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Lifelong Christians hear the word "grace" a lot. "God's grace" is like a Christian catchphrase, so embedded into Christian culture that when many Christians are asked what God's grace is, they have trouble answering. Grace feels like something abstract and far away—a pretty word that means pretty and important things.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has eight different definitions for the word. Grace as "the quality or state of being considerate or thoughtful" is what we think of as grace in daily interactions with other people. Even more distantly, grace may seem like a fluid or beautiful method of movement, like ballet or figure skating. In the New Testament, the word "grace" comes from a translation of the Greek word charis, which directly translates to "favor, kindness, or blessing."
How do you define "being gracious"? Do you see it as being patient with one another and showing small acts of love to others even when they're being unkind? The theme of grace is a constant one throughout the Bible. There are numerous times when God shows patient kindness and investment in humanity even when people reject and mock Him. But that is only a small part of what God's grace is.
When we talk about God's grace specifically, the word "grace" takes on a much broader meaning than kind acts to a friend or a stranger. God's grace is His decision to offer us the blessing of eternal life in glory instead of requiring us to pay for our wrongs toward Him with eternal death.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "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." We never did and never could do a single thing to earn God's love or His favor or even to buy our way out of being in trouble with God. Ever since the Garden of Eden, people have been disobeying God. Adam and Eve did the one thing God told them NOT to do, even after God told them if they did the thing they'd die.
Despite their sinful actions, God chose to love them and didn't kill them—though they deserved it. Instead, He killed an animal and used the skins of the animal as clothes for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). This animal also served as a blood sacrifice for Adam and Eve's sin. God continued to show grace toward humanity in this way throughout the entire Old Testament. Even though His followers messed up, made sinful decisions, and directly disobeyed God, God accepted blood sacrifices as a way for mankind to seek forgiveness from God. But even here, the blood sacrifice didn't "pay off" the debt of sin; they were simply an annual reminder of the people's sinful state (Hebrews 10:3-4). Still, God extended forgiveness to them. More than that, He gave and continues to give His children gifts, comfort, second chances, and redemption on a daily basis.
Mercy is God's willingness to withhold punishment for sin, closing the door between us and eternal punishment (hell). Grace is God's choice to open the door so that we can reach Him and be part of His family. It is by God's grace that He sent Jesus Christ, His perfect son, to pay for all the sins in the world by dying on the cross. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
By sinning, we deserve to die. Jesus never sinned but died anyway for humanity (Titus 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21; John 3:16). After three days, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, thus defeating death (Romans 5:10). God upheld His standard for perfection and holiness while also giving us the opportunity to be part of His family (Colossians 1:19-20).
If you aren't sure if you have truly accepted the gift of salvation or would like to learn more about grace through salvation, please take a look at this article: How can I be saved?
One of the beautiful things about God's grace is that it isn't a one-time deal. God doesn't only extend grace once as a "get out of hell free" card. God's grace is an overflowing, bottomless barrel we are always welcome to drink from at any time. Christians are still broken humans in a broken world, and we need God's grace. We have physical health issues like severe allergies, chronic pain, terminal illness, paralysis, epilepsy, etc. We have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, etc. We get discouraged. We get angry. We hurt and are hurt by our loved ones. We may be abused by strangers, friends, family, even our church.
But amidst all this pain, God still offers the grace of His power and love and care and infinite knowing. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." God doesn't require us to be strong all the time. Instead, God asks that we allow Him to be strong FOR us (Hebrews 4:16).
Unfortunately, some churches or Christian groups will avoid discussing grace because they fear a misunderstanding of grace as a free pass to sin. Other churches or groups may define grace as freedom to do anything we want without consequences. God will forgive me anyways, so why worry about it? Right?
Paul addresses this supposed contradiction in Romans 6:1, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" Earlier, in Romans 2:3-4, Paul writes, "Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?"
God's grace is a beautiful thing offered to thirsty, willing hearts who know they need Him and who want to follow Him. But God is not one to allow His kindness to be trampled under ungrateful and arrogant hearts. (Also see: Why not continue to sin?)
God's grace is a gift we should treasure and not be ashamed to accept. Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Some believers have been so wounded by wrong teachings of grace that the mere thought of accepting the gift feels shameful and arrogant. But do not believe that lie. You are a child of the Living God, a son or daughter of the Creator of All Things. To accept a gift from God isn't something to be ashamed of, it's something to be in awe about, excited over, humbled by. It's something to bathe in, to be grateful for. God isn't throwing crumbs at you from the table; He is telling you that He has deemed you a magnificent object of His affection and invites you sit WITH Him. How cool is that?
For those who still struggle to understand grace and may feel embarrassed or ashamed for not grasping the concept, don't despair. You don't have to fully understand grace for God to give it to you. The God of the universe gives to those who are seeking understanding (Matthew 7:7-8). Pray for that understanding and recognize that you can trust the One who knows all and sees all to give you what you need.
God shows His grace by opening the door that was closed by our sin, so that we can reach Him and be part of His family, even though we don't deserve it (Ephesians 2:8-9). God's grace is why He sent Jesus Christ to pay for the world's sins by dying on the cross (Romans 6:23). God's grace isn't a one-time deal, rather it's an overflowing, bottomless barrel we are always welcome to drink from. Christians are still broken humans in a broken world, and we need God's grace daily (Romans 8:1; Hebrews 4:16).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.