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What Is Grace?

What do people think of when they hear grace?

Catholics can think of it as a commodity. They do certain things to get it (Nature/grace interdependence).

Protestants can be all over the map.

A sweet disposition.  A gracious attitude. A short prayer before a meal (“Let’s say grace”).

Something vaguely good but not clearly grasped.

G.R.A.C.E. acronym.

Grace is something you get from God that results in saving you.

There is a dangerous thinking out there that crops up time and again is what we would call a hyper/cheap grace.

I (MH) saw this in the 80’ with a theologian called Zane Hodges. This is similar to the Traditionalist’s idea of eternal security.  Literally said in one of Hodge’s books that if you said the sinner’s prayer at some point, meaning that you accepted Jesus as savior, you were saved, even if you publically and willfully rejected Christ the rest of your life.

Today a popular rendition is taught by Tullian Tchivjian. Which was helpful for him as he was running around in adulterous relationships the whole time he was teaching this.

Reformed Theology makes a distinction between “Common Grace” and “Saving Grace.”


When you read the bible you see aspects of God’s dealing with humanity that is different in different situations.

So it’s important to understand there’s not two “kinds of grace” in God, but only one. However, it manifests itself in various ways.

Common Grace:

“[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.” [Berkhof].

Berkhof breaks “common grace” into three general categories:

Care in Creation

God upholds the universe by the word of His power (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).

God provides seasons, seedtime, and harvest (i.e., General provision: food, shetler, clothing). Not only does he provide the needs, but also the enjoyment of those needs.

Causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust (Matt. 5:45).

Written in a context where Jesus is commanding love for enemies.


Certainly applied, then, to those who are God’s enemies -- those who are indifferent and give not much thought to God. Yet they still receive His blessings in many ways.

Human structures (e.g., family). Generally, even the worst of pagans feel a need to raise their children well, and desire their well-being.

Even secular sociologists realize the family is the central structure of any society.

Once this fall of the family, you have the complete breakdown and degradation of society.

God’s common grace to keep families together is a general grace to an entire society.

Restraint of Sin

The biggest one is the existence and establishment of government.

Rom. 13:1, 4 -- “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God… for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”

It’s clear God establishes government, and He does it for the good of people.

Government is obviously imperfect because it’s made up of sinful man, but it’s still referred to as “the minister of God.”

Again, the purpose of this is to limit sinful behavior, so as not to let wickedness reign.

Note: The judicial realities of government are not to function as restorative, but punitive.

Man’s Conscience

Rom. 2:14-15 --  “[unbelieving Gentiles] who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, . . . They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”

Fallen, sinful man inherently possess a sense of right/wrong, good/evil.

All people (to varying degrees) posses a “judicial sentiment.” People are typically outraged at the presence injustice, especially when it’s committed against them. And they should be - this is a God-given sentiment. 


This is due to the fact that all people possess the image of God. In our fallen state, the IOG has been marred, (which is why not everything some people claim to be an injustice is a true injustice), but it’s nevertheless a reality.

Saving Grace:

The motive and method of salvation is always by grace.  This is how God interacts with His elect.

In the OT there are various terms used to describe this but they all ultimately emphasize the sovereignty of God in showing grace in saving people.

Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”

Exodus 33:19And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’"

Note how grace and compassion are tightly connected here.

Also how it is not something earned but it is something given by God.

“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." (Exod. 34:6-7)

In the NT this same idea is picked back up.

Grace is simply the way God saves sinners. It is free and it is unmerited/unearned.

That term, “free” is something that messes up people because it is usually thought to mean that it is something that costs nothing.  But this is not the meaning.

The saving of sinners was exceedingly costly.  What it means is that grace is given through NO external compulsion.

I find that many people think that somehow humanity is viewed by God like a litter of cute puppies that need to be saved from being put down.

But this is not the way the bible describes it.

Eph 2:1-10

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

1-3 gives the backdrop upon which God’s grace is seen.  This must be grasped first.

4-7 is a description of God’s response to those dead in sin.  Close connection between grace and mercy.

Emphasized God’s rich mercy and love while we were dead.

Three results of our union with Christ:




In verse 7 we see the purpose.  To be trophies of His grace for all eternity.

8-10 elaborates on His grace.

Our salvation is by grace.  Exceedingly emphasized as pure grace.

Our service toward God and one another is because of grace, never to earn it.

This grace is seen in so many ways that it is beyond the ability to do it proper justice in this podcast.  But consider how the bible describes it:

It is by grace that He elects some to salvation. According to the bible this occurred before time.

This grace is upon us even in our state of sin and rebellion.  From our perspective we were sinners in rebellion. But from God’s perspective we were sinners upon whom grace already rested.

This grace enters into our awareness when we hear the gospel and the HS enlivens/regenerates us, giving us a new nature.  The result is belief.

This grace then seals us in the HS until the end when we are resurrected.

This grace results in all the benefits of Christ’s saved Cross-work.

This grace opens the throne-room up for on-going grace to persevere.

This grace places us in a new sphere of reality, “in Christ.” The result is that the bible describes the believer as having died with Christ, raised with Christ and seated with Christ already.

This grace works in the believer to bring about works that are befitting a child of God.

Application for Everyday:

“Means of grace” - A lot of historical (and theological) thought on how grace comes to a person.

Roman Catholic view: “Word and Sacrament (7 Sacraments).”

Requires zero faith.

Ex Opere Operato.

Lutheran view: Shifted from “Word and Sacrament to simply Word.

In Catholicism, the eucharist sits at the center of the Mass.

In protestantism, the pulpit sits at the center.

Mystic (“anabaptist”) view: God works directly in the heart via the Holy Spirit.

Reformed view: God uses baptism and Lord’s Supper as “ordinary means of grace.” There is nothing salvific, here, but it is one of God’s means through which He strengthens believers in an ordinary (ongoing) way.

Regardless, it’s important to stick with the text of Scripture. What does the bible say about grace?

When you examine Scripture, we can safely conclude grace isn’t a substance (i.e., RC Theology, some Protestant views). 

It’s not infused/imparted into a person.

It’s not a gas or substance that changes a person’s constitution or essence.

It’s not a commodity you try to get more of.

Rather, it’s a disposition (or attitude) which finds its source in the essential character of God Himself.

This disposition results in benefits given to the one being shown grace.

Moreover, it has nothing to do with something inherent in the object of grace. It’s completely one-sided, flowing from a gracious desire in the subject.

How does this affect the believer?

We are to model this grace toward one another.

The parable of the debtor in Matthew 18:23-35

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Col. 3:12-14

"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Worth noting that there is a tight connection between grace, compassion, forgiveness and such.

There is to be an awareness of the greatness of God’s grace toward us and therefore we ought to show it to other believers.

Romans 10:1-11

Paul understood the serious situation of his fellow Israelites and it burdened him.

We show grace when we do not withhold the gospel.

Calvinists love to talk about the “doctrines of grace.”  However….

When this is done purely in the theological realm it is often cold and even angry.  

This is not a biblical picture however.

Many who theologically grasp the free grace of God do not really know the grace of God as they ought. You are not allowed to be shown it, but then not show it yourself.

Living in the presence of grace:

We are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in 2 Peter 3:18.  How is this done?

Here is where we can forget what grace is again.  We think that we must do x, y or z and then we shall earn the favor of the Lord.  So our Christian walk becomes a walk of attempting to earn the grace of God.

But the reality is that to grow in the grace of God is to grow in our understanding of who He is and how fully He is pouring His grace upon His children.

Peter argues that to grow in the grace of our Lord is tightly connected to growing in our knowledge of Him.  The better we know Him the better we walk in His grace.

In Heb 4:16 we are commanded to draw near to the throne of grace so that we might find more grace. But this is again tied not to our efforts, but because in vs 15 we see that in Jesus we have a perfect and sympathetic High Priest.  We therefore can have confidence before the Father not because of our efforts but because of the grace of our Savior.

Or, finally, in Roman 8 Paul labors to point us to the abundance of grace found in our Father.  Not because of our excellent spiritual disciplines or our incredible faithfulness, but because the Father has already given on our behalf the most precious gift of all, His Son.


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