The grace of God is a fundamental aspect of salvation and is the sole means by which Man’s redemption is accomplished. The renowned classic hymn “Amazing Grace” is the best known hymn of the Christian church and has been universally heard by both Christian and non-Christians alike. But what exactly is so amazing about this grace?
Like many theological words, the word and use of “grace” is one of the several common words Christians frequently use in their witness and testimony to the unbeliever without really defining and explaining what it exactly means. Grace has routinely been defined as the undeserved favor of God shown to Man. A more precise definition would be to add an additional feature to that by stating:
The single source for this grace flows from God the Father through the incarnation of God the Son made effectual by the work of God the Holy Spirit in the heart of the one who believes. It is by this free and unmerited grace that sinners are forgiven, justified, and declared in right standing before God as objects of His everlasting love solely based on who God is, and what He has done through the Lord Jesus Christ in spite of what we are and what we have done.
In this article we will study what grace is, the need for grace, the manifold aspects of grace, and the all-sufficiency of grace for the Christian life. In the Old Testament, the word for grace is generally denoted by two Hebrew words—hen and hesed. The word hen basically connotes the unmerited favor a superior liberally bestows upon an inferior subject. The word can also be translated to mean “favor” “kindness” or to be “well-favored.”
The word is associated with God bestowing blessings on Man, both temporal and physical, expressed by a deliverance from both physical and spiritual dangers (Jeremiah 31:2; Exodus 33:19). Hesed is translated to mean “loving-kindness” and is the unconditional love God expresses to His people Israel particularly as it is seen and revealed in the eternal and immutable covenants He made with them (2 Samuel 7:15; Exodus 20:6).
In the New Testament, the Greek word for grace is Charis and used some 125 times. The meaning of Charis conveys both an undeserved gift of overwhelming kindness to the undeserving, producing acceptability before God, and also the divine saving influence upon the heart with the subsequent transformation of the person’s life collectively demonstrated in the Church for the world to see (Ephesians 1:1-14).
The word can also mean “showing mercy,” or “to freely express favor upon someone.” Other synonyms used for grace in Scripture are loving-kindness, mercy, compassion, tender-mercies, mercy, love, and longsuffering. The fullest meaning, embodiment, and greatest expression of God’s grace freely given to undeserving Man occurred when God sent Jesus Christ into the world to be the atonement for Man’s sin and thereby redeem him from its destructive and damning power. Grace, ultimately in this context of salvation, is not so much a principle or influence but is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. In Him God’s love, mercy, favor, and acceptance is given to the undeserving and guilty sinner.
“Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
The grace of God, as fully given through Jesus Christ, is the source and ground of eternal redemption (Titus 3:4-5; Ephesians 1:7). Love, mercy, redemption, kindness, and the forgiveness of sins are all kindred expressions of God’s grace. Grace is the heart and lifeblood of the Gospel and seen in the act of God giving us His son (John 3:16).Grace of the saving order is personified alone in Christ in whom all the fullness of grace is given to all believers (John 1:14-16).
Essentially defined, grace is the undeserving love and favor of God freely bestowed on the undeserving and ill-deserving who deserved nothing but punitive demerit instead. Grace is kind and loving toward its enemies. God precisely demonstrated this kind of gracious love toward all of us when we were hostile enemies against His authority living contrary to His will according to the self-centered dictates of our own selfish will and ungodly pursuits rife with moral failures coupled with immoral indulgences.
Hence Paul, once the enemy of Christ par excellence before He experienced the power of God’s saving grace, could say for himself and for all of us believers in Christ now:
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:6-10).
The Bible gives various definitions of Grace. These definitions combine and adhere together to comprise God’s grace freely given to sinful man.
As one diamond contains many dazzling facets on its face, so too God’s grace revealed through the person and power of Jesus Christ has various glorious facets, functions, and out workings flowing from its single source. Below are several definitions and operations of this self same grace as revealed in Scripture.
Grace is foremost the undeserving love and favor of God shown toward the utterly undeserving by nature. As law-breaking sinners, all of mankind stand guilty and condemned in the eyes of God and worthy of judgment and eternal death.
Romans 1-3 present the awful evidence of humanity’s moral guilt before a holy and righteous God. Against this dark, immoral, and hideous backdrop, God revealed His amazing grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-26) to rescue Man from eternal ruin and death. God, of course by the very nature of grace itself, is under no obligation to give grace to any one of us.
Truth to tell, the only obligation God owes to sinners (i.e., those who have broken God’s law in thought, word, or deed in defiance against Him) is to punish them with everlasting condemnation since a transgression against an eternal being merits in commensurate fashion corresponding eternal judgment. But God’s grace instead provided an innocent, sinless, and righteous substitute for our sins who took upon Himself the penalty due us for sin so that we could be pardoned and received in God’s love. This gracious substitute was Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23; 2 Timothy 1:9).
This is not a cheap grace but cost God the greatest object of His value and the best heaven could afford His own Son. Now that Christ redeemed us, we as Christians are obligated to serve Him in love, moral purity, thanksgiving, worship, and obedience. “For you are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
No wonder someone used GRACE as an acronym to mean God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense freely bestowed on the believing sinner. We are truly made spiritually rich at Christ’s expense because of God’s grace. God’s grace is unmerited by nature and by virtue of that can never be earned or worked for by the sinner.
Our good works cannot earn for us salvation. God’s standard for salvation is moral perfection. But since humans by nature are morally imperfect, we cannot earn salvation in this way. Romans 3:12 tells us that no mortal man can keep God’s law in perfect order:
“Therefore by the deeds of the Law no flesh shall be justified.”
So then someone who can be perfect must enter into the picture and win salvation for us. This requirement is fully met in the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and offers his perfection to us as a free gift. Titus 3:5 states: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy has He saved us.”
Thus it is only by God’s grace we are actually saved. The Word of God says that all of Man’s acquired righteousness are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and therefore utterly ineffective and deficient to save him.
The sobering assessment from Scripture is that mankind’s self-generated attempt at righteousness and good deeds are unprofitable for meriting God’s favor or earning His salvation. In fact, God says to those who are trying to earn salvation on the basis of their own efforts and works:
“I will declare your righteousness, and your works, for they will not profit you” (Isaiah 57:12).
This is so because, as we previously pointed out, saving grace is solely given on the perfect merits of Jesus Christ, which He accomplished at Calvary. We all must come to God as empty-handed beggars if we are to receive Christ’s saving grace at the cross.