I don’t mind revisiting the word “grace” as many times as necessary until it’s understood accurately in the mind of as many people as I can explain it to. “Grace” may be the most wonderful word in the Bible besides “Father,” “Jesus,” and “Spirit,” but it is used incorrectly almost every time it is uttered by a Christian.
Hopefully, the following flurry of verses and comments will make defining grace easy.
Usually we use the word “grace” in such a way that it is a synonym for mercy.
I’ve heard Christians give a wonderful definition for grace:
Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve; grace is God giving us what we do not deserve.
That’s true! Great definition! But almost no one actually uses grace that way. Instead, we keep confusing it with mercy.
Have you ever been in a situation where a person did something wrong, and they weren’t punished? Perhaps a teenager with parents, or a church member that violated some church protocol?
In Christian circles, it is common for us to say, “We gave that person grace in this situation.”
No, you didn’t! You gave that person mercy! What is it called when a person breaks a rule, custom, or law, and is not punished? We call it mercy, not grace.
The Bible doesn’t use grace in that way, either.
A Biblical Definition of Grace
This post is an adaptation of an email I sent to an excellent Bible teacher who had been lulled, like all the rest of us, into using grace as a synonym for mercy in an otherwise inspiring teaching on Rom. 1:5.
From whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations.
Grace is actually the source of Paul’s apostleship. His use of the two words here, grace and apostleship, are related. Consider these verses:
Rom. 12:3: “For I say, through the grace given to me …”
Rom. 12:6: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us …”
Rom. 15:15: “I have written the more boldly to you … because of the grace that is given to me from God.”
1 Cor. 3:10: “According to the grace of God that is given to me as a wise master builder …”
1 Cor. 15:9-10: “For I am the least of the apostles … but by the grace of God I am what I am. And his grace, which was on me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than them all.”
Eph. 3:7-8: “I was made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of his power. To me, who am the least of all the saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Mercy is important, and we are saved by mercy as well as grace (Tit. 3:5), but grace is different than mercy. Grace is the ongoing power for life today. Grace is the reason we can have the obedience of faith without our salvation being by works. Our salvation is by grace. We obtain grace by faith, and our works come from grace:
Rom. 5:2: “We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”
Rom. 6:14: “Sin will not have dominion over you because you are not under law but under grace.”
Eph. 2:8-10: “For you have been saved by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”
In Eph. 2:8-10, we need to remember and apply Rom. 5:2. Faith is the access to the grace that saves us. Grace is a gift, but it is also what empowers us to do those “good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”
There are three more verses that I like to use to define grace because they’re so clear:
Tit. 2:11-12: “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
Heb. 4:16: “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need.”
1 Pet. 4:11: “As every man has received a gift, minister it to one another as good stewards of the grace of God.”
Grace is that really awesome power described in these three verses (and in Rom. 6:14, breaking the power of sin), and we have access to it simply by faith!
One of the applications of this is the situation where you have to admonish a brother or sister, and the response is, “Remember, brother, it’s by grace, not by works.”
Once we are using the word grace properly, we can say, “Of course it is, which is exactly why I am admonishing you. If we had to rely on works, you would probably not be able not obey my admonishment. You would still be in slavery to sin living in you. However, now that you are under grace, I can admonish you, because grace is teaching you to live soberly and godly in this present age, and sin has no power over you anymore.”
I’m sure all of this is not completely new to most of you. It’s not a teaching that I invented. Christians *teach* this, but on a daily basis, as we use the word grace, we seem to forget it; grace loses its power in our mind, and it morphs into simple forgiveness. We need both!