God’s Grace: His Unceasing Kindness
Grace is such an important Christian word. Books have been written about it, and countless sermons have been preached about it. It permeates the Christian faith. And it’s meaning greatly affects how we perceive God. But scholars have analyzed and studied the word grace so much, its meaning has evolved into something complex and sometimes difficult to understand. God’s grace, his goodness, and his kindness are closely related. But what is grace, and why is it important to our faith?
The English word grace in our Bibles is the translation of the Greek word charis, the word used in the original Bible manuscripts. To the ancient Greeks charis meant gracefulness, loveliness, or something pleasant in appearance. But the Christian meaning of grace is much richer and deeper than the common usage of the original Greek word. The Greeks also used charis in the sense of an unmerited gift, and in his letters to the churches, the Apostle Paul took this meaning and expanded upon it significantly.
God’s kindness in giving physical blessings
To understand God’s grace, we should start with his basic attribute of kindness. Jesus proclaimed of God:
…he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)
God is good, loving, and kind to all people. The proof of this is that he keeps sending good things to us, even though we are ungrateful and think that we deserve them when we don’t. If you have ever raised young children, you know what it’s like to give constantly without being appreciated. To his disciples, Jesus declared:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)
God shows all people kindness by freely giving physical blessings, even to those who despise him.
The wideness of God’s grace
The scope of God’s grace is actually very broad and wide: he gives food, water, sunshine, family, and friends—and offers a myriad of spiritual blessings—to all people. At its core, God’s grace comes from the fact that by nature he is gracious and kind, and he loves to give good gifts to those he created in his image.
Almost everyone readily accepts the physical blessings God, without protest. No sane and healthy person refuses the blessings of life, food, water, and health. Unfortunately, many of us have the habit of complaining that they are not to our liking or up to our standards. Worse, most people receive them without giving thanks to God, or even acknowledging his existence. People everywhere accept life’s gifts every day without giving any credit to the Giver. Of course God can withhold or take away his physical blessings as well, sometimes to teach us to trust him and also to remind us from whom the blessings come.
God’s grace is limitless—there are plenty of blessings to go around. This is who he is: he is good to all. And he has never been any different, from the beginning of time, until now. We could say that in a general sense, grace is God’s unceasing kindness and goodness to all.
God’s spiritual blessings
God is gracious with his physical blessings, so why would he be any different with his spiritual blessings? He impartially offers them to all, whether they are physical or spiritual. The Apostle Paul has a lot to say about God’s grace in the book of Romans.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. (Romans 3:23-25)
In this context, we could say that grace is God’s kindness in providing for the salvation—the restoration—of our souls. It is God’s love in action to address our sin. The atonement means that Christ paid the penalty for all sins of all people: past, present, and future. God demonstrated his love for all by sending his Son to die for all. All of God’s spiritual blessings are found in Jesus Christ. He is God’s provision for us to be “freely justified,” or put in a right relationship with him at no cost to us. The Apostle Paul said it beautifully:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
God is gracious with all of his blessings and offers them freely to all people. But it is also clear that not all people enjoy his spiritual blessings. Why is this?
God’s grace given as a gift
In addition to kindness, the other key to understanding God’s grace is the word gift. The words grace and gift are closely related, and in the Bible they are inseparable.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
These famous passages provide a clear and straightforward definition of God’s grace. We are saved by grace—a gift of eternal life from God that can’t be earned. No one has ever been saved except by God’s grace shown by the redeeming work of Christ. This includes the ancients who looked forward to Christ’s work, those at the time of Christ, and those who have the privilege of looking back upon Christ.
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
This gift of salvation includes forgiveness, a right relationship with God, power from his Spirit, and eternal life. We all know what a gift is: it isn’t payment for any work we’ve done, and it isn’t something we deserve. Some gifts are insincerely given with strings attached. But a sincere gift is given out of love for another person, and for no other reason.
God’s Grace must be received
But a gift must be received to be enjoyed. Who has ever heard of someone forcing a gift on someone else? It then ceases to be a gift and becomes a burden or even a mandate. The act of receiving a gift shows that there is trust in the giver by the receiver—that there is an established relationship. And another word for trust is faith.
In the same way, to enjoy God’s grace, we must receive it from him as a gift. Faith is our response to God’s offer, knowing that he is trustworthy and his gift is for our good. God’s gift is given through Christ, through whom we are reconciled to God. As a person receives God’s gift, an eternal relationship with him is born.
Misconceptions about grace
Some theologians define grace as “undeserved (or unmerited) favor.” This is one of those definitions that can actually make a word more difficult to understand. Saying that God’s grace is undeserved is true. If we deserved it, then by definition, it wouldn’t be a gift. And of course, nothing we have from God is deserved.
