"It's all grace" - what does that mean, anyway?


Amazing grace. How sweet the sound.


But what is it, really, and what have we done to it?

Perhaps grace is hard to define.  We try and explain it, but we can hardly understand it.  So we come up with ways to help us comprehend. 

God's unmerited favor.
His Love.
God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
Unconditional love.

All these definitions are true.  Thank God! 

We cannot earn His favor.  He is far more gracious than we can fathom.  Far more merciful and kind and generous than anyone can ever deserve.

But I don't think that "mercy" and "forgiveness" are all there is to grace. I often hear Christ-followers excuse their behavior with "grace".  And while I don't want to go back to the era of legalism that I went through (which brought not only judgment of others but especially of my own self), I fear that we are in danger of trampling upon the truth of what God's grace is.

We humans tend to such extremes.  We either lean waaaaaaay far in the direction of self-sufficiency, as though we can somehow muster up enough good deeds or omit enough bad deeds that we impress God....or we camp out in the land of "it doesn't matter how I live, it's all grace anyway". 

Both miss the mark of what grace is.

Yes, grace is unmerited. And absolutely there is nothing too awful to be redeemed by grace.  Nothing.  But let's take a look at grace to better understand what it is and how God grants it....

My favorite apologist, John Piper defines grace as " the supernatural power of God regenerating us and opening our blind eyes so that we can see Christ for who he really is." Amen. 

And when we see Him, I John 3:2 tells us that we shall be like Him! Grace enables us to see the treasure of Christ, to desire Him above all this world has to offer,...and the same power that opens our eyes to that glorious truth also transforms us.  Empowers us to obey Him.

So, it is the mercy of God that is willing to withhold from us the punishment we deserve and it is His grace that gives us far more than we could ever earn...but that grace includes our transformation.  The power to obey Him.  Yes, He lavishes acceptance and blessing and favor --- grace -- upon His people but He tells us that there is more to grace.  It's not a public drinking fountain that we can visit from time to time and wash off our guilt or request special treatment.

Humility is a condition of receiving this grace.  James 4:4-6 clearly explains not only that God gives grace to the humble but also that cozying up to the world puts us in opposition to God.  He gives grace so that we might live according to His Spirit within us. 
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
 So, you might say, that says there is a condition to receiving grace!  I thought God's love was unconditional!  Do I have to earn it? 
 The grace that causes us to be chosen of God before the foundations of the earth - that is completely unconditional.  We weren't even around when God us and foreordained that we would be His.  He is not responding to our good behavior or our desirability in His choosing us.
But there is  grace that is conditional, where He does respond to our behavior - Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5). God responds to humility with more grace - grace that transforms us by enabling us to obey His commands.

Let me explain a bit further -
  Philippians 2:12,13 says - work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure
Yes, the work of transformation that please God is a result of His working within us...but that does not lessen our responsibility to cooperate with His power and obey His Word - to work out our salvation (not work for it, but work it out from the inside of our spirit to the outside of our soul and body)

Piper puts it this way:

I can flip a switch, but I don’t provide the electricity. I can turn on a faucet, but I can’t make the water flow. There will be no light and no liquid refreshment without someone else providing it.
And so it is, in a limited sense, for the Christian with the ongoing grace of God. His grace is essential for our spiritual lives, but we don’t control the supply. We can’t make the grace flow, but God has given us circuits to connect and pipes to open in case it’s there.
Our God is lavish in his grace, often liberally dispensing his favor without even the least bit of cooperation and preparation on our part. But he also has his regular channels. And we can routinely avail ourselves of these revealed paths of blessing, or neglect them to our detriment.

We can “fight to walk in the paths where he has promised his blessings” (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 43–44

What, then, are these paths?  What are the means of availing ourselves of His grace?

Basic, everyday, seemingly unglamorous Christianity - sometimes referred to as "spiritual disciplines" -
Persevering in prayer
Consistent time in His Word
Loving the fellowship of His People
Obeying what He says in His Word

My husband calls it "the blocking and tackling of following Christ". 

We put ourselves in the paths of blessing, the place to receive God's favor, the avenue that takes us to a life changed into one of joy and peace and significance when we obey Him.  When we respond to His commands with the humility that sees our inability to obey Him and we cry out for His enabling power - His grace.

I exhort us all, dear sisters, not to trample upon His precious grace by thinking we can live anyway our flesh desires and then just continually confess and repeat.  Let us not think we can expect the grace of His blessings if we don't go where He says the blessings are to be found.