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What Exactly Is Grace?

by Greg Baker  
2/01/2010 / Bible Studies


It is curious to me that one of the most significant aspects of God is largely misunderstood and, if I may, misused. Not that the typical definitions of grace are in any way demeaning of God, they aren't. But as far as application of grace to our own life, the typical definitions remain somewhat elusive.

God has many aspects that are for our benefit.

1. Mercy. God is a merciful God. He says we don't have to go to hell.
2. Love. God loves us. God is love. This is powerful.
3. Not a Respecter of Persons. God wants loves you as much as He loves David, Moses and Abraham.
4. Holy. God's holiness is the key to who God really is. Above all He is Holy. Holiness isn't so much an aspect as it is God's nature.

Then of course there is Grace. But exactly what is Grace?

There have been entire books written on the subject. There have been millions of sermons preached on it. It shows up over 120 times in the Bible. It is firmly attached to salvation:

Ephesians 2:8 - For by grace are ye save, through faith...

And yet there is so much controversy that surrounds it.

Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

So we are living 'under' grace. Or rather we are living under the dominion of grace rather than the dominion of the law. This notion alone has been the source of books, sermons, debates, and even, unfortunately, conflict.

The typical definition of grace is this: Unmerited Favor.

Another defined it this way: Mercy is not getting what you may deserve (in a bad sense) and grace is getting what you do not deserve (in a good sense).

But then what does it mean when we get ready to eat and someone says, 'Don't forget to say grace'? All of these carry different connotations, thoughts, ideas, and ultimately doctrine. If we say that grace is completely unmerited then why does the Scriptures say that Noah found grace in the eyes of God when he was the only one that was perfect in his generation (Genesis 6:8-9). Why him and no one else? It seemed he merited it in some way, don't you? Then there is this verse:

James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

According to this verse, grace can be achieved through humbleness. Is it therefore unmerited? I suppose you could argue that nothing we ever do no matter how good would ever merit any grace from God. That's fine, and I don't necessarily disagree, but it just doesn't seem to match the verses.

My point is that we seem to struggle with the idea of grace. It doesn't seem to be clear. These are nice definitions, but they don't fit every known use in the Scriptures.

I'll make a closer examination of what grace is, by looking at four verses. These four verses help to explain the purpose and idea of Grace.

EPHESIANS 4:7

Ephesians 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

This is an interesting verse, simply because it tells us that not everyone has equal grace. In fact, it is measured to people differently. So whatever grace is, it is not something that everyone gets equally.

Paul made mention of this... when he said in Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

In the above verse he is referring to his calling to the gentiles. He called it grace that was given to him. He implies that what he got no one else did, or that no one else received in as he did.

The Bible is very clear that you can receive more grace:

James 4:6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

According to Ephesians 4:11-12, we find that the amount of grace given to us is measured out according to the gift of Christ. He then lists different offices, or jobs, or callings, that get different measures of Grace. They are:

1. Apostles
2. Prophets
3. Evangelists
4. Pastors
5. Teachers

Each one of these different positions, with different authority and jobs, receive a different measure of grace. The grace, apparently, is give so that the work can get done.

ROMANS 12:6

Romans 12:6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;

This is very similar to the last verse. Note these thoughts:

1. We all have gifts from God.
2. These gifts differ from person to person.
3. These differing gifts are a measure of grace given to us.

He is saying that God's grace provides us with the ability and power to do what God wants us to do!

2 CORINTHIANS 9:8

2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

In this verse, note the phrase 'abound to every good work'. God gives us grace so that there will be sufficient strength and ability to do the work that God wants us to do! Grace is God stepping in when we lack the strength, ability, knowledge, wisdom, or talent to get something done.

Thus we get to a better, more accurate, definition of what grace is:

Grace is God's Provision for our Insufficiencies.

This is certainly true in salvation! We are saved by grace. We are not saved by ourselves that is impossible, because we lack the means, thus salvation is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It isn't unmerited favor, so to speak. Rather it is God's provision for where we become incapable, or lack. Here is another example of grace and salvation.

John 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

What a perfect example of grace. God gave them grace (power) to do what they could not do on their own! Ye are saved by grace!

2 CORINTHIANS 12:9

2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Again note how the words 'grace' and 'sufficient' are tied together in this verse.

Paul learned that grace is all he needed. He wanted the thorn in the flesh to depart from him, which would allow him more strength to do what God wanted. God, however, taught him an invaluable lesson. True power is not within ourselves, it comes from the grace that God gives us. When you find yourself lacking, that is when you need the grace of God. Every parent, every Christian will find themselves in positions that only the grace of God can overcome and conquer.

This changed my prayer life. I no longer pray that God helps my children to behave. Instead, I ask God for the grace I need as a father to teach and rear my children correctly. Where I fail as a father, God has grace to succeed. No matter what your deficiency is, grace is your answer. If God has called you do something and you don't see how you have the personality, ability, or strength to accomplish it, that is what grace is for.

Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Grace is God's provision for our insufficiencies.

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