But the “favor” part of this definition is misleading. To those who hold to the teachings of John Calvin, it means that God selectively gives his grace to those he favors and loves—only to certain people he sovereignly chooses to save. In other words, God favors some people over others, and all who are not chosen are thus excluded. Associated with this belief are the ideas that God doesn’t offer his grace to those he doesn’t favor (since he knows they would never accept it anyway), and that God’s grace is irresistible—those he chooses to save cannot resist his decision to save them. Those who believe this also say that the gift mentioned in the Ephesians 2 passage is not God’s salvation, but the faith itself—that God selectively “gives faith to those he chooses to save.” These teachings are wrong. Throughout the Bible, many passages confirm that God does not show favoritism.
In Calvin’s view, grace is linked more to God’s sovereignty than his kindness. These teachings deny God’s love for all people and have led many people to doubt whether God as taught by Christians is truly good.
God’s grace offered to all
But a closer look at Scripture leads us in a different direction. From the context of the Ephesians 2 passage it is clear that the gift God offers is salvation, not faith. Included in salvation is the promise of eternal life. Faith is our response to God’s grace. God does not give us faith so that we can be saved by grace, he offers us his grace that we respond to by faith.
The Bible states in no uncertain terms that God offers his gift of salvation to all, showing that he is indeed good and kind.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (Titus 2:11)
This passage says that God by his grace offers salvation, he does not force anyone into a relationship with himself. As we know, forced love is not really love.
But unlike God’s physical blessings, most people will not receive God’s spiritual blessings. Not everyone understands their need for his forgiveness. And many by their own choice don’t care enough to find out if they need it. Can people resist God’s grace? Absolutely! Millions resist and even reject it every day.
We receive God’s gift through faith
Comparing Christ’s sacrifice to Adam’s sin, Paul stated in Romans that the effects of God’s gift of grace far exceeded those of Adam’s sin:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. (Romans 5:15-16)
Another view of grace we should avoid is Christian universalism, the belief that because God loves all people, he then forgives all people. Some Bible teachers believe that for God’s grace to “overflow to the many” in this passage means that all people are or will be forgiven. But from the context of the passage, “overflow to the many” means that God offers grace to all as a gift. The next verse confirms this:
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! (Romans 5:17)
Only those who “receive God’s abundant provision of grace” experience his salvation. God’s grace never ceases to flow—it is always there for the taking. But we must receive it to enjoy it, and we accept it through faith.
God’s goodness proven by his grace
Author Hannah Whitall Smith wrote insightfully about grace:
“To say that it is free unmerited favor only expresses a little of its meaning. It is the unhindered, wonderous, boundless love of God, poured out upon us in an infinite variety of ways, without stint or measure, not according to our deserving, but according to His measureless heart of love, which passeth knowledge, so unfathomable are its heights and depths.” ( The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Hannah Whitall Smith, 1875)
Hannah Smith knew that God was good. Unfortunately, she eventually came to embrace universalism, because she could not reconcile the harshness of God as presented by Calvin with the goodness of God in the Bible. But it’s not necessary to accept either the Calvinist view or the universalist view of grace. Even though God knows most will not accept it, he still offers his gift to all, proving that he is good. And it’s not just a formality. It’s a sincere offer!
Rejecting a gift is an insult
In almost every culture, rejecting a gift that is sincerely offered is considered an insult.
I remember some years ago, a few friends knew it was my birthday. I had told everyone not to give me anything, but one person brought a gift over to me anyway. The best response for me would have been to just graciously accept it. But instead, I reminded him that I didn’t want any gifts. The situation was very awkward to say the least. It embarrassed my friend, he put the gift away, and as a result, it strained the relationship.
A person who refuses to accept a sincere gift from another person is making a statement that they don’t value their relationship with that person. They are not only rejecting the gift, but the giver as well.
The result of rejecting God’s grace
In the same way, people who after knowing about God’s grace, don’t accept it, are rejecting God. They are shutting out both him and his blessings.
But when grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and do not regard the majesty of the Lord. (Isaiah 26:10)
The wicked in this passage are those who don’t respond to the grace that God offers but continue in defiance of him. It doesn’t please God when people reject his grace—it offends him. God sent his only Son to die for us, which was the most precious gift he could give to us. This special gift was offered to reconcile us back to God, so those who hear about his offer and reject it are also rejecting God himself. At the final judgment, their names will not be found in God’s book of life, and he will have no choice but to reject those who reject him.
Finding God’s grace
I hope this is not true of you. There are so many blessings God wants to give to all of us by his grace. Above all else, a love relationship with the Creator is the most valuable thing anyone can possess.
We experience this relationship with God and will enjoy his blessings forever, by personally responding in faith to the gift he is offering. If you have not done this, my prayer is that you will soon.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
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