I was recently asked to respond to 4 questions about grace for an article for a Spring Creek Baptist Church magazine. Reflecting on grace was good for my soul so I thought I would pass these thoughts along to you for your reflection:
1. What is God’s grace?
Wow! What a question! On one hand the answer can be recited by kids in Sunday school: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense; on the other hand the wonder and profundity of God’s grace fills and overflows our hymnody and theology. Songs, poems, books have been written, and still, the knowledge of God’s grace has not been exhausted (nor can it be—Eph 2:7).
That being said, let me offer a few brief thoughts regarding God’s grace—2 quotes, my definition/description, and 1 Scripture reference—in an attempt to answer your question.
C.L. Chase says, “…grace means God is always up to [a Christian’s] good. God always intends a believer’s good (Gen 50:20); always gives good to a believer (Matt 7:11); and, always works all things to a believer’s good (Rom 8:28).” (C.L. Chase; Grace-Focused Optimism; Christian Focus Publications, Scotland, 2017; 11-12)
Theologian J.I. Packer defines grace this way, “The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity.” (J.I. Packer; Knowing God; IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2018 edition; 132)
So, here is my attempt of a short definition and brief description of grace: God’s grace is His loving disposition and merciful determination to do only and eternal good through and in Christ Jesus to guilty, undeserving rebels. Our Lord’s grace is sovereign (Rom 5:21), spontaneous—completely free from any external force or attraction (Rom 5:6-8), saving (Eph 2:5, 8), sanctifying (Titus 2:11-12), sufficient (2 For 12:9), and sweetly satisfying (Ps 34:8; Is 55:1-2).
The Bible says it best though: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich….Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 8:9; 9:15)
2. From your experience, how and why do Christians struggle with God’s grace?
I suppose several in-depth answers could be given to this, but let me try to keep it brief: I think we struggle with God’s grace because of pride and disbelief.
Our pride is a continual obstacle to living by God’s grace. By default, we are legalists in heart (I can and will do what God says so He will/must accept me). By culture, we believe we can “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” (I can fix myself). Both of these mindsets fight against grace. We struggle to believe that we are as hopeless and helpless as the Bible says we are and that God’s grace is as free, unearned, undeserved, and welcoming as the Bible says it is. So when we sin, instead of confessing to and trusting in Christ, we try to prove ourselves or harm ourselves to show or offer God something. Grace by definition says we cannot offer God anything, rather, we must receive what He gives. We have to learn to fight pride with the humbling truths of grace.
Our disbelief also is a cause for our struggles with God’s grace. Some of us are haunted by past and present sins and we have a hard time believing that God could and would forgive us completely of all our sins. Yet, this is the glory of the gospel of grace: In Christ God does grant us a full pardon (Col 2:13,14). He does remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). He does throw them into the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). He does declare us forgiven, yes, even righteous (Rom 3:23-25; 2 For 5:21). The enemy loves to accuse us and get us to doubt God’s goodness and grace. Our sinful experiences shout to our consciences that we must not be saved. When this happens, disbelief can easily set in. We have to learn to fight disbelief with the Christ-secured, Bible-revealing realities of grace.
3. What role should God’s grace play in the life of Christians?
Grace is absolutely essential. We are brought to Christ by grace. We are kept in Christ by grace. We will live eternally with Christ because of grace.
We need grace for life, growth, comfort, trial, loss, power, and endurance. We need grace when we sin, suffer, serve, or succeed. We need grace like a seed needs soil, or a fish needs water, for it is in him, the God of all grace, that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28; 1 Pet 5:10).
Here is a quote I found from John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace) after he reflected on 1 Cor 15:10—“But by the grace of God I am what I am.” I think his thoughts capture the essential role of grace in our lives:
"I am not what I ought to be. Ah! How imperfect and deficient.
I am not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities.
I am not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart—knows I wish to be like Him.
I am not what I hope to be. Before long, I will drop this clay tabernacle to be like Him and see him as He is!
Yet, I am not what I once was—a child of sin, and slave of the devil!
Though not all these—not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what I once was—I think I can truly say with the apostle, ‘By the grace of God—I am what I am!’”
4. How can believers grow in God’s grace?
By grace :) It’s true though! We really can only grow by grace. That doesn’t mean we don’t give effort or apply our selves, but it does remind us that unless God is first and continually gracious and then, we are humbly dependent, we will not grow (Philippians 2:12-13).
That being said, let’s remind ourselves of the means that God in His grace has provided for our growth in grace. These are what is commonly called the “ordinary means of grace.”:
The Word of God (heard, read, studied, preached, meditated upon, etc.)
The communion of the saints (weekly gathering together for word and worship, discipling one another, caring for one another, etc.)
Prayer (private and public, individual and corporate)
The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper)
Theses means of grace are effective for our growth because Christ by his Holy Spirit meets us in them all when attended to by faith.
One other thought for growth in grace (probably an extension of the communion of the saints) that I want to highly commend is the reading of Christian biographies from the past, and the reading of solid, challenging, gospel-centered books and theological works. The Christ-given gifts of teachers in the Church (Eph 4:11-12) not only include those currently in our local churches but also the pastors and teachers down through the centuries. These saints not only enrich our lives but help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. May God grant it by His grace and for His glory.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.