From [Jesus] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:16–17 (NRSV)
Grace has come to mean a variety of things in our culture. The meanings range from a sense of beauty and poise to allowing someone to do wrong things without holding them accountable. That last definition is the one most often held to in the church.
In the church, grace has come to mean that no one should be held accountable to any standard of behavior unless it is someone else! If a fellow Christian is called out because of immoral of hurtful behavior, they will often play the “grace card” as a way of deflecting any accountability. In this vein grace is some expected or even demanded from others.
Grace is freely given
In many ways, this idea is far from the biblical notion of grace. First, in Scripture grace is never something expected or required, it a gift given solely at the discretion of the giver. Someone can choose to grant grace or not; they are under no obligation to give grace. Grace is given because the giver wants to do so, not because the recipient needs or deserves it.
Grace is unearned
Second, look at the popular definition: grace is unmerited favor. Notice what those words were taken separately mean. Unmerited denotes something that is not deserved or not earned. Something that is unmerited is given not because of anything in the recipient, its sole reason for being given is found in the giver.
Favor means the esteem one person grants another. Webster’s dictionary defines it as the friendly regard shown to another, in particular by a superior or approving consideration or attention given to another.
Taken together, grace is the friendly regard or approving consideration given to us by God not based on anything that we have done or not done nor any merit we may have ourselves.
Grace is a gift
Third, we need to understand that grace is not a force or a tool used by God, it is God’s disposition toward us and the motivation behind the things God does for us. For example, why did God choose Abraham and enable Sarah to give birth to a child when she had been barren for so many years? Because God had an undeserved and unmerited friendly regard for them. Why did God bring the Israelites out of captivity and make a covenant to be their God? Because God had an undeserved and unmerited friendly regard for them. Why did God choose to send Jesus to bear the consequences of sin on behalf of the whole human race? Because God had an undeserved and unmerited friendly regard for us.
It is that same undeserved and unmerited friendly regard that reaches out to every human that has ever been born and invites them into a relationship with God so that in turn they can be a vessel of undeserved and unmerited friendly regard for someone else.
That is grace! Join us this Sunday as we talk about how God’s grace reaches out to us even before we become followers of Jesus.
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Alan Cassady serves as Senior Pastor at Navarre UMC, and has been at the church since 2011. When he's not preaching and teaching, he enjoys sci-fi movies and FSU Football. Read more about Alan here.