Asking for God’s grace has been part of many formal prayers and ceremonies through the years. For example, during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the following words were recited: “Who hast at this time consecrated thy servant ELIZABETH to be our Queen, that by the anointing of thy grace she may be the Defender of thy Faith and the Protector of thy Church and People.”
Most people don’t think much about such ceremonial language—they don’t really focus on what God’s grace is or when and why God gives it.
In other cases, various people have ascribed individual events in their lives to God’s intervention and grace. The first American president, George Washington, is one of those.
In the summer of 1755, Washington was a colonel under the command of British General Braddock during the French and Indian War. When Braddock’s forces marched against Fort Duquesne in July of 1755, they were surprised by the French and Indian forces and routed. General Braddock was killed, and Washington led the remaining soldiers in a retreat to Virginia.
Colonel Washington had two horses killed beneath him and counted four bullet holes in his coat when he finally arrived back in Virginia! Washington, in spite of the bullet holes found in his coat, was unhurt. He believed he had been spared by God’s grace and wrote the following to his brother, John Augustine:
“I now exist and appear in the land of the living by the miraculous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation.”
God’s grace can include His merciful intervention and direction in people’s lives. However, when the Bible speaks about God’s grace, it is generally referring to a much bigger subject—one that is eternal in nature!
What does God say about grace?
God makes it clear in the Bible that His grace is a gift. It is the very character of God’s nature, abounding and overflowing outwardly in acts of mercy, compassion and liberal giving. (For more on this, see the article on “What Is Grace?”) Grace cannot be earned by human beings.
Notice this statement in Ephesians 2:7-8: “That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
This point is further underscored in Romans 5:15-16: “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.”
Clearly grace is a gift given by God. But the question is, Does our conduct play any part in whether or not we are the recipients of His grace?
The role of repentance and forgiveness
The concepts of sin, repentance and grace are tied together closely. God’s grace, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, removes the penalty of sin. Our part in this is to repent of the sin and follow a different path.
Notice Romans 6:13-16:
“And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law [under the penalty for breaking the law] but under grace.
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?”
The idea that God extends His grace regardless of our conduct is not a new one, but it is contrary to God’s Word. The Bible contains repeated warnings against using grace as a license to continue in sin!Our sin subjects us to the death penalty, but we are pardoned by God’s grace when we repent and change our ways. We cannot expect to continue in sin and also continue to be the recipients of grace.
The book of Jude expresses a similar thought: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).
The idea that God extends His grace regardless of our conduct is not a new one, but it is contrary to God’s Word. The Bible contains repeated warnings against using grace as a license to continue in sin!
What about faith?
The apostle Paul summed up the relationship between grace, faith and obedience in his letter to the Ephesians. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, emphasis added).
Grace is an unmerited gift from God—no one can boast or claim to have earned it. We are, however, to have good works—to walk in His ways. We also receive that grace through faith in God and Jesus Christ. To put it another way, the justification of our sins, which comes through grace, requires faith.
As Paul wrote: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).
The need for humility
God also requires His people to have humility. For example, Micah 6:8 says: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
On the other hand, pride is a character flaw that God hates: “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, …” (Proverbs 6:16-17).
To receive grace, we are expected to humble ourselves, so that God can exalt us at a later time. “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
Humility is often viewed as weakness in today’s world, but God values it greatly. Furthermore, He does not grant His grace to the proud!
God’s role in our lives
Many have claimed God’s intervention in their lives, and God is certainly a merciful God who intervenes in human lives and human events to work His will. God’s grace in sparing us from the penalty of sin is a more specific concept, and it is granted for a specific purpose to those who repent and turn from sin, have faith in Him and show humility.
The apostle Paul spoke of both his desire for God’s healing of a physical malady in his life, as well as his understanding of the more important need for God’s grace.
His physical infirmity is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded to the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in My infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Paul didn’t receive the intervention he sought for his physical infirmities, but he knew that he was the recipient of something much more important—the grace of God, which comforted him because he had been delivered from his sins. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4).