Years ago I learned a little acronym that was supposed to help me understand the meaning of grace: “God’s riches at Christ’s expense”. I suppose there is truth in the phrase, but it doesn’t really clarify this thing called grace.
Later I learned another definition of grace: “The desire and ability to do God’s will.” I have to confess that I never really understood how that related to grace at all, in spite of the fact that it is a popular definition.
I have read books that proclaim grace to be the equivalent of forgiveness or mercy. They suggest that a lack of grace is inappropriate for a Christian on the basis of the forgiveness that has been offered to us.
In common usage, grace is often connected to kindness. Grace becomes “graciousness”. To communicate grace is to be nice to people, especially when they aren’t particularly nice to you. Again, this falls short of the Scriptural teaching on grace.
There are theological books written on grace of course. Some of them are written to support Calvinism and others to support Arminianism. Both sides use grace as evidence that the other is wrong and there is some truth to what both proclaim. But is that enough to communicate the grace of God?
Perhaps the problem is that every definition of grace will fall short somehow. I suspect that the real definition of grace is quite personal and subjective. It has to do with how your own life has been touched by the Lord. In fact, I have come to believe that the reason it is hard to define grace is because grace is a Person. I believe that Jesus is God’s grace… but how do I define Jesus?
To define a person with words is a frustrating exercise. You could speak of physical features or character. You could philosophize about essence and spirit. You could talk about accomplishments or habits. Yet, the definition of the person would still be lacking. How much more is this true as we talk about the grace of God in the Person of Jesus?
You see, grace is everything God wants to give to us or do for us and He does it in and through the Person of Jesus. Love is the foundation of grace and grace is the activity of love. God’s love becomes grace as He reaches out to our need and fulfills in us everything we need to live in joyful relationship with Him.
There is only one way to fully communicate the grace of God and that is to bring people to Jesus. As they enter into relationship with Him, they learn the meaning of grace. And, yes, they will find forgiveness and acceptance and kindness and all the parts of grace in Him. They will also find life and life, as the Scripture says, more abundant. This is life unlike the common life of humankind. This is the abundant life of Jesus functioning in and through us.
Grace is so much more because Jesus is so much more. Paul hints at this in Ephesians 1 as he says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” ( Eph. 1:3 NKJV) What do we find in Jesus? “Every spiritual blessing!” It is all in Him.
That’s why grace is set against law in the Scriptures. Law was given to point out our inability to measure up to the holiness of God and motivate us to look to Him. When we use law and rules to try to accomplish holiness for ourselves, we fail to access the grace of God in Jesus. If He is our life (Col. 3:4) and our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption (1 Cor. 1:30), then we cannot accomplish these things ourselves and we have nothing of ourselves for which we may boast. (1 Cor 1:31)
Grace is what God does. When He works in us, that’s grace. When He works through us, that’s grace. When He works for us, that’s grace. That’s why we say that every part of the Christian life is lived by grace.
Grace – fully loaded – is the simple declaration of our total and eternal dependence on the Lord who loves us. Jesus told us that we could do nothing apart from Him. The wonderful teaching of the Vine and the branches in John 15 speaks to us of our relationship with Him. We draw all that is life from Him. Growth, success, health, the ability to bear fruit, and all the rest come from the vine to the branches. Redemption, sanctification, eternal life, and all spiritual things come from Jesus to us.
Now here’s where we want to be careful and discerning. There are many believers who will take this truth, that we can do nothing apart from Christ, and continue to teach a performance/works/Law based spirituality. They say that because of Christ now they are able to do these things. In other words, they are Christians and, because of that, they can never be apart from Christ. Therefore, they think they enjoy the message of grace while still trying to serve in their own strength.
For them, becoming a Christian is like painting yourself blue. Now that you are blue, you are blue whenever you do things. Since you are blue, you are different from the rest of the world. It is your responsibility to go out and live a life that is better than the rest of the world to show them the benefit of being blue and to deserve your own blueness. But the question is just how being blue makes any real difference in your life. Christians who try to live the Christian life in their own strength fail to enjoy the power and activity of Jesus.
