By Victor Knowles
My friend Norm remembers a revival meeting that he, his parents, and his aunt once attended. It was the tradition of the congregation they visited for members to turn and kneel for prayer, facing their folding chairs. But Norm’s family, being visitors, remained seated. A rather large gentleman in the row in front of Norm’s aunt began to pray. “Oh, Lord, give me grace. Give me grace!” As he prayed most fervently, he threw out his long arms until they nearly embraced Norm’s aunt. Did I mention that her name was Grace? The poor man had Grace within his grasp and yet he did not know it. “Give me grace! Give me grace!” Grace shifted back in horror and my friend Norm nearly fell off his chair laughing.
We all need a greater grasp of grace.
Scripture’s Account of God’s Favor
Grace is mentioned 128 times in the Bible (New International Version), but only appears seven times in the Old Testament. The first time grace appears is in Genesis 6:8, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (King James Version). Other translations use the word favor. Matthew Henry commented, “Grace is the free, undeserved goodness and favor of God to mankind.” None of us deserve it, but all of us can have it because of God’s mercy and love.
The word grace is found only four times in the Gospels. Jesus never used the word, but he was grace personified in his teachings, manner of life, and the way he dealt with sincere sinners. John testified that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He drew a stark contrast between Jesus and Moses. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (v. 17). Dwight L. Moody said, “The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.”
Grace has been called the “signature” of the apostle Paul. He used the word charis (“favor”) more than 100 times in his letters. Seven churches were greeted with Paul’s grace signature (Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica). Three individuals also received this special greeting of grace (Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).
When believers understand and embrace grace, they will become much more gracious with fellow believers. God has freely given us his unmerited favor, and we need to be as gracious to others as he has been to us.
The Divine Origin of Grace
Grace comes to us from God. The apostle Peter calls him “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). The gods of this world are not gracious. They are severe, austere, and demanding. God, however, is seated on a “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). Aren’t you glad he does not sit on a throne of law? Praise God from whom all blessings flow—especially the unparalleled, unprecedented blessing of grace that flows from the throne of God.
Joni Eareckson Tada remarked, “God doesn’t just give us grace. He gives us Jesus, the Lord of grace.” Grace comes to us from Jesus Christ. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). Sinclair R. Ferguson observed, “Grace is not a ‘thing.’ It is not a substance that can be measured or a commodity to be distributed. It is the ‘grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In essence, it is Jesus himself.” This is what Paul told Titus: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11, New King James Version).
The Singular Source of Our Salvation
God’s unmerited favor is the source of our salvation—salvation from sin, self, death, and Hell. “Mercy there was great, and grace was free” (William R. Newell, “At Calvary”). Peter addressed the council at Jerusalem with the following words: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11). Paul reminded the saints in Ephesus, “It is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5).
This saving grace is the gift of God and comes through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8, 9). We have nothing to boast about. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling” (Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages”). Charles Spurgeon noted, “Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth, and shuts it once for all.”
The wonderful grace of Jesus is the source of our salvation (Ephesians 1:7), justification (Romans 3:24), and consolation (2 Thessalonians 2:16). No wonder the words “This Do in Remembrance of Me” appear on many of our communion tables.
Matchless Descriptions of Grace
In the song “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” the author (Haldor Lillenas) asks, “How shall my tongue describe it? Where shall its praise begin?” When you look at the Bible, it is as though inspiration is belaboring itself to describe “the matchless grace of Jesus.” The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible to carefully select words that would help us appreciate the grace of God.
Paul writes of receiving “God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). Think of the best gift you ever received for Christmas or your birthday. That gift pales in comparison with this gift. Grace is the gift that abounds and keeps on increasing. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (v. 20).
The inspired vocabulary builds and almost explodes with praise. Paul chooses words to describe the gift of grace like “wonderful” (Romans 5:15, New Living Translation), “glorious” (Ephesians 1:6), “riches” (Ephesians 1:7), “lavished on us” (v. 8), “generous” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NLT), “overflowing” (2 Corinthians 9:14), and “marvelous” (Galatians 1:15).
The Christian Life and Grace
Thomas Merton stated, “The whole Christian life is a life in which the further a person progresses, the more he has to depend directly on God. The more we progress, the less we are self-sufficient. The more we progress, the poorer we get so that the man who has progressed the most, is totally poor—he has to depend directly on God. He’s got nothing left in himself.” And this is where grace comes in. Perhaps one of the greatest Christians who ever lived, the apostle Paul, testified: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10, New American Standard Bible).
John Newton also had a similar testimony about grace. He declared, “I am now what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still, I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God, I am what I am.” We should all have a testimony about what grace has done for us.
We are under grace, not law (Romans 6:14). We are to continue in grace (Acts 13:43), stand in grace (Romans 5:2), abound in grace (2 Corinthians 9:8), speak with grace (Ephesians 4:29), be strong in grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). If our theology on grace is bent, our living will be crooked.
Solemn Warnings About Cheap Grace
Vance Havner opined, “We have suffered from the preaching of cheap grace. Grace is free, but it is not cheap.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace “the deadly enemy of the church.” He said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession . . .” Perhaps these words should be branded into every pulpit in America.
Paul was equally concerned with cheap grace. “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). Deliberate sinful living insults the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29), nullifies the grace of God, and makes the death of Christ meaningless (Galatians 2:21). Those who try to be justified by the law have actually “fallen away from grace” (5:4). Jude, the brother of Jesus, warned about godless teachers who change the grace of God into a license for immoral living (Jude 4). It is a heinous sin to pervert the message of the grace of God.
The Last Word on God’s Grace
It is fitting and appropriate that the last verse in the Bible ends on a note of grace. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:21). Where would we be without the grace of God? How we need the grace of God!
Charles Spurgeon closed a sermon with this invitation: “The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days, but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Victor Knowles is founder and president of Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM), Joplin, Missouri.