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“Grace” is one of those hardworking words in the Christian vocabulary that has come to mean many different things. We sing songs like “Amazing Grace”, we say grace at the dinner table, and then we ask God for the grace to get through the day. Clearly all of these graces don’t mean the same thing, and it’s easy to get confused. So let’s go through the various ways that the term grace is used by Christians.
SAYING GRACE BEFORE A MEAL
In this context, grace is just a synonym for prayer. When we ask someone to “say grace for us” at the dinner table, we are asking them to say a prayer that will include some note of thanks to God for the food He has given us. There is no official prayer involved here. There is no right or wrong way to “say grace.” It just means “to pray”, and we only use the term to refer to the prayer we pray right before we eat. If we’re praying at other times—in bed, at church, in the car—we just “pray”, we don’t “say grace.” Confusing? Yes, but there it is.
GOD’S AMAZING GRACE or GOD’S SAVING GRACE
When we are talking about grace in reference to our salvation, we are talking about God giving us unmerited favor, love and mercy. After all, none of us deserve to spend eternity in Heaven. According to God’s standards of righteousness, we all deserve to burn in Hell for failing to give Him the reverence, submission, and obedience that He so rightly deserves as the Almighty King.
You’ll often hear Christians saying they were “saved by grace”–this is their way of acknowledging that they didn’t deserve to be saved, but rather they were saved only because of God’s unmerited favor, love and mercy.
Jesus is often described as being “God’s gift of grace”. The “God” being referred to in this context is Yahweh. It was Yahweh (God the Father) who chose to send Jesus (God the Son) to the earth to atone for our sins and thus make it possible for us to receive permanent salvation according to the terms of Yahweh’s New Covenant.
OUR GRACIOUS GOD
When we describe God as a gracious Being, we mean He is the kind of Being who enjoys lavishing love, mercy, and favor on those who do not deserve it. All three of our Creators (Yahweh, Jesus & the Holy Spirit) are extremely gracious Beings, and realizing this helps us gain confidence in the fact that our Gods are good in Character.
It brings us great comfort and assurance to know that we have gracious Creators. If They were not gracious, we’d all be in a heap of trouble.
THE GRACE TO GET THROUGH LIFE
When Christians groan “God give me the grace to get through the day,” they mean “give me supernatural help.” That help can come in many forms. Maybe we’re asking for an extra dose of patience—“God give me the grace to deal with my cranky boss.” Maybe we’re just asking for a general supply of extra resources—“God give me the grace to get through my busy day tomorrow.”
When we’re using grace in this context, we might say things like, “I just didn’t have the grace I needed to keep my cool, so I lost my temper and said a lot of things I now regret.” Or we might say, “I was dreading dealing with my sister this weekend, but when she came into view, I suddenly had the grace.”
As you can see, when trying to understand how a Christian is using the term grace, you have to look at the context in which they are using the word. But how do we get grace in the first place? Well, when we are talking about supernatural help and God’s unmerited favor, clearly these things must come from God. No one can make God give them grace. This is a voluntary act on His part.
Now God tells us that if we align with HIS requirements for salvation, He will give us abundant unmerited favor by forgiving all of our past, present and future sins. God says He will never take that favor away from us by taking our salvation away from us. Under the New Covenant, once God accepts us as His kids, He promises to never view us as His enemies again. If we consistently rebel against Him, He will view us as snarky little brats, get mad at us, and discipline us, but He will never disown us. This is a very important difference between the Old and New Covenants. Before Christ came, Yahweh (God the Father) DID disown souls who started off obeying Him, but then later chose to start defying Him. But under the New Covenant, Yahweh chooses to act even more gracious than He acted before Christ. Under the New Covenant, Yahweh says that once we get into a right relationship with Him by submitting to Jesus as our God and Savior, we are permanently accepted as His children. This means that all Christians are receiving an ongoing and very generous supply of God’s unmerited favor.
Now when it comes to receiving supernatural help from God in a certain situation, God does not make us any guarantees. Sometimes He gives us the extra resources we need to rise above our troubles with good attitudes, but other times He withholds the help we need and we go down with all hands. We can pray hard for the grace to withstand temptation, but if God decides that falling into temptation will help us mature in our walks with Him, He will withhold the supernatural help we need to stand firm.
Human beings are very fragile, wimpy creatures. Without God’s continuous help, we can’t do anything right or withstand any kind of trouble. This is the way God likes it. He doesn’t blame us for being so weak and powerless—He made us this way on purpose. Humans were designed to be totally dependent on God for all things. God wants us to acknowledge and embrace our dependency on Him, not try to deny it by pretending we can rise above temptation or perfect ourselves in our own strength.
What is humility?