7 Biblical Facts About Grace
Just like in the New Testament, the two biggest misconceptions about grace today are that people either try to earn it or neglect the importance of responding to it. People either overemphasize their part while underestimating God's part or the other way around. It is crucial that we have a biblical understanding of grace because misunderstood grace will make us live either a tortured (when trying to earn His grace) or a meaningless life (when not cooperating with His grace) before God.
In this article I point out seven of the most important biblical facts about grace that together form a solid foundation and give us a biblical paradigm for a right understanding of what grace is and what it's not.
Fact #1: Grace Forgives and Empowers
- From a biblical point of view, grace has two distinct dynamic meanings: First, it describes God's forgiveness of sin (grace in salvation – Eph 2:8; Tit 2:11). Second, it describes God's empowerment of us to live a life pleasing to the Lord (grace in sanctification – Eph 2:10; Tit 2:12; 2 Pet 1:3-4). In His grace, God doesn't only forgive sin but also equips us to wholehearted obedience and lovesick devotion.11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. (Tit 2:11-12)8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; ... 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:8,10)
- One of the reasons for major misunderstandings of grace in today's Church is stressing one while downplaying the other. A biblical understanding can only be maintained when both dynamics of grace are understood and stressed properly. We mustn't neglect one or the other.
Fact #2: God's Grace Is Priceless, His Love Unconditional
- The Greek word for grace is “charis”, an etymological neighbor of “gift”. By definition, grace as unmerited favor of God is totally free and can't be earned (Rom 6:23; Eph 2:8). It is given freely and offered to all human beings alike. Paul boldly proclaimed that no one can boast about having earned the grace of God.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
- The Bible is also clear that God's love is unconditional. God's love is for sinners and saints alike (John 3:16, Rom 5:8). He loves all human beings to an extent worthy of the death of His only Son. We can't stress the immensity and intensity of this love for human beings enough. If this love goes out to sinners and saints – believer and non-believer alike – then we have to conclude that His love is unconditional. No matter who I am, what I have done, how I live my life and how close or distant (or non-existent) my relationship with the Lord is, He loves me. There are no requirements for His love. It is unconditional, can't be earned and not be improved upon.16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
- What this comes down to is that eventually we can't earn anything from God. We can't earn His grace, love or favor. Even more, the Bible explicitly warns us that we are in a very dangerous place if we try to earn His grace or love. We can't earn God's love or grace, we don't have to, and we shouldn't try.10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.' (Gal 3:10)
Fact #3: God's Grace Needs To Be Received - On God's Terms
- We have established the fact that God's grace is free. Another important biblical truth however is that though grace is free it still needs to be received. It doesn't matter how much I want to give someone a gift, he won't have it unless he takes it.
- There are many examples in our everyday life that illustrate this fact. We can have millions in our bank account and be homeless because we don't access. We can have a full table in front of us but will starve if we don't eat from it. We can get a coupon for an online store but will still pay the same price at the checkout unless we enter the coupon code.
- The point I want to make here is that God's grace only works in cooperation with humans. Notice how I didn't say it only “exists” when we cooperate (that would be earned, and called righteousness by works), I said it only “works” in cooperation with us. God's grace exists for all of us, but it only does what it's meant to – is only effective – when we respond to it. We don't earn anything from God, we position us to receive from Him. Grace is always available but won't be effective unless it's received. This is true for both dynamics of grace:
- Salvation: God's saving grace is offered to all (Tit 2:11) but only those who believe in Jesus (John 1:12; 3:16; 11:25) and confess that He is Lord will be saved (Rom 10:9-10). We see that while God's love is unconditional, the working of His grace is not. Once again, this is not about making God give us grace (as in earning it), it's about receiving what is already offered in the way God defined.
- Sanctification: There are many examples in the Bible that illustrate that a certain response on our side is necessary to receive what God already wants to give. They mustn't be understood as ways of earning anything from God but God-designed ways to position our heart to receive what He already wants to give. Here are a few:
- God certainly wants to give us the Holy Spirit, but it's received by asking for it (Mt 7:11). As James points out, many don't have because they don't ask (James 4:2).
- We open our heart to feel more of His love by keeping His commandments (John 15:10). His love is unconditional, but we decide how in tune we are with it and how much we experience it by aligning ourselves to Him (also Mt 5:8; Hebr 12:14).
- Some answers to prayer can only be received through persistent prayer (Luke 18:1-8).
- Some demons only leave through prayer and fasting (Mt 17:20-21). This passage underlines how our intimacy with the Lord positions us to receive certain dimensions of authority that is available to all of us (see Lk 10:19).
- We see that it's not only important that we respond to God to receive what He already offers, but that we have to respond on His terms. God as the giver also defines how we receive what He has to give. If God is our creator, He is the most competent source to explain how we position ourselves to receive. He knows the human design and knows best what opens the human heart to not miss what He desires to give.
- God designed it this way because He doesn't want to impose Himself on us. He gave us a free will so that we could decide whether we receive it or not. We receive by committing to the ways God outlined for us in His wisdom and we do good to give ourselves to them wholeheartedly if we don't want to miss anything God offers us. Once again, we don't earn anything from God. We don't have to please God to get His favor. We already have it. It means responding to an invitation.
- We can't do God's part and God won't do our part. He invites us, we come. He offers us, we take.
Fact #4: Being Loved And Being Pleasing Are Two Different Things
- Another big issue and source for common fears, confusion and frustration emerges when those two things are mixed up. God's love for me and me being pleasing to Him are two different things that we need to define and differentiate if we don't want to run into the pitfalls of misunderstanding His love and grace.
- As already pointed out, God's love is unconditional. If it's for sinners and believers alike. That means two things: First, you can be completely certain of God's love, regardless of how you live. Second, God's love for you doesn't mean that He approves of your lifestyle (nor does it depend on it).
- Being pleasing to God means living in a way that God likes and that is in agreement with His standards of holiness (1 John 3:22; Col 1:10; Hebr 13:16; Rom 12:1-2). While God loves even those who are “of the world” (John 3:16), they don't please Him (Rom 8:8). Likewise, being a Christian doesn't mean that you automatically please God.
- Both are very important aspects of our faith and walk with God, but it's also important here to point out that neither of them saves you. We are not saved by God's love, rather in His love He prepared a way to get saved. Love is the motivation, not the means. Furthermore, we're not saved by being pleasing to Him. This would be salvation by works – earning salvation – and would require completely flawless obedience which is impossible for us to obtain (Rom 3:23). We are saved through Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross to which we respond in faith.
- Many make the mistake of basing their assurance of salvation on how God feels about the way they live in certain areas of their lives. They think they are only saved as long as God is happy with how they live. That again is righteousness by works and not by faith – no matter whether we are talking about receiving salvation or keeping it. What it produces is a continual up and down in our walk and relationship with God. We have to understand, that I'm not saved by my holiness but by His, that I'm loved in spite of my shortcomings, and that even when God disapproves with an area of my life, He isn't loving me less (Hebr 12:6).
- Others confuse His love with being pleasing to the Lord. They believe that because God loves them, He is automatically fully pleased with them. Basically they conclude that being pleasing to Him has nothing to do with how I live before the Lord. In 2 Cor 5:9 Paul speaks of his “ambition to be pleasing to the Lord” in his ministry. He obviously knew that his choices and actions had a dynamic impact on the pleasure God would take in him. He wasn't concerned about his salvation here but about the opinion God had of his lifestyle and ministry.
- I'll further stress the importance of making it our goal and habit to move the heart of God with the way we live in fact 6 and how it's dynamically related to our own good. At the same time I also feel the need to underline that we should never underestimate how much we already please God simply by believing in Jesus, accepting His offer of grace and salvation, and having become His (Hebr 11:6). This alone is a huge step of obedience that touches the heart of God beyond our imagination (Luke 15:10).
Fact #5: You Can Lose Your Salvation But Not By Falling Into Sin
- You can divide Christianity into two factions: One believes it's possible to lose your salvation, the other thinks it's not possible. While both sides present Bible verses to back up their opinion, one can't deny that there are Bible verses that clearly assume that it's possible to lose your salvation (Mk 3:28-29; Hebr 6:4-6; 10:26-29; 2 Tim 2:11-12; 2 Peter 2:20-22). But I would say that the act of losing is a bit different than many people think.
- As already pointed out above, you don't get saved because of your works but in spite of it. Now, if you've been saved in spite of your works it would be illogical to assume that you could lose your salvation because of it. That would mean God's grace for being a Christian would be inferior to His grace for becoming one and the most reasonable conclusion would be not to become a Christian till you're on your deathbed.
- Salvation doesn't only mean that God forgives your sins. It means you now have a personal advocate Jesus Christ who stepped in, took your place and paid the price for your sins – past, present and future. Your individual sin doesn't change anything about Jesus taking your place.
- In some denominations it's taught (or silently assumed) that you lose your salvation whenever you sin and only regain it when you ask for forgiveness of this sin. For instance, I was taught that when I didn't ask God for forgiveness for the sins I committed on a day before I went to bed and Jesus returned during the night, I wouldn't be saved. That's not only a severe misunderstanding of the Cross but also a very unstable foundation for a relationship with God. With such a mindset it's almost impossible to have assurance of salvation and maintain a sense of God's love over you.
- In 1 Cor 3 Paul talks about Jesus being our foundation and about the different ways we can build on this foundation as Christians. The way we live our lives as Christians will either produce eternal rewards or barrenness on the day of Jesus' return. Now, Paul makes a very important distinction here: When talking about those Christians who lived meaningless lives in the eyes of God Paul writes: “If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). You are saved based on the foundation of your faith in Jesus, not by how you build on it. However, those who don't build on it well apparently don't have the most attractive prospects.
- If your faith in Jesus and His grace for you are the foundation of your salvation (1 Cor 3:11) and if you are saved in spite of your works (Rom 4:5; 6:23) and keep your salvation independent of how you live and build on it (1 Cor 3:15), then the only way to lose your salvation is by losing this foundation. The only possible way to lose your salvation is by deliberately rejecting the gift of righteousness after you have received it – saying no to salvation, no to Jesus, no to the Holy Spirit, no to God.
- I believe that rejecting your salvation and the sin against the Holy Spirit are the same thing: It's a final, deliberate, wholehearted rejection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the gift of salvation by a believer who knows all the consequences of this decision and by doing so burns all the bridges that could ever lead him back. It's not falling into sin, it's a final, deliberate denying and rejection of Christ (2 Tim 2:12). (There's a lot more to say on this topic but that that's beyond the scope of this article.)
- Even though it's not sin that makes you lose your salvation, sin plays a significant role in the passages that refer to losing your salvation. A Christian doesn't simply reject Jesus. But a lifestyle of ongoing sin and quenching of the Spirit (I'm not talking about occasional falling and struggling with our weaknesses) causes significant insensitivity and numbness to the Lord in our heart. Over the years this lifestyle of significant disobedience can put us in a place where we care less and less about God, where we grow tired and bitter of faith and Jesus, and where negative circumstances and events can let us get severely offended at God. This is the place where bitterness can ripen and where Christians can eventually come to a place where they deliberately reject all of Jesus and knowingly chose hell over Him. It's very rare and a most terrible thing to imagine, but it's possible and there are people alive today who went there. Even though we don't lose our salvation because of sin, we simply can't underestimate the immense effects and the danger of a lifestyle of ongoing sin. That automatically brings us to our next point:
Fact #6: What You Do Really Really Matters
- Many Christians rightly understand that there's nothing we can do to make God love us more, that we are saved not by works, that grace can't be earned and that even the mere attempt is righteousness by works. But some Christians also falsely assume that therefore we can't or don't have to do anything. However, the Bible and all of its authors continually stress the importance of obedience and a lifestyle that pleases God. (As pointed out under fact 4, being loved and accepted by God and being pleasing to Him with the way you live are two different things.)
- This is not an Old Testament concept, it's a Biblical concept. The shift between the Old Testament and the New is not that what we do doesn't matter anymore, it's just that we are not saved by it.
- Once again, this is not about earning grace from the Lord, nor is it about gaining salvation or keeping it, it's about receiving what He already offers by coming into agreement with Him on His terms.
- There are so many passages in the Bible that underline the importance and the benefits of a lifestyle that touches the heart of God and that were written to inspire in us a hunger for righteousness, undistracted devotion, radical obedience, a pursuit of the fullness of God and a vision to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
- The Bible makes it very clear that what we do really does matter – not only to God but to us.
- Sensitivity to the Lord – As pointed out above, a lifestyle of constant sin can be fatal to our faith. Even if it's not fatal, it certainly dulls our heart and makes us insensitive to the voice, presence and love of God. Personally, not being tender before the Lord, being emotionless at His Word and bored in prayer is one of the most terrible states for me, and it's caused by not living in alignment with Him and His will. It quenches our love and grieves the Spirit – His and ours.
- Obedience is Love – Obedience is the love language of the Kingdom (John 14:15,21; 1 John 5:3). Our love for God grows out of obedience. Our obedience to a big extent defines how much love we will feel back to God.
- Touching the Heart of God – The love you express in this age moves the heart of God, and He will remember it and remind you of those events for all eternity (Hebr 6:10). What a privilege that is! Let's make it our ambition to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor 5:9)!
