What is Grace?
As a pastor, you’re expected to know certain things. It’s expected that you know the right thing to say in a hospital room, the answers to all Bible trivia, and how to make contact with God on the “red phone” (i.e. the idea that a pastor’s prayers are more powerful and have a “direct line” to God). Interesting.
There’s something else that every pastor is expected to know. You are expected to know basic doctrine. This last expectation actually makes sense. Seminaries train pastors to have a working knowledge of words like salvation, justification, redemption, predestination, transubstantiation, and all of the other “tion” words. Ironically, when you are a pastor, it’s not the big words that people struggle to appropriate. Most of us get stuck on the smaller words. Why am I lacking joy? What does it mean to love my neighbor? How can I be completely free? Or…my personal, ongoing question: “What is grace?”
There are few words that make it into the Christian discussion more than grace. It appears in our songs, our sermons, our books, our Bibles, our kid’s names, and even our church names. According to Scripture, we are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), we are sustained by grace (2 Cor. 12:9), we are to be strong in grace (2 Tim. 2:1), we are to extend grace to others (Rom. 14), and that’s just the beginning.
So what is grace? Most Christians have heard the basic Sunday School definition. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. While the definition is theologically correct, it can be hard to understand in light of passages like 2 Tim. 2:1 and Romans 14.
I would like to present another definition. It is actually just an extension of the known definition. However, it seems to provide a workable understanding of how grace fits directly into our lives. The definition is as follows:
“Grace is God’s unmerited favor in which He does in, through, and for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
Put this definition up against the passages.
· Eph. 2:8-9: We did not deserve salvation, we could not earn salvation and we would never be able to save ourselves. However, God displayed unmerited favor by doing in us and for us what we could not do for ourselves.
·2 Cor. 12:9: There will be times when the stress, problems, and issues of life are too much for us handle. Yet in those times, God extends unmerited favor by doing in us, and through us, and for us what we could not do for ourselves.
·2 Tim. 2:1; Rom. 14: There are some people who will test your last nerve. If being gracious were up to you—they would be out of luck. However, as we learn to rely on God, He can do in us and through and for us—what we cannot do ourselves.
This same definition can be applied to personal struggles (addictions, sin, phobias, etc.), relational problems, financial crisis, grief, direction in life, raising children, serving God, understanding Scripture, and the list could keep going. The more a Christian has a working knowledge of grace (not just a Sunday School definition), the more they are able to experience God on a different level.
Here’s a sobering thought. How many Christians place “grace” alongside of justification, redemption, election, predestination, and glorification as doctrine you should know but not necessarily use? How many Christians could quote the Sunday School definition, but have no working knowledge of the concept? How many people have settled for a “3 word” definition when God is offering a changed life?
In the future, I’m sure that God will have to disturb me by these truths again. Things that seem so clear today have a tendency to fade into theory tomorrow. But for now—it feels good to be reawakened.
I have one final question that’s a bit personal. Based upon the current state of your life, is grace a term on the theological shelf of your mind or is grace the normal expression of how you live?