What Is Grace?

Justin Holcomb

What Is Grace?

“The very center and core of the whole Bible is the doctrine of the grace of God.” 
J. Gresham Machen

“Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ.

Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God.

What is grace and what are some ways people have defined grace?

“Grace is free sovereign favor to the ill-deserving.”(B.B. Warfield)

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”(John Stott)

“[Grace] is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against Him.”(Jerry Bridges)

“Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” (Paul Zahl)

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

A shorthand for what grace is - “mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection.

While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favor. Michael Horton writes, “In grace, God gives nothing less than Himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.”

Christians live every day by the grace of God. We receive forgiveness according to the riches of God’s grace, and grace drives our sanctification. Paul tells us, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:11). Spiritual growth doesn’t happen overnight; we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 2:18). Grace transforms our desires, motivations, and behavior.

In fact, God’s grace grounds and empowers everything in the Christian life.

Grace is the basis for:

·         Our Christian identity: “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

·         Our standing before God: “this grace in which we stand.” (Romans 5:2)

·         Our behavior: “We behaved in the world … by the grace of God.” (2 Corinthians 2:12)

·         Our living: those who receive “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ,”(Romans 5:17) by the “grace of life.” (1 Peter 1:7)

·         Our holiness: God“called us to a holy calling … because of his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 2:9)

·         Our strength for living: “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:1) for “it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Hebrews 13:9)

·         Our way of speaking: “Let your speech always be gracious.” (Colossians 4:6)

·         Our serving: “serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” (1 Peter 1:10)

·         Our sufficiency: “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:9) “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 2:8)

·         Our response to difficulty and suffering: We get “grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16) and when “you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace...will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 1:10)

·         Our participation in God’s mission: As recipients of grace we are privileged to serve as agents of grace. Believers receive grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the grace of God (Acts 20:24). Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). God’s mission is to the entire world.

·         Our future: God, and his grace, is everlasting. “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

·         Our hope beyond death: “grace [reigns] through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21)

The gospel is all about God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul calls it “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) and “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3).

The gospel of the grace of God is the message everyone needs. The word of grace is proclaimed from every page of the Bible and ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ. The last verse of the Bible summarizes the message from Genesis to Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Revelation 22:21). Through Jesus “we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16)—the gratuitous and undomesticated grace of God.

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, and at JustinHolcomb.com.


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