What we are saying is that Christ is our strength and wisdom and energy. We have none of these things that are not His. It is His righteousness that allows us to stand before the Father. It is His victory that overcomes sin in our lives. It is His holiness that separates us from the world. How foolish it would be to try to add something of my own to His holiness! Instead, I trust in Him… and all these things are mine.
Grace – fully loaded – is the whole message of what God does for, in, and through us. How do I live the Christian life? In Christ! Where do I find hope for the future? In Christ! What is my assurance that my sins are forgiven forever? The fact that I am in Christ!
A man awoke to find himself on a deserted island. There had been a terrible storm at sea and, disobeying the officers of the ship, he went onto the deck to watch the incredible weather. Without warning he was thrown into the sea. As the water closed around him he knew that he was lost and his consciousness drifted away.
He awoke. Within a short time he became aware of his circumstances. He was hungry, frightened, and alone. He sat on the beach, day after day, watching the ocean for some sign of deliverance. Then he saw a ship growing larger on the horizon. As he watched, the ship launched a boat to save him.
With rejoicing in his heart, the man welcomed his rescuers but was shocked to find that they would not allow him into the boat. Instead, they said, they had wonderful news for him. He was forgiven! He was no longer going to be punished for disobeying the officers and going to the deck that day. In fact, his wife was not angry with him and his loans back home were all cancelled. He was a free man with no cause for guilt.
All the people on the boat clapped their hands to congratulate the man and then grasped their oars and rowed back to the ship. The ship disappeared into the sunset and the man sat watching on the beach.
A few days later the man spotted another ship on the horizon. He had managed to build a fire and believed that the smoke drew his rescue. Again, the ship lowered a boat and again the man believed that he was saved.
This time the boat was filled with provisions. Clean fresh water, clothing, and good food were all brought for him. Building materials and tools, weapons for protection, and many of the great comforts of home were given to him. The men on the boat unloaded everything, patted him on the back, and left for the ship. He called after them asking to go with them, but they shook their heads and smiled.
Once again he found himself on the beach, watching. He sat in his chair drinking warm lemonade and eating a roast beef sandwich. It was surely kind of those folks to send all these provisions, but he was still stranded and alone. Then, again, he saw a ship growing on the horizon.
This time two boats were launched from the ship. As they drew near to him, he noticed that they stayed some distance from each other. He chose the one on his right to contact first. As he drew near one of the men in the boat stood up very tall and shouted at him. He said that God had drawn the man to this island and that it would be a blessing for him only if he accepted the sovereign will of God. He called for the man to trust in the wisdom and will of God. When the man assured the preacher that he did trust the will of God, the preacher sat down and the boat pushed off to return to the ship.
But there was shouting from the other boat. The man couldn’t tell if they were angry at him for going to the boat on his right first or if they were trying to get him to come to them. He went toward the second boat but, before he reached it, he saw another tall man stand up and begin to speak. This preacher told him that God wanted him to make choices, that it was up to him whether he remained on the island. God would accept him whatever choice he made. When the man, still some distance away, assured the preacher that he would make a free choice, the preacher sat down and the boat returned to the ship.
Some time later the man sat on the beach watching the ocean. He was grateful that he no longer felt guilt or debt. He enjoyed his store of provisions. He spent much of his time contemplating the difference between the messages of the two preachers. But still he watched the ocean for his deliverance.
One evening, just as the sun was going down, the man heard the steady splash of oars hitting the water. He had not seen a ship but a boat was coming in. It was a small boat and only one man was in it. The strange man brought his little boat to the shore. Without a word, he walked toward the stranded man and embraced him. He called him by name and said that he had come to bring him home.
Although the stranded man was excited, he felt no sense of hurry. He welcomed his deliverer and offered a meal and warm fire. They ate together and talked. They talked of home and of joyful things. In a short time their hearts were knit together in friendship. In the morning, the man looked out and saw the most beautiful ship he had ever seen anchored so close to his island that he was amazed he hadn’t seen it the evening before. His rescuer welcomed him into the little boat and rowed back to the ship. The despair of his heart was gone and the man knew that he would never be alone again.
Grace comes to us in a Person who loves us beyond our understanding. We do not truly know all that we have received in Him, but we can know that we have received Him. Never again will we be without all that we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) This is grace – fully loaded!
Copyright 2010 David Orrison