Grace, what is it? Can it be obtained?

Reverend Gregory S. Thomas

Grace is a concept that has been talked about for centuries, yet it is a term that should be familiar to everyone. Grace according to Thomas C. Oden, in his book the Transforming Power of Grace, is “the favor shown by God to sinners.”* We are all beneficiaries of grace bestowed upon us from a merciful God. Another author has pointed out that grace is unmerited favor freely given** which means that we cannot earn this grace and do not have the capacity to merit grace regardless of our background.

The bible further asserts “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8.) Even in our hymnology, John Newton, a former slave owner, attempted to characterize grace.

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” ***

1* Thomas C. Oden, the Transforming Power of Grace (Nashville: Abingdon), 33

2* Megan Smalley, Give Grace Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 2021
3* Amazing Grace Lyrics – Hymn by John Newton (

What is Grace?

Megan Smalley** defined grace as unmerited but freely given, love, favor and forgiveness of God. This is an apt beginning to our discussion concerning grace. Grace is not something that we deserve or can be accredited to our inept account. It is God’s beneficence and love shown towards someone who does not deserve it. I’m reminded of a story that Charles Swindoll wrote describing the last spanking he received from his father.****

Swindoll characterized that it was on his 13th birthday and his father had requested for him to assist in the garden. Master Swindoll decided to exercise his new freedom as a teenager and sarcastically suggested that he was not interested in assisting his father. His father immediately rushed to his room and physically reprimanded his child. Dr. Swindoll points out that it was something that he deserved because he did not respect the authority of his father. Later that same evening, Charles’ father was kind enough to take him to a surprise birthday party on his behalf. He characterized the surprise birthday party as grace. In this context, we like Master Chuck deserves our father’s reprimand but he gives us a spacious dining experience in eternity forever.

What Amazing Grace. God gives us an eternal party (with streets paved with gold) in our favor which we don’t deserve. The Bible tells us “while we were yet sinners Christ Jesus died for us.” (Romans 5:8) When we should be reprimanded, when we should be disciplined, when we should spend eternity in hell, God has shown his wonderful favor and disposition towards us. Nothing is more stunning or as hope- giving as God’s grace. *****

4* Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson), 7
5* Randy Alcorn, Grace a Bigger View of God’s Love, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers), 76*John Piper, What is Saving Faith, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), p 261

“The treasure of his grace that gives life to spiritually dead rebels. . . and justifies the ungodly with his own righteousness.” The Bible shows God’s graciousness when it says: [He] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44b) Again, amazing grace. But what about those [we feel] don’t deserve grace? Grace is unmerited favor freely given.* It confounds the author that everyone can potentially be a beneficiary of God’s grace. What about those individuals who have done life altering evil things to themselves or to others; for example the harden callous murderer on death row?

What does grace mean to you?
Are there any persons that cannot receive grace? If so, who was/is grace meant for?

What about those who don’t deserve grace? Grace is unmerited favor freely given.* It confounds the author that everyone can potentially be a beneficiary of God’s grace. What about those individuals who have done life altering evil things to themselves or to others; for example the harden callous murderer on death row? What about those individuals that have abused the innocence of children? Does God’s grace extended those persons whom we consider unreachable, untouchable, or ‘unsavable’?

The beginning basis of this query has to begin with the point that no one deserves God’s grace. “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23.) Even though some may not believe some people warrant God’s grace, God still is beneficent in lavishing grace upon all sinners. Let us consider Jesus on the cross. While suffering and dying for the sins of humanity, Jesus is confronted by “two other men, both criminals,” (Luke 23:32a.) These thieves are suffering the same fate as Jesus, death on a cross. At the outset both thieves, deserving of their punishment, were railing against the son of God. They were pointing fingers at him and suggested that Jesus save himself and save them.

1* Megan Smalley, Give Grace Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 2021

Something miraculous happened to one of the thieves where he later requests that Jesus remember him. The benevolent hand of God is able to save many nefarious persons from hell including the Apostle Paul.

Paul says something dispositive about his sinful state: “. . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” (1 Timothy 1:15.) The Apostle Paul knew that he had the propensity to be the most vile sinner (like the thieves on the cross.) He also knew of his past conduct that did not subscribe to God’s holy standards. Paul, growing up and the most orthodox environment, was trained by the most prolific scholars of his day, still had the vile contemptible desires of an unsaved sinner.

Some time later, he said: “[f]or I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19. The propensity to sin deeply engrained in all human beings. From the seemingly innocent to the unreachable, untouchable, or ‘unsavable’, grace is a free “gift” from God and if embraced regardless of our past, we will all be noble beneficiaries.

A “Free” Gift

We all enjoy being the beneficiaries of gifts. During the holiday season most of our past time may be spent unwrapping gifts from loved ones. Grace is one of those gifts that we unwrap every day.

When we open our eyes each morning, that is proof of God’s graciousness extended to us. Ephesians 2:8 notes that “. . . it is the gift of God.” Grace is a gift that must unequivocally be received. Gary Chapman in his book Extraordinary Grace said “Everyone’s heard of grace. But not everyone understands it. Not everyone receives it.” **

2* Gary Chapman & Chris Fabry, Extraordinary Grace (Moody Publishers: Chicago), p.12

Grace is a precious gift that must be received, God wants you to receive His grace, possess it and extend it.*

The difficulty of receiving grace is that we incorrectly believe that we must earn or pay-back the giver for the gift of grace. However, we are ill-equipped to remunerate the maker of the universe.

It is only when we accept the fact that we have nothing to give God or impress him, to credit righteousness to our account, that we will be ready to take his free gift.** And, just like a gift received on a holiday morning, it is an insult*** to the giver if you refuse or attempt to pay for the gift. It, after all, is a gift.

Do you feel you can pay God back for his gifts or mercy? In what ways have you tried to impress God to win his favor in the past?