Today I am going to talk about grace, what it is, why we need it and how to get it. I am also going to talk about what grace isn’t and, spoiler alert, it isn’t something that can be earned or bought and is not predicated upon your personal level of worthiness, and none of us can approach God’s standard of worthiness without His grace and forgiveness. The dictionary defines grace as, “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”
Grace is something that we all need, from the mightiest king to the lowliest of peasants, and we all have equal ability to get grace as it in no way dependent upon our worldly success or failures, though too much success can hinder a person from acquiring grace because they are too proud to ask for it, or accept it when it is offered.
I think every person has had an experience where they have needed grace from another person, and hopefully they also have an experience where grace was extended. Many of us have had a time in our lives where we have shown grace and mercy to another person who was ill deserving of it, and even more of us know of someone who has been shown such grace.
The thing about mercy and grace is those who need it most are the people who deserve it the least, but the grace of God is not like an organ transplant where supplies are limited and candidates are selected carefully; grace is a commodity of unlimited quantity and is free for the asking, and unlike everything in this world, there is no fine print. The grace of God is for everyone and the Bible says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people,” (Titus 2:11), “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:24).
I talk a lot about grace and mercy and some people ask me why I speak of both grace and mercy and suggest that the two are synonymous. I always answer this way; we need both grace an mercy because grace is when we get something we don’t deserve and mercy is when we don’t get what we do deserve. We are forgiven and washed free through grace and it is by mercy that we aren’t cast into hell for out myriad of sins. You see, if we were to try to earn our way to heaven than even one single sin or mistake would be enough to loose our salvation and earn us a permanent residence in hell, but when we accept Jesus we are judged on his merits instead of our own.
I know a lot of people who are earnestly trying to work out or earn their own salvation and think it all depends upon their obedience to rules and their performance of specific ordinances, yet every one of them admits that there is no way in which a person could live all the laws flawlessly. Christianity is the only faith in the world that believes people are saved by the grace and mercy of their God and not by any works they themselves can perform, and any faith that teaches personal works save a person is not Christian, regardless of how much they may claim to be. I always say that, as Christians, “we don’t do good works to be saved but rather because we are saved.”
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21 NIV), or in the King James instead of saying Christ died for nothing it says that Christ died in vain, which is the exact same thing but in different words. I think the word “vain” resonates with some people more than the phrase “for nothing.”
Jesus did everything for people who could do nothing in return, yet some people refuse to accept the grace of God because it is “too easy” and want to work for something that was already given to them for free. If your grandmother died and left you a house paid for in full you would not insist that instead you pay the bank for the full price of the house, even though you could never keep up with the payments and it would eventually be foreclosed upon leaving you destitute; the very thought is ludicrous.
As an illustration of how pointless and impossible it would be to earn our own salvation, imagine, if you will, a person in a little inflatable boat in the middle of a vast ocean, desperately trying to drain the ocean with a sponge; clearly an impossible task not unlike Sisyphus in Greek mythology who was cursed to roll a rock up the hill every day just to have it roll back as soon as he got it to the top. Regardless of how many times the the sponge is filled and wrung out it would not make a noticeable or measurable difference in the volume of the ocean. Even if a person could live a thousand years, they would be utterly unable to make a difference in the level or volume of the ocean because what is added in one day is more than a person could remove in a lifetime. Not only that, but there is no place to put the water other than back in the ocean, or into the boat, which would soon cause it to sink, adding the water back to the whole.
Every person to ever be born has sin, both from the sinful nature inherited from Adam and what sin they commit themselves. In Psalm 51:5 it says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." In this Psalm, David wasn't insinuating his parents were not married but was instead referring to the sinful nature every human is born with as a result of the fall (Romans 5:12).
Because of the fall of Adam, all are born in to sin, or born with an inherited sinful nature. We are not judged for Adam's sin, "The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child." (Ezekiel 18:20). While we are not judged for the sin of Adam and Eve, we inherit the consequences of sin, just like a child born to a drug addicted mother suffers from what is passed on to them, or when one of the parents have a heritable disease or genetic defect that is passed on to the child.
Yes, we have all inherited a sinful nature, but the sin we are judged for is the sin that comes about by our own personal choices, our own sin. In Romans 3:23 it says, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Some people think of themselves as good and without sin but 1 John 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." Our sins are like the vast ocean and our most valiant works accomplish as much as trying to drain the oceans with a sponge.
We also know that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we can't overcome sin on our own. The good news is that we don't have to do it on our own because Jesus has already done the hard part for us. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ." -1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
To God, draining the ocean of our vast sin is less difficult than it is for us to pour a glass of water down the drain, and it has already been done for us, we just need to accept it. It is important to note, however, that just because salvation is free to us does not mean that it was without cost; our salvation cost Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior to suffer greatly at the hands of sinners and then to be killed by them as if he were a common criminal.