- Experiencing more of God – Holiness positions us to receive more from God and experience Him more (Mt 5:8; Heb 12:14). Notice that I didn't say He loves us more, nor did I say that He is closer to us. We experience more of His presence and love because through obedience we tune in to God's wavelength and abide in His love (John 14:21; 15:10).
- Eternal Rewards – This perhaps is the area where it's clearest how much your actions matter: Eternal rewards depend solely on your actions (Rev 22:12; 2 Cor 5:10). God's grace doesn't earn you eternal rewards, nor does God's love – your love expressed through obedience does. Remember that those who don't build well on the foundation of their faith will suffer loss (1 Cor 3:15).
- Eternal Greatness – Jesus – God in the flesh – made clear that obedience is the way to eternal greatness and that the lack of it is the way to eternal smallness (Mt 5:19).
- As I pointed out above, Christians who don't pursue a lifestyle of obedience of the Word of God will still be saved based on their faith (1 Cor 3:15) but they will live a life where prayer and the Word is boring, where they experience less of His love and will find less love for God in their hearts, where they miss out on many things God wants to give to them, where they shouldn't expect to be called great in heaven or to have much eternal rewards waiting for them. But ultimately they miss the unique chance to touch the heart of God during their 70 or 80 years on earth – the only period in eternity where our love is costly and a statement of the worthiness of Christ before all of creation. Eventually we harm ourselves because we are the ones missing out.
Fact #7: We Never Fight For God's Love, We Fight For Ours
- One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining a right understanding of grace is certainly our own mind. It's so easy to fall back into the old thinking patterns that want to tell us that we have to earn His love, earn salvation or that it doesn't matter what I do. Sometimes such thoughts or paradigms just emerge in the back of our mind and we start fighting for His love again, working for grace or settling in a false complacency. We have to constantly remind us of the simple facts of grace. Over time this will change our thinking and free us from false paradigms (Rom 12:2; John 8:32).
- The clearest and most comprehensive statement I came up with in the context of grace is this one single phrase. Perhaps it's the most important point I want to make here and if you take one thing from this article let it be this sentence: “We never fight for God's love, we fight for ours.”
- This is the one sentence that I remind myself of very often. Almost all of the misunderstandings of grace come down to a neglect of either the first or the second part of this sentence.
- God loves you in spite of how you live, but how you live decides how much you will love Him back. Through our choices we either fuel or quench love and affection back to Him. The entire story of salvation, all of history has been about God's fight for the human heart.
- When we see salvation, obedience, His commandments, prayer, reading and studying the Word, giving and forgiving, ruling and serving – when we see them in light of this paradigm, everything changes and we come to a right understanding. He is after our hearts. Everything He did and said was motivated by His desire to find love for Him in the hearts of human beings (Mt 22:37). Love is what He is after and everything is centered around God's pursuit of man. Now the question is, will He find this love in our hearts? Will we give our lives to cultivate lovesickness, passion and affection for God?
- Life is a fight (1 Tim 6:12), it's a race (2 Tim 4:7), an invitation to the narrow road (Mt 7:14). It's a battle for our heart, not for His – a battle in which we fight and strive to cultivate love for God in us.
- I'm shocked by how casually many treat their relationship with the Lord. We put effort in so many things. We strive in the workplace, invest a lot of time and energy in personal matters and hobbies but when it comes to our relationship with God suddenly the whole concept of striving is demonized and called legalism. But God is seeking for people who would love Him with all of their strength (Mt 22:37). What sets apart the good striving from the bad is whose love you're fighting for.
My Intentions, Hopes And Prayer
- Grace is not the easiest topic to talk about and it's easy to be misunderstood. However, I hope that through the many repetitions, detailed explanations and references to relevant Bible verses I managed to present a clear, biblical and comprehensive approach to the concept of grace.
- My intentions, hopes and prayers for this article are that first people would live in confidence of God's unconditional love and that second they would set their hearts to radically live out the First Great Commandment: to love God with all of their heart, all of their soul, all of their mind and all of their strength (Luke 10:27).
- First, that those who sincerely strive to live a life pleasing to God and struggle with falling short of wholehearted love and obedience (which is true for all of us) would learn to live in confidence of His love, forgiveness, tenderness and patience with us. In all our striving, we must never forget that it isn't God's heart but ours that we want to conquer.
- Second, that those who have been convinced that their obedience and works don't matter at all would get a vision for a wholehearted lifestyle of passionate love, radiant devotion, desire-inspired obedience, and a longing to give the Lamb that was slain the full reward of His suffering as we pursue to lavish our love upon Him extravagantly.