolved from all responsibility to live righteously – “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?“ (1 Corinthians 6:9). Rather, it is through grace we are shown on a Godly path. As a final illustration of grace in action, let us end with one more lesson from Paul (Titus 2:11-12):
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age"