Have you ever needed someone’s forgiveness?
We’ve all done bad things. Some appear minor—like snapping at someone because you aren’t having a great day—while others are considered major wrongdoings, like murder or stealing.
When you wrong someone, what do you want to happen? Do you hope the person will forgive you, or punish you?
We ask these questions because they are at the heart of the Bible’s teaching about God, his grace, and salvation. What does grace mean? Grace is something that we all want, we all need, and God freely gives. Grace should not be confused with merit and justice. The following example will show us how.
Grace Means Something We Can’t Earn and Don’t Deserve
Suppose you are an employer and find that three employees who are identical triplets have been caught stealing money from your company. Here’s how you decide to handle the situation.
- The first employee, you hand over to the police.
- The second employee, you agree not to report his crime to the authorities if he does additional work for you.
- The third employee, you simply let go free.
(Keep in mind, nobody can accuse you of injustice. These employees are exactly the same, come from the same circumstances, and have committed the same crime.)
In this illustration about justice and grace, all three offenders deserve to be handed over to the police.
The first perpetrator gets the punishment he deserves—that’s justice.
The second perpetrator, who is allowed to work off his crime, escapes judgment only by merit. And, while it’s kind of you not to hand him over to the police, he deserves to go free after the week’s end because he will have earned his freedom.
However, the third perpetrator simply goes free—no strings attached—and that’s grace.
So what does grace mean? Grace means free favor that you can’t earn and don’t deserve.
If you were one of the triplets, which outcome would you want? Justice? Merit? Or grace? All of us would choose grace!
Grace Means Good News for Bad People
Incredibly, this is how God offers to treat us. Wait, you might say, if God offers to treat me with grace, then you’re assuming that I have wronged God to the point of deserving punishment.
This assumption is correct. The Bible says that everybody is a sinner.
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NIV). This means that every person has violated God’s commandments, like lying or stealing, and behaved in ways that are contrary to his character. Every person has wronged others and God—in thought, word, and deed. This corresponds well with our own experience. Who can claim to have never done anything deserving of punishment?
Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death” (NIV). As the perfect Lord of creation, God has every right to punish us for sin.
But instead, he offers us his grace. The Bible says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11, NIV).
We can be saved from the punishment we deserve. Grace means God offers you the free gift of his favor, rather than punishment; he offers forgiveness, instead of condemnation.
The Bible calls this the “gospel”—a word that comes from the New Testament Greek, which literally means “good news.” And that is certainly what it is!
Grace Means God Dealt With Our Judgment
Now, justice is still maintained in the free gift of salvation that God offers. Grace does not mean that God has done some injustice. Instead of punishing the guilty person, God dealt his judgment upon his sinless Son, Jesus Christ. God the Son became human so that he could become a substitute for anyone who believes in him.
In living a sinless life, Jesus satisfied the righteous requirements of God. In willingly dying on the cross, Jesus took your place and paid the penalty for your sins, thus making a way for you to be reconciled to God, if you will believe him.
God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith… he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26, NIV)
In this way, God remains both just and gracious.
Grace Means You Can Be Freely Reconciled to God
So, according to the Bible, what does grace mean? It means that God freely saves sinners at a cost to himself.
We can’t earn this salvation; we can’t improve upon it; there is nothing we can do to merit it. The Bible says, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands” (Romans 3:20, NLT).
All people are sinners and, as such, need the same solution for their spiritual plight: God’s gracious forgiveness provided through his Son, Jesus. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, NIV).
Receive God’s Grace
But how do we get this grace if it’s free? The apostle Paul writes that, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).
Grace is a gift. And gifts are meant to be received. God has offered you this priceless gift. And it’s yours for the taking.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV).
Everyone who receives God’s gracious gift of salvation repents of their sins—admitting that they fall short of God’s righteous requirements—and embraces in faith God’s free gift of forgiveness and grace found only in his Son Jesus.
If you want to learn more about God’s grace, read the book of Romans in the Bible. The book will only take you about an hour.