Grace is a common religious word. But what is the meaning of grace? What is the purpose of grace? Do we have to obey God’s law if we are under grace?
What is grace?
The biblical term grace describes God’s unmerited love and favor. God, through His grace, gives us the opportunity to receive the blessing of having our sins forgiven and eventually receiving eternal life. But we now have to change direction in our walk of life, leaving behind our old and sinful ways of life.
Just what is grace, and how is it related to our salvation? The apostle Paul believed it was very important and wrote about it more than any other New Testament writer. He emphasized that grace is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8; 4:7).
This article will explore what the Bible teaches about this important, and often misunderstood, topic.
What is the definition of grace?
Grace is the unmerited, loving favor and graciousness our Creator God shows to us. His grace is driven by His character of perfect love and concern toward us. God’s grace is so powerful and valuable that there’s nothing we could ever do to earn it.
David Johnson, a minister in the Church of God, a Worldwide Association and instructor at Foundation Institute, summarized grace as “a gift given out of the goodness of the giver without regard for the worthiness of the recipient. The focus of the word is upon the goodness of the giver with little focus on the gift itself or on the recipient.”
God’s grace directs our attention to God’s innate and intrinsic goodness and love for us.
Is grace in the Old Testament?
Though most of the Bible’s uses of the word grace are found in the New Testament, it is also an Old Testament concept. Many have the view that grace is only a New Testament topic. But that idea is clearly incorrect. We are introduced to, and learn much about, God’s grace in the Old Testament scriptures.
The word grace appears 20 times in the New King James Version of the Old Testament. The word gracious appears 30 times.
God’s nature and character is consistent across the two testaments. He is portrayed as a gracious, loving and merciful God from Genesis to Revelation.
Where is the first mention of grace in the Bible? Grace is first mentioned in Genesis 6:8, where we read, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
God is gracious
Both the Old and New Testaments describe God’s character as gracious, meaning that He is full of grace and kindness, and that He desires to give good gifts to His creation.
This is how God described Himself to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7).
King David also wrote about God’s graciousness: “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9).
King Hezekiah proclaimed that “the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn His face from you if you return to Him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).
The apostle Peter called God “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10) and wrote that “the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:3).
Grace is the very nature of God’s character, abounding and overflowing outwardly in acts of pity, mercy, compassion and liberal giving.
Why do we need the grace of God?
God, through His grace, gives us the blessing of having our sins forgiven and eventually receiving eternal life. But what do we have to do? Are there conditions to receiving God’s grace?In the New Testament, a primary act of God’s grace is pardon for sin. Let’s explore why we need this aspect of God’s grace.
First, we have to realize that sin is something that we all are guilty of. The apostle Paul wrote that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
But what exactly is sin? The Bible defines it in 1 John 3:4: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” In other words, sin is breaking God’s law.
Sinning carries a penalty. That penalty is revealed in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death.” So every time we break God’s law and sin, we bring upon ourselves the penalty of death, and yet, God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “Not willing” means God does not wish, desire or want anyone to perish.
This is where grace comes in. God the Father, through His Son, loves us so much that He has made it possible for us to have this penalty removed. He did this by sending Jesus Christ to pay that penalty for us through His sacrifice.
It is through Christ’s sacrifice, His shed blood, that God gives us His grace. Notice Romans 3:24: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is through Christ that we receive God’s grace. Without that grace, we would die in our sins and never have an opportunity to live forever.
Ephesians 1:5-6 shows that it was God’s plan all along to be gracious to mankind in forgiving our sins and eventually giving us an opportunity to have everlasting life in His eternal family (John 3:16; Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 5:10).
To learn more about God’s forgiveness, read “What Is Forgiveness?”
How do I receive God’s grace?
Grace is a free gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it, but neither do we receive it automatically. There are conditions to receiving God’s grace.
- We must have faith. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
- We must be humble. In 1 Peter 5:5 we read, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James also confirmed this: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).
- We must confess our sins and be forgiven. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We receive forgiveness through His grace: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Of course, it is always God who determines who will receive His grace: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion’” (Romans 9:14-15). It is through God’s grace that He calls people to a relationship with Himself (John 6:44; 1 Peter 5:10).
Through His grace, God actually has a plan to extend His calling to all of mankind. To learn more about that plan, read our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.
What, then, is man’s responsibility?
Christ paid the death penalty for us by dying in our stead, and through His grace He forgave us. Acts 15:11 says, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
God, through His grace, gives us the blessing of having our sins forgiven and eventually receiving eternal life. But what do we have to do? Are there conditions to receiving God’s grace? The answer is yes. Simply put, we have to change the way we think and live, leaving behind our old and sinful ways of life and embracing God’s way. We must obey God (Acts 5:29)!
However, we must remember that we can never earn God’s grace, as Ephesians 2:8-9 points out: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
But the truth that we can’t earn God’s grace does not mean there aren’t conditions. God’s expectations of us for receiving His grace are revealed in verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
After a person repents of sin and is baptized and receives the Holy Spirit, he or she must begin to live by those “good works” as a new creation, with a mind that is now focused on serving God and fellow man. Our outlook and lifestyle must be different from what they had been.
Yes, God requires us to change and grow! To learn more about the necessity of change in a Christian’s life, read “Go and Sin No More.”
Law and grace
There are often misunderstandings concerning the law of God and the grace of God. Some believe God’s law and grace are contrary to each other. But a full understanding of the Bible shows that the opposite is true. Law and grace are actually interconnected. It is not a matter of law or grace, but rather law and grace. They both have an important role in a Christian’s life.
The apostle Paul explains how law and grace are connected in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
In verses 14-15, he further explains: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”
Notice James 2:17, 20: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead . . . But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”
Just as the grace of God is necessary for salvation, so too are the good works “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
God’s law is designed to instruct us in the way we are to live. It defines both the right way to live (righteousness) and the wrong way to live (sin). Many scriptures make it clear that “works” of obedience, based on God’s law, are absolutely required of a Christian.
But the law is limited in that it cannot provide us forgiveness and redemption after we have broken it. That’s where God’s grace comes in. God’s grace—which leads to His mercy and forgiveness—allows us to be forgiven of our sins and to get back on, and stay on, the path of God’s way of life. True Christianity requires both law and grace to work in tandem in a Christian’s life.
What is the ultimate purpose of grace?
As we’ve seen, grace is the unmerited, loving favor and graciousness of our Creator. It is a wonderful gift that should motivate us to live in the way that pleases our gracious God.
What will become of those who live by God’s grace? They will be saved, and will live forever as spirit beings in His family! In due time, Christ will return and will establish the Kingdom of God on this earth. The world will then learn of the mercy and grace of God, and many will accept His ways. At that time, Christ will pour out the “spirit of grace” on the whole world. Everyone will have an opportunity to be forgiven of his or her sins and to walk in God’s ways—through His grace!
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Hebrews 12:28).
Now that you have learned the meaning of God’s grace, the next step is seeking it. To learn more about what you need to do, read “What Is Repentance?”