Definition of Grace

Gerry Breshears, Ph.D.

I. Unmerited favor to us through Christ leading to full membership in family of God with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities thereunto appertaining. This is related to justification, founded on the finished work of Christ.

A. Error of Judaizers (Galatians): entrance or continued membership depends on obedience.

B. Error of the Christian legalists: sanctification is by keeping the Law. 

C. 2 Samuel 9: As David transferred his affection for Jonathan to his son, so God graciously transfers His affection for Jesus to the child of God. 

D. Matthew 20:9ff: Grace doesn’t abrogate justice or fairness, but exceeds it. 

E. Romans 4: We are fully accepted into God’s family as we are, not as we might be or will be. Membership in God’s family in no way depends on our character or behavior. Faith is our acceptance of that, when we take God at His word as incredible it seems and consenting to be loved while wholly unworthy. 

F. Galatians 3:3. Picture of grace: There is a contradiction between coming into a relation with God via the Spirit and continuing and developing that relationship via “earning” (i.e., effort). 

G. Galatians 5:1, 13; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 1:6.

II. God’s initiation and assistance to us through the Holy Spirit to empower us to live like Christ. We are responsible to respond to God’s initiative. This is related to sanctification and the finishing work of Christ.

A. As a part of the new heart, we have a new set of desires — albeit often covered/challenged by worldly/fleshly baggage 

B. God’s first work is changing our character so that the deep desires of Christ consume us more and more 

1. It is often accompanied by the frustration at how slowly it seems to occur

2. We deliberately embracing such means of grace as the spiritual disciplines which help our progress

C. 1 Cor 15:9-11: Paul’s grace-enabled labor 

D. 2 Cor 9:8: Grace abounds to good work; i. e., empowering us to do what, now intrinsically, we want to do so we can love God and do what we please 

E. 2 Cor 12:9: weakness is context for grace 

F. Heb 4:15-16: God’s mercy & grace operating in tandem to deal with the weakness that thwarts our following new desires 

III. Elements of grace:

A. UNDESERVED — the recipient has no claim on it. We do not and never can deserve it. What’s more, we will never be able to pay nor asked to pay for that matter. To try to pay for it would insult the giver, like inviting a guest and then have him try to pay for the meal. Grace is always a gift, never a reward. 

B. UNCONDITIONAL — nothing can deserve or stop it from happening. 

C. FREE — God is under no obligation whatsoever for giving it. He does so solely by His choice. 

D. FREEING — Grace leaves us free from guilt and shame, from the authority of sin and Satan, from the tyranny of acceptance by measuring up to unstated expectations, free from Mosaic Law. Free to obey, love, forgive, serve Christ because we want to. 

E. WONDERFUL — In our sense of corruption, demerit and worthlessness and the sense of awesome majesty of God whose holiness leads Him to wrath against sin, it is simply staggering to think that God would give Himself to us or even take notice of us at all.

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Gerry Breshears, Ph.D.
Division of Biblical and Theological Studies
Western Seminary
5511 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97215 USA