What is grace? Grace is when God shows us kindness we don’t deserve.
We experience grace our whole lives, whether or not we put our faith in Jesus. We are constantly receiving good gifts from God (James 1:17), whether that’s the joy of family, good food to eat, a good night of sleep—really, anything good.
Wait, but if I receive good things from God and that’s grace, that implies I don’t deserve good things from God. Exactly. Our hearts have been naturally inclined to rebel against God from infancy—from conception actually (Psalm 51:5). The Bible teaches us that “the hearts of the children of man are full of evil (Ecclesiastes 9:3). The Bible describes our condition as the living dead, physically alive, but severed from God our life source because of our sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
This might be hard to hear, but in order to understand grace we must first come to terms with what the Bible says about our nature—that we are sinners, who not only do bad things, but are bad at root.
Therefore, whenever God does good to any person, he’s loving his enemies. We call this kind of grace common, because God everyone on the whole planet experiences it.
That’s not the only kind of grace. God has shown grace to those who have put their faith in Jesus in a unique way. In Christ, God demonstrated his unfathomable kindness to us by actually absorbing himself the punishment we deserve for our sin—that’s why Jesus of Nazareth died on a cross. He was fully God, who put on human flesh, so that he could deal with our sin problem for us, in order to offer us the free gift of new life and a new relationship with God.
We call this God’s saving grace because, through Christ, God showed us the undeserved and un-earnable kindness of rescuing us from the hell and wrath that we deserve for our sin. He did this to give us a new loving relationship with him.
Now, even if you have believed in Jesus and experienced God’s saving grace, you will still experience the grace of God for the rest of your life in another way.
When God saves you, he frees you from the punishment and the power of sin, but sin’s presence remains. You’re not perfect when God saves you. But in the moment you trust Jesus for salvation, a war begins as God, through his Holy Spirit, works to conform you to the image of Christ. We call this transformative kind work of God, sanctifying grace.
Through his sanctifying grace, God has chosen to express his love and kindness towards us by giving us the gift of his Holy Spirit. Not only has he declared us holy in his sight, but he has also started to transform us into people whose lives are increasingly marked by holiness, making us more and more like Jesus.
God’s sanctifying grace towards us is both positional and progressive, we could say.
Positional sanctification means that when we become a Christian, at the moment of our conversion, God graciously declared us holy and precious in his sight, not because of anything good in us but simply by virtue of the fact that we are, by his grace, now indwelled by his Holy Spirit and united to Christ and covered in his righteousness. In that moment, and ever since that moment, no matter how much we struggle and fail, when God looks at us, he sees us as holy.
Our sanctification is not only positional. It’s also progressive. God doesn't just graciously declare us holy—he actually intends on making us holy! Having brought us into his fellowship and family, God wants to carry out his plans through us. But how in the world will we have the energy, the perseverance, the desire even, to carry out God’s will? Grace. God will himself strengthen and empower us—he will give us the undeserved gift of divine help. The Holy Spirit plays a crucial role in this process as he works in us to increasingly transform and empower our desires, our thoughts, and our actions.
All of God’s kindness towards us is grace—undeserved favor. Although we are sinners who deserve only wrath, God’s grace has appeared to save us from our own badness and its eternal consequences, and to reconcile us to himself. Both in our salvation and our sanctification, God gives us the gift of knowing him and growing in him, which means that God himself is the ultimate gift that he gives us. His ultimate grace towards us is his commitment to never leave or forsake his sinful followers, but to hold our hands until the day when he removes the presence of sin entirely from our hearts.
Grace is kindness we don’t deserve. It’s God doing for us what’s impossible for us to do on our own. It takes a great deal of humility to receive this free and undeserved gift. But God is more ready to give grace than we are ask for it.
Why don’t you ask him for his grace today, in whatever measure you need? You have only to ask, for “he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6 ESV).