Grace and mercy are often times mentioned together when one engages in theological discussion. Someone has said that mercy is when we don’t get what we deserve, while grace is when we get what we don’t deserve. Grace does include the idea of us getting something from God. The word translated “grace” most often in the New Testament (charis) means “a gift, loving-kindness, favor.”

The grace that we receive from God is His favor, kindness, and it is a gift which we do not deserve and it can’t be earned. Grace is often associated primarily with the New Testament, where it is demonstrated in its highest form at the cross. However, it should be noted that grace is found throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

When the thoughts of men were continually evil and God was going to destroy the world by flood, Noah found grace (favor, ESV) in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8). Likewise, when Moses desired for God to go with him and the people of Israel as they proceeded toward the promised land, God told Moses that He would fulfill the request of Moses because he had found grace in His sight (Ex. 33:16-17). Furthermore, at the return of the people of Israel and restoration of the Law, Ezra prayed and acknowledged that it was God’s grace that had allowed them to return and to reoccupy the land (Ezra 9:8; Jer. 29:10-11).

The New Testament reveals that Jesus is the fullness of God’s grace and that in Him is grace and truth that cannot be paralleled or duplicated (Jn. 1:14, 17). Jesus, in His love for mankind, gave His life on the cross so that men would be able to have their sins forgiven and be able to be united with God (Mt. 26:28). Jesus going to the cross and taking the penalty that we as sinners deserve is grace demonstrated (2 Cor. 8:9). So the question is frequently asked, just what role does grace play in mankind’s salvation? Are we saved by grace alone?

Saved by Grace

When many people in the religious world hear the word grace, they think most often of the words recorded by Paul:“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

This verse has been quoted through the ages as a proof-text to show that there is absolutely nothing at all that man can do as it relates to his role in salvation. The question must be asked, is this Paul’s point in this verse? Paul previously discusses the Ephesians former life in sin and alienation from God (Eph. 2:1-3), then he works towards God’s merciful hand in loving us and saving us while we were still estranged from Him, so that in saving man His immeasurable kindness will be known (Eph. 2:4-7).

Paul is suggesting that salvation is totally God’s plan and design and it originated with God, no man went to God and suggested that He send Christ to redeem man from his sins—this was totally the thought of a loving, graceful God (Eph. 2:9). It is by this grace, loving-kindness, and favor that man has even a hope of being saved, but this must be coupled with faith (Eph. 2:8).

No one is ever going to do enough “good works” to force God to save them. Salvation is God’s plan and God’s purpose. This, however, does not remove obedience from the plan of salvation, nor does this fact pit obedience against grace as if the two cannot reside together. Grace is a gift where God says, “I am giving you Christ as a sacrifice, a Savior, and as a substitute.” Obedience then says, “I accept this gift and want to appropriate the cleansing blood of Christ to my soul.” Grace and obedience are not spiritual enemies.

My obedience to God does not demand that He save me, nor does the grace extended to me by God ensure that I will be saved apart from obedience and cooperation with that grace (belief, repentance, baptism, etc.)—such would ultimately imply universalism, which is simply not true.

The Christian does not need to fear the word grace, it is not a dirty word, but it is a beautiful, spiritual one that needs to be properly defined. When someone asks “are you saved by grace,” the Christian should respond emphatically with a yes! The only thing that must be determined is, does the inquirer understand the biblical definition of grace.

The Christian is saved by grace and this thought does not need to be avoided, but simply clarified and embraced. The Bible speaks of many other things which “save” us and we can’t be saved apart from anything that God, in His Word, says saves us: baptism (1 Pet. 3:21), confession (Rom. 10:10), belief in Christ (Jn. 3:16), etc.

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Our Response to Grace

Grace demands something of the Christian once it is received. Grace does not stand for “God’s Reason for Accepting Christian’s Excuses.” Grace teaches, or “trains” us to deny worldliness and its lust (Tit. 2:11-12). Grace discourages the continuing of a lifestyle of sin because we accept the grace of Christ when we die to sin in obedient faith at the point of baptism (Rom. 6:1-5).

Those who recognize the expensive price of grace and what it cost heaven will accept grace on heaven’s terms and do their best to walk as worthy recipients—living a godly life and rendering obedient service (Phil. 2:5-11; Tit. 2:14).  Thank God for His saving grace!