What Is God’s Grace?
God’s grace. What is it? I never thought of asking that question. It never occurred to me that it needed a definition. I didn’t know there were various ways to understand it.
Isn’t His grace the evidence of His Spirit in a person? Isn’t it demonstrated by kindness, love, gentleness, good manners, poise, well-chosen words and so on? Doesn’t God’s grace help people sacrifice so they may better serve Him and others? Isn’t grace another word for God’s mercy? Isn’t grace the prayer we say at mealtimes?
These were some questions that came to my mind as I began to consciously consider the meaning of God’s grace. I discovered that, while it does include many of these qualities, it is so much more than I ever imagined!
Does it actually have a definition; one that we can understand? Well, yes and no. Yes, it does have a definition, and no, we cannot understand it; not without God’s own intervention.
Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
His grace is so far outside our thoughts and ways that we need a supernatural revelation from God Himself, to understand it. In our own finite ways of figuring, we misunderstand it, misrepresent it and misuse it.
Misunderstanding the Grace of God
There were many, many times in the Bible when the disciples and others did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.
Luke 2:50: But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Luke 18:34: The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
Sometimes, even though we believe, we still don’t understand.
I believed and trusted Jesus as my Saviour for several years but didn’t comprehend what it meant to be free in Christ. It was wonderful to know that Jesus redeemed me from the grip of the power of sin. I loved to tell the story. It was amazing to me that he would go to such great lengths to set me free, but that realization was still different from actually experiencing and living in the reality of that liberty. The knowledge was in my head, but it had not become the reality of my heart.
Jesus opened the way to heaven for me. I remember thinking, “Jesus’ sacrifice tore open the veil; my hope now is to qualify, but I doubt I will ever be righteous enough to enter the Holy of Holies.” Many true and faithful believers see it this way. We keep trying to be more faithful, more loving, more righteous so that we have a chance of eternity with our heavenly Father forever.
Sometimes we feel that we’ve done pretty well; maybe we’ve been very regular in church attendance and/or prayer and Bible study. Maybe we’ve been especially kind and helpful, offering hospitality and hospital visits, or maybe we’ve followed Jesus’ example in forgiving our enemies. When we’ve done what we believe to be our part we feel a little more confident that we’re pleasing our Father. We feel that it’s a little more likely that we may be accepted in heaven.
Unfortunately, those confident moments are fleeting, since our human abilities are limited. Our stamina to maintain the righteousness we know God desires is just not enough, so we grow discouraged. Our hearts fill with anguish and self loathing. How will we ever make it? One day we feel secure; the next we are floundering.
I remember the angst of this way of life. I blamed myself for not being as perfect as I should be. After all, God, in His great love gave his Son for me, and I seemed incapable of doing my part in return. I felt I was in debt to God, and it was as though I was working very hard to pay him back while knowing it was impossible. Would God impose such an impossible burden on his children? Can you see how this way of living is far from the blood-bought liberty freely given us in Christ Jesus?
Sometimes, in an effort to make sense of it all, I’d consider the possibility that if I would just do the best that I could do, Jesus would make up the difference. Surely he would make up for my shortfall. When I heard people speaking of God’s grace, this was one of the ways I misunderstood it. It would be my own effort plus Jesus’ sacrifice (which God provided to make up for the part I couldn’t do myself) that would save me.
When I read about grace in the scripture, it was with these preconceived ideas, so I was unable to comprehend the reality of God’s magnificent gift. My error kept me in a place of dependence on my own abilities to qualify me for heaven, rather than on the finished work of Jesus Christ.
John 13:7: Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Jesus said this when he was washing the disciples’ feet, but the same thing could have been said to me concerning God’s grace; later I would understand.
But, there is another way in which people misunderstand the grace of God, and the result is misusing it.
Misusing the Grace of God
Anyone who states that Jesus’ sacrifice has given him freedom to sin as much as he wants has obviously misunderstood, or he has deliberately misrepresented God’s grace and therefore has misused it.
Jude 4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. It seems the apostle Paul was dealing with this issue when he wrote to the Romans.
Romans 6:1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
Then he immediately answers his own question.
Romans 6:2a By no means! Then further down in the same passage, he says it again. Romans 6:15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Chuck Swindoll in his book, Grace Awakening says that if people are getting the impression of a grace that allows us to sin, then it is a pretty good indicator that we are preaching the same gospel that Paul preached. Paul’s message was interpreted that way too. Of course, we must try to help people understand, just as Paul did, that grace does not mean to continue in sin; it means we are now free to refrain from sin, but when we do fall, God sees us in the same way He sees His Son; He sees us as righteous. It sounds “too good to be true.” It IS too good to be true, except that it IS true, and only because of God’s grace.
