Grace alone. What does that mean? What is grace? We toss the word around kind of recklessly. What do we do before a meal? We say grace. What do we call a girl who dances skillfully? We might say she is graceful. How do we describe someone who shows hospitality? Gracious. The meaning of grace is kind of lost in our many uses of the word. So when we talk about God’s grace, many people have a hazy understanding of what that means.
Grace alone. This is an axiom of the Christian faith. It is by God’s grace alone that we are saved. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved,” so it is imperative that if we want to understand salvation and redemption, we must have a working understanding of God’s grace.
What is it? One of the more common definitions of grace that we tend to hear in the Christian subculture is unmerited favor. This is a great starting place, but then we have to define God’s favor. What does it mean to receive favor from God? Receiving favor means that you receive something good from someone. Favor means blessing. It means to offer someone good will and hospitality. For example, anytime you pick up a hitchhiker (if you are the sort to do that) you are blessing that person with a ride, showing him or her favor. So offering favor to someone means giving them a good gift that they did not earn; if it was earned, it would be a wage, not favor. So when we say that God’s grace is unmerited favor, it means His grace is offered to us freely and without prejudice. We cannot earn it through doing religious works or by living moral lives, else it ceases to be grace and becomes a wage that is due to us.
What are its effects? The implications are nothing short of earth shattering. First of all, grace shatters any religious system that teaches God can be reached through human efforts. Sadly, there are numerous Christian denominations that miss this crucial point. In the sixteenth century, the Reformers that first protested the Roman Catholic system did so in large part because of this truth. They called it Sola Gratia, which is Latin for by grace alone. Since then, though, many churches have strayed, embracing morality and good works as a way to earn and keep oneself in God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8 says it’s by grace that we are saved. If it is by grace, then there’s nothing I can do to earn salvation. We have added to the Word of God if we replace or add to God’s grace as the means of salvation. In such cases we value our own judgments and preferences as higher than those of God himself. In the words of a famous robot, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”
Another effect of grace is that it shatters the egos of men and women. Particularly in America, the idea of being self-made individuals is highly valued. We have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps and made something out of our lives. While this sentiment of the self-made person may be waning in today’s social climate, individualism still reigns supreme. We fancy ourselves as our own man or woman, and nobody can help me better than I can help myself. This kind of individualistic narcissism could not be any more antagonistic to God’s grace. God’s grace can only be received by those who are humble enough to accept it. In other words if you think too highly or too lowly of yourself, you will miss God’s grace. You will either think you don’t need it, or you will think you will never be worthy enough. Consequently, the latter is correct but taken to extremes I’ve witnessed people push away God’s grace because they thought themselves too sinful, too ruined, too messed up for God to ever want them. Both arrogance and self-loathing are forms of narcissism because the only focus you ever have is on yourself, and both of them will cause you to miss God’s grace.
It is by grace alone – Sola Gratia – that we are saved. God has offered his grace to us freely in His son, Jesus Christ. Any other way to salvation is a false gospel. In fact it is no gospel at all because gospel means good news. What good news is there in the message that you can maybe earn your way into God’s presence if you work hard enough? A life of works that leads us to an uncertain ending . . . there is no good news in that. It is called the Gospel because it is good news. The good news is that God saves us by His grace alone. No works, no religious observances, but only through the unmerited favor that God extends to those who are humble enough to receive.
How do we receive this grace? That’s my next post. Stay tuned.