by Simon Presland
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
—John Newton, 1750
The lyrics of John Newton’s hymn are almost universally known in our society. I work in a manufacturing facility, and I’m amazed at how often I walk by someone and hear them humming the tune or singing the words to this famous hymn.
The Bible says much about God’s grace: God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 9:9; 12:9), we stand in God’s presence because of grace (Romans 5:2), we are strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13:9), we can abound in good works because of grace (2 Corinthians 9:8), and we can grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18).
During this Easter season, I’ve focused my devotional time on gaining a deeper understanding of God’s grace. I’ve endeavored to study different aspects of grace, including its meaning, so I can better understand how grace applies to my life. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The Meaning of Grace
Many people are familiar with this acronym for grace—God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This gives us a good overall understanding of what grace entails. If it were not for Christ’s willingness to lay down his life for us, the end of our lives would not be pleasant. No matter how we interpret or define grace, it starts and ends with Jesus Christ.
Others have given us familiar definitions of grace. Theologian A. W. Tozer said, “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits on the undeserving.” In other words, grace is unmerited favor.
I can identify with Tozer’s definition. When I examine my life—looking deep into my heart without false pretenses—I see many sin-stained areas in thought, word, and deed. I can be prideful over things I’ve done or ways I’ve acted. Look at me; I’m such a good person, I might think. I can feign humility as a guise for my need for attention or adulation. “Oh, there’s no need to thank me,” I might say to someone. I can act righteously as a cover for my works mentality, thinking that if I do exactly what God says, then he’ll accept me.
If it weren’t for God’s unmerited favor, I would be sliding down the slippery slope of self-deception and self-preservation. His unmerited favor causes me to see myself as I am—a sinner saved by grace. God’s unmerited favor gives me the right to enter into his kingdom, in the same way as I might bestow grace toward my enemies as Jesus taught me to do (Luke 6:27-36).
When the apostle Paul referred to grace, he used the Greek word charis, which is translated “favor.” The Bible says that Jesus grew in charis or favor (Luke 2:52). Acts 2:46, 47 states that the disciples had charis, or favor, with all the people.
This new understanding has revolutionized my thinking about how God sees me. I used to think he might say, “Well, I’m a benevolent God so I’ll give him favor.” Now I can almost hear God, saying, “He’s my son; I’m going dump bucket loads of favor on him.”
Early in my Christian walk I memorized Ephesians 2:8-10:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
These verses help to keep my flesh and my ego in check. Whenever I think I have done a great work for God, I remind myself that God had already prepared me for it, and his grace enabled me to finish it. I am his workmanship. I am here to do what he wants me to do, what he has planned for me to do.
These same verses also make it clear that I am saved—that I have a personal relationship with God—because of his grace toward me through Jesus Christ. My life can never compare to the life of Jesus; his shed blood, death, and resurrection are the reasons I will be welcomed into Heaven one day.
Meditating on Jesus’ finished work on the cross liberates my soul and sets my mind at rest. I can easily feel guilty because I’ve disobeyed God in one way or another. I tend to be hard on myself when I fail. Yet the Bible reminds me that I am justified and have peace with God because, by grace through faith, I have access to God anytime, anywhere (Romans 5:1, 2). God’s grace sets me free from guilt and condemnation, so I can whole-heartedly serve him. No wonder the apostle John proclaimed, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1, King James Version).
Sin and Grace
The apostle Paul frequently contrasted grace with the law. One reason is because we can never meet the requirements of the law by being “good-works Christians” (Romans 4:16; 5:20; Galatians 2:21; 5:4). We must constantly remind ourselves that we live a grace-filled life. But grace does not give us a license to sin; we can’t do what we want, how we want, whenever we want. As Paul said, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15, New International Version).
When I meditate on God’s goodness and mercy, I’m often overwhelmed by the reality of his grace. My heart yearns to please him and to follow his directions and commands. I desire him above all things, and I can identify with Paul when he said, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”(Philippians 3:10).
Paul also said that through Christ Jesus, I have been set free from sin and death (Romans 8:2). If I have been freed from sin, it makes no sense to deliberately place myself back in bondage to it and nullify God’s grace in my life. I tell myself, “If I’m one of God’s favored kids, I must live in a manner that is pleasing to him. Therefore, grace is not a license to sin; it is God’s enabling power to follow him.
“But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Like Paul, I’ve had many “thorns in my flesh” I’ve wanted God to remove, but God’s grace has been sufficient.
When someone gets on my nerves at work, I draw on God’s grace to act according to his Word. When something doesn’t go my way, I remind myself that God has a bigger picture in mind, not just my needs or wants. When I get frustrated or feel overwhelmed by a trial I’m going through, I choose to rest in God’s grace. When my thoughts become critical, I meditate on God’s grace. And when I cannot see an end to a negative situation, I focus on trusting God’s grace.
The paradox of grace is that it can only work in my life when I admit my failures, my lack of self-control, my stubbornness. These types of behaviors only resist God’s grace, so I must join with Paul and say, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That doesn’t mean I go around proclaiming my faults and failures to everyone, nor do I say, “Wow, look at me; I’m so weak in this area.” But I freely admit my shortcomings to God. He knows them anyway, but vocalizing them to him causes me to recognize that I cannot overcome anything in my own strength. As with Paul, God’s grace enables me to overcome my weaknesses, accept insults, endure hardships, face persecutions, and stand up under difficulties; for “when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
Even before I knew him, even when I resisted him, God was pursuing me and initiating his love toward me because of his grace. Now I’m his son, and as a favored member of his family, I find myself crying out, “Father, I need grace, grace, and more grace every day of my life!”
I want to live by the words of Peter and “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
Now that’s amazing grace!
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Let It Go
by Mark Atteberry
Do you struggle to accept that God’s grace is for you—who you are right now, just as you are? If so, this book is for you.
Come home from your guilt trip! Learn to let go of criticism, shame, and inferiority and grasp onto God’s grace, salvation, and joy.
With questions at the end of each chapter, you can dive into this book on your own or with a group of friends.
Find out more: