Question: “What is the definition of grace?”
Answer: The gospel message is the good news of God’s grace, so it is important to know what grace is and to constantly seek to get a better view of what grace does in our lives.
Grace is an essential part of God’s character. Grace is closely related to God’s benevolence, love, and mercy. Grace can be variously defined as “God’s favor toward the unworthy” or “God’s benevolence on the undeserving.” In His grace, God is willing to forgive us and bless us abundantly, in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve to be treated so well or dealt with so generously.
To fully understand grace, we need to consider who we were without Christ and who we become with Christ. We were born in sin (Psalm 51:5), and we were guilty of breaking God’s holy laws (Romans 3:9–20, 23; 1 John 1:8–10). We were enemies of God (Romans 5:6, 10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21), deserving of death (Romans 6:23a). We were unrighteous (Romans 3:10) and without means of justifying ourselves (Romans 3:20). Spiritually, we were destitute, blind, unclean, and dead. Our souls were in peril of everlasting punishment.
But then came grace. God extended His favor to us. Grace is what saves us (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is the essence of the gospel (Acts 20:24). Grace gives us victory over sin (James 4:6). Grace gives us “eternal encouragement and good hope” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Paul repeatedly identified grace as the basis of his calling as an apostle (Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:2, 7). Jesus Christ is the embodiment of grace, coupled with truth (John 1:14).
The Bible repeatedly calls grace a “gift” (e.g., Ephesians 4:7). This is an important analogy because it teaches us some key things about grace:
First, anyone who has ever received a gift understands that a gift is much different from a loan, which requires repayment or return by the recipient. The fact that grace is a gift means that nothing is owed in return.
Second, there is no cost to the person who receives a gift. A gift is free to the recipient, although it is not free to the giver, who bears the expense. The gift of salvation costs us sinners nothing. But the price of such an extravagant gift came at a great cost for our Lord Jesus, who died in our place.
Third, once a gift has been given, ownership of the gift has transferred and it is now ours to keep. There is a permanence in a gift that does not exist with loans or advances. When a gift changes hands, the giver permanently relinquishes all rights to renege or take back the gift in future. God’s grace is ours forever.
Fourth, in the giving of a gift, the giver voluntarily forfeits something he owns, willingly losing what belongs to him so that the recipient will profit from it. The giver becomes poorer so the recipient can become richer. This generous and voluntary exchange from the giver to the recipient is visible in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Finally, the Bible teaches that grace is completely unmerited. The gift and the act of giving have nothing at all to do with our merit or innate quality (Romans 4:4; 11:5–6; 2 Timothy 1:9–10). In fact, the Bible says quite clearly that we don’t deserve God’s salvation. Romans 5:8–10 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
Grace does not stop once we are saved; God is gracious to us for the rest of our lives, working within and upon us. The Bible encourages us with many additional benefits that grace secures for every believer:
• Grace wins for us a new relationship of intimacy with God (Exodus 33:17).
• Grace helps us in our every need (Hebrews 4:16).
Grace is actively and continually working in the lives of God’s people. Paul credited the success of his ministry not to his own substantial labors but to “the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace is the ongoing, benevolent act of God working in us, without which we can do nothing (John 15:5). Grace is greater than our sin (Romans 5:20), more abundant than we expect (1 Timothy 1:14), and too wonderful for words (2 Corinthians 9:15).
As the recipients of God’s grace, Christians are to be gracious to others. Grace is given to us to serve others and to exercise our spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 3:2, 7; 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10).