That’s why the gospel or good news of God’s grace is such a stumbling block for some. It is simply too amazing!
A great exchange occurred at Golgotha; our sin became His, and His righteousness became ours.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. When we truly comprehend the truth of God’s grace; when it is revealed by God, and taken into the depths of our hearts, the result will seldom be misused, if ever. Those who misuse it, show by their actions that their comprehension is lacking. The only true response to the revelation and knowledge of His grace is gratitude and an irresistible desire to please Him.
Whether we misunderstand or misuse God’s grace, it will be misrepresented to others.
Misrepresenting the Grace of God
2 Peter 3:16b His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Whenever I spoke to others about God’s grace, it was with the understanding that we somehow had to qualify for it or earn it. It was therefore a misrepresentation of the truth. Was I intentionally misguiding people? No, and I firmly believe that most of us who set out to let His light shine through us, do so with the purest of intentions. However, if we believe something about God that isn’t true, and if we continue to perpetuate that concept without accountability, we misrepresent the very God we serve and desire to please. In turn, the effect in us, and in those we persuade, will be something other than the true manifestation of the living God.
Knowing our human limitations should motivate us to continually weigh and measure our thoughts and beliefs with scripture, and with the ever-faithful guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit within us. He is our Father’s gift to us, and He is a reliable resource in determining truth; much more reliable than our own thinking or any framework set up by other human beings.
It is extremely painful to recognize you may have led people to a false belief about God’s character or about His earnest desire for them. However painful it is, there is only one way to set the record straight, and that is to openly confess, re-align with God’s will and move in the restoration His promised forgiveness affords. While there will likely be some upheaval for a period of time, it is still the only right thing to do, and God’s enduring love and comfort can be implicitly trusted.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
When we finally surrender our own perceptions, we experience liberation from the bondage of deception, and His truth is released into our hearts.
Embracing the Grace of God
I remember well, the afternoon God’s grace became revelation knowledge to me. I was sitting at the kitchen table of a very dear friend. Our Bibles were open before us as we eagerly shared beautiful gems of truth with one another.
The book of Ephesians had long been a favourite of mine, but on this day a few verses were illuminated as never before.
Ephesians 2: 4-5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
I read the verses again, out loud to Kathy, my friend. This time I heard the words with my own ears, and the Spirit leapt inside of me. “Kathy,” I squealed, does this mean what I think it does? It says that He gave us life when we were dead in our sins. So, He gave us eternal life before we even knew how to please Him? How can that be?
“That’s right,” she smiled with delight as she witnessed my growing comprehension. “That’s God’s grace. Isn’t it amazing?”
“Amazing? Oh, it’s more than that,” I said. “It’s unbelievable. It just can’t be true.”
And then I read, Ephesians 2:6-7: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works so that no one can boast.
“How can this be true? It’s saying that my salvation has nothing to do with my works, but that it is by grace through faith, and even that is a gift of God! This is just too incredible! And, even though it seems like it can’t be true, I KNOW it is! This means that HE did it all! He died the death I should have died, and He lived the life I should have lived! He did it ALL. Wow!”
Although I was overwhelmed by the truth of these verses, there was a response in my spirit that I couldn’t deny. God, Himself had flipped a switch allowing the light of His Word to suddenly reveal His truth to me. While this revelation was sudden, there had been a long process leading to it; a process of preparation by the Holy Spirit; a process of sowing by faithful believers and a process of the watering of the Word.
I went home and began to study the scripture as never before concerning the grace of God. It seemed the whole Bible was about that; about His provision to restore us to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. There is nothing we could do that would ever be enough to complete that restoration. It requires the penalty of death for sin, and it requires righteous perfection. God, in His amazing grace, provided these for us in Christ. When we try to earn our own way, it is as though we are refusing His gift.
This was new to me. I think I understood about His death, but I didn’t understand that His righteousness was imputed to me. 2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. The questions I’d had about God’s grace were being answered, but I never expected to find anything so wonderful, so completely beyond my human reasoning, so divine. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover that God’s plan is outside of my own understanding; He is God after all!
His ways are not our ways. We would think more in terms of earning and deserving. He thinks of lavishing His love on us when we DON’T deserve it.
Ephesians 1:7-8: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
We would try to do good works to gain His favour. He ensures our good work by His grace.
2 Corinthians 9:8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
We would try to save ourselves by living a holy life, but He has saved us, called us and equipped us for holy living because of His own plans and by His grace.
2 Timothy 1: 9a who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
Reducing God’s grace to a definition or an explanation falls so far short of His own revelation about it. I’ve attempted to share my personal discovery of God’s grace, but to truly embrace its wonder, one must simply yield to the Spirit, believe the Word and depend on the divine revelation that only God can give. May that be your portion.
By Linda (McCrae) Tame, August 4, 2008