Most are familiar with the words of the old gospel hymn: “Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound – that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found – Was blind, but now, I see.” The concept of God’s grace is both humbling and fascinating. It is the greatest and most majestic theme in the New Testament, and perhaps is the ‘key’ to unlocking its mysteries. One may know every word of the New Testament by heart, but unless the concept of God’s grace is understood, one can never fully comprehend the profound truths of the Gospel.
The English word ‘grace’ comes from the Greek word charis, and various forms of the word are found 157 times in the New Testament. Charis, or grace, has been commonly defined as “undeserved kindness” or “unmerited favor.” These definitions, however, fail to reveal the full extremity of the meaning of grace. Grace is not merely “undeserved” or “unmerited.” Rather, grace is the exact opposite of what is deserved or merited. When we declare our unworthiness of God’s grace, we are actually saying we are worthy of the exact opposite of God’s grace!
This is highlighted by what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-10. In verses 1-3, we are described as having been “dead in our trespasses and sins,” “following” the “sons of disobedience,” “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” and “were by nature children of wrath.” However, in verses 4-6, Paul tells us that God mercifully put aside the “wrath” that man deserved, because of His great love for us.
It is God’s love for us, or more specifically agapē love for us, that prompted God’s merciful grace toward mankind. Agapē love is willful love; love that is not characterized by emotion or gratitude, but by a willful desire to do what is best for the one being loved. It is love that merely says “I love you,” not “I love you because…” or “I love you if…”
We deserved “wrath” and death (Rom. 6:23), but received the opposite, namely, ‘love’ and ‘life.’ This is the definition of God’s grace. “By grace [we] have been saved” (Eph. 2:5). It is both undeserved kindness and an expression of God’s agapē love. What did God’s grace accomplish? It “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5), “raised us,” and “seated us in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 6). Paul tells us that our faith, through baptism (Col. 2:12-13), is how God’s grace is administered in one’s life (v. 8).
What God’s Grace Means
God’s grace has been made manifest in Christ. When we only deserved wrath and death (Eph. 2:1-3), God – because of His agapē love – sent His Son into the world, “that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Therefore, we have been bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23). An enormous price, I might add. We no longer belong to ourselves. When one believes and were baptized, he or she puts to death their former self (Rom. 6:4) and becomes a new person under new Ownership. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, we have been “born again” (John 3:3, 5). We “have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God” (Rom. 6:22).
When we try to understand God’s grace, we must recognize that it is something to which we are by no means entitled. Though we live in a society where many feel ‘entitled’ to everything (i.e. government handouts, healthcare, security, etc.), the last thing we are entitled to is God’s grace. Though it is a “free gift” (Eph. 2:8), it is not cheap. We must hold on to our gracious salvation (1 Cor. 15:2) with both an attitude of humble submission to God and an eager spirit to selflessly serve His Son (Jas. 2:17). Without an attitude of humble submission and thankfulness for God’s grace, we will fall (Gal. 5:4).
Compare Denominational Views of Grace to the Biblical Teaching of Grace
Now that we have an understanding of God’s grace and what His grace means for us, let’s examine how the Biblical teaching of God’s grace compares to what mainstream Christianity teaches. Notice some common questions that many have asked concerning God’s grace:
“Will all men automatically be saved?”
Salvation by grace does not mean that all men will be saved. God’s grace makes possible the salvation of all men. Consider this: the mere possession of medicine will not make a sick man well. He must first consume that medicine. The mere possession of food will not make a hungry man full. He must first eat the food if he wishes to be filled. The same is true about God’s grace. Simply because the grace of God has appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11) does not mean that all men will be saved. All who wish to be saved must first do what is required. Jesus asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” As Paul wrote about Christ’s return, he warned that Jesus will inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
“Do I have to do any kind of work to go to heaven?”
Paul said we are not saved by works (Eph. 2:9), but James said we are saved by works (James 2:24-26). Since the Bible contains no contradictions, being the Word of God, there must be two different kinds of works. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul is teaching that works of merit are excluded from salvation. In James 2:24-26, James is teaching that works of obedience are required for salvation. We are expected to be faithful to God if we wish to benefit from God’s grace and enter into heaven (Matt. 25:14-30; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
“Will God overlook my sins on the day of Judgment?”
Many abuse the idea of God’s grace by believing that their salvation does not require any effort on their part. God’s grace does not mean that we may continue sinning after we have been baptized into Christ. Paul said, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). The Bible is full of passages warning Christians of an eternal death if they fail to live a faithful life. John wrote,
But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)
Once we have repented of our sins (Lk. 13:3) and have been baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:4; Acts 2:38), God expects us to remain faithful to Him (Rev. 2:10). Jesus said,
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13-14)
Obviously, there will be many whose sins are not overlooked. We must be sure that we “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-2).
We don’t deserve God’s grace. We deserve the opposite. Yet, because of God’s abounding mercy (due to His agapē love), He offers mankind His grace. When we are baptized into His Son, we become the beneficiaries of His grace by entering into eternal life. However, we must remember that in order to continue receiving the benefits of God’s grace we must also continue following His commandments.
Man’s salvation does not come by God’s grace alone, but comes in two parts. There is God’s grace, which is His part, and there is obedience, which is our part. God has already done His part, and now it is our turn to do ours. God’s grace is a free gift to all, but it is not cheap. It gives men liberty from sin, but not a license to continue in it. God’s plain simple grace is beautiful, and it can be understood by everyone.