When encountering people from other ethnic, national, or religions, grace is a word that’s hard to understand because it means different things to different people. Consider this scenario.
When I consider my life, my reward looks dismal. As I remember the things I’ve done, things I’m too ashamed to tell, I think, “There’s no way God will let me into heaven!” In my imagination I see myself standing before the throne of God with fear and trembling. My fate is in his hands. I hear Satan accusing me of all the things I did and many more things I didn’t do. I want to argue, to defend myself. But then I remember, it doesn’t matter anyway. If I broke one part of the law, I broke it all. I can feel the demons of hell gloating over me, hissing at me. I hang my head in shame. I am so afraid. What can I do?
When I look I see Jesus. I see his wounded side and nail scarred hands. Pain shoots through my heart and tears begin to fall as I realize my sin caused his agony. What’ll he say? What’ll he do? My heart sinks.
He looks at me with compassionate eyes. Did I hear him say that he already paid the required amount for all my sin by going to the cross for me? He says that all the things I did, and said, and thought about, have been paid in full by his own blood. My record is clean! Jesus cleansed it by shedding his blood on the cross!
God looks at me and asks me whether I believe that Jesus did all that for me. I say, “With all my heart, soul, mind, and strength I do.” The tears fall even harder but the fear is replaced with relief. Joy floods my soul. I laugh. I cry. I run to Jesus. I fall at his feet and say “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” He says, “Stand up. I love you. You are my friend.”
That is grace.
What other ways can we describe grace? People who teach about grace often describe it as God’s unearned favor. God loves us even when we feel unworthy. Grace is the power of God. When we face temptations, it is grace that prevents us from yielding to the temptation. Grace can be described as a state of reconciliation to God. The phrase “fallen from grace” comes from this meaning. Grace enables us to live at peace with our neighbors. Grace is a gift from God. We can’t boast about how much grace we have because it’s a gift.
Grace is receiving favor. My friend Sharon describes how that type of grace worked in her life.
“I didn’t want to be with my mom when she died. I experienced grief when my husband died–I couldn’t bear the thought of doing it again,” Sharon remembers. “Her passing was imminent. Dad was with her at the nursing home when a raging snow storm started to pass through our area. I called and told him to head home and I’d sit with mom. ‘Oh, God, please don’t let her die while I’m there,’ I cried out in my heart. Instead of answering that prayer, God began pouring his strength and grace upon me. Mom died four hours later. Her last words were, ‘You were a wonderful daughter.’”
“God knew I had to be there when she passed—she needed to say those words and I needed to hear them. They were God’s grace-gift to me.”
For the rest of her life, Sharon will know her mother found favor with her.
What does the Bible says about grace? How do we accept God’s grace when we feel so undeserving? Why do we struggle with having enough grace for ourselves and others? How is our relationship with God influenced by grace? Can we have too much grace?
How do we accept God’s grace when we feel so undeserving?
Grace rules out anything we can do. It’s given freely by faith in our Savior. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8 & 9, ESV) We have nothing to boast about. God gives the gift, the grace, and the gospel. That’s grace, upon grace, upon grace.
We may think that because of the way we’ve lived we’re unworthy of grace. I’ve met many people who felt they had been so bad that God couldn’t help them. The truth is everyone who is saved has felt undeserving. We might think, “How could someone like me ever receive God’s grace?” That’s a good question. But if we felt good enough to receive grace it wouldn’t be grace and it wouldn’t be salvation. On the other hand, if we feel we don’t need it, we’ll never receive it.
In Acts 2:47 we read about the believers finding “the favor of all the people.” Paul usually begins his letters by wishing grace and peace on his readers. He says to the Corinthians, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3, NIV). The readers were already believers, they had already received grace for salvation, so Paul was probably asking for God’s favor as they lived from day to day. Paul may also have been wishing them God’s presence and peace.
Exodus 33:15-17 is a story about Moses asking for God’s favor and presence. Moses says, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us?” (NIV) Moses may have felt undeserving of leading his people and wanted God to be with him as reassurance.
Why do we struggle with having enough grace for ourselves and others?
