Author: Rachel Kidd
What is Grace?
Grace is a word that so often appears in Christian texts and worship music, a word that permeates the scripture so profoundly. I think it’s also a word that is used so frequently, that its meaning is dulled. We often think of grace as an unwarranted and undeserved favor.
So, what is grace, in all its God-intended glory?
Grace is a generous gift from God that is freely given, unexpected, and undeserved.
Verses on Grace
These verses explore the scriptural definition and concept of grace more fully and they will help us understand the broader context through which God’s grace is given.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Here in Ephesians, Paul describes grace not just as God’s favor upon those who have sinned, but also as a power. We see God’s grace not only as the offer of salvation, but also the means through which salvation is secured.
Paul also used “saved” in this context, referring to deliverance from eternal judgment.1 The refrain “by grace you have been saved” is repeated from Ephesians 2:5 for emphasis. The Greek for “have been saved” is sesōsmenoi, translating to properly, deliver out of danger and into safety; used principally of God rescuing believers from the penalty [of death].2
Likewise, faith is used here as an act of trust and reliance on God. The Greek pronoun is neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are feminine.3 The emphasis on the “this” or the act of salvation by grace and through faith, creates emphasis on who is doing the action. It is not something we can do alone, rather it can only be accomplished by God Himself.
Understanding the use of the neuter pronoun here makes it evident that faith and grace in conjunction are gifts from God, making salvation a divine act that is not of our own doing.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. —Romans 5:20–21
Most Jews in Paul’s time would have understood the law’s purpose to be to counteract human tendency towards sin, or the yetzer, which must be properly channeled.4 Rabbinic wisdom says “the more Torah the more life.5”
In contrast, Paul indicates that the law came in to increase trespass, not to decrease it. Once the people were given written laws from God, they understood in a concrete way the manner in which they were intended to live. Now, their sins were tangible and willful disobedience, much like Adam and Eve’s transgression in Genesis against God’s direct command.
And yet, Paul says that Christ’s salvation is shown in that grace abounded even more than these increasing sins. This tells us the immense power of salvation, that it can cover even the most egregious of transgressions against God’s law.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10
My grace is sufficient.
Paul says that God’s grace is sufficient in the present tense, emphasizing the abundance and the completeness of God’s grace. It is freely given to all believers, even the ones who are insecure in their weakness. I find this incredibly comforting, resting in the knowledge that even in my weakest moments, God’s grace is more than sufficient.
Paul says that God’s power is most evident and perfect in the weakness of man. Paul’s own imperfections and past failings became the stage for God to showcase His great power and grace. Because of this, Paul says he is able to boast of his own weaknesses and suffer gladly through persecution. We see an example of God’s great work in Paul’s life, transforming him from a persecutor of Christians to an apostle and church leader. God’s power forever altered the course of Paul’s life, and God’s granting of his power to Paul for the work of missions and ministry, were two things Paul never fails to admit or be thankful for.
Living in Grace
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. – Luke 6:22
Even in the face of persecution, Jesus modeled grace. He tells His disciples to do the same, blessing even the ones that hate and curse them for their beliefs. It seems impossible to do, to be so kind to even the most hateful people. And without God, it certainly is.
Understanding the abundance and power of God’s grace is the first step in living a grace based life. Without the Holy Spirit and Christ’s salvation, leading in grace is nearly impossible on our own. Without grace, we are stuck in a cycle of desperately trying to live up to expectations we can never fulfill and getting down on ourselves for failing. Instead, a life with Jesus and His abounding grace offers contentment, a comfort in knowing that He is always good enough. We need the grace of God working in our own hearts and lives first, transforming us like He did Paul.
Becoming a Believer in Christ and accepting the gift of God’s grace means a divine softening of the heart. It changes the way we think, as the Holy Spirit sanctifies our desires to align with God’s. Loving our neighbors as ourselves becomes easier as we spend more time in scripture, in prayer, and in fellowship with other believers. We begin to see grace as something to naturally be extended to others, as God so freely gave it to us.