Ask any Bible or seminary student how to define “grace” and they’ll univocally give you the standard response. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. For a simplistic, easily remembered definition, that one works. However, as so often happens in our churches, the more we say something, the more we take it for granted. Far too often we’re aware of God’s grace but fail to be amazed by it as deeply as we should.
Periodically we all need to stop and reconsider the wonders of God’s grace. For grace to be truly amazing we need to be humbled by how truly unmerited it is.
God’s grace is necessary in salvation for there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves. Not only do we not seek God (Romans 3:10-18), even if we would our best efforts would be as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). What we deserve is death and damnation, not God’s favor. As Paul wrote Titus, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5).
Rather than deserving God’s favor, fallen sinners deserve God’s wrath. Jonathan Edwards warned his hearers of the dangers of falling into the hands of an angry God:
“So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of, all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.”
The writer of Hebrew expressed a similar thought (Hebrews 10:31).
In salvation, however, we see the beauty of God’s grace as all three Persons of the Trinity act in love towards the unlovable. God elects (Ephesians 1:3-6). Christ redeems (Ephesians 1:7). The Spirit seals (Ephesians 1:13-14). God does these things not because we deserve them but to reveal the majesty of his glory. Seven times in Ephesians 1 Paul reminds that God has orchestrated this great exercise of his grace not for ourselves but himself, “to the praise of His glorious grace.” We are saved by grace alone. Amen.
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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