It is by the grace of God that we are saved from our sins, and it is not because of what we do, but rather in spite of what we do. Isaiah 64:6 says, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Have you ever been injured or cut and bled all over the floor or counter and made a huge mess with your own blood? Imagine that if after you cleaned your wounds and bandaged them you tried to clean the blood off the counter with the same bloody rag that you used to clan yourself. You would just be smearing the blood around making a bigger mess. In order to make something clean you have to clean it with something clean and we can never be that clean thing to clean up our dirtiness, only Jesus can be the clean thing that will clean up our dirtiness. Unlike a clean rag though, Jesus can cleanse all the sins of the world without becoming dirty himself.
By definition, grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. We can never earn grace and we can never make ourselves worthy of it, after all, our most righteous works are no more than filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We are offered grace free because of the love God has for us (John 3:16). The gift of God is life eternal in Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 6:23).
We could be the best person in the world and our good works are still not truly good, nor do they stem from purely unselfish motivations, regardless of what we may have fooled ourselves into thinking. Without Christ our best works lead to death and hell. We learn from the Bible that, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10). The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Notice that the verse does NOT say that some have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it says that ALL have sinned and fallen short. EVERYONE needs Jesus and He is the only way into heaven (John 14:6), which also means he is the only way out of hell.
From the beginning there have been people who erroneously thought that if they were good enough of a person that it would work out in the end and they would be saved, or that if they did more good deeds in life than bad than it would balance the scale of divine justice. The truth of the matter is, only the atoning blood of Christ can balance the scales in our favor. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." Verse 10 goes on to tell us that we are expected to do good works after we are saved, but the Bible is extremely clear that we are not saved by our works but rather we do good works because we are saved and have become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Grace is free, but not without cost.
An analogy I heard in church a year or so ago from Scott Smith, the lead pastor at Wellspring Church, perfectly illustrates how grace can be free to us but not without cost. Imagine that your car was out of commission and you asked to borrow a friend's, to which they agreed. After a few days of driving the car, while pulling out of a parking lot, another car collides with the car you borrowed. When the police arrive they determine the accident to be your fault, which means you are legally responsible for all damage caused by the accident.
You call your friend in tears and say you will do whatever you can to make it right, but you both know there is no way you can ever pay for the damages. Your friend takes compassion on you and tells you not to worry about the damage because they will take care of everything. Now, just because you were forgiven of the damages does not mean the damage goes away; someone still has to pay for it. In this scenario, your friend, the owner of the car you borrowed, pays for the damage to to the borrowed vehicle as well as all other damages. Every last bit of damage was paid for, just not by the one who caused it and that, my friends, is how forgiveness and salvation works.
Everyone who believes in Christ and accepts his grace is forgiven of a tremendous debt, but that doesn't mean the damage caused by that sin just went away. Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross to suffer death on our behalf so we would not have to pay the demands of justice for our sins. Jesus paid dearly to cover the cost for us.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), not just physical death but also spiritual death or the second death. In order to be forgiven of sins there must be a sacrifice for without the shedding of blood there can be no redemption (Hebrews 9:22). In Leviticus 17:11, God explains why blood must be shed: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.”
God, in His infinite mercy, allowed people to sacrifice an innocent animal in their place as a substitute, but such sacrifices were only temporary and sacrifices had to be performed over and over. To get complete and lasting forgiveness of sin we need a perfect and eternal sacrifice, a sacrifice that could only be accomplished by God in the flesh. Colossians 2:9 says, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Jesus was the only person to have ever lived who never sinned and was the only perfect sacrifice. Going back to the analogy of the borrowed car, to pay off another persons debt requires someone who not only doesn't have any debt of their own but has the means to pay the debt. Jesus who was fully human lived a life free of sin as an innocent man, and as a result, was free of the debt of sin, but he also had the means to pay for the debt because he was also fully God.
If we are saved by grace, why can't we do whatever we want?
People often ask, "If I am saved through grace alone and not by my works, why can't I just do whatever I want?" Let me answer, in part, with a story: When Greg was a child he went to a friend's home for a sleepover and was rough housing in the living room, accidentally breaking the fish tank. The fish tank he broke wasn't a goldfish or beta bowl but a 300 gallon saltwater aquarium full of expensive fish, which were now flopping on the wet carpet, desperately gasping for breath. Greg knew he and his friends could never clean up the mess on their own so he called his parents, expecting them to be angry. When Greg's parents showed up they were kind and understanding and began the cleanup without requiring help from Greg or any of the other children. Now, Greg was not a well behaved child, despite his parents' best efforts, and thought it would be funny to go to the add to the mess since he was not expected to clean it up and poured his cup of grape soda onto the already wet carpet.