As Christians we have to be careful of three sources that can prevent us from receiving grace: the devil, the world, and our flesh. These are our enemies. They entice us to become entangled in our pleasure seeking activities, drawing the noose tighter around us until we are trapped in bondage from which we can’t escape. They tell us we’re not saved because we’re not good enough. Has anyone been there besides me? They point to the mistakes we’ve made since becoming a Christian. Or they tell us we are saved so eat, drink, and be merry.
Christians will have struggles. That’s because there’s a devil that’s always looking for people he can influence. Remember he even tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Another source of our struggle comes from the world. Life is full of sinful things to see, hear, and do. Our third source of struggle comes from our flesh, our humanity, our desire to gratify our appetites, habits, or addictions. Our flesh is constantly in opposition to the Spirit, like the old cartoons that had the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other shoulder while they both tried to influence the decision. In the cartoons the angel always won, but that isn’t necessarily true in real life. Sometimes we yield to our flesh. These struggles can cause us to feel undeserving of grace. The struggle doesn’t mean we’re not Christians, it means we are or there wouldn’t be a struggle.
Romans chapter seven explains why we don’t seem to have enough grace. Paul describes the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. When the flesh wins, grace loses. That is why Paul says we have to die to self daily and walk in the Spirit. Remember Galatians 5:16 says when we walk in the spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. How do we walk in the Spirit? For me, it’s a mental attitude. We need to realize grace is in front of us, behind us, under us and over us. It is to the right and the left and it fills our hearts. When we’re in that place, we can walk in the Spirit.
Grace has two directions. One direction is from God to us, the other direction is from us to others. If it seems difficult to receive grace from God, it’s harder to give grace to others. People are always going to disappoint us. When we learn the difficult task of forgiving when someone does us wrong, we’re beginning to experience grace.
God’s grace makes Christians peculiar people. We can learn to forgive, to pardon, and to treat with unearned favor those who become a part of our lives. I know it’s easy to hold a grudge. I’ve done it often, even when the person was innocent and the offense was only in my mind. But we’re to forgive them, even if we think they don’t deserve it, even if they’ll probably never return grace to us. It’s hard to remember, as Romans 5:8 says, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. We can never be good enough. But he showed us grace anyway. We can learn to grow in that type of grace.
How is our relationship with God influenced by grace?
Many people who call themselves Christians say, “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship.” Religion implies that humanity is and people are trying to do something to appease a deity. In Christianity the deity has died for us. I believe that without the grace of God there’d be no relationship. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:22-23 that in the last days there’ll be people who call him Lord, but he’ll deny ever knowing them. The relationship was only in their minds, not in God’s heart.
Christians who make the claim to have a relationship are saying they’ve accepted Jesus as their Savior. They’re saved by the grace of God and their faith in him. Anything less is not a relationship. Do we spend time alone with God each day? Do we daily pray and read our Bibles? Do we bless or curse others in the language used to talk to them? Can others see the strength of the relationship in us through our actions? Our attentiveness to justice? Concern for the poor? Dispossession of our wealth and the sharing of our possessions?
I attend a large church where it’s difficult to know everybody. Sometimes when I ‘m shopping someone will tell me they saw me at church. Immediately I try to remember what I’ve just been doing or saying. I don’t want anyone from my church seeing me act in an ungracious manner. I especially don’t want God to see me acting that way. Sometimes it embarrasses me when I remember what I said or did.
The last verse in the entire Bible says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with God’s people” (Rev. 22:21). He has given us many opportunities to choose him or reject him. We can receive his blessings or his wrath, but our destiny is determined by our choice. If we consider giving up our own understanding and follow him, then we’ll receive the results of his grace.
God knows the condition of the world and our hearts and he doesn’t want anyone to perish; he wants us all to come to him. His love for us never ends and reaches all around the world and into our hearts. It extends throughout eternity. It’s gentler than a feather, mightier than a hurricane, and stronger than a mountain. Yet, it grieves him. God’s kind heart is broken, when even one of his creation reject him and chooses to continue to live according to the flesh. Every person who continues to live in sin is a person for whom Christ died in vain. How can anyone neglect so great a salvation? People marvel at the martyrs and wonder how they could do what they did. I think they understood his grace enough to receive it. I have many friends on Facebook who live in countries where it’s difficult to minister but they continue each day by God’s grace and thank him for providing for them.
