Just recently, I read a story on the news that caught my attention. It was about a teenage boy, who ran away from home. After using the money he had brought with him, he decided to start selling drugs and lived off of what he earned for several years. And when ruin found him, he slept outside, homeless and destitute. It was in this state that he asked himself what he was doing there and why he had run away from home; and he decided to go back. And after twenty years of heartbreaking hardship and sorrow, his mother saw her 38-year-old son, a broken man, and the father saw his boy, on the brink of disgrace. It might have been just for the father to turn him away, disown him, or scold him. But his father and mother withheld all punishment from him; that was mercy. And yet they went even farther; they welcomed him back with open arms, with hugs and kisses, with cries of joy and tears of gladness. They gave him back what was once his and covered his guilt in their love; that was grace! Undeserved, free grace! When I read this story, one thought stayed in my mind: “what was his response to this gift?” I was sure that the proper response would be gratitude, and unmeasurable thankfulness.
And then it clicked. How thankful am I for the grace that has been extended towards me? And the thing is, I take it so much for granted that my sins have been forgiven on the cross by Jesus; but do I really understand? Do I understand that it is not by my deeds, but by the grace of God alone that I am saved? It is for those who, like myself, still struggle with realizing the great meaning of God’s grace, that I write this—as much to me as to anyone else, as I clarify my thoughts on this subject.
As I look back on the story I mentioned in the beginning, a thought crossed my mind. That man did nothing whatsoever to deserve his parents’ warm welcome. He ran away from their love, he committed crimes, he became a disgrace to their family—how could they open their arms for him? And that is the first part of defining grace. Unmerited. Unwarranted. Undeserved.
We are like that man in the story—even worse. In the beginning of creation, we disobeyed our holy, perfect, righteous God, and broke his standard of perfection. And because he is so perfect, he must be separate from sin and lawlessness. This is why there is a hell. All of humankind, because we cannot be perfect, and we make mistakes, are sentenced on the simple premise of disobeying the law of God, to eternal damnation and separation from God forever. Hell. We are covered and polluted with sin and guilt and shame, and what we deserve is death.
But this is where grace comes in. The grace of God is God’s unmerited favor towards sinners as a free gift that alone is what saves sinners from death. God, taking away our punishment—mercy. But not only that. He offers us life in heaven, a gift we don’t deserve!—Grace! And it’s clear we don’t deserve it, as it states in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked—who can know it?” We are drowned in sin—of our choice—so how could God even consider us as candidates for heaven? God could’ve killed off the first humans right off the bat when they disobeyed; but rather then destroy them, he chose to make a way for them to get right with him again: grace. This beautiful concept is explained in Romans 5:8, where Paul says, “But God demonstrates his own love towards us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And this brings me to a second aspect of grace: it’s a gift.
A powerful verse in Scripture—Isaiah 64:6 explains that, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Think about this for a moment; we are so sinful that even our best most wonderful acts of righteousness are likened in the Word of God to filthy rags! They are not worthy to stand before our holy God who holds the universe in his hands. Because we are so utterly steeped in sin, we cannot even come near to his throne! And this leads to another question: if we are so corrupted how can we get right with God?
The answer is, we can’t—not by our works or deeds or by thinking that we can. But Jesus can. He gave us himself because he knew we had no way of getting right with God on our own. It was a gift of God—a favorite verse of a lot of us, I think, explains this, Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Christ Jesus our LORD.” God’s grace, by definition, is the undeserved gift of love, lavished upon humans, paving the only way to become right with God.
What about being the only way to become right with God?
This is the third aspect of grace: it is the ONLY way to become right with God, the ONLY way to escape hell, the ONLY way to be covered in the righteousness of God, so that we might come into a right relationship with him. Paul in the Bible understood this, and, while explaining to the Ephesians, wrote these words, in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God, not by works, lest any man should boast.” I may have touched on this a few times, but it’s so important that I must repeat it again—it is ONLY through the grace of God that we can be saved from death! We cannot make it on our own; that’s the plain truth. We are just too polluted and corrupted in sin to be able to come into God’s presence, much less escape the punishment due us.
It is by grace alone that we can be saved. We could not save ourselves, nor did we deserve the gift given to us of salvation. But it was given anyways! Grace: unmerited; undeserved; a gift; the only way to get right with God; given out of the overwhelming love of our loving God!
I write this because of my passion for apologetics and for growing closer to God. In everyday life, I do struggle to realize the depth of God's unfailing love and the extent of his grace, which went so far as to sacrifice his own son on a cross. This is also up for critique and for any and all suggestions you may have.