By Simon Presland
You’re doing God’s work, but you are accused of doing everything except working for him. You live a life of humility and service, but people scorn you. You’re kind and benevolent, yet people take advantage of you. How would you react in the face of such a continual negative onslaught? Would you succumb to unforgiveness, resentment, and bitterness? Or would you continue to live a life full of grace toward others?
The apostle Paul faced persecution, hardship, and even the threat of death almost daily. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 he recounts his trials: in prison frequently; flogged severely; exposed to death constantly; beaten with rods; pelted with stones; shipwrecked; a night and day on the open sea; constantly on the move; in danger from rivers, bandits, fellow Jews; in danger in the city, from Gentiles, in the country, and from false believers. He had labored harder, gone without sleep, often without food, cold and naked. Besides all of this, he faced the daily pressures of concern for all the churches.
I’m amazed at the grace Paul demonstrated, and I’m amazed at the grace of God that worked in and through him. Grace is central to Christianity. It is something we give and receive; we receive it from God and give it to others. But do we really understand what God’s grace is? Do we know how to live by grace?
When preaching on grace, I’ve heard many ministers use the acronym, “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” We see this truth in John 3:16. Christ’s finished work on the cross allows us to come to God just as we are and accept his free gift of eternal life. He forgives all of our sins and fully reconciles us to a right relationship with himself. This is the heart of the gospel. Paul puts it this way: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
God’s grace is the fullness of Christ given to us without any work on our part. But it’s hard for some people to accept this. It’s not easy to swallow our pride and receive God’s grace. Grace is for others; we want to earn our way to Heaven. We don’t want welfare. But as Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24).
A Deeper Meaning
There are many facets of grace that can directly impact our lives, so it’s good to gain a full understanding of what grace means. My dictionary describes grace as “favor or goodwill,” “a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior,” and “mercy, clemency, or pardon.”
We see these meanings illustrated as we read the Bible. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were excluded from the Garden of Eden; but God supplied them with clothing, food, and shelter. After Cain killed Abel, God judged his sin, but “Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him” (Genesis 4:15). When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church he said, “By the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Grace can also be defined as God’s strength in our times of suffering (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). It enables us to accomplish his plan for our lives (9:8). God provides grace daily so we can live for him, trust in him, and believe he will do what he has promised.
Another common definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” Through God’s grace, Christians have received God’s unmerited favor—a kindness from God we don’t deserve through justification and sanctification.
Christ’s sinless life, his suffering, his death on the cross, his burial, resurrection, ascension, and intercession have created a way for us to be justified (proclaimed innocent of all our sins) in the sight of God. Because of God’s great love for us, we have been freely justified. Paul tells us, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one” (Romans 8:33, 34).
We have also been sanctified through God’s grace. To be sanctified means to be set apart for sacred use, to be made holy. God did not bring us into his family so we could continue to live according to our selfish whims and desires. Instead, he works in our lives to create Christlikeness in us. His grace sanctifies our minds, our desires, and our obedience to him. Sanctification through grace is illustrated through our daily choices: what we do, what we say, and how we act. As we yield to God’s unmerited favor, his grace will be reflected in our lives for his glory and good pleasure.
Grace Lived Out
My concordance defines grace as “God’s divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in life.” I have often equated “God’s divine influence” to the work of the Holy Spirit. So I interpret this process as the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart—my mind, will, and emotions—and my yielding to his work in my life.
I was once a surly and angry young man, despondent about life and missing the grace of God. I am now middle aged and working for God as a writer, minister, and teacher who continues to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The transformation in my life happened because of the grace of God.
My minister is someone I would truly call “a man of grace.” Whenever I talk to Dr. Jerry Piscopo about how to deal with people, he always tells me to “see them through the eyes of grace.” I have known him to do this with countless people. He explains it like this.
When people make up their minds to do something, even when it goes against what the Word says, you cannot change them. It takes the Spirit of Grace working in their lives to bring them to a place of seeing the truth.
People have sought my direction concerning business deals, dating and marriage, starting a ministry, and many other things. Most people are open to sound, biblical counsel. However, those who have already decided what they want to do become defensive when shown the truth of their situation. Only the Holy Spirit can change their minds, and he often does this through the “school of hard knocks.” When these people come back to me, broken and hurting, I could easily say, “Well, if you had just listened to me in the first place
. . . .” But that isn’t God’s heart.
James 4:6 tells us, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (NIV, 1984). I am to extend that “more grace” to those who need it the most. So I don’t turn my back on those who may have hurt me or attacked me in some way. I welcome them and talk through whatever issues or concerns there may be, so they can be restored again.
God’s grace is found in the treasures of Christ that are poured out in our lives whenever we turn to him. True grace is absolutely free. It is by grace that we live sold-out lives in humility and obedience to our heavenly Father, who offers us redeeming, unconditional, one-way love. That’s the power of grace that truly amazes. T
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Songs of Grace
When you’re looking for a moment of quiet peace and deepening grace, try these songs that grapple with the meaning of grace.