Recently I heard an excellent Bible teacher present a seminar on grace. During the course of this seminar, he made several statements that truly arrested me. It has made me think about the nature of grace. Exactly what is grace? This teacher asked those in the seminar to define grace. The immediate response was “God’s unmerited favor.” The teacher affirmed and agreed with this definition. But he was another question, is there more to grace than just God having a favorable attitude towards us.
Now before I proceed any further, let me establish that I wholeheartedly agree with what has become a stock definition of grace as the unmerited favor of God. I affirm with no hesitation that salvation is completely free, unmerited and unearned by any man. “For by grace are you saved through faith, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). As the Bible teaches us, if salvation were of works at all, it would not be of grace. Indeed, if it could be earned or merited, then grace would be unnecessary.
When we think of God’s grace, I think what probably springs to mind is the grace of God that has freely given us salvation, redemption and forgiveness of sin. And while this is truly the greatest and most profound work of grace, it is not the only example of God’s grace in our lives. Indeed, other examples of God’s grace indicate something more than (or perhaps different from) just God’s favorable disposition or approach towards us.
Consider this verse: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6). Seeing grace as simply, and only, God’s unmerited favor, raises a question—are there those to whom God gives more of His favor? And what about the contrast here between the proud and the humble? Does this verse not tell us that if we do something (humble ourselves) then we will experience a gift of grace from God for this? What does this mean?
Another example is found in 2 Peter 3:18—“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” Here Peter commands us to grow in grace. How can we be commanded to receive more of God’s favor? And how do you grow in God’s favor, if grace is completely unmerited and unearned? How can you grow in what is already given freely.
One final verse intrigued me in this regard. We read about Jesus growing up and Luke says that “the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40). Wait a minute. Why would the sinless, perfect, innocent Son of God need the unmerited favor of God? What does it mean that God’s grace was upon Him?
This has led me to think more about grace, and what it means in the life of the believing follower of Christ—not just the repentant sinner. I am still pondering this quite a bit. But I have come to a preliminary conclusion: Grace is truly the unmerited favor of God. But it is also something more. Here is a working definition that I am considering:
Grace is the empowering presence of God freely given at the point of need.
Let me break this down for a moment.
- It is the presence of God. Grace is not just an attitude or action of God. It is God Himself involving Himself in our lives.
- It is an empowerment from God. It is the Lord giving us the ability to do what we cannot do for ourselves. It is His power working in us.
- It is freely given. It is the favorable disposition, the freely-given blessing, and unmerited kindness of God given to us, even if we don’t deserve it in the least.
- It is given at the point of need. God, in His graciousness, meets us at that very time and place where we need Him and His power. This may be salvation and forgiveness. It may be strength to face a trial. It may be help to deal with a difficult relationship. It may be anything. Where we have a need, and through the frailty of our humanity we are unable to meet that need, God’s grace is present and available.
Thus we see how vitally important grace is for the believer. We don’t need grace just initially, at conversion and the beginning of our walk with Christ. We need it constantly, every day. We need to grow in our dependence on His empowering presence in our lives. We need to rely on the free gift of His strength for each day. We need to humble ourselves before him, conquering our pride, and realize that we have nothing to offer Him—and thus He will give us grace.
There many verses in the New Testament that speak of the importance, indeed the necessity, of grace in the life of the believer. Let me encourage you to undertake a little exercise. Think of my working definition of grace, and then apply it to each verse below. I think you will see that grace means a lot more in our everyday lives than we have often thought about.
Grace is the empowering presence of God freely given at the point of need.
“And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). Paul then enumerates various gifts given to believers.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
“…and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:9)
Again, speaking of spiritual gifts: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).
“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace…” (Hebrews 13:9).
Just a few days ago I heard a another speaker also talking about grace. He was specifically talking about the verse we looked at earlier, 2 Peter 3:18. I was curious as to how he would define what it means to “grow in grace.” This is his explanation. Whenever we reaffirm our belief in the grace of God, when we remember the gracious work of Christ, when we rejoice in being saved by grace, then we are “growing in grace.” While I cannot deny the importance of doing these very things, I cannot fully agree that this is all that is meant by growing in grace. Notice this definition of growing in grace only looks back to what Christ did for us. Which is great! But is there not an aspect of growing in Christ is active and dynamic right now? Yes, that is our basic contention. We can continually access grace. We can learn to yield ourselves into God’s hands and draw on His power. We can surrender our will, and our efforts, and find His grace sufficient to help us in our weakness and dependency. Growing in grace is not just appreciating the wonderful, marvelous work of Christ in redemption, but it is also learning to depend in His gracious supply of power and help in in our daily walk with Christ.
So brothers and sisters, let us truly grow in the empowering presence of God freely given to us at our point of need, no matter what that may be.
Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions. However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of Victor Morris, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff