You know you have a teenager in the house when they start correcting you for using words the wrong way.
“Mom, that’s not what the word ‘epic’ means. You’re using it wrong.”
“So it’s not an epic parenting fail when your kid corrects you?”
My son has a point: Words have meanings. It’s important that we know them and use them properly, otherwise we can’t communicate with one another. The problem is that in our society the meanings of words are fluid, always changing with the whim of the culture. In our postmodern world, just as people believe there are no moral absolutes, they also redefine words to suit their desires.
Unfortunately, this can happen in Christian circles as well. Take the word “grace.” It’s one of the foundational words of our faith; we don’t have faith without it. Almost everyone—even non-believers—knows the words to the hymn "Amazing Grace." But sometimes when I hear Christians use it, I wonder if we are talking about the same thing. It’s like running into someone you know from your high school days and talking about a mutual friend, Susie Smith, only to realize there are two Susie Smiths and you were each talking about a different Susie.
There are multiple ways I’ve heard grace misused and misunderstood. Sometimes people emphasize grace in one area of faith but not in others. Sometimes they use it interchangeably with words like patience or forbearance. But the definition that concerns me the most is overlooking something (most often sin). As in, “This is who I am, and God accepts me that way. He gives me grace to be myself.”
God’s grace is bigger, greater, deeper, and more amazing than many people realize. It is important that we understand the grace of the Bible so that when we hear people talk about it or read it in a blog, article, or book, we know what the writer is talking about. Because believing in a grace that is different from the Bible is not only misleading, it is also dangerous to our faith.
God’s Amazing Grace
Grace is God’s unmerited favor toward us as sinners. It is love and kindness that we don't deserve. It began in eternity past when He chose us in Christ to be adopted into the family of God (Eph. 1:4–5). By His grace, He awakens us from spiritual death and gives us new life.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1–6).
Apart from His grace, we wouldn’t desire to know Him. In our sin, we are lovers of the darkness, not lovers of the light. But He awakens us from death and brings us into the light of His grace.
It is God’s grace which saves us. We can't save ourselves; salvation is God's work. "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" (Eph. 2:8–9). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor.
As R.C. Sproul wrote, "Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls."
A Grace That Trains
Upon salvation, God forgives our sin because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, and He accepts Christ's perfect and righteous life lived for us. But He doesn't leave us there to continue in our sin. He doesn't merely overlook our sin and say our sin is okay with Him. Rather He trains us by His grace to put off sin and put on obedience.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11–14).
By His grace, God changes and transforms us into the likeness of His Son. That is the end goal—for us to be like Christ. This means putting to death the lingering sin within us. It means turning in repentance from our former way of life. It means seeking to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
There is a lot of work to do in that transformation, but ultimately God’s grace is what’s working in us, changing us into the image of Christ. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). And we can rest assured that God will continue this work in us until it is complete in glory.
“Grace” is a beautiful word that is essential to our faith. It is the ground on which we stand. From beginning to end—from salvation, to sanctification, to glorification—it is all God’s grace. Because His grace is so important to our faith, we need to know what it means so that we’re not drawn away or misled by false teaching. And the more we learn, understand, and consider God's grace—the depth and breadth of it—the more we are able to sing with wonder, "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!"