Most people are familiar with the word, “GRACE.” No, I am not referring to a woman’s name. Yes, I have had friends named Grace. The older woman who frequently stayed with our children when we were away from home was named Grace, and she lived up to her name. She was truly a “gracious” person. On the other hand, I have known at least one other woman named Grace who was not so gracious; in fact, she was very opinionated, with a critical spirit. Suffice it to say, the word “GRACE” has multiple meanings. Many people say “grace” before their meals. When we can speak of certain people as being “gracious,” we mean they are thoughtful, kind, and considerate. We often want such people to know that we are “grateful” for their sweet spirit, for their gift of giving, and we may give thanks to God for the fact that there are such people, both men and women, who are “other-person centered” (unselfish), for we are “gratified” by their many good deeds. We are also often “congratulated” when we succeed, and we hope we will also be dealt with “graciously” when we fail.
Shortly after my first retirement I was privileged to serve as the interim pastor of a church in the UK, in Beaconsfield, England, a very historic town between London and Oxford. There are some common expressions there that sound strange to our ears in the United States. British subjects address “Royals” (members of the Royal Family) as “Your Grace.” Students at Oxford and Cambridge may “receive a grace” (i.e. an exemption from certain academic requirements). Parliament declares an “Act of Grace” when a criminal is pardoned. In this country we speak critically of those who have “fallen from grace,” meaning people who are “out of favor.” We may even use stronger language by referring to the conduct of such people as “disgraceful.” Furthermore, when we wish to really insult someone we may shorten this descriptive word and simply say he or she is a “disgrace.” Similar words may be used to refer to those people who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, because they are critical and judgmental of others, as being “ungracious.” Mark Twain was fond of describing such unrighteous people as “being good in the worst sense of the word.” It is still sometimes said of a despicable person that he or she has “no saving grace.”
That latter expression brings us to the most important meaning(s) and use of “GRACE” in the Bible, especially the primary meaning, which is “saving grace” (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2: 4-10). The Apostle Paul says, “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5), saved from the power and penalty of sin, but not from the presence of sin, which never happens in our earthly life. However, it will happen in the life to come, when our salvation is complete, and we receive our full “inheritance” as children of God, an inheritance that is “undefiled” and “kept in heaven for all who are being protected by faith (i.e. guarded by grace through faith) by the power of God for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time“ (I Peter 1: 4-5). In this assurance “…we rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for we know we will receive the salvation of our souls” (verses 8-9). Yes, there are tenses to salvation: past, present, and future.
If anyone ever asks believers if they are saved, they should respond with overwhelming confidence, “Yes, I am saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved.” We look forward to that time when we will find ourselves a part of that “…great multitude from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (i.e. the Lamb that was slain for our sins upon the cross) robed in white, with palm branches in their hands (symbolizing sinlessness and victory)…robes made white by the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9 and 14) – and we will join all the redeemed in singing the great Te Deum of heaven, “Worthy is the Lamb slain for us to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12), and the Lamb “will wipe away every tear” from our eyes (Revelation 7:17), “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 7:17 and 21:4), and “There will be no more sin” – “We will see Him” (i.e. our risen, righteous, and reigning Lord, face to face, which will be the crowning joy of heaven – Matthew 5:8, I John 3:2, I Corinthians 13:12), and we will “…reign with Him forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4-5).
None of this would be true, none of this would be possible, if it were not for the glory of God’s grace, His forgiving and redeeming love in action! Is it any wonder that the Apostle Paul begins each of his pastoral letters with this salutation, “Grace to you“? This was Paul’s favorite word. There are numerous references to the justice and judgment of God in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and Paul gives thanks for the everlasting mercy of God, but it is God’s amazing grace, God’s undeserved favor, that causes Paul to use such words as “immeasurable” when he speaks of “the riches of God’s Grace,” His “kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7) – sinners alienated from Him as a holy God, but forgiven and accepted as His adopted children, made members of His forever family – all by grace alone through faith alone – totally undeserved.
It is important to understand the difference between justice, mercy, and grace. Justice is when a person reserves what he or she deserves. Mercy is when someone does not receive what he or she deserves. GRACE IS WHEN A PERSON RECEIVES WHAT HE OR SHE COULD NEVER DESERVE. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion; it is the only religion that offers GRACE. The one word that can be applied to every other religion is “do,” while the one word that summarizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ is “done.” Christ Jesus has done everything that needs to be done so we can experience God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance. There is nothing we need to add what has already been done by Him. This is the faith we sing: “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe…” – “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee…in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling….naked, come to Thee for dress…helpless, look to Thee for grace…foul, I to the fountain fly, wash me, Savior, or I die” – “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
Eugene Peterson, in his inspiring paraphrase of the New Testament gives us a very insightful wording of the familiar invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11:25-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary from carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me….and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Listen to this contemporary rendering that does no violence to the text, or to our Lord’s intent: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?….Walk with me, and work with me….Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Jesus came to save us from the heavy burden of a religion of so many “do’s,” as well as “dont’s” (i.e. the heavy load of a burdensome religion that we must carry), for there is something terribly wrong with a burdensome religion. Our religion should not be something we have to carry, but rather something that carries us! Not a load, but a lift! Not a weight, but wings!
Suffice it to say, what every person of faith needs, everyone seeking a personal relationship with God that is renewing, refreshing, and rewarding – a relationship with God that is enjoyable and enduring – is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, who extends this invitation to all: “Come to me.” Christianity is more than a religion. It is a relationship with the person of One who came that we might have that kind of relationship with God, not by our own human efforts, but by the GRACE of a loving and saving God, who offers us salvation as a gift, something we could never earn or deserve. Whenever we think that our relationship with God is something we must merit, we have begun working for God instead of walking with God! How is it with you? Perhaps now is the time for you to lay your burden down by answering the invitation of Christ Jesus, saying, “O Lord, I come. I want to walk with you. I want to be set free from the weight of a burdensome religion. I too want to discover ‘the unforced rhythms of grace.'”
When that happens, you will be able to also live a life that is “full of grace,” in both your words and your deeds. This is why the Apostle Paul can give those who have responded to Christ’s invitation this admonition: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).