Grace, as scripturally defined, is set in complete opposition to works or merit. Statements that put receiving something because of God's grace as wholly contrary to receiving something because of works abound in scripture, but perhaps the clearest is in Roman 11:4, where Paul, speaking of God's choice of a remnant out of the nation Israel, says that if this choice "is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (ESV)" Something that comes to us from God's grace cannot come as a result of our works or our merit, for if it did, it would go against the very definition of grace used by Paul. Grace would no longer be true grace if it was in any way meted out based upon our good actions. To the extent that something is "of works" it cannot be "of grace," and if our salvation is "all of grace", then it is "none of works".
Our God is the "God of all grace." He is characteristically giving toward those who do not merit his favour, and every favour that we receive has its source in the God of all grace. His grace is eternal, for it has been given to those who are saved before time began (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV). From this same verse in 2nd Timothy, we also learn that grace is sovereignly and freely exercised by God, given "not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace." We don't call it out from him, but he extends it as it suits his purpose and because he is gracious. He is gracious to whom he will be gracious (Exodus 33:19).
God's grace is abundant, and it never runs out. The amount of God's grace is always greater than the depth of our sin. Paul tells us that grace multiplied where sin increased (Romans 5:20). We can be confident that it is always sufficient for us.
God's grace extends to all humankind--sustaining life, withholding judgment, and restraining sin; but it is particularly bestowed on those who are being saved, for redemption through Christ is the crowning work of God's grace. From start to finish, salvation is a work of grace. It is out of God's grace that he calls, regenerates, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies his own. Those who are God's children can know that all of God's actions toward them are gracious actions, because even the difficult things God allows them to endure come to them with a gracious purpose: to produce the fruit of righteousness within them (Hebrews 12:10,11). Those who are being saved are God's workmanship--his recreated people--and that all of what they become is a result of God's work rather than their own work demonstrates the surpassing wealth of God's grace (Ephesians 2:7-10).
It is in this work of salvation that we see God's grace in all of its glory; we are saved "to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. (Ephesians 1:6)" God highly values his attribute of grace, for glorifying his grace--showing how abundantly rich it is--is an overarching purpose of the whole of redemptive history. God saves in order to reveal and to glorify the wonderfully abundant wealth of His characteristic grace.
The better we understand God's grace to us, the more thankful we will be, and the less pride we can have in our accomplishments. We are being spared what we justly deserved, and are freely receiving something we are entirely unworthy of, simply because our God is a gracious God and he has purposed to save us. We are receiving the greatest gift of all; the greatest gift ever given has been lavished upon us by our infinitely gracious heavenly Father. Any of our good acts are not products of our own intrinsic goodness, but of God's gracious creative work within us. There is no room for boasting from those who have seen God's grace.
Because we are thankful, and because we love the one who gave so freely to us, we need to be imitators of him. We need to graciously forgive the wrongs done to us and the debts owed to us, because we have been graciously forgiven by God (Ephesians 4:32). We are to do good and lend to others even when we know we will never receive anything in return (not even thanks) for our generousity.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. (Luke 6:35 NET)We, of all people, should be the most free with our giving, for we are to be the sort who not only give to those who give back to us in return, but also to those who mistreat us, or who use us merely for their own gain.
How difficult that is! Our natural instinct is to protect ourselves from being used and abused. When we have some inkling, however, of what we have been given--of the grace we have received from the God of all grace--how can we be stingy in the grace and forgiveness we extend to others? God prepared the works beforehand, and we have been graciously created in Christ Jesus to do them.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!—and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 NET)
Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.
Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan.
Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.
Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.
Grace taught my soul to pray
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.
Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.
O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
May all my powers to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.
---Philip Doddridge and Augustus Toplady
This is the last in the series on God's attributes.