What Grace is and is not

If you go to church or listen to Christian music, you’ve probably noticed the word grace (meaning the grace of God) comes up a lot. And rightly so, since without God’s grace none of us could be saved.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9
What bothers me is that the term grace is so often left undefined and unexplained. As important as it is to the Christian faith, we need to know why we need it and how to get it.

If I were to ask a thousand Christians to explain the meaning of grace, I wonder how many of them would have an answer based on the bible.

What Grace Is

Pastor & teacher John MacArthur defines grace as “the unmerited favor which God shows guilty sinners”. I would take it a bit further and say that it’s the unmerited favor which God extends to repentant sinners who have been born again. We all need God’s grace because no amount of good works will result in salvation. The only way to be saved is to be born again, which requires repentance.

You might be wondering why I’m talking about sin and repentance in a topic about grace. The fact is, it’s impossible to rightly define God’s grace without talking about the reason why it’s so necessary. The reason it’s necessary is that we're all sinners who can only be saved by God's grace which is gifted to us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) I don’t believe that God extends grace to believers who don’t turn from their sin. You might argue that God’s word says that all who believe will be saved. That’s true, however, authentic belief always leads to obedience to God’s word and that requires repentance.

What Itching Ears Want To Hear

If what you’ve just read is news to you, you might be squirming in your seat right now. This is the very reason why many churches today, especially those in the United States where I live, don’t like to talk about sin and repentance. Instead, they prefer to satisfy the itching ears of the masses who want to be comforted and entertained but don’t want to be confronted by the whole counsel of God. This is the condition of a growing segment of the church today which actually fulfills prophecy.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:3-4

What Grace Is Not

I’ll put it bluntly: God’s grace is not a license to sin.

I’m not saying that anyone in the church teaches otherwise, but there are teachings (and omission of teaching) that imply that it’s okay if your life never changes after you’re saved. The way they preach about grace leaves the impression, or at least leaves open the possibility, that it’s a legal loophole to sin all we want. I fear that some people think God's grace offers them a free ride on the sin train.

God doesn’t extend His grace so we can continue in sin. We’re expected to die to sin so that we can live for Christ. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul on this important subject:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
Romans 6:1-2
This should be the attitude of every believer. If you’re struggling with repeating the same sin over and over again, I hope you’ll pray about it. Ask God to help you overcome it. Get an accountability partner, counseling, or do whatever it takes to break free so you can live your life for Christ.

Recommended reading

Book: Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message by Michael L. Brown
Article: How to become more obedient to Christ
Article: Four promised benefits of obedience