Defining Grace

Grace is a popular topic of discussion in Christian circles, as well as a difficult topic of discussion just about anywhere. The concept of Grace is so beyond our own way of thinking that we often only understand bits and pieces of what the Bible teaches about it at any given time.  Today’s lesson in the OBC‘s course The Power of the Gospel was titled The Dynamic of Grace, and it talked about the relationship between the Gospel, as we’ve been looking at for several lessons now, and the concept of Grace.

My lesson today asserted that the word grace could “define the whole flavor of the Gospel.”  It went on to discuss both what Grace is, and how it works.

What Grace IS

Grace actually takes multiple forms:

  • Undeserved Favor – grace is the term that sums up God’s act of extending salvation to us, regardless of the fact that we have done and could do nothing to deserve it. Paul wrote: 

    …but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

  • Enabling Power – once we are saved from the consequences of sin, God continues to work in our lives, causing us to live a Spirit-led life. This continued work of God in us is another aspect of Grace – we are not able to continue living a holy life on our own, so God enables us to do so. This is exemplified in Acts 4, when the apostles were boldly preaching the Gospel

    With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all (v. 33)

 These can be summed up by saying that grace is God doing what we did not deserve, as well as what we were incapable of doing ourselves. It really fits into the Gospel model we’ve been talking about the last several lessons – the fact that the Gospel is composed of 2 halves – the first half that deals with the Old Me, and the second half that deals with the New Me.  In this model, God’s undeserved favor is the aspect of grace that corresponds to the Old Me – Jesus paid my debt even though I didn’t deserve it.  God’s enabling power is the aspect of grace that corresponds to the New Me – God nullifies the need for self-effort by empowering me to live a holy life.

What Grace IS NOT

It is easy for those who do not know the whole story to misunderstand what grace truly is.  Some of these misunderstandings include:

  • Grace means God turns a blind eye to sin 

    The early church leaders knew that people misunderstood this concept of grace. Jude wrote:

    For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality… (v. 4)

    Like the old joke that said “I wanted to pray and ask God to give me a new bicycle, but I knew He didn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked for forgiveness,” these people were sinning with the idea that, because of God’s grace, they would be forgiven. Paul responded resolutely to this when he said:

    What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

  • Grace is an excuse to sit back and let God do all the workMany times we slip into this thinking that the Christian life is easy. We know that we are not supposed to attain anything by self-effort, so we go to the other extreme and think that God must do all the work. We pray that God will do this or that for us, and we sit and wait for it to be done. We may even disguise our lack of effort by calling it “faith” and “believing God for a miracle.”  But the truth is that “God has designed his grace – his enabling power – to empower you to live in accordance with his will for your life. There is still an active response on your part, but the difference is that now it is ‘God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’  (Philippians 2:13)” (OBC, The Power of the Gospel, lesson 15: The Dynamic of Grace).
    Last night I was up with our 3 month old daughter, and I was flipping channels on the TV. I came across a channel where a guy was talking about the intellectual evidences for the resurrection of Christ, and while he was speaking he quoted G.K. Chesteron as saying “…the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  I think that this is probably true when it comes to making a decision about belief – some of the claims of Christianity do seem preposterous at times (the resurrection of the dead? This I’ve gotta see!). People don’t attempt to jump over the hurdle, so they never get to try running past it. But for people who have already accepted Christ and are products of God’s grace, the Christian life is not as difficult as you might think – God empowers us to live the lives He’s called us to live. This doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to expect God to do it all – He has still called us to “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
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