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Simply defined, grace means unmerited favor.
It’s a concept that might seem unconventional to the world but it’s what separates Christianity from all other religions.
Other religions tell us we can work our way up to God if we do enough good in our lives; Christianity tells us we’re sinners saved by grace.
There’s nothing we’ve done to deserve our salvation. It’s a gift given to us by God.
To some, grace might seem unnerving and unfair because it’s undeserved and underplays justice.
There are many examples of grace found in the Bible but I will outline three.
Three Examples of Grace
1. The parable of the lost son told by Jesus.
It’s one of my favorite stories.
Essentially, one of two sons asks his father to give him his inheritance. This is sort of like the son saying, “I wish you were dead!”.
Nevertheless, the father gives him the inheritance.
The son goes off far away into another country and squanders it. After a while, the son finds himself in need. He gets hired as a servant to feed pigs but is barely making it. He sets his heart on going back to his father to apologize and get hired as his servant instead.
This is what the story records him saying:
“How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants,” (Luke 15:17–18).
He plans to go back to his father with a speech ready and memorized. This is what happens next:
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate,” (Luke 15:2–24).
Philip Yancey, author of What’s so Amazing about Grace?, tells us, “the central focus of the story is the father’s outrageous love,” (Yancey, 1997, p. 80).
However, not everyone was happy with the son’s return.
His older brother, who had never gone off and squandered everything, became very angry.
This is what he tells his father:
“‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!,” (Luke 15:29–30).
He was angered because his father had shown grace to the younger son. The older brother didn’t feel his younger brother deserved it but that’s what grace is. It’s undeserved.
2. The story of the Ninevites told in the Book of Jonah.
Another example of grace given was to the Ninevites.
In the book of Jonah, we find out about these pagans that God chooses to show favor upon.
Jonah hates the Ninevites because they are Israel’s enemy. He doesn’t feel they deserve God’s favor.
God commissions Jonah to go to the Ninevites and preach to them. Jonah doesn’t listen at first and goes the opposite direction. After failing to run away, he finally obeys God begrudgingly.
He tells the Ninevites this:
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown,” (Jonah 3:4).
It’s only five words in Hebrew. He leaves out a lot of essential information in an effort to have Ninevah destroyed.
God’s plan prevailed; his plan fails.
“The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust,” (Jonah 3:5–6).
At the end of the book of Jonah, Jonah explains why he didn’t want to go to Ninevah in the first place.
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity,” (Jonah 4:2).
He hated that God was gracious.
3. The story of Hosea and Gomer told in the Book of Hosea.
The last example of grace given is found in the story of Hosea and Gomer.
The Lord tells the prophet Hosea to marry Gomer.
“Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord,” (Hosea 1:2).
This relationship represented the relationship God had with Israel. Hosea remained with Gomer, despite her infidelity. He continued to love her.
Likewise, God continued to love Israel despite their disobedience and rebellion.
This is what the Lord says to Hosea when Gomer is off with another man:
“Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes,” (Hosea 3:1).
God shows his favor upon Israel even though they don’t deserve it. Likewise, Hosea shows favor upon Gomer even though she doesn’t deserve it.
Yancey says this about the story:
“In Hosea, the scandal of grace became an actual, talk-of-the-town scandal. What goes through a man’s mind when his wife treats him as Gomer treated Hosea? He wanted to kill her, he wanted to forgive her. He wanted divorce, he wanted reconciliation. She shamed him, she melted him. Absurdly, against all odds, the irresistible power of love won out… Gomer did not get fairness, or even justice; she got grace,” (Yancey, 1934, p. 66).
What really is grace?
We’ve seen a few examples of grace played out. Grace is the central theme of Christianity. Without grace, there would be no salvation. Some may misinterpret what grace is and how it’s played out. Charles R. Swindoll, an evangelic Christian pastor, offers a disclaimer on what he says about grace:
“Others will misread what I write and misquote me, misunderstand me, and charge me with caring little about the holiness of God because (they will say) I give people the freedom to sin. On the other hand, some in the camp of carnality will thank me for relieving their guilt, because in their misunderstanding they now think it is okay for them to continue in their loose and carefree lifestyle,” (Swindoll, 2009).
Often, people will misinterpret grace as a free pass to do whatever they want in life. They use grace as a license to sin.
Thomas Watson, a Puritan preacher, says,
“True grace is known by its growth; growth evidences life. Dead things do not grow. A picture will not grow. Just so, a hypocrite, who is but a picture of piety, does not grow. But a sincere Christian grows in love to Christ, in humility, and in good works,” (Watson).
People often forget that saving grace was bought with a price. Jesus bore our sins on the cross so the barrier between us and God would be broken. He paid the debt we should have paid. We can now freely enter into a loving relationship with God and receive salvation.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast,” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
People are offended by grace for a few reasons. They may feel you don’t need it. They might proclaim they’re a “good person”. Why should they need grace then?
Or, some might be angered by who receives it. Imagine a murderer, a thief, or a rapist receiving grace. Would you be okay with that?
It’s not surprising how we react to grace. In our minds, we think it underplays justice and we often want vengeance when we’re the ones involved in the circumstances.
But it’s what God freely gives to those who want it. He gives us another chance to wipe the slate clean and start over. And it’s all because of Jesus.
Reagan, D. (n.d.). Learn The Bible. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from http://www.learnthebible.org/what-is-grace.html
Swindoll, C. R. (2009, August 10). The Risk in Grace. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.insight.org/resources/article-library/individual/the-risk-in-grace
Watson, T. (n.d.). The Beauty of Grace. Retrieved January 22, 2020, from https://www.gracegems.org/Watson/beauty_of_grace.htm
Yancey, P. (1997). What’s so Amazing about Grace? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.