Paul knew better than anyone the effects of God’s grace. He was changed from being a persecutor of Christians to being an apostle for God. God is merciful, God is love. God is grace. It’s through his grace we are able to have a relationship with him. We may have learned that even though we received new birth, it is impossible to live a Christian life on our own strength. That is what Paul was telling the church in Rome. They couldn’t work their way into God’s grace. They had to learn that God himself is dwelling in us, helping us to live right, if we let hm.
Can we have too much grace for ourselves?
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” I’ve often wondered about that verse. Was Paul referring to grace as his ministry gift, his power to operate in his ministry, his protection in his travels, his favor with God, or his salvation? It could be all of them, or none of them. It seems that he wasn’t healed from his illness. I sometimes wonder why. Paul accepts his ailment as part of God’s grace for him.
We see grace again in James 4:6. “God gives grace to the humble.” Also, 1 Peter 5:5 says “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James doesn’t specify what type of grace. Let’s assume these verses mean that all the benefits of being saved are God’s gifts to us. What would that mean? We can read Psalm 103 and see a partial list of the benefits: forgiveness, healing, protection from harm, loving kindness, and good food. It seems to me that asking if we have too much grace is like asking, can we have too much forgiveness? Can we have too much love? Can we have too much mercy? Doesn’t God give us what we need when we need it?
What is our power if we are living in grace?
There is a popular saying among Christians. It’s the phrase “We are not under law but under grace,” based on the scripture in Romans 6:14 (NKJV), “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” The popular teaching is that once we’re saved we can do anything we want because we are covered by grace.
I think there’s another type of grace. As sinners saved by grace, we need to be careful to not consider God’s grace as a license for lasciviousness. Hebrews 12:28 defines grace as a force “whereby we may serve God acceptably.” When we’re saved by grace we learn that the same grace that saves us is the same grace that empowers us to live holy lives. We don’t need to sin because grace gives us power to overcome sin. “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” (Romans 1:5, NIV) What else can this mean except that our faith gives us power to obey God? What are we to do with that power?
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Romans 12:6) What gift has God given us? It seems to me we’re given a double measure of power. Power to live obediently and power to perform the gift he has given to us. Some of the grace gifts are righteousness (Romans 5:15), and eternal life (Romans 6:23). In 1 Corinthians 3:10, Galatians 2:9, and Ephesians 3:2 Paul talks about using the gift he received from God’s grace. These gifts may have been wisdom, knowledge, faith, miracles, or healing.
We have considered some of the dimensions of grace. We have seen that it’s the gift of God that allows God to accept us into his kingdom. It’s unmerited favor. Grace is the power of God living inside us through the Holy Spirit that enables us to resist temptations. Grace is the force that enables us to live at peace with our neighbors. Grace gives us favor to live day to day. Grace can be God’s presence. We can’t boast about how much grace we have because it’s a gift. But these are only the beginning of grace. We’ll never know how much it cost for Jesus to go to the cross for us. We’ll never be able to understand the fullness of God’s love.
There is one dimension important enough to review again. Ephesians 2:8 indicates grace is a free gift. It isn’t the payment of a debt. “Now to a laborer, his wages are not counted as a favor or a gift, but as an obligation (something owed to him).” (Romans 4:4, AMP) Nor is it obedience to the law. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NIV). We ought always to remember that we don’t deserve grace. It’s God’s free gift.
The Christian life is an adventure and only two things help us succeed; God’s grace and our faith. Without them we have no relationship with Jesus. Without them there is no salvation. Without them there is no power for living.
Throughout our lives God introduced us to people, brought us through circumstances, put us into situations where we could choose his grace and change our lives. God, in his grace gave us a chance to be saved from our sin. All it took was faith. How much faith? Faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. (Matthew 17:20) Less faith than that can move God. He wants to extend his grace to us. Thank God if we are humble enough to receive it. Thank God for his saving grace.