God’s Glorious Grace
Almost 100 years ago, Julia H. Johnson penned the words to a hymn titled “Grace Greater Than Our Sin.” Her fourth stanza aptly sums up God’s grace:
Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe;
You that are longing to see His face, will you this moment His grace receive?
We who receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ realize it truly is marvelous and matchless. But what is meant by the term God’s grace?
God’s Grace Defined
The dictionary defines grace as “the unmerited favor of God toward man.” Although the definition is true, it is incomplete. Grace is an attribute of God, a part of His character, which He expresses through His goodness to undeserving, sinful humanity.
A holy God is under no obligation to bestow grace on sinners, but He does so as He chooses. He demonstrates His grace by extending His favor, mercy, and love to meet man’s need. Since God’s character is one of grace, He is kindly disposed to bestow His grace spontaneously on sinful humanity in our time of suffering. God’s grace can be defined as “that intrinsic quality of God’s being or essence by which He is spontaneously favorable in His disposition and actions” to bestow unmerited favor, love, and mercy on whom He chooses among undeserving humanity.1
God’s Grace Declared
God’s grace is revealed throughout the Bible in three stages. First, God exhibited His goodness and grace by showing mercy, favor, and love to all men in general but to Israel in particular. Second, God expressed, or exhibited, His grace more clearly through Jesus Christ, who came to earth to pay for man’s sin through His sacrificial death on the cross. Third, God’s grace provides salvation and sanctification for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
In the Septuagint, an ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek, the term for “grace” is charis, meaning, “grace or unmerited favor.” The Jewish Scriptures have no Hebrew equivalent. The Hebrew words for charis are chanan or chen, translated as “grace,” “favor,” or “mercy.”
These two Hebrew words are used in the Old Testament to depict the same meaning as charis: (1) showing mercy to the poor (Prov. 14:31); (2) providing mercy to those who call on God in time of trouble (Ps. 4:1; 6:2; 31:9); (3) extend-ing favor to Israel in Egypt (Ex 3:21; 11:3; 12:36); and (4) bestowing His grace on individuals, such as Noah (Gen. 6:8), Joseph (39:21), Moses (Ex. 33:12, 17), and Gideon (Jud. 6:17). In addition, God’s grace will be poured out on Israel at the time of its salvation (Zech. 12:10).
Other Hebrew words, such as racham or rachamim (“mercy”) and chesed (“loving-kindness”), are also used—often together—to express God’s grace (Ex. 34:6; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon. 4:2). Grace, love, and mercy are expressed in God’s covenant with King David, which was extended to his son Solomon even after Solomon sinned later in life (2 Sam. 7:1–17).
God did not bestow His love and mercy on Israel because of any merit within the nation. God chose Israel as His treasured possession through a pure act of grace (Dt. 7:6–9).
Grace and mercy are also manifested to entire nations. The Lord graciously delivered Israel from Egypt, provided for the nation during its wilderness wanderings, and gave it the land of Canaan. The prophet Hosea’s love for his wife, Gomer, who was a prostitute, illustrated God’s grace and mercy for Israel. Although Gomer was an unfaithful wife, Hosea showed her grace, mercy, and love when he bought her back from the slave market. She was a type of Israel being redeemed from sin.
By God’s grace, Nineveh was spared from destruction when this ungodly city repented of its sin at the preaching of Jonah.
The New Testament concept of grace finds a sharper, richer, and fuller expression in the Greek word charis, which occurs at least 170 times. God’s grace takes on a whole new personal dimension and visible demonstration in the redemptive words and works of Jesus Christ’s ministry to mankind. What better evidence of God’s grace can be shown than in that of salvation?
It is God who, in His goodness and grace, took the initiative to bring salvation to man after Adam’s fall. His grace is manifested to mankind in two primary ways.
(1) Common Grace. Common grace speaks of God’s unmerited favor, love, and providential care extended to all of depraved humanity, whereby He showers general blessings on saved and unsaved alike (Ps. 145:8–9). God restrains His wrath against sinful humanity, giving a nation or individual time to repent—which is an extension of the Lord’s common grace.
Common grace is also seen in the work of the Holy Spirit, who exercises sway over the heart of a person, convicting and convincing that individual of his or her need for salvation through Jesus Christ (Jn. 16:8–11).
(2) Special Grace. The second way God manifests His favor is through special grace, commonly referred to as efficacious, effectual, or saving grace. God’s grace is efficacious in that it produces salvation in the life of the elected individual who puts faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in His shed blood for the remission of his sins. Efficacious grace is experienced when God, through the Holy Spirit, irresistibly works in the mind and heart of a person so that the individual freely chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Believers are called, not according to their own works, but according to God’s purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9). Paul is a classic illustration of God’s efficacious call. He was called, not according to his own will, but according to God’s will (1 Cor. 1:1). In fact, he was trying to destroy the church until the moment of his conversion, which came through God’s grace (Acts 9).
God’s Grace Demonstrated
God’s grace is manifested in a number of ways in the life of a believer.
Saving Grace. The word salvation is an all-encompassing term. It refers to God’s redemptive act, whereby He redeems the individual presently from the penalty and power of sin and will deliver the believer from the presence of sin at his glorification. Salvation is a free gift from God, bestowed on an individual by grace through faith, apart from any work or merit on the part of the person receiving it. At the time of salvation, unmerited grace and the believer’s faith are gifts that come directly from the Lord to those who put faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8–9).
Salvation grace, offered in this dispensation, encompasses every aspect of God’s redemptive work for the believer and includes redemption, propitiation, justification, forgiveness, sanctification, reconciliation, and glorification for the one who puts faith in Christ.
Sanctifying Grace. The moment a person receives Christ, he or she is sanctified by God’s grace. The word sanctification means, “to make holy” or “set apart unto God” for a sacred purpose or use. The Bible speaks of people, places, days, and inanimate objects being set apart unto God. With respect to an individual, sanctification may be defined as the work of God’s free grace through the Holy Spirit, whereby He sets the believer apart to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Scripture mentions three stages of sanctification by God’s grace. First is positional sanctification, referring to a believer’s holy standing before God on the basis of his redemption through Christ.
Second is progressive sanctification, whereby the believer is in the process of being sanctified through God’s Word (Jn. 17:17). Believers are commanded to “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18) and, in so doing, are recipients of the Lord’s unmerited favor. Growth in grace is not acquired naturally but takes place through the study of God’s Word (2 Pet. 1:2–3, 5–6, 8). As a believer grows in grace, the fruit of the Spirit is manifested through his or her life (Gal. 5:22–23), bringing the person in conformity to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29).
Third is perfected sanctification, which believers will experience when they receive their glorified bodies, completing their redemption (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 5:27). This event will take place at the Rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 1 Th. 4:16–17).
Serving Grace. The word gift (Greek, charisma; “gift of grace”) refers to a favor one receives freely, without meriting it. God, through the Holy Spirit, has provided supernatural spiritual gifts to equip and enable each believer for ministry within the local church. There is not merely one gift but diversities of spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to believers (Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–11; Eph. 4:7, 11–12; 1 Pet. 4:11).
Believers have “gifts differing according to the grace that is given” by God (Rom. 12:6). Some believers have a multitude of gifts; others, only one or two. These gifts, or graces, are not natural gifts, talents, or abilities, but divinely provided gifts operating through the believer for edifying the body of Christ, thus bringing glory to God.
A believer is to communicate to others with grace in the use of his gift. Paul said, “Let your speech always be with grace” (Col. 4:6). When it came to Paul’s service for the Lord, he was equipped, not by his own power, but by the grace of God bestowed upon him. Paul said, “I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).
Suffering Grace. Suffering is part of the human condition because of sin, aging of the body, disobedience to the Lord, or God’s chastening. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (physical ailment) that he appealed to God three times to remove. With each request, the same answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, God’s grace was sufficient to strengthen Paul in his physical need, so he could bear it. The same is true for believers today. God provides sufficient grace to strengthen us through any trial, temptation, or time of suffering.
Paul summed it up well when he wrote, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). That says it all. With the hymn writer we sing, “Marvelous, infinite, and matchless” is God’s amazing grace.
- Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1965), 19.