The principle of grace is as fundamental to Christianity as justice is to law or love is to marriage. Christianity cannot be understood apart from an adequate grasp of grace. The doctrine of grace distinguishes the Christian faith from every other religion in the world.


Grace is most frequently defined as unmerited favor. But first and foremost, grace is a description of God’s character, which is displayed by His gifts to humanity. God is a God of grace, and He desires to make this known not only to humanity but also to the angelic hosts.

Because God is immutable and changeless, grace has always been part of His character (cf., James 1:17). Some have supposed that the God of the Old Testament is someone other than the God of the New Testament. But we know that the grace of God is frequently evidenced in the Old Testament. God is, was, and will always be a God of grace. 


Grace is not merely a part of the plan of redemption; it is the silver cord that runs through every facet of the work of redemption. According to the apostle Paul, the entire work of Christ in coming to earth, dying for sinners, and being crowned with glory is said to be “by the grace of God” (Heb. 2:9). In no way was this prompted by man (cf., Rom. 10:6-8). Our redemption is “according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). Justification—that judicial pronouncement that we are innocent of any guilt—is a gift of His grace (Rom. 3:24; Titus 3:7). When all is said and done, every element of the work of salvation is the work of God through grace, not something of our own making.


Grace takes many forms in the Bible, and it is good to define it so the diversity of these forms is taken into account. Let me briefly enumerate some of the forms of grace.

Common grace. It is that benevolence which is poured out upon all men, regardless of their spiritual condition. God is gracious in providing for the salvation of all men and in commanding its universal proclamation. He is also gracious in delaying judgment, thereby giving men ample time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). 

Saving grace. It is that generous provision of salvation on the cross of Calvary and the securing of it by divine intervention. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).

Securing grace. It is that manifestation of God’s benevolence by which Christians are kept secure. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1, 2).

Just as lost souls cannot obtain salvation through any good works of their own, neither can Christians maintain their salvation by doing good works. Salvation is obtained and maintained by grace alone.

Sanctifying grace. It is that grace which works within the true believer in such a way as to bring growth, maturity, and progress in the process of becoming Christlike: “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 Cor. 15:10).

Sustaining grace. It is grace given at special times of need, especially during adversity or suffering. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

Perhaps some of these distinctions are a bit arbitrary, but the point remains that grace is manifested in many ways. Grace seeks us and saves us; grace keeps us secure and enables us to endure the tests and trials of life. Grace will bring about our sanctification in this life and will ultimately bring us to glory. From beginning to end, we are objects of divine grace.


If we were to describe grace to a chemist, we would say that grace is an element, not a compound. In more biblical terms, grace is never a mixture of divine benevolence and human effort (Rom. 4:4-5; 11:6); grace is entirely the work of God, unprompted by man, undeserved by man, and without regard to anything that the object of grace will later accomplish.


Grace is the goodness of God on behalf of sinners who humbly acknowledge their own deficiency and thus their dependence upon God’s grace for forgiveness and salvation. But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says, “God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).


Many objections to the biblical doctrine of grace originate from abuses of this doctrine in the lives of Christians. Any biblical doctrine can be misapplied in such a way as to justify sin in our lives. In Romans 5, Paul taught that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (verse 20), but he quickly added that this is no incentive to careless living: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1, 2). We who have died to sin cannot casually and carelessly persist in sin, for it is inconsistent with new life in Christ. Grace must never be used as an excuse for sin (1 Peter 2:16).


Is that how you and I view God most of the time? Pray that it is not so with us! Sometimes we may find ourselves thinking of God in less complimentary ways. We are surprised when good things come into our lives, and we know they are from God. When suffering or trials enter our lives, we may think God is punishing us or giving us what we deserve rather than dealing with us according to grace.

Meditating on God’s grace reminds us of the goodness of God in His dealings with mankind in general and with you and me in particular. God is gracious. His grace is for sinners like you and me. He offers His grace to us. How will we respond to His unfathomable love?

General Conference Ministerial Association