In thinking about the grace of God we must understand that our lives are surrounded by grace and that we are to live our lives in that environment. We have been saved by grace, we are to live by grace and we are to die in grace if we ever hope to live eternally. The grace of God is our only hope of being pleasing in God’s sight because we will always need His forgiveness.
Of course receiving His grace is conditional. He does not give people what they do not want or give it to those who do not respond to His offer of grace. To do so would be to deny man his right of choice. He offered salvation to the Jews in the first century. Some of them responded to His offer of grace but the nation as a whole did not. Theirs was a choice between life and death, between forgiveness and condemnation. They chose the latter and consequently the nations was destroyed.
Life and acceptance before God for the Jews and for all others is in the renewed people of Israel – the church, the body of people that exists because they accept the grace of God for their lives. This is illustrated in Acts 11:19-26 where after the persecution that arose after the stoning of Stephen, (Acts 7:54-60; 8:1-4), the disciples who were scattered “went about preaching the word” (v.4). Some of these disciples preached to the Greeks which resulted in “a great number” believing and turning to the Lord (11:21). When the news of this reached the church in Jerusalem they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
“When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose,” (Acts 11:23)
“The grace of God” here was the visible result of the preaching of God’s grace offered in Jesus Christ – the believers who came to participate in the benefits of His grace. It was here in Antioch and by the grace of God that the “disciples were first called Christians” (v. 26).
As people who, like the people of Galatia, were called “in the grace of Christ,” (Galatians 1:6), we are to be a gracious people – that is, we are to show grace or extend grace to others. There are numerous ways we are to do this. Paul gives one summation in Colossians 3:12-15…
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”
Each of these qualities is a “gift” to others when they receive them from us. Think about patience and forbearance. If we react negatively to things people do or say every time they do things we don’t like, we eventually would cut ourselves off from everyone. That would be like saying, “You don’t deserve my fellowship because you are not as perfect as I am.” But if we are patient, allowing others the time and opportunity to realize their mistakes we will broaden our fellowship and help to bring people who are not perfect a little closer to perfection – to say nothing of becoming closer to being what God wants us to be ourselves. Thus the gifts of patience and forbearance are beneficial to both ourselves and others. We are to be community builders and patience and understanding are necessary for this.
Forgiveness is another “gift” we are expected to give to those who have hurt us in some way. When someone has said or done something against us, for them to simply say, “I’m sorry!” does not earn them absolution from the offense. To forgive is to give them a gift of ourselves. It is to say “I do not hold anything against you” even though the hurt may have been deep. Forgiveness, patience and forbearance remove barriers and draw us closer to others. It is a gracious act that builds relationships. Forgiveness is essential in all human relationships.
That is gracious living. Like a fish swims in water and we breathe air, the Christian “lives and breathes” grace. We “put on” these qualities to adorn our spirit like we put on clothing to adorn our bodies.
It was Paul’s unvarying prayer in each of his epistles that the grace of God be with those to whom he wrote. 2 Cor 13:14 is typical… “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is a prayer that those who read these letters be continually in the grace or favor of God. Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch urged believers to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43).
Giving to the needs of others is considered an act of grace. When writing to the Corinthians about the collection for the saints in Judea, Paul referred to a number of qualities in which they excelled and urges them to excel in “this act of grace also” – this act of giving.
“Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.” (2 Corinthians 8:6-7).
In doing this they were giving of themselves. They had toiled to earn their money, using their time, energy and ability and they were sharing this with others. All the qualities he mentioned in this passage are graces or spiritual gifts as was the generous giving he was urging them to complete. Giving is listed as one of the gifts in Romans 12:8; “the one who contributes,” is to do so “in generosity.” Every act of grace is a giving of ourselves.
God’s great gift is the most powerful, pervasive, persuasive, force in the world. That grace brings men to see their sin that put the Savior on the cross, His hands and feet pierced by nails, His side with a Roman soldier’s spear. This was done so that God might show His mercy to man. And it is grace that engulfs believers today with an all-consuming power that radically changes our lives and our actions, bringing us to be truly sons of God made in the image of Jesus.
Grace, when manifested in the lives of God’s people, is one of the most powerful forces for changing the world because it is a living demonstration of God’s own grace. We just can’t do it on as grand a scale as He does, but each act of grace is a tiny reflection of His own. Together we can shine the light of grace brilliantly in this world if we are gracious people.