Greg thought that since he was off the hook for the cleanup and the expense of the damage that it would be funny to add to the mess, figuring that a cup of soda would not make that big of a deal added to the 300 gallons of water sand gravel and broken glass already on the floor. While Greg's rationale might have been accurate, his added actions were extremely disrespectful of his parents and made a mock of the grace they showed toward him. Do you see where I am going with this?
Continuing to intentionally sin once we accept the grace of God makes a mock of the grace given to us and of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, and in a much larger way than Greg was disrespectful to his parents. The cleanup of the aquarium cost a few hours of time and not a small amount of money, but the cleanup of our souls and lives cost the life of Jesus Christ the Lord.
Any religion that teaches we are saved by any effort on our part or because anything we have done is not Christianity, and any religion that teaches it is just fine to willingly live in sin because we are forgiven is also not Christianity.
It is important that we not only accept the grace that is freely offered by Jesus, but that we are also appreciative of it as well and are not just following Jesus for the handouts. God would like for all people to love Him, but he will never force us to love Him or else it would not be love. Love, by its very nature, has to be out of our own free will and choice. If we loved God because we were forced to than we would not love God any more than our computer or cell phones love us when they do what we programed them to do. Once programmed, a computer does not have the ability to do anything other than what it is told to do, and that is not love.
I think when we are not as grateful to God as we should be it saddens Him, but I know that He also understands because He understands all things. If we are not grateful for what God did for us than we do not love God, we just don’t want to take the punishment that is rightfully ours.
When I was a teenager I worked at a McDonalds restaurant, and when I was growing up working at a fast food was sort of a right of passage, something that all kids did when they reached a certain age. My manager hated me because I would not hook him up on a date with my mother on account of him being married and all, but despite the fact that he hated me as a person, he loved my work.
After I had worked at that restaurant for quite some time they hired a new girl, several years older than I was, and she was constantly making mistakes. After literally hundreds of warning spanned out over the course of a week she was told that if she made another mistake they would have to let her go. I noticed that she made a rather bad mistake and I told her to leave the area and I would cover for her. When the manager came over I lied and said that I had made the mistake so that the girl would not loose her job.
To my great surprise, instead of showing any gratitude the girl stepped in and told the manager that she tried to stop me from doing it but that I yelled at her and did it anyway. Later when I was able to catch the girl privately I asked her why she threw me under the bus so violently when I had stuck my neck out for her, and again her lack of gratitude caught me off guard. She still did not thank me for helping her and instead denied making the mistake and said that I should just own up to it and stop trying to get her into trouble for something that I did. To say that I was flabbergasted and a bit hurt would be putting it mildly.
The girl was later fired anyway and the manager told me that he knew all along that she was the one who had made the error and fired her for her dishonesty and lack of gratitude, but that since I had claimed fault for it he still had to punish me for it. Before she was fired the assistant manager gave her one last chance to come clean but she still vehemently denied any fault and all the more laid out the case as to how I had done it and how she had tried to stop me. This time though, the girl resorted to all sorts of personal character attacks against me.
During all of that, I never once tried to get her into any trouble and I never recounted my story because I wanted her to not get into trouble, but I was deeply hurt that I was treated so poorly by her for saving her.
Sometimes even now, more than twenty years later, I think of that instance and it still stings a bit. I sometimes have to wonder how God feels when we refuse to show even the smallest token of gratitude for what he did for us. I was hurt by not being appreciated when I got in trouble at work by helping another person, so I have no way to fathom how God feels when he allowed his only Son to be tortured and killed for our sins. Jesus was tortured and killed so we can go free and we make a mock of the sacrifice by continuing on in the crime that caused Jesus to have to pay the price for us in the first place. Sometimes we not only neglect to thank God for saving us from our own fire, but throw gas on the flames feeling secure in the fact that we will not get burned, and we don’t care who does.
Every person who has ever been born or who will ever be born has fallen or will fall miserably short of God’s standard but the forgiveness and grace of God is free to all who ask, though it is not free for God as he had to pay the price for us. When I was in college I had an economics professor who said, “There is no such thing as a free lunch. you may not have paid for it, but it cost someone something,” and so it is with grace. We are forgiven for what we have done and saved from the punishment that is rightly ours by a gracious God who willingly and gladly paid the price that none of us could pay and we should all show gratitude for it by striving to live like we have been saved. Who the Son sets free is free indeed, but Jesus just paid the toll and opened the door, he does not force us to walk through it, but when we do choose to walk through it we walk into the loving arms of God who is waiting eagerly for us to return to him is that he may dry our tears and make us whole.
New International Version Bible . Grand Rapids : Zondervan , 2011 .