Grace: A Working Definition

by Bryant Evans on February 18, 2012

Grace is grossly misunderstood by many. It is not a blanket forgiveness which allows, condones or encourages rebelliousness. Paul is clear about that ().

Grace was always described to me as “getting what you need but do not deserve.” That’s still pretty close but it is not nuts and bolts. It is not an everyday working definition.

Grace is God providing me with a way to get what I cannot get on my own. Examples:

Noah

Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (). Mankind was on the verge of destruction and there would be nothing Noah could do. However God gave him a divine plan. He told him to build a boat ( ff). Indeed, the flood came, all was destroyed except Noah and those in the grace-given ark (). But in the middle of all this Noah had something to do. God gave him a command to build and Noah did so as God said ().

Between the prediction of certain destruction and Noah’s glorious deliverance we find a task. Is this story any poorer because Noah obeyed?  Is there even a smidgen less glory to God because Noah did something? Did Noah earn his place in the ark? No! But he was obedient.

Abraham

Abraham lived among idol worshipers. Like all of mankind Abraham was in need of salvation. God chose Abraham as the venue for that grace which would come to all men (). God made promises to Abraham (). Abraham obeyed (; ).

Abraham never saw the blessings God promised; they came much later. He was obedient. He did as he was told to do. Is Abraham any less of a great Bible character because he obeyed? Is his reputation harmed because he did something? Is the glory of God tarnished because he used a man to bring salvation to mankind? Did Moses deserve or earn his place before God? No! But he was obedient.

Paul

Paul (Saul) was a devout Jewish man on the fast track to success and notoriety in Judaism. Jesus stopped him on the Damascus Road ( ff). By a direct intervention in his life this man was changed. He turned from executing the church to encouraging it. He stopped persecuting and began preaching. Paul was a walking testimony to the grace of God ().

Paul could say near the end of his life that glory awaited him (). He was a recipient of grace and bound for glory. But in the middle Paul was simply an obedient servant (). But even with the thousands to whom Paul preached and even with the multiplied beatings and finally death, would any one say God owed salvation to the chief sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). No! Is God less glorious because Paul was obedient? Never!

In every case, men were given the required knowledge. In every case their unforgivable sins were forgiven by the grace of God. But God has always demanded obedience from his people. As lowly servants we ought comply.

Grace then is simply God giving us the gospel and the chance to obey that gospel (; ; ).

Grace is a much deeper topic than can be covered in a single article but maybe this will whet your appetite and help answer the search for a working definition of grace.

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6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (ESV)

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (ESV)

14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (ESV)

18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. (ESV)

And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. (ESV)

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, (ESV)

12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. (ESV)

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (ESV)

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. (ESV)

24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (ESV)

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (ESV)

19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, (ESV)

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (ESV)

in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (ESV)

17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (ESV)

{ 2 comments }

Jennica February 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm

I have learned a lot from this post and for me this is very helpful…

Angus February 20, 2012 at 12:44 am

Very well said! I agree with you. The three people you’ve mentioned have lead lives that are obvious evidence of God’s grace, most especially Paul.

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