Attributes of God: Lesson 9: God is Gracious

Declaration

Gracious is the LORD.

 (Ps 116:5; cf. Ex 34:6, Neh 9:17, Ps 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 145:8, Joel 2:13, and 1 Pet 5:10)


Definition

God’s grace is His unearned (Rom 11:6) and undeserved (Rom 3:23-24, 6:23) favor shown toward sinners. Because God is gracious, He sometimes gives us what we don’t deserve.

Display

In society. God’s grace is displayed in both a general and specific sense. It is displayed toward all men in general (“common grace”[1]) and toward believers in particular (“special grace”).[2] God in His common grace 1) creates and sustains physical life (Acts 17:25–“He Himself gives to all people life and breath”; cf. Isa 42:5); 2) acts kindly toward His creatures (Ps 145:9–“The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works”; Matt 5:45–“causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”; Luke 6:35–“He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men”; cf. Ps 65:9-13, 104:10-30, 145:15-16, and Acts 14:17); 3) restrains sin and its effects[3] via such things as human government and the presence of the Holy Spirit in believers (Matt 5:13, 2 Thess 2:6-7[4]); and 4) gives unsaved men the ability to do cultural or civic good (Luke 6:32-34).[5]

In salvation. Just as God graciously gives physical life, so He graciously gives spiritual life. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:4-8[6]; see also Rom 3:24, Eph 1:7, 2 Tim 1:9, and Titus 3:7).

In sanctification. Not only is salvation “all of grace”[7], but so is sanctification. Just as God graciously sustains physical life, so He graciously sustains spiritual life. The ability and desire to do right after one is saved is a gracious gift from God (Eph 2:10, Phil 2:12-13). But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Cor 15:10). It [the grace of God] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12, NIV).[8] AI need not torment myself with the fear that my faith may fail; as grace led me to faith in the first place, so grace will keep me believing to the end. Faith, both in its origin and continuance, is a gift of grace@ (Packer, p. 136). “‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home” (from stanza 3 of “Amazing Grace@).

In service. Paul understood that it was only by God’s grace that he was in the ministry. The ability[9] and opportunity to serve in the local church is a great privilege! I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:7-8, NIV; cf. Rom 15:15-16).

In suffering. According to Paul, suffering for the cause of Christ is a privilege: For to you it has been granted[10] for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Phil 1:29; cf. Acts 5:41). When we do suffer, it is God’s grace which sustains us: . . . there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me . . . . Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you . . . .” (2 Cor 12:7-9). [God] gives grace to the afflicted (Prov 3:34b).

Some Implications of God’s Grace

Because God is gracious, we should be gracious. Believers are expected to emulate God’s attributes of goodness, graciousness being one of them. Remembering how gracious God has been to us, His enemies (Rom 5:10), we should be gracious to everyone, including our enemies (see Matt 5:43-48).

Because God is gracious, we should be humble. There is nothing that we have done, are doing, or ever will do to earn God=s grace.  . . . What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7). Remember, it is by the grace of God that we are what we are (1 Cor 15:10).

Because God is gracious, we should be grateful. God is not obligated to show grace to anyone (Ex 33:19)[11]. If He was, it would no longer be grace (Rom 11:6).[12] Grace and gratitude go hand-in-hand.[13] “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).

Because God is gracious, we should praise Him. Ephesians 1:3-14 is a hymn of praise for God’s grace in salvation.[14] Some of our most beloved hymns have God’s grace as their focus (Amazing Grace[15]; Grace! ‘Tis a Charming Sound; Only a Sinner; Wonderful Grace of Jesus). Praise God, His grace is rich (Eph 1:7), surpassingly so (Eph 2:7), and abundant (Rom 5:17, 20)!

Because God is gracious, we should be motivated to serve Him more, not less, fervently. Some discourage teaching and preaching on God’s grace, fearing it will squelch commitment, service, etc. However, several passages in Scripture indicate otherwise. Consider, once again, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (see also Eph 2:10, Phil 2:12-13, Titus 2:11-12).

Great God of wonders! all thy ways
Display the attributes divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond thine other wonders shine:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
In wonder lost, with trembling joy,
We take the pardon of our God;
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This God-like miracle of love,
Fill the wide earth with grateful praise,
As now it fills the choirs above!
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
(Samuel Davies, recited in Packer, p. 134)

[1]John Murray (quoted in Storms, pp. 119-120) defines common grace as “every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.”

[2]“The biblical way of putting this distinction would be to say that God is good to all in some ways and to some in all ways” (Packer, p. 162).

[3]“God places restraint upon the workings of human depravity and thus prevents the unholy affections and principles of men from manifesting all the potentialities inherent in them. He prevents depravity from bursting forth in all its vehemence and violence”(John Murray, quoted in Storms, p. 120).

[4]This is one of the reasons why the Tribulation will be so devastating–as believers are removed from the earth at the Rapture, so will the Holy Spirit’s restraining influence.

[5]Though God enables unsaved men to do “good” in a cultural or civic sense, such “goodness” is not meritorious, i.e., it does not in any way earn God’s favor (Prov 15:8a//21:27, Isa 64:6), the reason being that unsaved men never do “good” for the right reason, to glorify God.

[6]God’s grace as set forth in this passage is magnified all the more in light of the groundwork Paul lays in verses 1-3, showing how we were spiritually dead (v. 1), spiritually dominated (vs. 2-3a), and spiritually doomed (v. 3b). BUT GOD (v. 4)! AIt is precisely because people today have lost sight of the depths of human depravity that they think so little of divine grace. What makes Paul’s declaration that we are ‘saved by grace’ so significant is his earlier declaration that we were ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins” (Storms, p. 124).

[7]The title of a book on salvation by Charles Spurgeon.

[8]Sadly, there are some who believe that God’s grace gives the believer a license to sin. However, Romans 6:1-2 and Titus 2:11-12 clearly teach that grace and godliness are inseparable.

[9]“Spiritual gifts” are just that–gifts! “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom 12:6; cf. Eph 4:7 and 1 Pet 4:10). One of the NT words used to describe spiritual gifts is charismata, the root of which is charis, the Greek word for grace.

[10]The Greek verb translated “it has been granted” is charizomai, the noun form of which is charis, the Greek word for grace.

[11]“Only when it is seen that what decides each man’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case, can one begin to grasp the biblical view of grace@ (Packer, p. 132).

[12]“Although God is gracious in His eternal being, He need not be gracious or shower His grace upon anyone. If grace were at any time an obligation of God, it would cease to be grace” (Storms, p. 126).

[13]“It has been said that in the New Testament doctrine is grace, and ethics is gratitude; and something is wrong with any form of Christianity in which, experientially and practically, this saying is not being verified” (Packer, p. 137).

[14]The structure of the hymn is as follows: Stanza 1 focusing on God the Father=s role in salvation (vs. 3-5), chorus (v. 6), Stanza 2 focusing on God the Son=s role in salvation (vs. 7-11), chorus (v. 12), Stanza 3 focusing of God the Holy Spirit=s role in salvation (vs. 13-14a), chorus (v. 14b).

[15]John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, once said: “If I ever reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: First, to meet some I had not thought to see there. Second, to miss some I had thought to meet there. And third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there!”

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