Ask most Bible students what God’s grace is and they’ll answer, “undeserved favor.” Indeed, the Bible teaches that despite our sinfulness (rejecting God’s love and rule and failing to love people as God loves us), because of Christ’s death we are forgiven and have a credit of righteousness on our account before God. We are now “justified” before God and guaranteed entrance into heaven when we die.
But what about for my life today? Am I just to struggle through this painful world and hope for the better world of heaven when I die? Am I to be content with being forgiven of my sins, but never learn how to overcome sin?
Study grace in the New Testament and you’ll see that it is larger than unmerited favor or forgiveness of sins, though it certainly includes that.
What is “Grace”?
“Grace is God acting in our life,” Dallas Willard says. (See his book The Great Omission.) God’s grace to us is his power for living an effective and glorious life today! It is God acting generously and powerfully, to do for us what we cannot do ourselves. Practically speaking, grace is an energy source that can help us get out of bed in the morning, speak a kind word to a stranger, persevere in a difficult situation, face a fear, or offer compassion to someone who has criticized us.
Grace is ministered to us by the Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t just fall out of the sky upon us! We have to open ourselves to God’s grace; we have to interact with it through training our body and soul to receive it, respond to, and work with it. Of course, training and working to make use of God’s grace does not mean that we could earn it! Earning has to do with an attitude of pride and self-sufficiency. Grace is opposed to earning, but it is not opposed to effort. Effort has to do with action. God gives us the responsibility and choice to take hold of his hand of grace — or not.
New Testament Teachings on Grace
Here are a few examples of Scriptures that show the connection between grace and power to help us see that grace is not just a credit on our spiritual account, but it’s energy from God that helps us to act in love, wisdom, and power. (All Scriptures are from the NIV. I introduce each Bible verse with a phrase description and within the actual verses I added bold emphasis to highlight the connections between God’s grace and his power at work in our lives.)
Grace Empowers us to Serve God and Share the Gospel
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.” (Ephesians 3:7)
Grace Empowers Good Works
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
God Graciously Gives us Service Gifts and Graciously Empowers Us to Use Them
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6).
Grace Empowers Witness
“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
Grace Empowers us to Say “No” to Sin
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13)
The Abundance of God’s Grace Strengthened Paul
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:12-14).
Grace Set Paul on Fire for God! By God’s Grace he Worked Hard
“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them —yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).
Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh: By Grace he Overcame his Weakness
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Peter’s Encouragement to those Suffering: God’s Grace Will Strengthen You
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10).
We’re to Grow in Grace!
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Be Strong in Grace!
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).
We Need to “Work Out” the Salvation (Grace) that God “Works In” Us
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
A Prayer to Receive God’s Glorious Riches (Grace) and Power
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)
More Bible Teaching on Grace
Dallas Willard’s book The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship features compelling teaching on God’s grace. I’ve highlighted some of his insights in my article: “The Great Omission: Introduction and Quotes.”