Why You Might Need to Rethink Grace

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

If you were to ask many Christians to define grace, in all likelihood you would hear a response such as, “It is the unmerited favor of God that forgives our sins and saves us.”

Although true, it is far from capturing the richest and fullest meaning of grace. This traditional definition merely reveals God is kind and His blessings are free and cannot be merited by good works. Though accurate, it is incomplete, lacking scriptural substance, for grace has a far richer and deeper meaning.

The Greek word for grace is charis, which occurs in the New Testament 155 times in 147 verses. As you can see, grace is a vital subject you desperately need to understand.

Strong’s Greek Lexicon defines charis as a “benefit, favor, [or] gift.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states grace is “good will, loving-kindness, favor” and “is used of the kindness of a master toward his inferiors or servants, and so especially of God toward men.”

Thayer’s goes on to state grace is “the favor of God or of Christ, to which all blessings, especially spiritual, are due” and “contains the idea of kindness which bestows upon one what he has not deserved,” granting “to sinners the pardon of their offenses.”

Taking these definitions into consideration, you can see how many evangelical Christians derive the traditionally accepted definition of grace as the “unmerited favor of God that forgives our sins and saves us.”

Though there is definitely truth in this traditional definition, grace goes far beyond the unmerited favor of God, the gift of salvation, and the forgiveness of sins.

Defining Grace

One of the best definitions of grace, defined by Jesus Himself, is when Paul sought deliverance from a thorn in his flesh. After crying out for help three times, Jesus told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

When Jesus—the Man who was raised from the dead and now shines like the brightness of the sun—defines grace, we need to listen. His definition of grace trumps what any seminary professor, Greek scholar, theologian, world-famous author, or pastor says about grace.

According to Jesus, grace is simply God’s power at work in our weakness. Or put another way, grace is God’s enablement or God’s ability applied to us when we have no power or ability.

This idea is confirmed by both Strong’s and Thayer’s definitions of grace. Strong’s goes on to state that grace is “especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life.”

Did you catch that? Grace is the indwelling Spirit’s influence upon the heart, reflected in the life—or you could say, reflected outwardly in behavior.

This is demonstrated in Acts 11:23 when Barnabas came to the church at Antioch and “saw what the grace of God had done” (NIV). The Holy Spirit’s inner enablement upon the believers’ hearts at Antioch was evident outwardly, resulting in Barnabas seeing the fruit of God’s ability at work.

In addition to Strong’s definition of grace, Thayer’s also states grace is “the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace.”  This description corresponds beautifully with what Jesus said. Grace is power, and when this power governs your life, it results in a favorable spiritual condition.

Several more verses confirm grace is God’s power. For example, Paul said he was made a minister “according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power” (Eph. 3:7-8, emphasis mine).

When Luke described the first-century church, he wrote “with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” because “abundant grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33, emphasis mine).

Where there is abundant grace, there is also great power, for grace is the power of God.

Webster’s Dictionary also confirms grace is the power of God, defining grace as “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

So, whether you use the term power, enablement, ability, empowerment, influence, or assistance, grace is far more than unmerited favor, the forgiveness of sins, or salvation. Unfortunately, many Bible-believing, church-attending Christ followers don’t know this.

My Definition of Grace

After studying grace for many hours, looking up all the New Testament Scriptures, consulting various lexicons and dictionaries, and reading numerous books about grace, here is my definition of grace:

Grace is the unmerited power of God, enabling you to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil, to be who God calls you to be, and to do what God calls you to do, operating when you are conscious of your need by giving you new desires and the ability to respond to God’s truth from the heart.

Since this is a rich definition, I will expound upon this definition in several articles over the next few weeks.

Grace Gives You the Power to Obey God’s Truth

In closing, let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard a teaching that you knew was true, but you felt unable to obey it in your condition?

Maybe past abuse, unworthiness, an addiction, a battle with your flesh, or rejection hindered you from fully breaking through into obedience and victory.

Francis Frangipane, in his classic book Holiness, Truth, and the Presence of God, said,

If you hear a teaching and feel as though it were unattainable in your condition, you have only heard half the message. You missed the grace that is always resident in the heart of God’s truth. Truth without grace is only half true. Remember this always: grace and truth are realized in Jesus Christ (John 1:17). What God’s truth demands, His grace will provide.

Pay close attention to the last statement. What God’s truth demands, His grace will provide.

Here’s what this means. Whenever God’s truth makes demands upon you—be holy as I am holy, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, make yourself ready, return to your first love, overcome apathy and lukewarmness, purify your heart, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, deny yourself and take up your cross—God’s grace provides you with the power needed to obey these requirements from the heart.

This brings me to a vital principle of the Spirit-led life:

God’s grace empowers you to obey what His truth demands, enabling you to abide in Christ deeper and yield Christlike fruit in abundance.

Finally, if you want to read more about God’s enabling grace, my book Indwelling Life has an entire chapter focused on God’s grace. You can also watch my teaching about Enabling Grace to hear more about God’s amazing grace.

Bryan Kessler